I learned three fascinating things last week at a professional development event that you probably didn't read in the local papers or see on the broadcast news. So you can truly say you saw it on the Nashville Scene's Bites blog first.
1) 380 children were out with H1N1 at Brentwood High School the last week of August/first week of September.
2) Middle Tennessee has the nation's fastest-growing infection rate of Hepatitis B (which is the nasty one), because we do a terrible job of regulating tattoo parlors.
3) The American Medical Association has tentatively recommended eliminating labcoats for doctors and other healthcare providers because they're a vector for infection.
That's three world-rocking pieces of public information that make a difference in your life.
Oh, and here's another: Donut Den's neon sign stays. I was on deadline and didn't go to the announcement, but judging from the number of reporters and cameras present at today's press conference, you'll hear about it soon enough. Except that you read it here first.
I don't know about you, but French wines used to intimidate the hell out of me. That's why I started out concentrating on learning California and Oregon wines early in my wino career. Sure, I might still occasionally confuse "Duckhorn" with "Duck Pond," but at least I know I'm probably pronouncing the names correctly.
The complicated appellation system in France left me totally without confidence. Was I ordering an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), an Appellation d'Origine Vin De Qualité Supérieure (AOVDQS), a Vin de Paysor or a Vin de Table? Would I be able to tell the difference except when I referred to my credit card statement later? It's hard enough to remember the name of the grapes sometimes, much less the name of the village that it was grown in.
So I was very pleased, and a hair intimidated, to be invited to a tasting of Louis Latour Wines recently at Morton's Steakhouse. The Latour family have been viticulteurs since the 17th century and offer almost 175 different wines under their name. The prospect of learning about this famous wine house seemed daunting, and I incorrectly assumed the price points were well beyond the range of my usual purchases and those of most Bites readers.
But did I mention the tasting was at Morton's? In the name of journalistic curiosity and my overwhelming carnivorism, I screwed up my courage and headed downtown. The event was organized by Morton's GM Cory Mason as a benefit for l'Eté du Vin and local cancer charities. The tasting room was filled primarily with some of the steakhouse's most loyal patrons, but Mason and his Sales and Marketing Manager Lee Blankenship welcomed everyone as if they were an old friend. My French wine anxiety began to melt away like a sorbet on asphalt.
Last weekend I had the worst restaurant experience in years. Now, Carrington and I had bad food some months back at a place some of you hang out. But we weren't worried about our health.
The restaurant in question, a Chinese place, seemed unpromising but we went anyway to load up a tiny takeout carton (all-you-can-eat, really?). At least with takeout, they wouldn't know two of us were sharing it. I'd already paid the $9.50 (for that, we could have eaten Golden Coast's miraculous weekend feast) before I saw that the rice cooker was dirty as well as empty (so that's a plus, I guess) and the rice scoops were standing in dirty water.
Beyond that there were tired chunks of fried things, tired chunks of things floating in fluorescent sauce, undercooked frog legs.
And yet. The Szechuan pepper-salt shrimp were beautifully prepared and perfectly cooked. And a hacked chicken was nicely cooked and seasoned. The kitchen had made an effort at a delicate shrimp in egg white and cornstarch sauce whose name I don't know. It wasn't perfect, but it's an ambitious dish to even attempt for a buffet.
But the rest of the buffet was a mystery. Doughnuts, frozen pizza, roast potatoes, and white rolls, and of course, chocolate pudding on the saddest salad bar ever.
So can you guess where it was? Or are there so many like it that you can't guess? And what rule of thumb should we use on our next Chinese excursion?
Day 2 of Urban Spoon Week rolled around and it was time to spin the wheel of fortune again. Now my intention was to use the laws of randomness to get me out of my comfort zone and send me to new places to try. So imagine my chagrin when the result came up as Fido. Let's see, that's three blocks from my house and across the street from where I ate yesterday. Thanks a lot, Fortuna.
But rules are rules, so off to Jones Pet Shop I went. As I drove toward the Village, it occurred to me that Fido is another one of those places that I walk by all the time, even though I have heard raves about what Chef John Stephenson has been doing with the menu there. Perhaps I've been frightened off by the guys in the impossibly tall bikes riding back and forth in front of the entrance.
The parking gods were on my side as I found a legal street spot around the corner even though it was right at noon. Once I walked through the front door, I realized that was the extent of my good logistical luck for that day. The line to order wrapped around the counter and out the back door, and I immediately knew that there was no way I was going to get back to work on time. Sorry, boss.
It was well worth the wait though. I spent my time in line reading the creative menu. Every item looked well thought-out with interesting ingredient choices. Chef Stephenson resists the unfortunate tendency to add those one or two extra ingredients that do nothing to add to the dish other than to make it sound like a entry in a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge. The emphasis is on quality ingredients used in unique flavor combinations.
Of course with all that time to read the menu, I went ahead and ordered one of the daily specials off the blackboard. Sometimes I exasperate myself. The Jalapeño Mac & Cheese tempted me, but I'm trying hard to control the "Foodie 15" that apparently plagues all food writers. There's only so much time one old guy can spend at the YMCA. Ditto for the Local Linguine with Homemade Marinara, though I did have lust in my heart for a plate of it that passed by on the way to a skinnier diner.
A study of children born in the United Kingdom in the 1990s revealed that those raised in households where margarine was consumed scored three points lower on intelligence tests by age three and a half even when the factors determining wealth and class of parents were considered.
I think that explains a lot. We were margarine eaters. I asked my mom once why we didn't eat butter, whether it was a taste preference or maybe it was easier to cook with. She aid, "Nope. Because it's cheaper."
What about you?
Imagine my jealously to learn that Lisa Waddle, my former colleague from the business desk of The Tennessean, has spent the last three years submerged--literally, or at least literarily--in chocolate.
As managing editor at Fine Cooking, Lisa has her sticky fingers all over the pages of Absolutely Chocolate, a seductive new collection of recipes that appeared in Fine Cooking over the years. With chapters on cookies, brownies, cakes, frozen desserts and other cocoa confections, the volume from Taunton Press is both beautiful and useful, almost equally suited to the kitchen counter and the coffee table.
Lisa says she helped out with the section on pains au chocolat, where her experience rolling croissants at Provence came in handy.
"I definitely felt like the croissant authority on staff, and owe it all to Provence," says Waddle, who also admits that she and husband Ray clean out the croissants at the airport Provence whenever they're back in town.
If you stumble across a copy of Absolutely Chocolate and find a particularly decadent and easy recipe--maybe something that makes use of Nashville's new artisanal chocolate from Olive & Sinclair--please share it on Bites.
Red Pony Chef/owner Jason McConnell jumpstarts Franklin's annual Wine Down Main Street in November with a five-course meal paired with wines from the Caymus Collection. The $100 admission to the Oct. 8 event supports the Boys & Girls Cub of Franklin. 6 p.m., Hallmark Volkswagen, 620 Bakers Bridge. Full menu and tickets are available online.
As I began my week of Urban Spooning, I found that I had to set a few ground rules. I promised that I wouldn't hit spin again just because I didn't think that I would like the choice or wasn't in the mood for Ethiopian that particular day. I also can't schlep all the way to Cool Springs and back during my allotted lunch hour and still keep my day job. (Yes, believe it or not, writing for Bites is not the lucrative gig you might think it is.)
I used Google Maps to determine driving distances and set myself a fifteen minute limit figuring that most lunch spots could get me in and out in a half hour. So sorry, Hayashi in Franklin. I'm not gonna make it this week.
My last rule was that the restaurant had to actually serve something that could be considered a somewhat healthy and hearty lunch. As much as I'd love to accept the first two randomly selected choices of The Donut Den and the Cupcake Collection, I had to spin again.
But I didn't exclude all types of cakes.The first acceptable suggestion from Urban Spoon came up Pancake Pantry. As a resident of Hillsboro Village, I've walked past the PanPan thousands of times making all the snide comments about stupid tourists and muttering "they're just PANCAKES," but I've only actually eaten a few meals there.
Stumbling block #1 was the Village parking panic. We Nashvillians have what I call a "mall mentality" wherein we believe that we have a God-given right to be able to drive up to wherever we're going and park for free within twenty feet of the front door. Could I get to the Pantry, find a spot to park and get back to work within my allotted hour?
True it was a little worn and in need of paint. The complicated multi-stage neon pattern hadn't quite worked exactly as intended in some years. Has it been brightened up? Was the neon repair guy brought in? All will be revealed on Wednesday at 1 p.m., when the sign for Donut Den will be unveiled.
Bites was personally invited to the unveiling. Not sure if it's public, but no one can stop you from gathering on the sidewalk.
UPDATE: The public is invited--see you there!
Looking back at a recent discussion on water filters, everyone seems to have agreed that water coming through tubes should be filtered.
But what exactly do they do, those pricey little filters? With this Living Water II, which we found at Blue Coast Burrito (where we had fantastic fish tacos), you don't have to guess. You can see it working right there, pumping from chamber to chamber, illuminated in the nicest, cleanest, bluest shade of clean pure lake water.
Sure it's a gimmick. But it's an awesome gimmick. I admit I came right home and looked it up online.
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