Tomatoes may not be source of salmonella

tomatoes redux

Wait, after all the fulminating, and gnashing of teeth, tomatoes are maybe not to blame? Geez, can we have a competent (and fully funded) FDA please?

As the number of cases in an ongoing salmonella outbreak climbed past 800 on Friday, federal health officials said they might never find the cause—and that tomatoes might not be the culprit after all.

Though fresh tomatoes have a “strong association” with many of the cases and remain a top suspect, health officials have not confirmed that the fruit carried the rare Salmonella Saintpaul strain.

Of 1,700 domestic and international tomato samples collected so far, none have tested positive, said David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods with the Food and Drug Administration.

Officials would not divulge if, or what, other produce was being seriously investigated, only saying they would “continue to keep an open mind about the possible source.”

[From Tomatoes may not be source of salmonella —]

I took the opportunity to eat heirloom tomatoes instead1 and roll my eyes at the incompetence of our national food inspectors.

  1. Of course, I eat as many heirloom tomatoes as I can every summer []

Bad Cow Disease

"The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition" (Upton Sinclair)

Paul Krugman notes, correctly, the reason for so many food safety issues – the conservatives long-term goal of stripping regulatory agencies of any real power to regulate (coupled with staffing of regulatory agencies with officials with conflicted interests)

How did America find itself back in The Jungle?

It started with ideology. Hard-core American conservatives have long idealized the Gilded Age, regarding everything that followed — not just the New Deal, but even the Progressive Era — as a great diversion from the true path of capitalism.

Thus, when Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, was asked about his ultimate goal, he replied that he wanted a restoration of the way America was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

The late Milton Friedman agreed, calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration. It was unnecessary, he argued: private companies would avoid taking risks with public health to safeguard their reputations and to avoid damaging class-action lawsuits. (Friedman, unlike almost every other conservative I can think of, viewed lawyers as the guardians of free-market capitalism.)

Such hard-core opponents of regulation were once part of the political fringe, but with the rise of modern movement conservatism they moved into the corridors of power. They never had enough votes to abolish the F.D.A. or eliminate meat inspections, but they could and did set about making the agencies charged with ensuring food safety ineffective.

They did this in part by simply denying these agencies enough resources to do the job. For example, the work of the F.D.A. has become vastly more complex over time thanks to the combination of scientific advances and globalization. Yet the agency has a substantially smaller work force now than it did in 1994, the year Republicans took over Congress.

[Click to read more of Op-Ed Columnist – Paul Krugman – Bad Cow Disease – Op-Ed –]

Unfortunately, one can’t eat solely from Farmer’s Markets. Remember to thank a Republican next time you hear of a food-safety crisis, or next time you get salmonella.

Corporate Welfare – The Sugar Edition

Moto Watermelon Cucumber

The US Farm subsidy program has some real consequences to consumers, especially consumers of sweets. Free trade is in reality a myth.

The sugar program may be the most harshly criticized of a number of farm subsidies which are included in the mammoth legislation. The Bush administration had previously called for reform to the decades-old plan, along with other subsidies, at a time when consumers are facing record food and commodity prices.

“There is an overwhelming consensus among economists that it is good for producers, but bad for consumers,” said Russell Roberts, an economics professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Rather than the Bush administration’s called-for reform of the sugar program, the newest version includes increases in non-recourse loan rates, a shift in market allotment policy to guarantee that 85 percent of U.S. sugar demand comes from domestic sugar and restrictions on the disposal of excess sugar supply by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The changes raise the price of a program, which according to its charter is supposed to cost nothing to taxpayers, to an estimated $333 million per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The biggest complaint from the Sweetener Users Association in the latest farm bill is the guarantee of 85 percent of domestic sugar demand to U.S. producers, according to a source at the USDA. The guarantee places a cap on sugar imports with the exception of Mexico, an exemption it gained under NAFTA.

[Click to read more of: Sugar’s money, influence continue to plague domestic candy companies]

The high price of sugar encourages confectioners to relocate their plants outside of the US.

Since 2002, when the previous farm bill went into effect, the price of candy, on average, has increased 17 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“They’re skyrocketing,” said Todd Moore, chief operating officer for Chicago Chocolate Co., of prices. While Moore’s company doesn’t produce its own chocolate – it purchases chocolate from Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate Co. to make its products – the increase in commodity costs still affects it.

“The price of chocolate has gone up probably 30 to 40 percent, and I’m sure some of that probably has to do with the price of sugar,” Moore said. As Moore spoke, he was in process of writing a letter to his customers informing them of the company’s first price increase in three years.

The current price of domestic sugar hovers around 21 cents per pound, while the world price is near 10 cents per pound.

Some manufacturers have moved to Canada or Mexico to combat what they say are the high sugar prices they are forced to pay. In the past two years, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. moved what were its Life Savers candy operations to Canada. …

Another Chicago company, Ferrera Pan Candy Co. also expanded its candy making operations in Mexico and Canada, while reducing its domestic production.

“You can’t import sugar, but you import candy bars more freely,” Roberts said.

Sugar subsidies also factor in on ethanol manufacturing – corn is cheap, sugar isn’t, so more corn gets grown at the expense of nearly everything else.

Dr John Chile-eating champion

“City That Care Forgot” (Dr. John and the Lower 911)

Village Voice columnist Robert Sietsema once had an eye-ball eating contest with Dr. John in New York. He lost.

So, when I heard that the dapper New Orleans musician and composer once known as the Night Tripper was back in town chilling prior to the June 3 release of his new album, The City That Care Forgot, I asked a mutual friend to call and arrange a rematch.

He’d eaten a surfeit of eyes in the interim, so we decided to switch the contest to chile peppers. And the venue would be the spiciest restaurant I could think of: Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I knew from several previous visits that the fearsome pepper onslaught would include dried red chilies, scarlet-chile oil, fresh green chilies, and—most formidable of all—Sichuan peppercorns, the berries of a shrub that induce a scary metallic numbness in the mouth, like a Novocain overdose. I secretly hoped the peppercorns would throw my adversary off a bit and give me the advantage.

The restaurant’s awning glowed yellow as we pulled up in Scooter’s blue Honda just as the sun was setting. As usual, Dr. John looked every bit the boulevardier in a trim black beret, leather coat, striped tunic, and carved African cane dangling gris-gris, the talismans of voodoo magic. The joint was nearly empty, but the staff was welcoming and cheery. Picking up the menu, I plotted the sequence of dishes so that the food would get hotter and hotter as the meal progressed.

[From village voice > Counter Culture: Dr. John and Our Critic Embark on a Chile-Pepper Eating Contest by Robert Sietsema ]

If you didn’t click the above link for the rest of the story (which includes details of all the spicy dishes consumed at Grand Sichuan House), I’ll tell you who won, Dr. John. New Orleans cuisine has a lot of spicy elements, Dr. John must have a tongue of steel. I like a bit of heat in my food as well, but don’t think I could keep up with the Night Tripper either.

Balcony Life HDR

The album, The City That Care Forgot, looks good, btw, but I’m a big fan:

Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Ani Difranco and Terence Blanchard join Dr. John and the Lower 911 in this musical paean to Dr. John’s beloved New Orleans. This powerful new recording features stirring and thought-provoking songs about the post-Katrina crises in the ravaged jewel of the American South, including “City That Care Forgot,” “Time for a Change,” “Promises, Promises,” “We Gettin’ There” and many more.

Brazilian Takeover Bid Imperils Bud Brand

V is for Victory
[V is for Victory – click to embiggen]

Blah blah blah. Bud was so eager to wrap itself with the American flag, I have no sympathy for them now.

CHICAGO ( — As Anheuser-Busch frets over how to ward off a takeover attempt from Brazilian-run InBev, the positioning of its flagship brand might just be the closest thing the No. 1 U.S. brewer has to a poison pill.

In fact, A-B distributors and agency executives who have worked on Bud and its sibling brands have grave doubts that a brand as overtly red, white and blue as Budweiser — and, by connection, its siblings — would remain credible with consumers under a Belgian owner operated by Brazilians.

“It could be a disaster,” said an executive at one of A-B’s agencies. “It’s all-American above all else — the Clydesdales, all the imagery. It’s an enormous challenge” if the brand becomes foreign-owned. And there’s a lot at stake: In 2007, $8.5 billion of A-B’s $16.7 billion in total global revenue came from sales of Bud-family brands in the U.S.

The situation is made even more ironic by the fact that A-B has in the past been willing to play the patriotism card against competitors. Earlier this decade, after Miller was acquired by South African Breweries and Coors merged with Canada-based Molson, A-B railed against their owners as “foreign interests” with a nativist strategy that would make Lou Dobbs blush.

On its websites and in point-of-sale materials, A-B ripped Miller and Coors for sending profits abroad and closing breweries here. “With over 80% of its employees outside of the United States, it’s hard to ignore a simple question: Does Miller reflect the American spirit?” said Budweiser’s official website at the time.

[From Brazilian Takeover Bid Imperils Bud Brand – Advertising Age – News]

American corporations like Anheuser-Busch who helped the Republicans get in power are now reaping their rewards – a dollar at near historic lows, and absentee corporate ownership in countries with stronger economies. Budweiser makes crappy beer to boot. They import a few quality brews (Bass Ale, for instance), but that has nothing to do with their brewing skills, just their distributing and political clout.

Red Wine May Slow Aging

Breakfast drinks self-portrait
[Breakfast drinks self-portrait – click to embiggen]

Is it too early to have a sip? I could pretend we lived in 17th C.E. France…

Red wine may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan, researchers say in a new report that is likely to give impetus to the rapidly growing search for longevity drugs.

The study is based on dosing mice with resveratrol, an ingredient of some red wines. Some scientists are already taking resveratrol in capsule form, but others believe it is far too early to take the drug, especially using wine as its source, until there is better data on its safety and effectiveness.

[From New Hints Seen That Red Wine May Slow Aging –]

What every meal needs
[What every meal needs – click to embiggen]

Far too early to take in drug form, but not too early to drink red wine in its natural state – a glass on the way to my mouth!

Oh wait, there isn’t much resveratrol in each glass:

the door has now been opened to drugs that exploit an ancient biological survival mechanism, that of switching the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance. The improved tissue maintenance seems to extend life by cutting down on the degenerative diseases of aging.

The reflex can be prompted by a faminelike diet, known as caloric restriction, which extends the life of laboratory rodents by up to 30 percent but is far too hard for most people to keep to and in any case has not been proven to work in humans.

Research started nearly 20 years ago by Dr. Leonard Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed recently that the famine-induced switch to tissue preservation might be triggered by activating the body’s sirtuins. Dr. Sinclair, a former student of Dr. Guarente, then found in 2003 that sirtuins could be activated by some natural compounds, including resveratrol, previously known as just an ingredient of certain red wines.

Dr. Sinclair’s finding led in several directions. He and others have tested resveratrol’s effects in mice, mostly at doses far higher than the minuscule amounts in red wine. One of the more spectacular results was obtained last year by Dr. John Auwerx of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Illkirch, France. He showed that resveratrol could turn plain vanilla, couch-potato mice into champion athletes, making them run twice as far on a treadmill before collapsing.

Seriously, even I would be challenged if I had to drink 100 bottles of wine a day. However, a glass or two? No problem, no problem at all. Clinical trials always start from a higher dosage – easier to see results that way – and then work back down to lesser dosages.

Separately from Sirtris’s investigations, a research team led by Tomas A. Prolla and Richard Weindruch, of the University of Wisconsin, reports in the journal PLoS One on Wednesday that resveratrol may be effective in mice and people in much lower doses than previously thought necessary. In earlier studies, like Dr. Auwerx’s of mice on treadmills, the animals were fed such large amounts of resveratrol that to gain equivalent dosages people would have to drink more than 100 bottles of red wine a day.

The Wisconsin scientists used a dose on mice equivalent to just 35 bottles a day. But red wine contains many other resveratrol-like compounds that may also be beneficial. Taking these into account, as well as mice’s higher metabolic rate, a mere four, five-ounce glasses of wine “starts getting close” to the amount of resveratrol they found effective, Dr. Weindruch said.

Ode to Dionysus
[Ode to Dionysus – click to embiggen]

Food, Fuel, Famine


Tax dollars for Monsanto, GMO food for you, courtesy of the Bush-ites.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who travels to a world food security conference in Rome next week, laid out the Bush administration’s strategy today for meeting the current worldwide crisis of rising food costs and shortages.


Some aid groups have argued that, worldwide, the increased production of biofuels has contributed to increasing crop demand and food prices.

Higher food prices have made it difficult for those living on the edge of poverty to afford food. The UN estimates that more than 850 million people worldwide face daily food emergencies.

The Bush administration has tailored its food aid to include the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMO, crops, which are made by a number of U.S. companies. The White House argues that development aid that emphasizes GMO crops will help countries feed their own populations. It contends that those crops are more resistant to drought and pests, and will work well in countries where farming is difficult.

The organic farming community opposes the use of such crops, which they argue require sophisticated and expensive fertilizers and other pesticides.


The use of GMO crops, though, will probably meet with opposition from European countries at the conference. Many won’t allow GMO seed, or the import of foods made from GMO crops. They argue that the health effects of such crops are not clear.

That ban even caused several African nations in 2002 to consider forgoing U.S. aid that included GMO crops because they feared important European export markets would be lost. Eventually the U.S. grain aid was crushed into flour to prevent its use as seed.

[From The Swamp: Food, Fuel, Famine]

Once Monsanto and ADM control the patents on all seeds, the Rapture will soon follow (or so Bush seems to believe).

Grapes of greed

Save Ten Percent with Pippin

The corrupt Illinois legislature is back in the news, with the out-of-state wine ban we’ve mentioned before about to take effect.

For some reason, the state legislature decided that Illinoisans should not be allowed to have wine shipped to them from Internet wine shops and out-of-state wine stores. On June 1, the law will strip Illinois wine lovers of the right to buy wine from out-of-state wine stores; that’s a right they’ve had for 15 years.

Why do such a silly thing? How about $6.3 million. This is how much Illinois liquor distributors have paid in campaign contributions to Illinois politicians since 2000. You see, liquor distributors don’t like it when they don’t get a cut of the sale. When you buy that special bottle of wine from an Internet retailer, the distributors don’t bring it into the state, so they don’t get a cut of the sale. So the liquor distributors wrote a law, found a few friends in the legislature to introduce it and voila . . . you lost your rights.

It turns out that in the course of losing your right to access the wines you want so distributors can have their profits protected, Illinois has given up millions of dollars in tax revenue that would have come from taxing Internet sales of wine. Hey, who needs a few roads fixed any way? And who needs more funding for schools? Priorities, you know?

[From Mmm, grapes of greed — —]

Here are the main villains in this tale:

According to FollowTheMoney.Org, a Web site that tracks state campaign contributions, this law’s lead sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), has received $32,000 from alcohol wholesalers since 2000, including $10,000 since the legislation was introduced last year. Senate sponsor James Clayborne Jr. (D-Belleville) has received $85,000 from alcohol wholesaler interests since 2000, including $15,000 since the legislation was introduced. Since 2002, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has received more than $500,000—just from alcohol wholesalers in Illinois, $50,000 of which was given to him since he signed the bill into law.

More on this topic here, and here (and my own pages, more, more, and probably elsewhere. )

Corking the Wine Trade

“Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, 7th Edition: The Complete, Easy-to-Use Reference on Recent Vintages, Prices, and Ratings for More than 8,000 Wines from All … Wine Regions (Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide)” (Robert M. Parker)

Idiots in the legislature, State of Illinois edition

When the Supreme Court struck down state laws barring individuals from buying wine directly from out-of-state wineries, one lawyer called it “the best day for wine lovers since the invention of the corkscrew.”

Though they enjoy a new liberty to buy from out-of-state vineyards, Illinois oenophiles will no longer be able to order directly from out-of-state wine shops and other retail merchants — something they have been doing for the last 16 years.

It looks as though about 500 California vineyards that are not officially registered as wineries won’t be able to sell to individual buyers here either.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ largest vineyards, unlike their smaller counterparts, won’t be able to sell directly to stores and restaurants: They will have to go through wholesale distributors. That rule is bound to increase the price of a drink.

What gives? The governor’s office proclaims that the bill “represents an agreement between Illinois wineries and liquor distributors.” State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), a sponsor, boasted that it will “advance our growing wine industry.”

Notice anything missing from those pronouncements? Only the needs of ordinary wine drinkers. The clear intent is to protect the profits of favored businesses — and never mind if consumers, and the state’s most successful wine producers, lose out.

Even some of the retailers who are being protected from out-of-state competition have spoken out against the new barriers, fearing they will provoke retaliation from other states.

“Bills like these are bad for consumers,” Brian Rosen, the president and CEO of Chicago-based Sam’s Wines & Spirits, told Crain’s Chicago Business. “If every state’s borders were open to wine sales, we could sell $50 million in wine a year outside Illinois.”

[From Corking the wine trade]

Hemingway’s Papa Doble

Is Life a Caberet?

I’ve never been much of a fan of rum. Either the rum I’ve had has been of inferior quality, or perhaps I’ve never had the mixologist skills to make a quality daiquiri. I’m intrigued by this tale however:

Lillian Ross made her career with a New Yorker profile of Ernest Hemingway that suggested his thirst was prodigious. And she made John O’Hara mad: “The most recent, and most disgusting, example of the intrusions into Hemingway’s private life was made by a publication that reported on Hemingway’s drinking habits, somewhat in the manner of a gleeful parole officer,” complained the man who had all but invented the New Yorker-style short story. “But for Eustace Tilley to raise an eyeglass over anybody’s drinking is one for the go-climb-a-lamppost department.”

Truth be told, no one did more to play up the heroic magnitude of Hemingway’s drinking than Hemingway himself. Whenever someone made the pilgrimage to Havana to be introduced to the novelist, Hemingway would meet him at La Florida bar, affectionately known as the “Floridita.” And there, with much bravado, Hemingway would boast of the sheer quantity of alcohol he could consume in the form of Papa Dobles — the double frozen Daiquiris made to his particular specifications.

[From Hemingway’s Daiquiri –]

According to Eric Felten, the Papa Doble recipe was mistranslated for years to use lemon instead of lime:

Cocktail scholar Philip Greene (a government intellectual-property lawyer in Washington) was able to track down the source of the mistake: a recipe booklet the Floridita published in 1937 as a promotional giveaway. Like a volume in the Loeb Classical Library, the Floridita pamphlet presented its text in the original language on the left with a translation on the right. But the copy editing wasn’t all it could be. For starters, the Papa Doble is listed as the ” ‘E. Henmiway’ Special.” The English recipe specifies the “juice of ½ lemon.” But the Spanish original next to it specifies “Jugo ½ limón verde” — which isn’t lemon at all, but lime.

It’s an error that has been repeated for decades. Nearly 10 years ago, Michael Palin of Monty Python fame filmed a television special chasing down Hemingway’s adventures, and at one point he sat himself down at the Floridita bar to work his way through a succession of Papa Dobles. Mr. Palin’s description of the recipe is “basically rum, lemon and sugar over crushed ice, with a Maraschino cherry.” Unfortunately, not only did Mr. Palin repeat the lemon error — he compounded it with a raft of his own errata.

Parenthetic note: I’ll have to look for the Michael Palin documentary, I’ve seen several of those, and they are well done, and a lot of fun. Final note, perhaps the proportions are slightly different – more lime, and more grapefruit:

After meeting Hemingway over Daiquiris in 1948, A.E. Hotchner went on to drink innumerable Papa Dobles at the Floridita with the great man himself, and he paid attention to what Constante was doing. “A Papa Doble was compounded of two and a half jiggers of Bacardi White Label Rum, the juice of two limes and half a grapefruit and six drops of maraschino,” Mr. Hotchner writes. That’s four times the lime juice of the 1937 recipe, and far more than the scant teaspoon of grapefruit juice originally called for. I don’t know which recipe is the truest, but I like the results when you split the difference, combining the two ounces of rum specified by the original recipe with a little bit of extra citrus. The texture is also important. Mr. Hotchner recounted that the Daiquiri ingredients were “placed in an electric mixer over shaved ice, whirled vigorously and served foaming in large goblets.” Hemingway himself described a properly beaten Daiquiri as looking “like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.”

Sounds like a good experiment for Memorial Day (hopefully much better than this one, yikes)

here’s my attempt: though didn’t have maraschino. Delicious actually.
Papa Dobles
[click to embiggen]

The Hangover Artist

“Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis” (Kingsley Amis)

Much more fun than being a hunger artist if you ask me.

Kingsley Amis was a hangover artist. Had he written nothing more than his description of Jim Dixon regaining consciousness after a bender, his place in literature would be secure. “He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning,” Amis writes in “Lucky Jim,” his first (and best) novel. Dixon’s “mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”

Feeling bad isn’t such a bad thing, from Amis’s point of view. With its “vast, vague, awful, shimmering metaphysical superstructure” of guilt and shame, the hangover provides a “unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization.” In his book “On Drink,” Amis recommends a raft of remedies for the Physical Hangover and then gets on to the Metaphysical Hangover, a combination of “anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future” that may or may not be the result of alcoholic overindulgence. Dealing with the Metaphysical part of the equation entails reading Solzhenitsyn, which “will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty of people about who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have,” and listening to Miles Davis, which “will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly be as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be.”

On Drink” is one of three slender books Amis cobbled together from his newspaper columns on the subject in the ’70s and ’80s, the others being “Everyday Drinking” and “How’s Your Glass?” (the British equivalent of the expression that serves as the title for this column). They are back in print at last, Bloomsbury having gathered them into one delightful volume under the title “Everyday Drinking” that’s now hitting bookstore shelves. It is essential reading for any literate bibber.

[From The Hangover Artist –]

Truth Drug
{Truth Drug – click to embiggen}

There is an art to writing well about drink and drinking, and about other drugs too. Easy enough to write under the influence, ahem, but writing about the experience itself is more of a challenge.

Digg-enabled link for non-subscribers.

Oh, and my memory serves, Amis was for a time a mentor and close confederate to Christopher Hitchens. Don’t really have a point, just trying to see if my fingers still capable of translating thoughts to the page. There were some doubts.

Cocktail Hour can strike at any time

The Manhattan Project

Ya know, on a day like today when I’m feeling cranky/unmotivated/surly/yadda yadda, a nice cocktail might be just the spark to get me going. Unfortunately, I don’t have any bitters in the house, and my bourbon is years old. Irish whiskey makes a nice substitute, in my experience, but I drained my last drops a couple weeks ago, and haven’t bothered replacing it. So, more coffee it is.

“10 Ounce Angostura Bitters Mixer (03-0576)” (Angostura International)

At first glance the Manhattan looks like such a simple affair – whiskey, sweet vermouth and a few dashes of bitters. I’m the first to admit that it’s not too hard to make a halfway decent version of this cocktail, but a truly great Manhattan can be made only by someone who truly understands the magnitude of what’s at hand. Indeed, the mark of a bartender who is truly worth his or her salt lies solidly in his or her interpretation of the Manhattan.

It is virtually a San Francisco tradition to knock back a Manhattan at the well-worn bar of the Tadich Grill, a restaurant with roots that stretch back to the Gold Rush. Mike Buich, Tadich’s owner, allows his bartenders to personalize their Manhattans to a certain extent, but they must be made with three parts bourbon, one part vermouth and just one dash of Angostura bitters. (Although I’m more likely to make my Manhattan with two parts whiskey to one part vermouth, and I’m known to be a hog on the bitters front, the ratios used at Tadich can work, providing the right whiskey is used, and providing it’s married to the correct vermouth.) Buich also mandates that his bartenders stir their Manhattans over ice long enough for them to be very cold when they reach a customer’s lips. That’s another piece of the equation – stirring the drink for a minimum of 20 seconds is mandatory if it’s perfection you seek.

Consider the Rob Roy, for instance. It’s just a Manhattan made with Scotch as opposed to American whiskey, but with the right Scotch this can be a glorious quaff. Peychaud’s bitters, by the way, work very well indeed with Scotch, and I often add just one dash of these to the mix when I make a Rob Roy. The Paddy cocktail is a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey; with the right bottling and with liberal dashes of Angostura, this, too, is a desirable dram. Add Benedictine to the Rob Roy and you have yourself a Bobby Burns, a drink created at the Waldorf Astoria in the days prior to Prohibition.

[From The Manhattan project: A bartender spills his secrets on the king of cocktails]


Sepia Sucked


We had the worst meal in years at a newcomer to the West Loop called Sepia.

[From S E P I A Chicago Restaurant ~ 312.441.1920 123 N. Jefferson, Chicago, IL 60661] – warning: one of those annoying flash websites that take forever to load, and worse, one that autoplays music. You can turn the music off, but the toggle doesn’t appear until after 8 warbled bars by a Billy Holiday imitator. I should have canceled my reservation once I visited the web site. Though some of the sepia-toned photos are nice.

Sepia Interior

This is the only photo I managed to take as before we were served any food or drink, four different people visited our table to ask who we were (I think they wanted to know if we were food critics or not) before a manager came and told me that “Photos were not allowed”.

I am certainly not a food critic (read below if you want proof), just a typical consumer. Perhaps if we had said we were writing a review, we might have been treated better.

Here were my scribbled notes from later that evening.

•The service was ok, once we let the waiter rattle off his spiel without interruption. He was initially ‘annoyed‘ at us for daring to ask questions, but eventually he warmed up, and was ok. I’ve waited tables, so I know how sometimes customers can be irritating for no particular reason. The bus buy in charge of our table hovered nearby, refilling our water every 2 or 3 minutes. Perhaps they get a bonus if they sell more than one bottle of water? Grade: B.

•As mentioned, was told firmly there would be no photographs allowed, per ‘policy‘. Not sure what that’s about. Perhaps afraid of proof of bad reviews? Grade: F.

Atmosphere, not quite to the level of the home of a tribe of serial killers, but still kind of freaky. I wonder how many folks ever return to have another meal? I could easily visualize ritual sacrifices occurring in the basement. The tables are crammed up against each other, you can borrow napkins from adjoining tables without even turning your torso. We ate early, so most of our meal enjoyed a buffer, in three dimensions, but the staff constantly bumped against our chairs, or stumbled over our feet. Sepia’s layout obviously was not approved by a Feng Shui master.

Flat breads: sauteed mushrooms on a homemade cracker. Profit margin of 99%. I calculate the ingredients as 1 mushroom diced (perhaps 2, of different varieties, but hard to tell), some butter, some oil, about .05 of a garlic clove, and a bit of flour and water. $7. If I made this, even if I was more generous with the amount of mushrooms, and if I didn’t have the benefit of economy of scale, still would be hard to spend $0.25 on the dish. After the 300 word buildup mouthed by our waiter (and probably written by the owner), I expected more. Grade: D-.

Salad – a handful of moldy lettuce, or perhaps a sour vinegar dressing. Served with cold, marinated grilled carrot strips, of there must have been a surfeit, as these same carrots appeared in all our other dishes too. Grade: F.

Fish – a nice chunk of sturgeon, cooked to the consistency of leather. Yummm, chewy! Served on a bed of watercress, with mold- marinated carrots. $26 dollars. Grade: C-.

Grilled vegetables. Actually not bad, the only thing we completely finished, though again, 20 dollars for a couple ounces of grilled/baked vegetables (squash, carrots, brussels sprouts, red cabbage) seems a little steep, especially since nothing was organic or locally grown. Sysco vegetables are pretty damn cheap. Perhaps the kitchen staff has a very competitive pay scale, or perhaps there are too many of them, or perhaps the rent is not favorable. Or something. We were hungry about an hour after leaving Sepia, and had to have a second dinner.

Goat cheese cake, cloyingly sweet, but not bad. Served with a bitter, insanely dry cookie, and one lonely pistachio nut, crumbled, and spread out across an over-large plate. Actually, I think it was less than one pistachio nut, perhaps 1/4 of a whole nut. Whatever. We left most of it uneaten, lonely on the vast plate. Allegedly the desert chef is going to be featured in some food magazine, but that is no guarantee of quality, just evidence of payola in the corporate media. Grade: D+.
Final Grade – are you kidding? We didn’t even drink wine (contrary to my habit), and our bill was still over $100. If I want a special, delicious, romantic meal, and am willing to spend more than $100, there are several options to choose from in Chicago. Sepia is not one.