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A Tale of Two Chickens

The San Antonio Express-News has filed an engaging business feature about a restaurant in crisis.

The problem? Your quick-service eatery, which did bang-up business in England, is tanking in Texas. For some reason, the novelty of fried chicken doesn’t go as far in San Antonio as it does in Guildford.

The solution? Dipping into your Pakistani heritage in order to convert your menu from Fried This, Fried That, and Fried The Other Thing over to kabobs, chicken tikka, and samosas (which the paper helpfully defines as “pasty puffs filled with spicy potatoes”).

Anyone searching for an inspiring story wherein halal meat and America’s increasingly adventurous taste in restaurant food team up to kick ass would be well-advised to check out this surprisingly detailed write-up.

Kopi Luwak Goes Mainstream

Getting in on the mad rush to provide all manner of affordable luxuries to an increasingly jaded public, hotel restaurants and upscale eateries are serving up flashy new coffee-related beverages that fetch up to $40 a cup. USA Today reports on the kind of stuff involved in the rush toward large-scale coffee luxury (single-estate coffees, full-time baristas, exquisitely calibrated water temperatures, etc.).

This is old news for foodies up on their “news of the weird,” but some of the most sought-after java is brewed from beans that have been pooped out of the butts of a catlike Indonesian critter known as a civet. The exciting thing is that Kopi Luwak will now be hittin’ the streets to catch the eyes of consumers no longer thrilled by the finest brews Starbucks has to offer.

Speaking of which, ‘Bucks bashing is the name of the game in this piece. It isn’t easy being Starbucks these days; you’ve got magical creatures crapping out beans better than your own, and on the other end, McDonald’s coffee is doing better in taste tests. Talk about getting it from both ends.

Better Living Through Bubble Gum

Sure, it causes embarrassing digestive problems and makes you look like a Valley girl. But gum manufacturers (and some gum-manufacturer-funded scientific studies) claim that chewing the stuff makes you healthy—and some companies are experimenting with ways to boost those health claims by adding “functional” ingredients meant to suppress appetite, cure headaches, and even fight cancer. As the L.A. Times reports (registration required), recent studies on regular ol’ gum show that chewing it can reduce bacteria in the mouth, improve mental clarity, and even help heal the colon after surgery.

The really interesting (and/or frightening) part, though, is the early-stage research being done on nutraceutical gum, which would likely deliver medications and supplements more effectively than swallowable pills. According to the article,

One reason for gum’s potential is that our cheeks are remarkably good at soaking things up. In a study published in 2006 in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Danish scientists found that people absorbed nearly three times as much of an antihistamine called loratadine when they chewed it as a gum instead of taking it as a tablet. About 40 percent of the medicine entered the bloodstream straight through the lining of the mouth—whereas pills have to work their way through the digestive system.

Hmmm. So using gum as a vehicle for vitamins and supplements would administer them more reliably (thus dealing with the problem of expensive pee). But then, there are some things it’s probably best not to absorb too much of.

Portion Problems

If you’re dining out at your average resto but don’t want a meal that would feed a family of nine, what do you do? Suck it up and either gorge or take home leftovers—unless you’ve recently had gastric-bypass surgery, in which case you just flash your “get-out-of-dinner-thin” card to receive a reasonable portion. As the Houston Chronicle reported last week, an increasing number of bariatric surgeons are issuing cards that allow the patient to order a half portion or a child-size entrée without being questioned or slapped with a split-plate charge. “Soon after surgery, bariatric patients can’t eat more than a cup of food per meal,” the Chron explains.

Shockingly, some restaurants reject the cards, even for these people for whom small portions are medically necessary. Perhaps they’re worried that size-zero models will start fraudulently using the cards …

He Fought the Law and the Law Won

This story’s getting a little long in the tooth now—it appeared in London’s Observer at the end of January—but I couldn’t resist whipping it out for y’all, because it contains such a fascinating (and utterly depressing) follow-up on one of the great food revolutions of our time.

When it was published in 2001, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a polemic that revealed the nasty underbelly of the fast-food industry, was supposed to send the masses screaming away from the drive-through. Who could still happily chow down on a Whopper, knowing the human and animal suffering that preceded its presence on your table?

Well, it seems, a lot of people. In an article titled “The Man Who Ruined Our Appetites,” an interview with Schlosser centered on the UK release of the film version of his book relates some surprising information about the international growth of the fast-food chains:

But wasn’t his book supposed to have made things better? Hasn’t Ronald McDonald been busy flogging salads, and closing franchises? Another quiet Schlosser smile. There are two sides to this story. ‘McDonald’s wasn’t doing that well,’ he says. ‘Though the World Cup helped them a lot. What is good is that, since Fast Food Nation came out, there has been a shift in awareness, primarily among the middle classes. They want to know where food comes from. The rise of organics, celebrity chefs … I know some of it is irritating, but some of it is good. But what hasn’t changed is the diet of the poor. Remember smoking? When the middle classes started to give up, the tobacco companies focused their attention on the urban poor, and on developing countries. That’s what the fast food companies are doing. In the US, they’re heavily targeting African American and Latino customers. There’s all this talk about salads, but in the US, there’s also the dollar menu. In the last three years, McDonald’s has seen a 33 per cent revenue growth thanks to that. Their huge push now is in China. There’s not a great tradition of eating beef there; they favour poultry, which is why KFC is more successful. So McDonald’s ads are aimed at young men, and connect hamburger consumption with virility. It’s about potency, about women being drawn to men who eat beef. Meanwhile, in the US, they’re labelling trans fats. Now, you’re kidding yourself if you see such changes as being driven by moral or ethical concerns. They happen only when the company is under pressure.’

Yep. We’re doomed. We’re all frigging doomed.

Peeping People’s Pantries

What could be more intriguing for a hard-core food fancier than a peek inside the food choices of other people? The Montreal Gazette obliges this culinary curiosity with a weeklong series titled “Shop Cook Eat Drink” that offers detailed food diaries. It’s Peeping Tom-ery at its most delicious.

In one installment, the newspaper’s restaurant critic describes her harried life balancing career, kids, and social obligations. Like the rest of us, she valiantly tries to serve her kids healthy dinners in a relaxed atmosphere. She mostly succeeds, except when she doesn’t:

I’m pinned to the sofa with my laptop and a phone stuck to my ear for the next three hours. I catch a minute at 4 p.m. to wolf down two granola bars for a late lunch, and drop everything at 5 p.m. to pick up the kids. The story is filed at 6 p.m., and at 6:01 I see my kids wandering around the kitchen eating cookies. Jesus! I completely forgot about dinner!

In the meantime, vegetarian writer John McFarlane ponders the cheap price of pineapple and vows to try to eat locally. In Montreal. In the middle of winter. He quickly begins to tire of root veggies.

Each diary also includes a Harper’s-style by-the-numbers breakdown of the week’s food choices, where McFarlane reports:

Number of times eating packaged organic products that made me feel like a yuppie: at least 10.

Number of ingredients in a Clif Bar: 28.

The series continues through the week, and includes such goodies as a video in which two reporters head out to the supermarket to film what’s in people’s grocery carts. Vegetable vérité at its best!

That Coffee Guy Named Wayne

Jess Leber loves Bluebottle coffee, but prefers coffee roasted by a guy named Wayne.

Just Wayne.

You acquire this coffee by searching on Craigslist (try terms like “coffee,” “bean,” and “roast”) and e-mailing the guy your coffee needs. He then roasts it to your specifications. The procedure for acquiring it is a bit weird–you slide your money through a mail slot, and Wayne has your coffee waiting for you in a box outside. “Last time, I found myself humming ‘Waiting For The Man’ by the Velvet Underground,” says Jess Leber.

Wayne the Passionate Coffee Roaster
contact through Craigslist
Oakland (Temescal)

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That Coffee Guy in Rockridge
East Bay coffee to rival Blue Bottle

Cerrito Speakeasy Theater

The food at Cerrito Speakeasy Theater is two levels above other theaters in quality and one level below in price, making it a very chowish place, says EdwardAdams. Enormous nachos are topped with real stuff, not fluorescent orange cheese product like in other theaters. Grilled beef sandwiches (“Zombie Cow”) and slices of chocolate cake are tasty, and everything is served on real plates, not paper. Even the popcorn comes in a real bowl. rworange notes that you can also buy bottled and draft beer like Trumer Pils, and wine like Ile la Forge viognier, so you can feel like you’re in a real speakeasy.

Cerrito Speakeasy Theater [East Bay]
10070 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito

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Cerrito Speakeasy Theater

Frozen Mochi Goodness at Momofuku Ssam Bar

There’s marvelous fresh-made mochi ice cream on the dinner menu at Momofuku Ssam Bar, says kathryn. A recent sampler comprised four flavors–mango, butter pecan, pistachio, and chocolate with egg nog. So try not to fill up on the boutique hams, three-terrine banh mi, fried cauliflower with chiles and mint, and other bites that make up the dinner menu (once served only after 10:30 p.m., now available from 6 on).

Momofuku Ssam Bar [East Village]
207 2nd Ave., at E. 13th St., Manhattan

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late night dining at momofuku ssam?