Tuesday, October 28, 2008


It’s not often that I read something in Boston Magazine that gets me thinking about the deeper moral implications of one’s actions. But there is an article in October’s issue, the entire issue is dedicated to “Envy”, that got me to think about what it means to be authenticate in a world of copy cats.

The article is here:

Essentially there is a newish restaurant in town that has gotten a very large amount of critical acclaim in a seemingly short amount of time. After Frank Bruni gushed about it in the New York Times (he did say that all the places review was only stellar because they had the handicap of being outside of NYC, um thanks Frank?. A move that is sooo typically Frank Bruni), the place seemed to explode in terms of exposure. I would talk to people about Oisshii and instantly, I’d get the one up stance of “Yes, but have you been to Oya? Really, no? Then you have no idea what sushi truly can be!”.

Seriously? As someone who happened to own one of the first stores to appear in Boston dedicated to jeans, I know first hand what it’s like to be suddenly told that the younger, newer kid on the block is outshining you. I’m of the belief that there is room enough for all of us. But Bostonians tend to believe, in true Highlander form, that “there can be only one”. It’s a mentality not exclusive to Boston, but in a town trying to called a cosmopolitan city (look we have a new Mandarin Oriental Hotel and a new huge Apple store, look look!), well it’s very, very cut throat because there aren’t as many people to impress as say New York. However, even with how competitive Boston is, there are certain rules of protocol and decency.

I think that because Boston is small, most people in any given service industry know each other…And it is mostly through personal encounters. It’s not surprising when a Sales Rep calls me at work and says amazed “Everyone in this town who owns a shop knows you!. Well, in a place as small as Boston that’s not surprising. If I go into a locally owned shop, even if I know I’m just there to pick up a dress or a candle, if I find myself mentally taking notes of the layout or the brands, I will then make an effort to introduce myself and honestly, let the person know what I’m doing. This not only clears my conscious but is the right thing to do in such a small town. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m taking clues from them in a dishonest fashion.

Our new store has a dressing room fashioned after the one’s at Stel’s. I went in and told Tina and John exactly what I wanted to do and with their blessing was told how-to. I know that Nilda from Parlor has called other shops to make sure it’s cool with them to carry a line and I’ve also placed similar calls to other shops and even canceled orders because a friend told me that they wanted the exclusive to a line which they made a good case/point about. This might sound a lot like we’re mixing business with personal but none of us entered this industry for purely business reasons. Granted we all want to make money and make a living, but owning a business is like sharing a huge piece of your personal side. You sell the things you love and you talk about how it came to appear in your shop. Those stories are often hugely personal. Very rarely, did anyone else to see a performance chart regarding what brand/models/colors sell the best and go from there. It’s often about gut and feeling. I had a gut feeling that Rag &Bone would explode. I had a gut feeling that Sevens would do well for us.

As a chef, I would imagine, a lot of it is gut as well. But you can’t make the call to a supplier and say “I’d like you stop selling ketchup to XYZ” because I have ketchup too. You can’t protect the brands/supplies but you can protect the way you put things together and the way you display your talent.

Pictures, films, music and words are easily protected from plagiarizing. Just look at even food blogs these days. One of the major ones I read on a regular basis went after another blog for not only stealing her photos but her recipes as well. We’re talking almost came to a lawsuit. Another one I use to follow shut down, because the food blog community for not sighting properly where her recipes came from shunned her. This might seem like a lot from food blogs…but it’s now a clear understanding of a violation of a larger theme. There are few things that a chef can really protect and doesn’t he/she have a right to do so?

So in a city/town as small as Boston is, for the owners of O Ya to not come entirely clean about what they were up to, even if it meant nothing to them (which clear is not the case because the guy was taking copious notes) when visiting Uni and Oisshii is not only very dishonest and bad form, it should border on illegal. This might seem like a harsh thing to write but think about it. The entire Cindy McCain stolen recipes from Food Network might had not been so bad had someone on staff just added the caveat that the recipes were “inspired” from ones on the Food Network website. We’re clearly all influenced by other things around us and for the owners of O Ya to even just say, “yes, I was very influenced by my meals at those places but it’s deeper than that. He really studied that was going on there. He had the menus faxed to him twice a week and appeared at the restaurants for dinner and was never honest about who he truly was.

Perhaps, any place else, this man’s actions might make sense but not in a town like Boston. And it’s not about a “fraternity of chefs” or a “fraternity of store owners” or even about ENVY. Rather, it’s about being able to wake up every morning knowing that YOU came up with the ideas for what to carry in your store, that YOU made the decision how to put ingredients together. It’s about true integrity and honesty and how we as a community (small or large) and society award such efforts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fried Unicorn

It's no secret that E and I have dated off and on for a couple of years now. And all this time, E has talked about her fried chicken. She speaks of it in boastful sentences. "My fried chicken is off the hook!", is a constant refrain. E has made it for other people in her life...ex's, friends, acquaintances, randoms but not for the likes of me. Hmp! Finally one day, after hear her boast yet again about her fried chicken, I said that her friend chicken was a unicorn to me. Actually, I kinda lost it.

"Your goddamn fried chicken is a f_cking unicorn. I've never seen it!!!! Stop talking about this freaking fried unicorn already".

So after much freaking out on my part and much boasting of her, she offered to make it for me. We invited a couple of friends along for the ride. And so it was that last Saturday I had fried unicorn.

Now, please keep in mind, I don't make fried chicken. However, I am a fried chicken lover...I mean, for goodness sake, I am Korean American and we're all about fried chicken so I like to say it's in my blood. I have fond memories of frozen Banquet fried chicken out of the box, KFC, Popeyes etc. But nothing really compares to my friend Caroline's fried chicken. She's a master of the chicken! She spent an entire summer perfecting her recipes and I was one of her happy guniea pigs. I think she uses cornmeal in the crust and keeps it wam after it's fried in the oven. The result is a juicy chicken and a crisp, light crust that shatters upon impact with one's mouth. Yum. Caroline has made a bit of a snob out of me. Once you have really good homemade fried chicken, it's something that sticks with you. You dream about it all the time. Seriously.

So E set out to make something for me that had already reach mythical preportions in terms of the brag as well as something I already had high expectations regarding. If I had only had commericial fried chicken all my life, perhaps my standards would be low but alas Caroline ruined any chances of that.

E soaked the chicken in buttermilk over night. She asked me what sides I wanted for this imporant meal. I wasn't sure. Almost every chicken meal I had eaten with Caroline only involved chicken. I mean, afterall, wasn't it the star. I think I made something up about wanting biscuits. But then I got an idea. I'd make waffles to go along with the chicken! What could make fried chicken better? Why waffles, of course. And not just any waffle, but a Hello Kitty waffle! (A gift from Caroline, no less!).

So Saturday I made up a mess of batter. I ran out of milk and so used some buttermilk in it's place. I also developed a trick for making the batter a little lighter thanks to Emeril. I watched him use egg whites. He whipped them up and folded them into the waffle batter. Genius! So I do that now everytime I make waffle batter.

E decided that she would make biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes and collard greens. All some of my favorites. She was going to send me to the store to buy bacon for the collards but spotted the ham bone in the freezer from my crock pot pork picnic and threw that into the greens.

How she was able to whip up all that food in two hours is kinda amazing. My kitchen was a bit of a disaster but eh.

So finally I sat down to the mythical fried chicken. (Sorry no pics. I took them all on my digital camera that I haven't bothered to download yet.) And how was it?

It was good. It was a little spicy and the crust was a little less dense than Caroline's. I liked it a lot. But perhaps it's because I've eaten Caroline's fried chicken for so long that I wasn't insane over it. Or maybe because it has been built up so much for so long? Hard to say. It was very, very good though and all the sides were fantastic. My waffles were great but got a little dense as they got cold, so eh to that! But overall the meal was beyond tasty. I can see how E is proud of her friend chicken skills.

And I got a fridge full of leftovers too! I made potato pancakes out of the leftover mashed potatoes and eat them with apple sauce on the side, yum! I heated up the biscuits for breakfast and even though they had cheese in them, I drizzled a little honey over them. Delicious!

I guess I can check eating fried unicorn off my to do list now :)

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This past Monday night, I had plans to attend the Boston Magazine Best of Boston Dining Party. It was happening really close to the shop and was easy enough for me to make a quick visit. Who am I to say no to free drinks and food?

Actually, as I've gotten older, I've gotten less enamored with such events. A lot of times, the drinks are horrible, the food is mediocre and sparse. The crowd doesn't seem very interesting. Mostly moochers and "style writers" of Boston who all think a little too highly of their selves and their opinions. Not really my scene.

So as I was waiting for Elizabeth to arrive so we could go to this shin dig, I started to think more and more about how I really didn't want to go. What I wanted was a quiet evening with the woman I love. E arrived and was cranky about having to get thru all the Red Sox traffic to get to me. So our fate was decided. Bail on the party and find a nice, quiet place for dinner together.

We headed off to the South End and decided to try out Sage. Elizabeth's friend D.. from Brix had given her the recommendation and said it as his favorite gnocchi in town. That was absolutely worth seeking out!

To our delight, most of the restaurants in the South End on a Monday were ghost towns. We really could have had our pick of any of the places that are typically hard to get into. But Sage was our destination.

We arrived and it was very, very quiet. We both quickly noticed that Sage didn't look all that different from Umbra, the restaurant that was in the space before it became Sage. I didn't mind the lack of decor change because I always liked the space plus it had cork floors which E was delighted to discover when she walked acrossed the dining room in search of the bathroom We decided to sit at the bar and let Vanessa take care of us.

I had had a fairly tough day and was ready for a nice cocktail. I would have loved an Eastern Standard Boxcar but alas. However, Vanessa was game for trying to make one for me. It was a fine attempt and one I very much appreciated. However the vodka tonic I ordered later was a bit better. I did notice that they had Hangar One vodka and that got me really excited. Very few place in this city carry Hangar One and I'm a big fan. Usually I take it as a good sign if such a thing is sitting on the bar. E has a different test...a specific brand of cognac that she loves.

We placed our order and bread with an odd little tomato, olive oil mix came with it. It resembled and tasted like gazpacho but I think it was meant to used with the bread. The bread was standard issue Italian focaccia, which I happen to love, and so I thought the bread was great on its own. No odd gazpacho needed.

E ordered us a cured meat, pickled veg and cheese appetizer to start. The cheese included was only a parm reggiano and E wanted to swap it for an interesting sounding asiago. The cheese sub didn't happen and we didn't want to cause a problem so we ate the cheese that arrived. But Vanessa went and got us a little slice of the Asiago to try. It was lovely. I liked the starte quite a bit. But I found the pickled eggplant to be the most compelling part of the dish. I think the eggplant hadn't been cooked. It was thinly sliced and picked. Since I love all things pickled, I loved the eggplant. It was a nice way to begin.

I ordered two appetizers as my main. I got the duck confit panino and a mixed greens with blue cheese salad. The duck was indeed appetizer size, but it was quite good. The bread was very buttery and golden and the duck was pretty plentiful in those tiny little triangles of bread. It also came with a watercress and pear salad, so I had plenty of roughage that evening.

E's gnocchi with rabbit came and it was amazing! It was everything a gnocchi has to be. Tender, light as air and fluffy. She was kinda enough to give me a bite and I instantly wished I had ordered the gnocchi.

We ate with us pretty much being the only people at the bar. It was a lovely way to dine. We had a competent and attentive bartender, the game on the TV and each other....Oh, and the gnocchi. It was perfect.

And considering my crappy Boston dining experiences, it was just what I needed. Sage very well might become our date place. So if you ever want to see us, stop by Sage on a Monday night, you'll probably spot us there :)

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I'm sorry for my absence. My life has gotten quite hectic as most normal adults' lives tend to be. I'm certainly not any different for sure. But I've been so uninspired by food in Boston as of late that I don't really feel much like talking about it. Even my old stand-bys have let me down considerably. Why, why, why?

Boston is a city with a considerably smart population of people that tend to eat out quite a bit. I think I eat out for perhaps, on average, 4 of my dinners a week. Sometimes out of sheer laziness but mostly because I'm trying to connect with various friends and breaking bread is a very good way to bridge the gap in terms of spending time with folks.

The best way to sum up my past month with food might be a quick list. A quick and very disappointing list.

1.) Oleana - The meal that mattered the most to me this past month. My parents were in town and meeting my betrothed for the first time. My mom wanted to go here because she enjoyed the carrot soup and thought the food to be fresh and nicely prepared. I made the reservation and was so excited to share E with my folks.

A few slips in terms of service. 1.) table wasn't ready, really no big deal, but didn't even offer us water or a seat at the bar while waiting. 2.) the server was a real pompous bitch. Understand it takes a lot for me to say that about any server. But when my Dad yelled out "waitress" (he comes from a different generation all together) I had to smile. Typically, I'd be mortified and correct my Dad. But this girl was so rude and so condescending that I didn't care. Typically, service doesn't really get to me much but this time it really bugged me. It also goes into my next gripe.

The food kinda blew. That carrot soup my Mom had been looking forward to wasn't on the menu and instead of being sweet about it being missing, our "waitress" (hahaa) kinda glared at my Mom and seemed to lack any sort of sympathy. I ordered a haloumi and squash blossom appetizer. The apps took forever to arrived and we had to beg for bread. When mine arrived it was aflame in ouzo (I think). It finally burned off or so I thought and I proceeded to dig in. Only to find myself choking on a mix of cheese and alcohol. The alcohol had not all burned off and it seemed that maybe the cheese had absorbed the alcohol. It was soaked in the stuff to the point where I couldn't eat it. Sigh.

I think we all liked dessert which took forever. It was the slowest meal ever plus one of the rudest I've had. It was such an awful experience that I'm now crossing Oleana off my list of loves and standards. The meal that mattered the most to me was a big huge f-cked up mess. It was stressful because of the server and the food. And instead of focusing on making this big meeting go as smooth as possible, I found myself focused on the slowness of the dishes to appear, the bitchiness of our server, the lack of attention to the amount of flaming alcohol on my cheese.

2.) Lockobers. My family went here for my Dad's 70th birthday. They told us that they could accommodate two four year old boys with a plate of spaghetti or a grilled cheese. They didn't and wouldn't. And for the amount of money my Mom blew on that place (four digits), it was the least they could do. Food was heavy and rich. Again, I was disgusted at what was a complete lack of customer service when it came time to make good on a promise to be flexible about a meal for my two young nephews. Not cool.

3.) Beacon Hill Bistro. Meal was eh. We sat at the bar and the bartender was a nice guy (no Lee for sure!) but not fantastic because he didn't seem to show much of his own personality. But he was capable and that seemed to be good enough. The skate I was ordered was a skate wing plopped on a piece of squash with some spinach and hazelnuts. It was the most disjointed meal I'v eaten in a long time. It lacked seasoning and connection. It was just weird. I think E's pasta was ok. She didn't really have much to say so that's not a great sign. We did order dessert b/c I was intrigued by the walnut tart (very good) and the peach pie (so late in the season but not very good).

4.) Eastern Standard. My absolute go to place! My last meal with my star employee and we both got the mac and cheese. It's usually gooey and cheesey with a crispy buttery bread crumb topping. It's everything a mac and cheese should be. It's rich and you kinda feel ill after eating it, but it so amazingly good, you kinda always have to order it! Well, they changed the recipe!!!!!! It now includes ham. You know, I love pork but I'm a mac& cheese purist and ham is not suppose to be in my mac and cheese! Plus it's not nearly as creamy and gooey. It was kinda on the dry side. It was disappointing and I wonder if they will ever change back to the way it was before. Sigh.

I was raised to believe that if you have nothing nice to say, well don't say it at all. It's painful to have to talk about how sucky I feel the Boston food scene has been of late. Perhaps it's the places I've been choosing. I dunno. However, I will keep the faith and hope that October marks a better month of food for me!