Tuesday, July 29, 2008

They’ve got Panache’

There is a major crisis here in the MetroWest. A crisis of epic proportions, of a magnitude that has never been experienced here before. The Great Chicago Fire…The Great Molasses Flood…Meryl Streep, the most overrated actress in Hollywood, nominated 14 times for an Oscar…none of that arises to the seismic shift in the balance of MetroWest universe.

My Starbucks is closed.

For two weeks.

I need time to recover from the shock of it all.

So this morning, we (me, and my people-yes, I have people) went to a new, locally owned coffee shop called “Panache”. Is it a compliment or an insult when one of my peeps asked, “is this a chain?” We call this, the “complisult”.

I guess that’s the real question: chain, or not.

I asked if they were a chain, and he told me that it was a local, one location shop. It was very clean, with professional decorating. Some nice pictures on the wall, and a mix of nice furniture and standard Starbucks’ issued wooden chairs and tables. The coffee tasted fine, and the nice touch…when I came back a second time, the “barista” (if they use the term here) remembered me and only charged me the refill price for my iced coffee. By the way, Panache’ only serves two sizes, “regular” and “large”. For you people who don’t like the fake Italian words like “venti”, Panache’ might be your place.

While I didn’t LOVE it, it might be a decent two-week placeholder while my home away from home rebuilds and reconfigures. I did try another Starbucks yesterday, but it felt like a Stepford Starbucks…the vibe was all wrong. Not all Starbucks are created equal, which is odd, because chains rely on the inherent similarity in all of its outlets. This may be a problem for Starbucks. A house divided cannot stand...

I thought Howard Shultz might have called me to get permission to close for ten days. When they re-open, I better have a seat with my name on it! Otherwise, maybe I’ll have to go to Dunkin’ Donuts.

You've been great. Enjoy The Commodores.

Calling all "Palateers..."

Someone asked me how many readers I have, and you know what? I have no idea!!!

So, I am wondering if you would indulge me, and if you're a reader of this blog, send an email to:


and let me know you're reading, and how you stumbled upon this blog.


Chief Critic

Lassie, come home...

Sometimes a restaurant surprises you in way you can never imagine, and so too, the Critical Palate. Last Saturday, kind readers, we went to “The Elephant Walk” in Cambridge (Massachusetts) with some friends, which features “French-Cambodian” cuisine. This is probably different from “French-Asian” or “Frasian”, and I tell you, I don’t think there was one of us who weren’t nervous. Not so much that the Khmer Rouge was going to take over the place, but with dishes with names like “Trey Tuk Peng Pah” (one of the easier ones to spell…and say), I’m surprised the bill didn’t say “that wasn’t chicken” or “hope you enjoyed Lassie”. Pleasantly, no such surprises were sprung upon us.

Without a doubt, I am glad we went, and had an excellent meal. In fact, we give it eight thumbs up (because 8 of us went, not because I’m an octopus). All of us had some sort of starter (I had an excellent chicken soup-“B’baw Mouan”-a hearty rice soup with chicken breast, cilantro, scallion, bean sprouts, fried garlic and lime) and “Loc Lac”, which contrary to you Scottish readers, is not “Lake Milk” but caramelized peppered beef. Every dish on the table was presented nicely, and by all accounts, tasted just as it looked.

One criticism, because this isn’t the “Critical Palate” for nothing, was the waitress. She was aloof, and hence, annoying. In the middle of talking our order, she left to bag some leftovers for a different table, and bring drinks to another. Then she came back and finished taking our order without so much as a weak apology. She just seemed a little disconnected, which appeared to be her affect. Other than the fear that the food might have previously contained the essence of “Milkbone”, it was a great meal with equally enjoyable company.


Ode to a Dog…

No, I’m not referring to Winston the Wonder Dog…I am referring to everyone’s favorite dog…the Hot Dog!

I am a big, BIG fan of the hot dog. Let me say right out…only Kosher dogs! The last thing I want to eat is rat hair and pork “by-product”. What part of the pig is the “by-product” anyways?

Years ago, my in-laws introduced me to “Best Kosher”, formerly available at B.J.’s Wholesale Club. Over the years, I’ve grown fond of “Shofar” brand, and of course, number one in your hearts and in your stomachs…Hebrew National. I’ve tried others along my journey to hot dog Nirvana, and though the Heeb National dogs available in your local supermarket pale in comparison, about a year ago, I discovered the King of the Hot Dog Hill, so to speak—Hebrew National, deli-style, natural casing hot dogs. People, you have no idea what you’re missing!!! These dogs have completed my “gastronomical” life.

Admittedly, kids and some other weak-minded souls may not like the “natural casing”, because we all know where that comes from. Also, whereas a normal dog has a soft feel when you bite it, when you bite into a natural casing dog, it practically bites back. A real snap. While it probably sounds questionable, I assure you, is quite delicious. Then again, we’re people that eat “kishke”. Google that!

Last summer, I bought 72 of these bad boys from my kosher butcher. Right now, after several refill orders, I have about 48 in my freezer, vacuum packed (and hermetically sealed) for my pleasure. An orgiastic feast for the senses…

Back by popular demand…The Gratuitous Shout-Out:

Next time you’re in the mood for a dog, call Larry Levine's Kosher Meats and Deli. 474 Lowell Street, Peabody, MA, 01960. Tel: 617-884-1406-speak with Todd. Tell him I sent you.

You’ve been a great audience…enjoy the magical feats of Kobayashi!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trailer for sale or rent...

A disturbing trend, especially in today’s economy, is the apparent decision by many restaurants, even the mid-level ones, to raise their prices, turning what used to be an average mid-week meal into the equivalent of a big Saturday night out. More disturbing is 1) portions are getting smaller, and 2) the food is just as mediocre as it was when it was cheaper.

Recently, I went to Firefly’s with some friends, though I am generally ambivalent about their food and their menu. It is kid-friendly, and noisy, which is good for the people sitting near us. Perusing their menu, my choices are moderately limited, since we don’t eat pork products. I usually default to one of 3 things: beef ribs, a hamburger or steak tips (I’m a big fan of chicken apparently…). I would have ordered the beef ribs, but the last couple of times I’ve had them there, they have been poorly prepared (very fatty and chewy, which tells me that they haven’t been smoked long enough), with a rub that screams with notes of cinnamon/coffee. Just weird. I was almost willing to take a chance again, until I saw that on their new menus, no longer were they $18.99 (which already pushed the boundary of acceptability), but $22.99!!! GMAB (“Give me a break” for you text-challenged). This is a casual craphole, and I’m paying $22.99 for mediocrity?!? I passed on the ribs, and ordered a fatty and tasteless brisket platter, which only left me with the conclusion that I can do much better. At least the company was good.

I took our daughter and her friend to see “Kitt Kittredge, An American Girl”. It was a feel-good story for the ages: a little girl’s father loses his luxury car dealership during the Great Depression, he leaves home to find work in Chicago and doesn’t stay in contact with the family, all while his wife and daughter are forced to take in strangers as boarders, sell eggs and make sackcloth dresses to pay the mortgage, and hire hobos to work around the yard. Nothing says good family entertainment, or brings a smile to your face, like the Depression!

Actually, the movie was quite good, and very well made. In a small, but important role, Stanley Tucci. I have enjoyed him since his “Ricky Pinzolo” days on “Wiseguy”, and I don’t care what others say, who doesn’t love hobos?

What’s especially nice, in today’s economy, is that it’s a movie without any commercial marketing tie-ins. If only I could find a “Kitt” doll…

You’ve been a great audience. Enjoy Boxcar Willie…

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hail to the Chief

Now that my time as President of the temple has come to an end, some of you have been promoting this idea, and I thank you for your support:

Click here. Eric in 08!

Once again, went to Willy’s Steakhouse in Shrewsbury last night. You know, we are never disappointed there. The mark of an attentive restaurant, and one that appreciates your business-when we sat down, the hostess placed two black cloth napkins at the ladies’ seats, and left the white ones at the men’s’. We realized it was because the women were wearing black, and the men were wearing khaki. The white cloth napkins tend to leave lint, which is obvious on dark colors. The hostess didn’t say anything-she just swapped them out. An excellent touch, with an excellent meal, and excellent company.

Its too bad more casual places can’t at least get the basics right. With so many places to choose from for lunch, you would think the quick-dining establishments would be falling over themselves to do the simple things right. Instead, places that I have frequented in the past just keep doing stupid things.

Exhibit A-“Fresh City”: It’s neither fresh, nor a city…discuss. Well, here’s my story. Last week, I ordered the Baja Ranchero salad. It comes with lettuce, tomato, red onion, carrots, shredded cheese, turkey and guacamole. I asked that the dressing be mixed in, even though I was taking it to go. I wasn’t watching the kid, big mistake there, and when I got back to my office and opened up the container, not only was the dressing mixed in, but he had mixed in the scoop of guacamole, instead of just putting on the edge of the salad. Now, I like guacamole just as much as the next person, but between the dressing and the guacamole, I was drowning in condiments! Plus, for $8.49, they should not only make it right, but also come to my office, feed it to me, and wipe my chin with a napkin once I’m done.

Exhibit B-“Boloco”: This place is like Jekyll and Hyde. I like their food, but they keep stumbling in little, yet annoying ways. Friday, we went for lunch. For the first time there, I ordered a salad. When the guy puts it in a bag, he drops it in sideways, so as you can imagine, the whole things shifts to one end of the container. Then, when I get to the office and open it up, there’s no dressing on it, or in the bag. At Fresh City they drown you in dressing, and at Boloco, they don’t give you any. It just doesn’t make sense. If quick-serve places expect you to patronize their shop at lunch, yes you want it quick, but is it too much to ask that it be right, and include the full list of ingredients, like salad dressing?

Keep the change:

Is anyone else puzzled about the “Keep the Change” promotion by Bank of America? I think this is how it works: you buy something and pay for it with your BofA debit card. Bank of America says “keep the change” but how it works is this-if the item costs $5.49 after tax, BofA rounds up to $6.00, and puts the extra 51 cents in your savings account. Basically, they shift the money from checking to savings. Sure, you “keep the change” because you know what? It’s your money to begin with!!! Who the hell do they think we are? How stupid are we to fall for this ridiculous promotion. I will give them some credit, because for the first few months, they match the transferred change, so you make a couple of bucks on it, but after the 3 month promotion period, BofA is just moving your money around from one account to the other, but you’ll be happy to know it’s “free of charge.” You’ll also be happy to know that they’re also offering free air in all their branches, and access to their ATM machines where you'll be given free access to your money.

Lastly, I know I am not alone when I wonder what the hell Peter Cook is thinking. From MSNBC.com regarding the divorce trial from Christie Brinkley: “The trial found Cook admitting to having an affair with then-18-year-old Diana Bianchi and spending thousands of dollars on Internet porn.” Did anyone ever tell him the naked chick lying next to him was CHRISTIE BRINKLEY!!!! Apparently, for reason unknown to us, she might have been his “girl”, but he couldn’t go “uptown.”

You’ve been a great audience; I’ll be here all week. Enjoy Simply Red.