Foodspotting #8: The price of the item

This was a $138 bottle of Burgundy at RN74.

Burgundy at RN74

I have always wondered how you’re supposed to ask the price of these things if the price is not listed on the menu. Especially when they’re off the menu like the Gibraltar at Blue Bottle and Shanghai Buck at Heaven’s Dog.

Fortunately nothing was outrageous.

But based on a previous experience, sometimes you can be surprised by an off-menu item. You look at the menu and everything seems to be around the $10-$15 range. And when you get the receipt, it turns out the item you ordered off the daily special is over $30! And now you have a $200+ bill that you did not expect.

How can you ask the server for the price without seeming like a super-cheap customer?

“We have a great waygu steak tartare today garnished with organic item #1 and organic item #2.”

“How much is that?”

“It’s $30.”

“Oh. Thanks”

Foodspotting #7: My partner in crime

How could I have done this without my usual partner in crime?

Here is my partner in crime in action during my food scavenger hunt in August:

Waffle Truck Champion!

In relationships, I find that there is nothing more important than having the same expectations, the same energy level, the same dedication that makes things work.

This is the management of expectations.

Moreover, we’ll do whatever it takes.

Before any great endeavor (scavenger hunts, games, etc.), we always ask each the important question: “How do you want to do this? Do it for fun, do it to finish or do it to win.”

We almost always answer the latter. Because we don’t compromise.

But more importantly, despite the many obstacles we ran into (the dish ran out, the line was too long, the server didn’t want us to order just one thing…), we did it all. And even more importantly, even at times when I wanted to quit, he refuse to quit. When I was feeling wishy washy about even drinking the belgian beer or the beer from cask…we did it. And he had the ability to talk to anyone…to relate to anyone…to quickly put someone at ease (while I quietly panicked). And that he could help me…overcome an anxiety of eating just a single dish from a restaurant when we had already had 6 meals the same deal…social anxiety is definitely not an issue of his at all.

Thanks taiche! You’re always the best.

Foodspotting #5: My taste preference

Chips and Salsa at Papalote

There’s this moment when you take your next bite…and you say to yourself ugh, I feel so sick. That was me when I was at my 97th item.

In this case unlike the adventure of the 6 lb burger and the 150 slice pizza, it wasn’t because I was full. It was because my preferred taste didn’t match the list owner’s taste preference.

Last Monday, while I had the tuna tartare and “gin martini” at Bix…I was…appalled. I could barely eat the olives. I hated gin. But I was doing all for the sake of this list. It was someone else’s list. It was not mine.

Blue Bell Bitter at Magnolia Pub and Brewery

And beer. Ugh. I dragged surrogates along to endure the taste that I hated, but hopefully they enjoyed.

Now nearing the end of the list, I am surprised to find that I only enjoyed less than 10% of the list. The majority of the list was just ok. I am talking about both the taste and the experience of the item. And the value. Or that I enjoyed something else there entirely.

The things I enjoyed? Lobster pot pie at Michael Mina, meatballs with grapes at Aziza, clam chowder at Hog Island Oyster Depot, the abondingas soup at Mijita, cookies and cream cookie at Anthony’s Cookies, 7 courses of beef at Pagolac, roast chicken salad at Zuni…and all the ice cream. But was that it?

Foodspotting #4: No compromising

One of the hardest part of this entire journey is:

Finding the dining partner.

In the previous post, I may have alluded to what happens when the company is horrible. But what if the company flakes?

Despite an inner desire to learn how to dine by myself and enjoy the solitude of dining, I have the greatest anxiety of entering a restaurant and trying…to be normal…and eating. Sure, it’s easy to do at a take-out food stand type place. But at a nice restaurant—even a five-star one…awkward.

I love the act of enjoying food with someone. To compare our different preferences of flavor. I love how…food lets me discover the parts of people. It’s a ritual at times, but it’s also a way to break down barriers. Because there’s no other activity in the world that breaks down borders. We put things in our mouth and we chew the same. We all do.

There’s something about food that calms us and can express so many memories. Not like music, the bitter taste, the sour taste…perhaps it will remind you of something.

But my point is…how do you find the someone who will be ok with your choice of restaurant? How do you find someone who never compromises when it comes to food? When it comes to doing stuff? When you say, “I want to go there”…there’s no question.

I guess that’s why they call it a companion.

Foodspotting #3: The third most important part is the company

A great dining experience is a combination of these three things: food, service and company.

The company defines the experience. If it’s great…the quality of food and service almost doesn’t matter. It just needs to be adequate. If the company is horrible, then the taste, the desperate attempts by the servers…anything…won’t help.

These are the qualities that make great company during dining:

1. Shared interest in trying new foods

2. Willingness to share dishes

3. Good conversationalist. Or at least the ability to be curious.

And that’s all!

Awkwardly, I mentioned how my experience at Front Porch was not the greatest because the company that I was with. He asked me how the current dining experience was like. Without thinking, I blurted out bluntly, “So-so.” Then I realized that I couldn’t apologize for the truth. Because 1, 2, 3 were not fulfilled.

Foodspotting #2: My wallet is emptying


My credit goes down on the bill.

Every time, I put it down. I think to myself—it’s the experience. It’s the value of the food. The fact that I am (usually) supporting locally-grown, organic food. That I am helping paying the health insurance (usually) of the restaurant’s employees. That I am supporting the arts of cooking and quality food.

Awhile ago, I read a blog that pointed out that people who are broke don’t know how to budget. It’s not that they waste money. It’s more that they don’t know how to figure out what really makes them happy. Everything does. And that’s what I mean by value.

I decided a few years ago that enjoying the arts of food was my favorite past time. And in the last year, I indulged. I take part in community food events. I relish cooking books, thinking of ideas for cooking. Traveling is about food. And restaurants—oh yes, restaurants, because they are the inspiration for my cooking.

So yes, I do wince…every time in the last few days in my rampage to do the 7×7 in one month…when I have to put a $50 on my card. Sometimes $70. Or more.

Foodspotting #1: I decided that today I wanted to be a bar-hopper.

Every so often, I wonder how it’s like to be a lover of alcohol. Or at least a lover of the bar scene. In graduate school, I finally tried my hand at hanging out at the bars. But I kept my own persona, preferring to drink water and sit with others.

But when I decided that I had to compete for the 7×7 challenge, I had to be someone else.

At least 10% of the list were cocktails. After years claiming some unknown reason for why I don’t drink, in the end, I realized that I hate hate hate the taste of alcohol. Granted, I never had enough to ever experience its effect.

But in my determination to try the list, I did it.

What is it like to go to Magnolia Pub appearing like the standard yuppie bar hopper? What is it like to be a swanky club-goer dropping by for a drink before things get going at Rye? Or how about the frequent visitor for the drink after a long work day at Alembic?

Last year when I took improv, I learned that a lot of it simply required slipping into another persona.

So while sipping a basil gimlet at Rye, the shrub at Nopa, the old-fashioned at Alembic, the shanghai buck at Heaven’s Dog, the blue bell bitter at Magnolia pub, an obscure belgian beer at Monk’s Kettle, a bottle of burgundy at RN74…I had to be someone else. At Magnolia Pub and Brewery, we were suddenly yuppies and guys were chatting us up about local sports at the crowded bar. Then at Heaven’s Dog, we ran into a former coworker who had finished a post-theater drink. And at RN74, we talked to a group of Germans who enjoyed the most expensive elixirs without a bat of an eye.

Sure, it’s all really pretentious. Since it’s following some guy who created the list. I wonder though…by doing that list, are we becoming him? Or her?