Often though, I know little about the food science behind baking. For instance, did you know that “For clean edges on cookies and for even baking, doughs and batters should stay cold — place them in the freezer when the mixing bowl seems to be warming up. And just before baking, cookies should be very well chilled, or even frozen hard.” or that creaming the butter is not just softening it but also beating in air bubbles that will help your dough to remain light and fluffy? Sugar adds to the air bubbles and baking soda and baking powder will help but they can’t make the bubbles bigger if they aren’t there. How did I learn all this about baking? The NY Times article about butter.
- Back of House- A hot mess. In order to get a coffee order one would have to either enter the little service area through a door located by the bathrooms or thread one’s way through the wine storage area. Try doing either of those with a tray full of hot beverages. The wine storage area also needs repair. There was a bar like thing with a bev tap and a little shelf under it, a diamond shaped wine shelf behind it. What purpose this ever served I don’t know. We mostly used it to store our mid shift drinks, lean against and once we used it as a bar at the reception of a wedding. LOSE IT. Make the hallway that it looks out onto, between the bar and the dining room, bigger. Service area- Clean it up, make it organized and useful. Currently there is no room for what is necessary in a service area, plus all the servers’ personal stuff. It is a jumble of things left over from the last owners. I mean the il Cigno owners!
- Bar- Strip the poorly varnished bar. In fact, throw it out all together. Why have a curvy shaped bar? Make it L shaped to extend the bar space and look neater. Right now only about 5 people can sit at the bar at one time. It gets crowded. Chip off all those f**king river pebbles that make up the bar wall. Nice idea that didn’t work. It looks like we’re underground. Redo the lighting, change the stage area– less dark wood. Different bar tables. Something more communal and, again, less dark wood. Install a fan to cut down on smokiness. Paint the walls.
- Dining room- Rip up carpet & tile. Install wood. Tear down “lounge” area that was only used once for a lounge, and was mostly used for busboy napping/storage. Paint over horrendous mural painted by owner’s mother. In fact, paint all the walls. A nice Tiffany blue color. Or eggshell blue. Leave brown trimming. Get new tables & chairs. Similar to bar tables, chairs. No tablecloths. more natural wood. Lighter chairs. Open up ‘foyer’ area that only holds two people at a time. Hide server’s station so it is not the first thing one sees when walking in. Hang lots of pictures on the walls, hang long light colored curtains by windows. Redo lighting.
Management / Service
- Have some managers who actually do something. Or have a bar manager who’s also a bartender and a service manager who’s an expeditor. The bar pretty much manages itself, since the bartenders they’d had all have experience. There isn’t much for a manager to do either, since the kitchen/front of house works well. In fact, the managers just sit around getting bored when they’re not doing paperwork. Why not have an on call manager?
- Have a well trained staff. Let them wear jeans and a button down black shirt with a long white apron (I love this look, it’s professional and casual, stylish and simple all at once). Have them trained in the wine list and have a pre shift meeting with the specials prepared for them to look at and taste. Give them a little printout of the specials.
- Have a cocktail waitress who runs food orders and serves the floor of the bar. Also the patio at night. This means better service for those outside and less harried bartenders. Pool the money and divide.
- The bussers are the most organized and coherent part of the restaurant. I’m serious.
- Have a hostess. Have a host stand. Let her seat people according to a rotation. Use a program like Open Table to maintain a database about repeat business. In fact, the manager can run this role. Make it more of a maitre ‘d role, where they are responsible for the ambiance of the restaurant. They are responsible for initally making the guest feel welcome, being friendly, helpful and keeping track of special events, concerns, etc.
Ambiance / Food
- The ambiance should suggest community, a sense of place and a desire to return to this comforting location. This should be achieved through design by making it unique and interesting, but also comfortable, organized and soothing. Make private moments and spaces possible.
- The service should be good, fast, polite, but also genuine, friendly, not too formal but not sloppy or too casual. They should cultivate regular business and conversation. Allowing the servers to be comfortable and confident helps.
- Get rid of that Michael Buble CD that played for 6 months on repeat. For the LOVE OF GOD. Play something instrumental but upbeat, not too loud but not smooth jazz either.
- The food should be what you would like to make yourself, but better. What is comforting but unique. Simple dishes, made with thoughtfulness. Lots of flavor. Infusions that don’t try to be showy. Good looking but not complex. Good bread baked on location and desserts that are made on location. They used to import desserts from ITALY! Sounds important but wasn’t much better than local, and an unneed expense for the prestige. In fact, try to go local and in season as much as possible. Extend the kid’s meal to something beyond chicken fingers and fries.
- For the patio- get space heaters to extend the use into fall. It’s one of the biggest draws of the place.
Above all this restaurant should be a place where the community, from all different areas, wants to gather. Where they can have a great meal without feeling it was overpriced or skimpy, where they can enjoy their family’s company and the atmosphere of their neighborhood as well. Keep it simple and classic with thoughtful twists and the next owner might have a run that rivals il Cigno!
After doing a little impulse buying thanks to Lucky Magazine, I realized I was going to the beach in about…9 days. And I had just bought a bathing suit two sizes smaller than what I normally wear. THANKS Martin+Osa. Uh oh. After work I hit the gym and sweated there, hoping that a hardcore gym regime along with the twice weekly yoga I’ve been doing would be enough to help me squeeze into that lovely one piece I instantly adored.
I’ve NEVER been one to diet. It seems to suck all the flavor out of the enjoyment of food. And I’ve got pretty poor willpower when faced with a chocolate dessert. The closest I’ve come was being a vegetarian for a year, but I happen to like fruits and vegetables. Besides, I always feel that as long as I’m eating healthfully and getting some exercise I’m doing ok. I like my body the way it is. I like to cook and I like to eat. But I figured that for once I could give it a week and a half and see what happens. So I’m going to the gym again today and the next day and so on. It’s a struggle for me, but one I’ll appreciate if I can make it into that bathing suit.
Now comes the fun part of losing weight—the food. After the gym I went to Safeway, because we were out of most foodstuffs at home anyway. For a moment or two I got scared because I couldn’t find the produce section. And since I’ve been reading a book by this journalist lately I’ve been trying to make sure that what I eat is real food.
After loading up on all sorts of fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, some Kashi cereal and some organic peanut butter and a couple of Lean Cuisines I headed home, where I made up my ‘day of food’ for work. Instead of eating one large meal in midday I’m working on staying satisfied all day with little snacks. Here’s what I made up for today:
While working in New York City I learned about this great sandwich shop right down the street from my internship. I loved their granola and yogurt topped with honey so I made my own, loaded with fruits.
Layered Yogurt & Granola:
¼ of an apple- diced
Handful of blueberries
Handful of blackberries
Currants (I just had some of these left over. They’re optional)
1. Put the granola in your bowl first
2. Next come the apples, raisins and currants
3. Blueberries and blackberries around the sides
4. Yogurt is spread over the top. I wanted to make sure the fruit was spread out enough to act as a barrier between the yogurt and granola so it wouldn’t be soggy in the a.m.
5. Drizzle honey on top.
While I was making the yogurt and granola I was baking some catfish for my “lunch”. I lightly (very lightly) breaded the filet with cornmeal, cayenne pepper and ground black pepper. I brushed a little truffle oil I’d made a while ago over it and lay a sprig of tarragon on it. Then I let it bake at 350. I didn’t put any salt on it because I’m trying to cut down on that (salt retains water!) and it also draws out water so the fish isn’t as juicy.
I had a lot of the pasta left over from dinner that night and so I lay that down on a bed of mixed greens and put the fish on top with a slice of lemon. Apparently I’m really into layering these days. But it makes it look so elegant and all you’ve done is pile things up.
The pasta I made:
Pitted black olives
Mix of Italian cheeses
A little balsamic vinegar
Ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper (I went a little overboard on that by accident)
For a mid afternoon snack I have the rest of the apple with some organic peanut butter.
And there you are—healthful snacks without worrying about counting calories or losing taste.
This will be dinner tonight. I’ve been thinking about a risotto for awhile. It’s something that’s always appealed to me but I’ve never attempted. Tonight I feel like trying something new and challenging. And asparagus is a vegetable I like but never have enough good recipes for. After reading some in the NY Times it seems like an incredibly useful one. Get ready for all kinds of asparagus recipes to follow. And apparently according to the Times’ Mark Bittman risotto doesn’t have to be stirred constantly as some people think. Either way, I have a good book and it only takes one hand to stir…
Asparagus Risotto Adapted from Mario Batali
Time: 45 minutes
Start with asparagus no less than a quarter-inch thick. Peel the stalks first. Don’t forget the butter. And remember not to stir too much.
1 pound asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 medium red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water to allow machine to puree until smooth; set aside.
2. Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.
4. After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.
Yield: 3 to 4 servings.