Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
- Wet brine. Find a container large enough to allow the whole turkey to soak in a salt/sugar/herb/spice solution, at a safe temperature of course for a couple of days. The idea here is that the salt in the solution actually activates small electrical charges that relax tissues and allow them to absorb some of the flavorful solution. I've never tried this because it sounds like a major PITA.
- Dry brine. A/K/A salting. Several days ahead of cooking, mix yourself up a salt/herb mixture and rub it all over that bird inside and out. Seal it up in a big bag and let it sit in the fridge. When I do this I turn the sucker over a few times to let gravity work WITH me for a change. You rinse it all off and let it dry before cooking. Like wet bringing, the general idea is that the salt draws out some moisture which the bird re-absorbs after mingling with the herbs, etc.
- Roasting bag. Do I really need to explain this?
- Brown paper bag. Same as plastic roasting bag, but a more eco-friendly approach.
- Breast up.
- Breast down. Making gravity work with you, again. Supposedly juices drip down into breast and not out of it.
- Slow roast. Use a temperature somewhere around 325 degrees.
- Hot roast. Roast closer to 500. Incidentally, this is rather how Thomas Keller makes chickens and trust me, that's a damned good roast chicken.
- Different parts. Separate the breast and cook it separately from the thighs and legs and back. Breast meat is done at about 160 degrees, but dark meat should go to 180.
- Ice the breasts. I am aware of a technique that calls for icing the breast meat with a plastic bag full of ice for 20 minutes or so prior to cooking to give the dark meat a head start on the cooking.
- Butter under skin. Some people whip up some compound butter and shove that under the skin.
- Butter on skin. The lotion of choice in flavor town. I might rub some on myself some day.
- Beer can turkey. Roast vertically with a beer can, probably Foster's in this case, inserted in the poultry's kiester so the liquid in the can (beer, wine, Tab, water) simmers and steams out into the cavity.
- Deep fry. I bet that's good, but I don't think I want to play with that much oil at that temperature since I really like to drink between basting the bird.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The evening happened to find me at a local establishment for some beers and dinner. Ok, I was at McNally's. If you've read previous posts about McNally's, you might know I am generally a fan of the place. Good food. Good Guinness. Great atmosphere. Not so good air quality in the past. I have been there on nights when people were smoking and it wasn't too bad, and I have been there at times when it was downright horrible.
Ironically, I stopped by there on Monday night, as well, and observed a number of patrons having what appeared to be one last cigar. The place wasn't packed by any means, but a number of the people there were enjoying a cigar.
Last night, completely different deal. How nice. And probably nice for McNally's. The place was pretty full for dinner on a Wednesday night.
I am sure the ban is going to have different affects on different places. I think the business of a few places will actually improve. It worked for BW3 a long time ago.
It is certainly working well for me. Love the fresh air.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Amazingly, the same people that brought the Taj Mahal of grocery shopping to Sioux Falls at 37th and Minnesota have apparently managed in one acquisition and "remodeling" to immediately establish the weakest link in its Sioux Falls chain. Maybe Hy Vee just got this location going to make 26th and Sycamore look more glamorous.
Whatever. It sucks. I could go on and explain myself, but no sense in being too negative. Check it out and see if you agree.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
I had a couple of meals at Joey's over the few years it was open. Nothing particularly bad, but nothing particularly good. Overall, a sort of Red-Lobsteresque kind of meal. The times I was there, I thought the service was a little spotty and the beverage choices, particualrly the wine choices were less than stellar.
Ok, one story. A couple of years ago, a friend and I were dining at Joey's. We decided to order mussels as an appetizer. When they appeared, at least a third of them weren't open, which is not really a good sign. We ate the ones that had opened and they were fine. Returning to check on us, the server offered to take the unopened ones back to the kitchen to receive a little more steam time so they would open. Now, anyone who knows why shellfish, like mussels, don't open when they are cooked. If you don't know, it's because shellfish should be live when purchased. When they are cooked, they open. If they don't open, they were dead when they went into the pot and no amount of further cooking can reverse that process. If you are daring enough to pry one open and consume it you will find yourself remembering that particualr meal for a very long time. Very long. Anyway, I was amused to overhear the conversation in the kitchen about the possibility of re-steaming more mussels. To the manager's credit, he offered us a whole new order, which was very nice.
We need more seafood in this town. Good seafood. The sushi places prove it is possible to lay hands on very good fish. Now we just need someone to make the jump on preparing and presenting it properly.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
It is not on the ballot this year, and may not be for some time, but as anyone around here knows, the construction of an event center is a major political football here. Just when it looks dead, it returns with a vengeance. The mayor seems intent on building a facility, according to some notion hatched during the last campaign. But the history of getting this project to sell with the electorate is not favorable. Where the whole concept stands now is any one's guess. The city leaders continue to discuss some form of a project, but are reluctant to share that concept with the public. So much for transparency.
I have no doubt that at some point, a new event center will be built in Sioux Falls. This city has an uncanny ability to get these things done somehow despite the loud voices of the naysayers. Let;s just hope it gets done right, And right, by my estimation, means that it gets built downtown.
A downtown event center is a win win win proposition. Assuming you agree with the proposition that this town needs an event center for better concerts, sporting events, and conventions, downtown is the place.
Face it, the only reason to have a new event center out by the arena, or worse yet, somewhere out by an exchange of the only two interstate highways in the state is to have acres of dead flat parking surrounding the thing.
The reason to have an event center downtown is to leverage everything else. I imagine if you could drive downtown for say, an Elton John concert, or a hockey game, and grab a little diner in any of the number of fine places within walking distance. You could enjoy the concert and then take a nice stroll up Phillips Avenue and around downtown to look at sculpture, or perhaps catch some jazz at Touch of Europe, late dessert, or a libation. Try and do that at West Ave and Russell or out in the middle of nowhere.
As an added bonus, just think about what that boost in development downtown could do for getting the West bank and Phillips to the Falls jump started? How about the surrounding neighborhoods for that matter. So many times I hear places like Detroit criticized because the city planners and developers kept moving outward from the city center leaving the older areas to whither on the vine or rot outright. Building the event center between 6th and 8th, near Cherapa Place would jump start revitalization of the Whittier neighborhood like nothing else.
I truly hope we can get this thing built and get it built in the right place. Downtown.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
"So, what the fork does this have to do with the food and fun scene?" you ask. Simple. I sense some level of ennui with the local scene these days. As blessed as we are here to have a pretty good, and ever developing food scene, things could always be better. And, considering that things are always better when people do what I tell them to do, here are a few instructions. So, pay atttention.
- Decent seafood. If there is a really great place to get seafood here, I haven't found it. Sure, sure, almost all the nicer places in town have some sort of fish selection on the menu. And by that I generally mean one selection. I am talking about a restaurant that wants to specialize in seafood. Good seafood. Not Joey's. Not Red Lobster. I said good. We used to have two restaurants that tried very hard to offer great seafood: The Galley and The Maine Lobster. In this day and age, we should have at least one seafood centered fine dining option in this town.
- French. A few places flirt with French-like cooking, but no one seems to be willing to take the plunge and go all out. I don't think it would have to be a starched white linens type of place, but I would love to have a place in Sioux Falls that wants to embrace the true art of French cooking.
- Indian place. The great food tragedy of the last year is the closing of Taste of India. WTF? Who let this happen? Indian cuisine is sublime and Saif did a masterful job preparing it at Taste of India. Tragic. When you need vindaloo, nothing else will do.
- More wine. I am getting tired of drinking the same crap everywhere I go in town. We have some very good retailers, but I want to sit down somewhere and try about 20 wines by the glass some afternoon. With such a resurgence in wine, why can't we have a really good wine bar.
- Pass the damned smoking ban. I am soooooo ready for this. My political intuition tells me the voters of SD are going to snuff out smoking in bars. Somebody must be polling and those numbers must be looking good, otherwise it would be absolute jihad between the campaigns by now. I cannot wait to go to some of my favorite watering holes and not have to worry about coming home smelling like I have been at a chain-smoking convention. Breathing is kind of nice, too.
- Steak. When I say I can cook a steak at home better than anyplace around here, I am NOT exaggerating. Ironically, if I lived in Pierre, I might not be able to make that claim. I swear the Cattleman's Club soaks their steaks in MSG, because I just cannot seem to get a steak anywhere else in SD that has that kind of great flavor. We got bupkus for really good steak options here in Sioux Falls. If your idea of a great steak is a meal at Texas Roadhouse or Outback, you don't get it. And just for the record, Foley's sucks. We produce some of the best beef in the world here, we just refuse to serve it properly, apparently.
- Tapas. How good would that be?
- Thai. Ditto.
- Deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We got thin crust brick oven pizza like Carter has pills. There was a time when we had a small place cranking out respectable Chicago-style pies. Why can't we have one now.
So, if someone would get on this list, pronto, things would be a lot better. Trust me.
Not long ago, I was listening in as a relative was mentioning places to take some guests from another country. When the host mentioned a likely stop at Applebee’s after picking up the guests at the airport, I exclaimed, “Please, for the love of God, don’t take them to Applebee’s!” This started an argument that lasted for about a half hour, but that is another story.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t harbor any grudge against Applebee’s. I’ve had some decent, reasonably priced meals at Applebee’s through the years, and it’s a reliable option when you find yourself in someplace like, well, Watertown. But when foreign nationals are visiting, it just doesn’t seem right to take them to a place they can find in almost any American city or airport. So, where would you take foreign visitors?
Here are a few of my own ideas:
Fine Dining. Although Sioux Falls restaurants really cannot compete with those in places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Las Vegas, you can get some damned fine fine dining fare here. Because it features great local ingredients handled with great care and turned into really stellar meals, Parker’s gets a nod. Also going on the list is the Blue Sage Grill at Cherapa Place. Unfortunately, the best place to get a really decent piece of South Dakota beef cooked perfectly is my house, and I am not hosting everyone’s friends and relatives. Blue Sage does a pretty masterful job with some ingredients that are more South Dakota-y. If you want to feed the guests some buffalo, that might be a good place to try.
Casual. Now here is a broad category. Anyway. Let’s say you have a relative from Southern California that insists there are no decent Mexican restaurants outside California. Here’s a week’s worth of eating projects. In a town where Mexican used to mean Chi Chi’s, there are now many options for Mexican ranging from the familiar Tex-Mex to seriously authentic food. Inca, Nikki’s, Puerto Vallarta, Azteca, or numerous others should give you more than enough to choose from and keep you out of the chain joints. Although, having just said that, a late-night run through a Taco Johns drive through may be in order for a little embarrassingly American indulgence.
There are lots of other unique casual options. Buffalo Wild Wings for copious amounts of tap beer and wide varieties of wing sauce. Bracco for the whole deck experience.
Pizza. Here’s another category replete with options that show off lots of local talent. For me, Red Rossa is a must do. For a gourmet pizza experience, I think Red Rossa is hard to beat. Grille 26 also offers some great pizza options. It’s not quite the same as Red Rossa, but I like the softer crust. Great happy hour deals at Grille 26. Spezia also offers the same type of pizza, but I’ve never liked the pizza there as well as Red Rossa or Grille 26. For non-brick oven pizza, I prefer Tomacelli’s to the other local options.
Burgers. If there is an official food of Sioux Falls, it must be burgers. Seems like every place serves them, and a BOGO or some other sort of burger feature is pretty much standard in all Sioux Falls eateries. Tre offers 20, count ‘em 20, different burgers on Monday evenings. McNally’s makes a pretty credible burger with good beefy taste and a nice bun. Remember though, the kids aren’t welcome at McNally’s. If you are looking for a “family bar” option (another seemingly SD offering) try the Attic for a burger. Bracco used to make a pretty good burger, but I frankly haven’t been in the place recently enough to say how they are doing with burgers these days. They used to be great. Hemmer Brothers makes a phenomenal bar-style burger without the bar. If you want the whole-hog bar experience with your burger, Little Coalinga is the only clear choice. For a burger time machine, try Hamburger Inn.Treats. You simply have to get some soft serve ice cream squirted, whipped or whirled into various creations. You could go to Dairy Queen, but I am taking my guests to B&G Milkyway. I love that small town service and flavor, accompanied by the slightest twinge of the sanitizer water used to clean the mixer between Avalanches. Another great thing to try at B&G is the super nachos. This is pretty much the low brow deconstructed pile of goo. All the makings of the usual nachos are there- non-chunky chili, bright orange cheese-flavored ooze, pickled jalapeno slices, chopped onions, a blast of sour cream dispensed from something that looks like a caulk gun, and a neatly arranged row of chips in a styrofoam container. You’d have to blend this stuff with more chemicals and put it all in a tin can to make it any more processed, but in a way, it is kind of an ultimate junk food nod to haute cuisine. All the ingredients are separated, hence the deconstructed thing.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I hate to see this kind of thing happen, because in the end it is going to affect the choices grocery shoppers have every day. With this move, there will only be two major grocery retailers in Sioux Falls: Hy Vee and Walmart. (Don't even get me started on Walmart.) Sure, there will be other small, independent grocers like Andy's and Franklin Food Mart, and specialty stores like Look's, Cleaver's, and even The Market on Phillips. Even though some people enjoy grocery shopping and will seek out certain products from certain places- steaks from one place, wine from another, fresh vegetables from the Farmer's Market- for a whole lot of people going to the grocery store is a real chore and a large expense, so if it can be done in one fell swoop, all the better. And, at some point, almost every consumer has to stop for something at one of the big grocers.
Hy Vee tends to drive me nuts. I am often astonished by the poor quality of produce at 26th and Sycamore, assuming they even have what I wanted in the first place. I've been confronted with pricing on fruit that could have easily formed the basis of a math problem on the SAT. The bakery bread selection sucks unless all you want is soft wheat or white formed into different shapes. The meat pricing at Hy Vee is an absolute sham- I nearly stroke out while I stand at the meat case running the numbers in my head. Seriously, it's a screw job. But, glutton for punsishment that I am, I keep shopping there. It also turns out that the Secret Teaspoon is a member of a local sports team that takes advantage of scrip programs to help fund the activity, so a part of our purchases at Hy Vee are credited toward our tab with the team.
The thing I don't think a lot of people realize about Hy Vee is how deftly they have been able to remove some barriers to their business model. For instance, there used to be a limit to how many retail off sale liquor licenses a corporate entity like Nash Finch or Hy Vee could hold. The South Dakota Legislature passed a bill to revise that limit. That's why you see huge liquor departments in every major grocery retailer these days. When the bill was making its way through the Legislature, it was referred to as the Hy Vee bill. See the connection? Remember when you could only buy beer on Sundays? That was a city ordinance, and a dumb one at that, but who do you think led the charge to get that one changed?
Sunshine isn't exactly a grocery palace itself, but they did several things better than Hy Vee. Honest meat that isn't sealed in little portable gas chambers priced in a straight-forward manner comes to mind. Sunshine also has some sales and specials, including Milk Mondays. that we usually took advantage of. The bottom line was, at least with Sunshine, you had an option. Now, not so much.
The loser here is the consumer because Hy Vee will be the dominant grocery retailer in the area. If you think you can't get decent produce at 26th and Sycamore now, just wait until they know that your options are to go to Hy Vee on E 10th, Minnesota, or 57th and Cliff. Good luck with that. And good luck seeing a major competitor come in and try to muscle into the market in the near future.
I might just have to swing into Andy's one of these days. I wonder if we can get Andy's on the scrip program?
Sunday, March 7, 2010
The bottom line is that wine can be a spendy accompaniment to a meal when dining out. You are going to pay more. Get used to it. It's a fact of life. The real question is how do you recognize a value and how do you decide some particular price is just too high? Granted, it's not easy, and you will most definitely pay your share of "tuition" to become somewhat comfortable in the area. But, it is not as daunting as it seems.
- Get familiar with wine prices in your area. Next time you run down to your retailer of choice, take your time and explore the shop. Look carefully at what is available and make note of the prices. In South Dakota, our "three tier" alcohol distribution system esentially means that certain distributors have dibs on certain wines. Accordingly, one would expect that the veritable monopoly this creates means that prices of a certain wine from the distributor to the retailer remain identical across the board. Not necessarily. Some retailers get deals- maybe based on volume, maybe based on relationships- there is not always rhyme or reason to this. Needless to say, though, retail prices can vary. The only way to get a feel for those prices is to get out and check them out. Take notes if that would help.
- Once you have a feel for the retail price of wines, you can start to benchmark them against prices at various restaurants. My advice is to find a couple particular wines to use for comparisons. For example, you might know that J. Lohr Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon goes for about $18 bucks a bottle at most retailers. If you see it for $40 on a wine list, you can get an idea of the markup. If you notice it for $35 somewhere else, file that away into your data base.
- Study, study, study. This is a touchy subject for me. Although knowledge of wines is power, too little is dangerous and too much can either vapor lock you or turn you into the worst kind of wine snob. Personally, I think you need to be familiar with varietals, appelation, and vintage. Older wines are not necessarily better wines. It all depends. Some years are better than others for certain varietals, but that can vary by location (appelation). If you aren't reading or talking to people, you might not know why, say 2005 was better for Sonoma cabs than 2007. If you aren't personally wired into the industry, you are going to have to read to keep up on this stuff. It can pay off, though, because sometimes local restaurants and servers aren't paying attention to vintages. You order the Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel, that's what comes out- but you might get a superior vintage, if you know what years you are dealing with. Don't be afraid to point out to your server that you were hoping to get the 2004 instead of the 2005. Nevertheless, too much knowledge can be a bad thing. Easily, one of the most annoying things I encounter in the wine world is the seeming ability of some people to memorize and rattle off the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker ratings for myriad wines. Look, if you can't consistently distinguish a wine rated 95 from a similar wine rated 85 in a blind tasting, just shut the hell up. Ratings have a place, and can be very helpful, but they are not and should not be the bellweather for selecting and distinguishing one wine from another. Only your own palate can do that for you.
- Make friends with the "wine person." At most of the snazzier restaurants here in town, there is someone wandering around there that knows a whole lot about the wines on the list. He or she probably selected most of them for specific reasons. Don't be afraid to talk to this person and definitely don't be afraid to be very frank about what you want. Although restaurants are in the business of making sales, they also want you to leave happy and to come back. Tell the wine person what you are considering for entrees, what your likes and dislikes are, whether you are particularly interested in a certain appelation or varietal and what you are looking to spend. Please don't be afraid to ask about the values on the list. A good sommelier will point out wines that are drinking beyond their price.
- Oddly enough, the more expensive the wine, chances are the less steep the markup. It's a little odd, but it's true. For instance, you might notice wines that you can buy for $10-12 on a list for around $25-30-- think Black Opal, Fisheye, Yellow Tail, etc. More expensive wines are not going get that kind of treatment. An example I have noticed right here in Sioux Falls are some of the Jessup Cellars wines. A bottle of Jessup Zin retails for about $40. You won't find that wine on any wine list in town for $80-90. You might even find it somewhere for about $50.
Friday, March 5, 2010
It's an interesting topic, though.
For those who have no idea what a corkage fee is, it's a charge made by restaurants for the privilege of opening a bottle of wine that has been brought along with the diner. This is not to be confused with restaurants that are literally BYOB. (There are none of these I know of in Sioux Falls, but I am familiar with several in Chicago. Great places and you are free to drink on the premises. You just have to bring it along.) Corkage fees can vary. A lot.
So, let's address the first question: Is a corkage fee fair in the first place? You bet your sweet bippy it is! It's a restaurant for crying out loud. You know? A place that serves food, and often offers various beverages, often including cocktails, beers, soft drinks, and wine-- for money? They prepare and serve all this in a hopefully warm and tasteful atmosphere, staffed by knowledgeable, appreciative, and professional persons. In terms of wine, they have hopefully stocked a cellar with thoughtful selections ideally designed to compliment the food they serve. If they have really done a stellar job with the wines, they have a range of styles to suit individual tastes and have a few very special selections to suit individual passions. Someone had to figure all that out, and then the establishment had to lay out the ca-ching to stock the cellar. And, don't forget all the other things today's diners and winers demand- professional staff that knows how to present and open a bottle and good glassware that is appropriate for the wine. (Think Reidel.) All this takes money, all of which goes into the cost of the bottle of wine you order.
Bringing in a bottle of wine is akin to walking into a restaurant with a meal cooked at home, or take-out from another place, and asking for plates and flatware so you can eat it at the restaurant. Seriously. Think about it. These places aren't in business to provide ambiance for free. Actually, we have places like that here in Sioux Falls- they are called parks. Restaurants deserve to make an honest buck. They are going to make something when a patron orders a bottle of wine, or a beer, or a Diet Coke, or a steak. If you bring in your own, the restaurant has to bring you glasses you might break, and that have to be bussed and cleaned. The owners get the risk without any reward. If you think you should get this for free, there is something wrong with you. And, think of this, a private business owner would be well within his or her rights to tell you to put that bottle of 1945 Lafitte back in the Hy Vee bag you brought it in, because you ain't gonna open it here.
So, what is an honest buck? Good question. It's obviously in the eye of the beholder. In reality, it probably depends on the general expense level of the particular restaurant you are visiting. If they don't offer wine at all, you might catch a heck of a break on the corkage fee. If the list trends to the high end- mostly in the three digits and several in the four (or even five) digit range, don't expect a $25 corkage fee. A fee that is more or less in line with a moderate purchase is probably about right.
Tips to avoid corkage problems, and perhaps avoid one. Yes, here it is, the bullet point list of various tips and suggestions in no particular order:
- Avoid an unpleasant surprise- call ahead. Corkage fees are not always prominently placed on the menu. Bringing in your own bottle(s) might not be allowed at all. Better to know ahead of time and be prepared.
- BYOB sparingly, and only for special wines. What is a special wine? Easy. If you can buy it at Hy Vee, it probably isn't all that special. A special bottle purchased at a winery on that last trip to Napa- a wine that isn't available in SD, would probably qualify. The bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon given as a wedding gift by your inlaws is probably a winner. A truly rare vintage, lovingly stored, is probably in this category. 1995 Screaming Eagle Cab? You betcha.
- If you are bringing in a wine that is generally available locally, but not on the list, suggest the restaurant add it. Hell, even if it's not generally available, ask. Restaurants and retailers usually have great connections with their distributors and, believe it or not, it is possible to get new wines into the state.
- Offer your servers/owners/wine person a little snoot of your special treasure. They might appreciate it enough to waive a fee or two. You don't need to get half the house tipsy. Just be thoughtful and gracious.
- Don't be a snob about your juice. Jerks are a lot easier to treat unreasonably. Even if it is a 1945 Bordeaux en magnum, it's wine, not water from the fountain of youth or Love Potion Number 9. If you brought it in to make a production and have everyone wonder what you've got and wish they were you, your priorities are out of whack.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
The Attic has been a great addition to the eastside, which was facing a serious watering hole deficit after Boomer's closed. Major bummer. I still miss Boomer's. Making a quick run to Hy Vee for "groceries" just hasn't been the same since. I guess there is always Cherry Creek and Dean-Os, but the Attic offers a less-restauranty feel than Cherry Creek and more than a video lottery joint feel that Dean-Os. Its also bigger than Stubbies, which, ironically, is kind of a family bar. (I'm not kidding- check the place out on any Friday night during youth football season.)
So, what's good about the Attic? Let's run down a few points.
- Fairly nice atmosphere. The inside of the Attic isn't the Polo Club, but then it isn't like a concrete bunker (Lie-brary), either. The decor is meant to look like, well, an Attic, I guess. The walls are dark and done in numerous different textures. If you are thinking about going funky finish on some walls in your house, come check it out. There are open beams and dyed concrete floors with impressions of tools and other interesting items. Hanging from the ceiling are a few remnants of holiday decorations ranging from one remaining Christmas tree to some Halloween decorations. You have to check the place out during the holidays and see the Christmas trees hanging upside down from the ceiling. It's really kind of cool. The Attic also tries to divide the place, literally right down the middle, between more-sit down tables and the higher ones generally found in sports-bar type places. Arguably, if you are inclined to bring the kids, and plenty of people do, you can sit at a more restaurant-like table than a bar-like table. There is even an outdoor patio area.
- Good food. The Attic has a great selection of bar food fare, accented with some more sit-down kind of offerings like steaks or pork chops. On the menu, you will find plenty of appetizer selections including chislic (good stuff) and a platter of nachos that would feed a family of 8. In addition to burgers (which are really good when you need that Jimmy Buffet fix) there are also fairly creative and original sandwiches. One interesting item on the former menu was the Prairie Chicken- a piece of fry bread (think Indian taco) topped with sliced grilled chicken breast, lettuce, ranch sauce, and guacamole. On the new menu there is a sandwich consisting of an Italian sausage patty topped with cheese, peppers, onions, and a mustard sauce. It's good, but plan on dropping a few Zantac. As sides, you can get fries, horseradish mashed potatoes, waffle fries, ranch fries (cubed potatoes sprinkled with ranch), potato salad, etc. There is also a nice offering of salads, soup and chili. And, if you missed the hint, they change the menu a little now and then- always good to keep it fresh.
- Reasonably-priced, quality adult beverages. Does this need an explanation? Go to happy hour with your pals. Drink several rounds. Giggle when you get the check. If you like beer, you'll also appreciate the extreme cold of a frosty mug. You might not get one of these if the place is busy, but they are super nice. If you ever drank at a place in Vermillion called Friday's, back in the good old 3.2 beer days, an Attic frosty mug will bring back some memories, or at least a flashback. Like the sign at Famous Dave's says, "Tooth Crackin' Cold Beer."
- Plenty of electronic diversions. If sitting around drinking and eating isn't enough stimulation for you, the Attic offers two pool tables, two dart boards, a Golden Tee game, a Big Game Hunter video game, various televisions, and a great "juke box." Video lottery is in a completely separate space, physically separated from the main bar and dining area. I've literally never been in there. I doubt the players mind the relative isolation and I know it sure doesn't bother me.
- Great Staff. Over the last few years, there has been a little staff turnover at the Attic. Fortunately, some of the very best are still there. (A few are going to need a little more training to meet the caliber of the vetrans.) Treat these folks right and they will make sure your needs are definitely met, if not anticipated.
- Fun Special Events. About twice a month, the Attic tries to have some sort of special event. In December, it was an ugly Christmas sweater party. In January, a Snuggie part. There is also a special birthday night to celebrate all the birthdays of that month. Also watch for special events in the fall and summer, like the Annual Jackass Roundup, when you might get to enjoy a live band in the side lot under a tent.
If there is one drawback to the Attic, it's got to be the general smokiness of the place. If it's not too busy, and someone isn't chain smoking right next to your table, it's not too bad. Even if it's busy, it's relatively good if half the place isn't puffing away. Nevertheless, there are times when I swear it gets as bad as places where you expect to be overwhelmed. I also swear there are smoke epicenters in the place. I was once in there chatting with a friend and about 12 feet away sat an older woman (hell, she could have been 35, but looked 60- smoking will do that to you) and from the smell and general disgust, you'd have thought you were sitting on her lap. YUCK.
I understand Attic management considered voluntarily putting the ki-bosh on smoking around the time the ban became effective (and then referred) but opted not to do so. I can understand that, but WHEN the voters finally enact the long-overdue ban on indoor smoking, the Attic is going to be among the very top tiers of fun hang-out places in Sioux Falls.
Friday, January 1, 2010
- You're only as good as the weakest link in the chain. A trip to a restaurant, especially one holding itself out as a premier fine dining establishment, should be a total experience. The food should be great, but the staff should be equally warm and engaging. Wait staff need to be more than delivery personnel. Parker's has spot-on, out of sight, insanely good food. But, if the front-of-house staff, including owners, cannot match that level, the experience is not what it should be.
- Some things can't be fixed. Face it. People screw up. It happens. Reservations are going to get lost. A steak is going to get overcooked. These things can be remedied quickly. A round of drinks, a complimentary bottle of wine, free desert for the table, or even comping the whole meal can salvage a whole lot of goodwill lost through simple, or even big mistakes. Heck, even a simple apology can do the trick. A good server can tell immediately when a diner isn't happy with some aspect of the food and sweep in for the rescue with a fix. But how do you fix a crappy front of house experience? I am yet to have a server come up to me and say, "I'm having a difficult day and I've kind of treated you a little like crap tonight, so let me get dessert for you." Look, we all have those days, but certain people just aren't allowed to have a bad day at work. Brain surgeons and airline pilots immediately come to mind. But that also goes for wait staff, bartenders, maitre d's, owners, and other people who collectively make up the face of a restaurant. I don't care if your kid wrecked the car and lied about flunking her geometry final, you don't get to take that stuff to work and inflict any sense of it on the guests. If you aren't fully prepared to give a 100% performance, stay home.
- Most people, if not the vast majority of people, aren't going to say anything about bad or sub-par service. Should I or could I have said something about the difficulty of making a reservation? Maybe, but I knew I had to blog about this and I wasn't going to blow my cover. Besides, I wanted to see if Stacy was going to ask me why I didn't just call to make the reservation. She didn't. (Okay, last rant about walking in to get a reservation. Doesn't that strike you as a tad odd? Who walks into a downtown restaurant for the distinct purpose of making a reservation for another evening? Who doesn't use a telephone to make reservations in Sioux Falls? Really? This doesn't pique your interest just a teeny bit? End of last rant.) Anonymity notwithstanding, I probably wouldn't have said anything anyway. Perhaps I am just overly passive-aggressive. Maybe I was scarred by the experience of watching a friend who was supposed to be treating me to dinner deliver an unreasonable tongue-lashing to a waitress for a series of minor faux pas. (Some people think a license to bitch is included in the price of the meal.) Maybe I just don't want to rat out a server to the boss because I am afraid he will spit in my salad next time. Maybe the owner doesn't seem too approachable. There is a very narrow tier of people between the jackasses who live to make a scene and the people who would rather suffer in silence. I think most people will not register a complaint- they just won't come back, or at least come back as often.
- It's important to treat all people like they are special. I could be wrong, or perhaps am still under the influence of my hyper-sensitivity, but from the times I have been there, I would say the ownership-types at Parker's are pretty good at warming up to the friends and favorites (folks who dine there weekly or more, or who own insurance companies, for instance) and not so good at making the new faces feel like part of the in-crowd. If I was seated at a table nearby say a prominent local lawyer who has announced his candidacy for Governor, I bet I wouldn't get a fraction of the wit and charm that would be exchanged there. Granted, people will always have friends, family, and special customers that get treated a little better, but you have to try to treat everyone like they are special.
- Answer the forking phone and return messages. I'd bet anyone a pound of fois gras that if I called The French Laundry in Napa Valley right now to make a reservation, someone would answer the telephone. I don't have any delusions that I would actually get a reservation, but at least I'd talk to a real human being, who would probably apologize for my disappointment and suggest a better time to try to make a reservation.
- Don't list things on the menu if you can't serve them with regularity. One of the most interesting lessons I have learned somewhat recently is that expectations can be managed. Sincerely. If you list a fresh fish on the menu, you have created the expectation that a fresh fish is available every day. Gumbo is on the menu. Gumbo is available every day. If the fresh fish menu item is not available every day, you have failed to manage the expectation. For a whole lot of people, like the Secret Salad Fork, a few shrimps on a salad or in a pasta dish is not a reasonable substitute for a piece of fish. There are two clear fixes for this: (1) take the fresh fish off the damned menu and offer it as an extra special feature on the occasions you actually have it or (2) have plan B ready. If the plane flying in the Mahi Mahi from Hawaii crashes in the Rockies, good thing you have some halibut or salmon on hand. This isn't complicated stuff.