EST. IS BEST

It’s a long flight.


Fourteen hours and three movies long.

But once you arrive in Sydney, you’ll quickly forget the confinement and monotony (if not the agony) of a trans-Pacific flight from Los Angeles.

For Joanne and me, Australia may be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. But what an adventure it was.

So if you go, here are a couple of important tips.

First, if budget allows, book yourself into THE PARK HYATT. And don’t just book any room: BOOK ROOM #112. Check out the view from our window of the Sydney Opera House at dusk, and again when dramatically illuminated at midnight. Every night was a different show.


Second, Joanne and I spent a few hours every day strolling the spectacular BOTANIC GARDENS, a green oasis right in the heart of the city. While soaking up the lushness of it all, we were both able to clock several thousand healthy steps on our FitBits.

However, the benefits of our daily exercise were neutralized every night by our divinely decadent dinners – the best of which was at EST. (spelled “est.”, but screw that; names should be capitalized). It’s located on the second floor of THE ESTABLISHMENT HOTEL overlooking George Street in the middle of the Central Business District.

EST. is a splurge restaurant – not in the league of, say, an Alain Ducasse restaurant in Paris, but you should still expect to pay at least $250 (US) for two with a modest, but good, bottle of wine. However, the prix fixe lunch is a bargain at around $40 per person with a glass of wine.

The handsome dining room dazzles with high reaching white Grecian columns and crystal chandeliers that twinkle and sparkle. The effect is luxurious, but not stifling, and the soft but theatrical lighting throws a flattering glow on all diners. Double-clothed tables and discreetly eager servers set a professional tone, yet one of ease and comfort. Joanne and I watched as tables were served by “masters of the swoop”…where all guests at the table are served simultaneously by an army of servers. At MANNY’S we call it “gang service.”


Another important tip: If there are two of you, request table #90 in front of the oversized French windows overlooking George Street.

The EST. kitchen is seasonally driven under the watchful eyes of Chef Peter Doyle, whose beautifully orchestrated dishes combine “Modern Aussie” with French technique.

Joanne and I went there looking for ideas and inspiration for both SALUTs, but, alas, we didn’t find much that directly applied. It was at once obvious to me that Doyle’s plates – each a sensory knockout – all involved very expensive ingredients and time-consuming labor steps that would send Salut menu prices into the stratosphere.

Onward…

We began by sharing six briny fresh oysters from Tasmania. Next I ordered Duck Foie Gras with grilled rhubarb, caramel nougatine and crispy, seedy flatbread. Joanne, having none of that, opted for a beautiful starter of local Spanner Crab with kohlrabi, a citrusy/garlicky yuzu kosho, and I believe a garnish of nasturtium leaves on top.


Both dishes proved to be culinary catnip for what was to come: BUGS! MORETON BAY BUGS! What the hell are those? After all, the creatures scuttled their way into several menu offerings, in several iterations.

So I asked.

Our server returned to our table in seconds with an uncooked “bug” on a plate. It looked a little like a flat lobster without claws, and is apparently unique to Australia. He also brought two books from the kitchen explaining the difference between a Moreton Bay and a Balmain bug.


Of course I had to order one…and I certainly was not disappointed. It was just as firm and flavorful as lobster or langoustines, and the preparation — with yuzu curd, finger lime, baby cos (a type of lettuce) and macadamia nut “dust” – was a stunner.

Joanne found herself torn between the Grilled Scallops with parsley-shallot puree, potato wafers, pickled onion and black truffles, and the Murray Cod Filet with shaved abalone, snow peas, ginger, black mushrooms and green shallot vinaigrette. She chose the cod – and loved it.

So I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that because the scallops and black truffles sounded so good, I caved and ordered the dish as a third entrée. I simply had to see it and taste it. And it was worth it! OINK!

Because our food was so good and artfully plated, I made a point of wandering the dining room and looking at what other diners were having. All – and I mean ALL – plates were beautiful and unapologetically decadent. Although I couldn’t identify exactly what each and every dish was, my memory coupled with another look at the menu enabled me to identify a few of the game offerings, including Roasted Quail with foie gras, nectarine and champagne jelly, and slow-roasted Venison Loin with coconut-dusted black cherries.

Dessert did not disappoint either. A light-as-air, yet potent, Passionfruit Souffle was perfect to share, as was the Coconut Sorbet masquerading as husky coconut shells, accompanied by passionfruit curd.

So make a note: if you go to Sydney, do not pass up EST. The food thrills, the service coddles, and the room glows. As Myffy Rigby of Time Out Sydney stated, “The entire experience is consistent…assured…and simply represents straight-shooting excellence.”

G’day Mate!


W.T.F.

PHIL

A CAFÉ SOCIETY CLASSIC REVISITED

For America’s burgeoning restaurant industry, the 1950s and ‘60s represented the essence of cool – especially in our largest cities, where prospering populations savored culinary indulgences unheard of during the “Meatless Tuesdays and Fridays” of World War II.


Manhattan had the OAK ROOM, DELMONICO’S and the STORK CLUB. Celebrities flocked to the BROWN DERBY at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. And all of Chicago vied for a seat (preferably at the coveted Booth #1) at the swanky PUMP ROOM, located in the Ambassador East Hotel.

Polished brass and mahogany trolleys were wheeled up tableside by captains and maitre d’s who could slice and dice with one hand, and flambée and serve with the other. They’d debone your Dover Sole, then return later to ignite your dessert ¬– perhaps Crepes Suzette, Cherries Jubilee or Bananas Foster.

No chef of that era was more celebrated than Pierre Franey of LE PAVILLON (regarded as the finest restaurant in America). Nor was any dish more celebrated than his signature STEAK DIANE, a New York Strip doused with brandy and set aflame tableside. To ensure consistency and speed of reparation, the steak was flattened before cooking. And along with the brandy, it gained extra flavor from butter, veal stock, French mustard, chives, heavy cream and a dash of Worcestershire sauce before the pyrotechnics.

As I was thinking about this post a couple of months ago, to my surprise one Saturday morning the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Charlotte Druckman praising this one-pan dish as “simply delicious.” On top of that, just a couple of weeks ago Mark Bittman of the New York Times shared his recipe for Steak Diane.

Does this signal a revival? I hope so….

Jane Nickerson, a writer for the New York Times, said in 1953 (yes, in 1953) that New York had three possible sources for the origination of STEAK DIANE: the restaurant at the SHERRY NETHERLAND HOTEL; THE COLONY restaurant (where Jackie O. hung out); and THE DRAKE HOTEL at 56th and Park avenue.


Pierre Franey weighed in on the discussion and credited Beniamino Schiavon, known as Mr. Nino of the Drake, as creator of the dish while working in Belgium. I guess that’s why Steak Diane has only a vague French pedigree. However, its fancy French spirit certainly added to the allure.

As the iconic Café Society restaurants began to fade, so too did the tableside theatrics for which they were known. Rents were soaring in places like New York, and restaurateurs reacted by cramming in more and more tables – erasing the avenues for dining room trolleys. By 1970, Steak Diane had essentially disappeared.

The 21 Club on West 52nd St. in New York is said to be the last holdout, but it too threw in the towel in the late ‘80s.


To paraphrase the Journal … “Diane, we hardly knew ya”.

Now might be a good time to talk a little about the dish itself, which is surprisingly easy to make at home. After all, it’s a one-pan affair. And you just might find yourself ahead of the curve in rekindling this old flame at your holiday parties. Note that most, but not all, recipes call for New York Strip Steaks. Others tout Filet Mignon (although you will have to butterfly it). Either works, but both should be of the absolute highest quality.

The steaks need to be pounded thin to break down the fibers and insure a quick sear. The igniting of the brandy intensifies the flavors of the finished sauce by caramelizing the sugars. YUM. Mr. Nino of the Drake is said to have proclaimed, “This is the perfect sauce for the perfect steak.”


BUT WAIT! Is it really possible that Steak Diane is making a comeback?

I’m told that the 21 features it on their menu from time to time. ALLORA on East 42 St. has it on their permanent menu. Keith McNally, perhaps New York’s best restauranteur, proudly serves it at MINETTA TAVERN. BRENNAN’S in New Orleans has never stopped and still prepares it tableside.


And finally, who could be more on-trend than Ralph Lauren, whose immensely popular and beautiful restaurant, RL Grill, on Chicago’s Gold Coast, features Steak Diane as a signature item.

All this has me wondering: Did the Twin Cities have its own Café Society? Did the BLUE HORSE serve Steak Diane? How about THE CAMELOT? Or GANNON’s in St. Paul, where Liver Steak and Onions was a staple among its supper club set.

In Minneapolis, the BIG THREE back in the ‘60s and ‘70s were HARRY’S CAFÉ, MURRAY’S and CHARLIES CAFÉ EXCEPTIONALE. Did any of them give it a shot? I don’t know.

One thing I DO know: Julie Child and Jacques Pepin share the recipe for Steak Diane in the recently published Cooking at Home. And as you probably know, each and every week SALUT features a different Julia Child recipe as part of its “Dinner With Julia” Monday night special.

Is there a Monday night Steak Diane in Salut’s future? STAY TUNED!

W.T.F.

PHIL

BORGO BREAKS FROM TRADITION

Italians embrace mercurial politicians, but when it comes to restaurants, they’re a nation of Rockefeller Republicans – prizing tradition and voting for continuity. Nowhere is this truer than in Florence and Tuscany, where restaurant menus can seem interchangeable. That’s fine with me. I can’t argue with the likes of Papa di Pomodoro, Ribollita, or the obligatory pre-meal antipasti (particularly Chicken Liver Crostini). Nor do I have any quarrel with Chianti or Super Tuscan wines. And when Porcini Mushrooms are in season…well, you know.

And who can turn down the iconic Bistecca Fiorentina?

Not only do the menus hew to tradition, the flavor profiles fall within a fairly narrow range, and wherever you go plating tends to be honest and straightforward, without a lot of flair.

But after several evenings of eating the same sort of stuff, Joanne and I needed a counterpoint. And we found it at the BORGO SAN JACOPO.


Now, folks: Write this down.

As you cross the Ponte Vecchio to the south and take an immediate right, you’ll come to the HOTEL LUNGARNO, one of the best in Florence and home to this fantastic restaurant.


Reserve well in advance and request one of the four – yes, only FOUR – coveted tables on the tiny terrace overlooking the Arno, directly across from the Ponte Vecchio. These four tables – Numbers 12, 13, 14 and 15 – may be the most romantic in all of Florence.

The restaurant is owned by Ferragamo and the Michelin-starred kitchen is under the command of the acclaimed chef, Peter Brunel. The place is not cheap. But neither is it a rip. Prices fall right in line with similar spots in Minneapolis and other cities.

I had read about Peter Brunel’s creative plating and because we were in the process of designing SALUT’s fall menu, I wanted to see what he was up to and just what might apply to SALUT. Dinner will be special. Peter Brunel won his first Michelin star at the age of 28 when he helmed VILLA NEGRI ristorante in Vincenza. The youngest Italian chef ever to do so, Brunel winks at Tuscan traditions, transporting familiar dishes to innovative and unexpected dimensions, sometimes involving a bit of molecular gastronomy.

I don’t quite know how it happened, but Joanne and I managed – as walk-ins – to snag one of the four tables on the terrace. WHEW! And WOW !

The show began with an amuse bouche of two small glasses of refreshingly cool raspberry/orange foam generously invigorated with gin. The glasses “bookended” what appeared to be two rather large olives. Fooled me! They turned out to be Baby Peaches (yum) soaked in Campari (double yum). To offset the smoothish texture of the foam, a fry basket of homemade crispy Corn Chips rode shotgun.


Among the appetizers, Joanne loved the baby prawns with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, capers, fresh herbs and lime, enlivened in a bright and cooling, intensely flavorful tomato broth. It was called Prawns and Caper Caprese.

Because it was a warm summer night, I chose a cooling appetizer as well, one plucked from the eight-course, prix fixe ALL POTATO MENU. It consisted of two small vessels of cold potato velouté – one iteration with hen eggs, the other flavored with a little pop of lake trout eggs. The dish was called Duet of Cold Potato Soup with Lake and Land Eggs.

BTW….the All Potato Menu also featured Potato “Spaghetti” Carbonara – the “spaghetti” being made entirely out of potatoes. That’s molecular gastronomy coupled with a dose of chemistry.

It was about at this time that I had to intervene with the pace of the service and ask (Joanne said I “told”) our server to slow down. We were being rushed. In a well-run dining room, our server would have said, “I apologize Mr. Roberts. I want this to be the most pleasant meal you have ever had in Italy and I will certainly assure you that you won’t feel rushed.”

Instead she replied, “Well, it’s 7:30 already and we’ve allotted you two hours to complete your dinner. We need this table at 9:00.” Needless to say, I asked for the manager, who turned out to be polite, contrite and embarrassed about the server’s “bedside manner.” He told us that the table was ours for the entire night if we chose, and he assigned another, more gracious, server to our table.

Let me stop a moment to say, as an operator, that I understand the focus on table turnover. But that’s my problem, not the diner’s. Guests should never feel rushed. And if they specifically ask you to slow down the service, you don’t exacerbate the problem the way our server did – you go into damage control mode the way the manager did.

Back to the meal – and the steady flow of wit and whimsy as evidenced in Joanne’s second course: a Risotto that infused Arborio rice with apple water, horseradish, vin santo (sweet dessert wine), raspberries and, of course, Parmigiano Reggiano.


One of the other tables ordered an intriguing dish that our server explained to us was risotto with red cabbage jus, trout roe, black truffles and a generous grading of Parmigiano Reggiano. WAIT A MINUTE!!!! I thought cheese was NEVER, EVER to be grated on a dish with seafood. SCREW THAT. I bet it was delicious!

Oh, and speaking of surprise and delight, Brunel serves his Risotto Pomodoro in a kind of Campbell’s Soup-like tin. I really admire witty plating like that, especially in fine dining restaurants where it’s important to show that you’re not too tightly wound. Being precious and full of yourself is not the recipe for your guests to have a fun and relaxing experience. Let’s remember: It’s JUST A RESTAURANT. We’re not curing heart disease here.

Among the pastas, we also tried a Wild Boar Ravioli (very Tuscan) prepared with “Cinta Senese Acid Butter” (not-so-Tuscan-sounding). It turns out that Cinta Senese refers to a local Heritage breed of pig known for its abundance of fat, and the “acid butter” in the ravioli isn’t butter at all – it’s old fashioned fatso goodness: LARD!

Main courses were indeed very, very pretty. And both of our selections were very, very good as well.

Bite-sized beauties of pink veal with a sauce of potato and veal jus were plated with just-picked cherry tomatoes and a scattering of caper leaves. Portions were small, but rich and nuanced as only veal can be.

Joanne, of course, will not go near veal. She opted instead for Bresse Rooster in two different cooking techniques: breast and leg with parsnips, onions, snails and saffron cream (I did not know that France was permitted to ship Bresse chicken to other countries – certainly not the U.S.) But if the pedigree of the chicken surprised me, the flavor did not: it was spectacular.

We forged on to dessert, including Apple Strudel and Chocolate Lollipops. They were very good – but I wished we had ordered what the table next us had: a finger food presentation of six white and six dark chocolate truffles laid out on a checkerboard plate. A THING of JOY!

I was taught not to play with my food. Thank God Chef Brunel did not get the message!

W.T.F.

PHIL

ITALY’S BREAD RULES

If any of you folks have plans to travel to Italy, here are some tips – maybe even RULES – that may be of some help.


First: Ladies, NEVER wear a TANK TOP to St. PETER’S…or shorts or anything skimpy for that matter. And men, no shorts for you either.

Second: In Italy, coffee etiquette is somewhat different than at Starbucks. Cappuccino is NOT to be consumed after noon. Because of its sweetness, it is considered a morning or breakfast drink, and legend has it that the reasoning not to indulge with lunch or dinner is that the milk in the cappuccino interferes with digestion. Hmmm….fact? Or a bunch of hooey?

And then there’s the bread, particularly in Rome and Florence: MORE RULES.

Bread is not a pre-meal snack. It’s okay with your antipasti and your secondi (main course). But never have bread with pasta. Starch with starch is a no-no (behave and you will avoid the dreaded sneer – and perhaps a nasty hand gesture). And remember, Italians consider it bad form to drizzle olive oil on your bread – and never, ever balsamic vinegar (However, just as way too many Italian restaurants have caved to American whims and wishes, may restaurants now automatically bring olive oil and vinegar with the bread service).

But there are some exceptions. If the bread has been grilled in the kitchen and seasoned with fresh herbs and olive oil, well, that’s okay because now the toasted bread is considered to be an antipasto or appetizer. Go figure.

And if the bread service is FOCACCIA, then that’s okay, too – especially if it has fresh herbs or is topped with something like sauteed onions, tomatoes….or, as is often the case in Tuscany, chicken livers. That’s all considered antipasti.

Bread tends to be somewhat regional in Italy, although many breads from around the country are similar and often strike me as a distinction without a difference.

But not all…..

Genoa is known for FOCACCIA GENOVESE, which in addition to often being drizzled with just olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and fresh rosemary, often comes topped with caramelized onions. YUM!


Bologna is known for lacing their breads with bits of Parma ham and pork sausage.

Further south in Naples, sweetness prevails. Yes, they do produce a version of sourdough, but the main stuff that dominates the pasticcerias or panetterias (bakeries) tend to be sweets and treats – the most popular being SFOGLIATELLAS that are stuffed with sweet cream and cherries.

On the other side if Italy, in Puglia, the “go-to” bread is called ALTAMURA….a one kilo (2.2 pounds) Flintstonian hunk of dough baked in wood-fired ovens. It has the reputation of having a two-week shelf life. Puglia does other interesting breads as well, including PANE CON OLIVA (olive bread, sometimes incorporating nuts or fennel).

Finally in Palermo, Sicily, the north African influence is felt as the Sicilians top several of their breads with sesame seeds…and they add a little honey. Some of their breads are fashioned in the form of an “S.”

Last month, we spent some time in Munich before taking the train across the Alps on our trip down to Rome. The purpose was to explore some German restaurants and dishes….particularly CHOUCROUTE and APPLE STRUDEL for an upcoming SALUT September that will feature dishes from ALSACE LORRAINE….the FRENCH/GERMAN influenced region on the border.

And no surprise, the Bavarian breads are often pretzels, but the preponderance of them are dark, dense, heavy, seedy and incredibly favorable, like Roggenbrot (German rye with caraway seeds) and Westphalian Pumpernickel, which is slowly baked for 12 – 16 hours. The chemical reaction called “maillard” that occurs when baking causes the Pumpernickel to turn dark brown, almost black (American Pumpernickel contains molasses and is not nearly as good. Genuine Pumpernickel is the most German of all breads.)

In my opinion, the breads from the northern European countries are better than those from their southern neighbors, probably due to the fact that wheat does not do particularly well in cold climates and consequently flours are made from coarsely ground grains like rye berries, spelt and einkorn berries.

So now, dear readers I am about to slay a SACRED COW.

And it is this: Contrary to conventional wisdom, bread in Rome and Florence just isn’t very good. In fact I’d characterize the bread in Florence as terrible.

In Rome, the popular bread is called CASARECCIO. It’s a large round loaf made with only white flour, water, yeast and a big pinch of salt. It’s crusty on the outside and spongy soft on the inside. The flavor is utterly unremarkable.


Florence is another matter entirely. I find the bread there to be dry, tasteless and bland. Think styrofoam or cardboard…take your pick.

Why, why? With everything else in Florence and throughout Tuscany so good why on earth would they serve innocuous bread ?

Well, there may be an answer. Some have said that Tuscan cuisine is so rich that there needs to be a counterpoint. A more widely heard explanation has to do with the rivalry between Florence and Pisa hundreds of years ago. At that time SALT was like currency and Pisa, being a seaport city, blockaded the Arno river and did not allow any of the precious commodity to reach Florence. Rather than succumb, Florence may have said “screw you, Pisa” and made their bread without salt. To this day, the PANE TOSCANA (Florentine bread) is made without salt…and without flavor or character. Even the Florentines drizzle olive oil on their bread and salt the hell out of it.

It turns out that Florentine bread has no shelf life at all. But no problem. Restaurants do not throw away old bread. The genius of Tuscan cooking has caused the creation of two wonderful and iconic Florentine dishes made with stale bread: PAPPA AL POMODORO (tomato/bread soup) and RIBOLLITA (cannelini bean, vegetable and bread soup), both thick and delicious, and both meant to be eaten with a fork.

So there you are folks….

Remember…NEVER eat bread with pasta! And NEVER take a “SELFIE” in the SISTINE CHAPEL.


W.T.F.

NEXT STOP – NOW LAST STOP: LES SABLONS

Serendipity is defined as ” the occurrence of events that happen by chance, in a happy or beneficial way.”


Exactly one week ago today, on August 2nd, I posted about the wonderful dinner we had in Boston at LES SABLONS. I recall the beautiful, tasty offerings from James Beard Award-winning chef Jeremy Sewall, the SWEETBREADS VOL-au VENT and the ROHAN DUCK BREAST, as well as the clever and quirky design package that somehow incorporated David Bowie, Grace Jones and Play-Doh.

So, the first part of the definition of “serendipity” is true…”the occurrence of events that happen by chance…”

But “…in a happy and beneficial way?” Well, that just does not fit here.

You see, last Friday – not 24 hours after I posted my rave about Les Sablons – the Boston Globe ran a piece announcing that the restaurant had closed for good the night before. Stop the presses!


It had been open only a little over a year.

For all my decades in this business, how could I have been so “brain dead” that I missed all the clues that everything was not well – things like being understaffed, not having the wine we selected, informing us that certain menu items were unavailable. But NO! Everything that evening bordered on PERFECT. And for a Sunday night, the place was busy and had a nice buzz.


First off, the restaurant is – sorry, WAS – striking and very well designed. The NY-based architectural team of Bentel & Bentel successfully resolved the aesthetic challenges of dealing with a 17-foot wide “bowling alley” type of space. The lighting was at once sultry, flattering….and spectacular. In 2017 Boston Eater nominated Les Sablons for Best Design.

So were there any clues that I should have up at the time?

I do remember that as our server set down the wine glasses, I remarked on their elegance and delicacy, and asked a question (to which I already knew the answer): “Do many of these break during the course of an evening?” She replied, “OMG, you can’t even imagine.”


That’s important because – although I can’t say exactly what brand of wine glasses they used; it could have been anything from Waterford to Schott-Zweisel to Reidel – stemware of that quality runs anywhere from $15 to $60 per glass. I actually said to someone at the table, “We would never use fragile glassware like that.” Do the math: $200 -$300 in breakage PER NIGHT?????

As I have read more about the closing, I learned that Les Sablons’ building had endured decades of neglect prior to the restaurant’s opening. The owners were actually inspired by the dilapidated structure as it reminded them of the run-down, cracked and sooty Paris Metro station after which it was named (check out the image of below).


The rule of thumb that we at Parasole – and most others in our industry – use to determine the viability of a site is that annual sales will have to be double the cost of the buildout. If a restaurant costs $2 million to build, then you’d better have a $4 million concept. If the cost is $4 million, then $8 million in sales has to be realized. And BTW $8 million is flirting with the stratosphere.

So could it be that the dire condition of the building doomed Les Sablons to failure? With all the structural, mechanical, and electrical issues to resolve (maybe asbestos also figured into the mix), creating a restaurant with Les Sablons’ level of fit and finish could have run $4-6 million. Factor in rent and taxes, etc., and maybe they never had a chance.

I just don’t know. I’m not smart enough to figure out what happened to Les Sablons. All I know for certain is that I’m sorry it’s gone.

W.T.F.

NEXT STOP: LES SABLON

Once in a while in Paris, one needs to escape the crowds and concrete and seek out an oasis. For Joanne and me, we found our refuge a half-dozen stops away on the Paris Metro #1 line – heading from the Chatelet Metro station toward the Arc de Triomphe, then two stops later reaching our destination: The LES SABLONS Metro station.


We’ve done this stop several times, most recently with our grandkids. And what a treat it is. You’re only a couple of blocks from the beautiful and spacious BOIS DE BOULOGNE GARDENS, home to the stunning, Frank Gehry-designed FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON museum. We always manage to have lunch at the museum restaurant…LE FRANK…. (Check out my February 16, 2017 post: “Blast from the past…Springtime in Paris”).

To top that off, just behind the museum is the JARDIN D’ACCLIMATATION (“Garden of Pleasure”) and its iconic amusement park, complete with a half-dozen outdoor cafes. It’s a great place to spend a Sunday in Paris.

So a few weeks ago when Joanne and I attended the graduation of our grandson, Charlie, in Boston, I was amused that our son, David, had booked dinner reservations at a rather new Cambridge restaurant called LES SABLONS, opened in 2017 in Harvard Square. And BTW, if any of you are dropping off kids for college in the Boston area, read on….read on!

Les Sablons is housed in the historic Conductor’s Building, circa 1912, once a subway facility and respite for the train conductors who worked greater Boston’s earliest subway system.

While our favorite Boston restaurants have always included an eclectic mix…..everything from GRILL 23 to CRAIGIE ON MAIN, TEATRO, FIGS and EAST COAST GRILL, I have to say that Les Sablons is our new favorite. No wonder: At the helm is chef Jeremy Sewell, a James Beard winner as well as a Culinary Institute alum who honed his skills in London under the famous Roux Brothers (think LE GAVROCHE).

The restaurant occupies two floors. The more casual first floor is the Oyster Bar, while the smart second floor is ever so slightly formal – BUT without the fuss! In fact, there’s a lot of quirky wit and whimsy going on.

And of course (me being a sucker for celebrities), I noted that Jacques Pepin and Martha Stewart were patrons. Martha was smiling (so everything must have been perfect – and I mean PERFECT. Or else.).

Well, I have to say that our dinner was, indeed, faultless.

First off, in the event that two of you decide to go to Les Sablons, be sure to request corner table #61. Not only will you occupy the Catbird Seat, but you’ll be directly under the Play-Doh mural with a photo of cigarette-smoking DAVID BOWIE keeping an eye on you…


We started by sharing a dozen raw, fat oysters: four Aunt Dotties, four Fin de la Tables and four Little Guns – all $3.50 each. The Aunt Dotties and Little Guns both hail from the East Coast and are farm-raised. I’m told they’re the same oyster, but with different names. Could be – because they tasted the same. I can’t figure out where the “Fin de la Table” oysters are from. Maybe France? Maybe they’re just called “Fin de la Table” because they’re the last ones the restaurant’s able to sell.

I won’t bug you with a laundry list of our dishes. All – and I mean ALL – were exceptional. But here are a few that simply can’t be ignored. Check out the accompanying images.

APPETIZERS:
Chicken Liver Terrine….with toasted brioche, cherry mustard and crème fraiche…$15

Mushroom Strudel …with black garlic sauce…$14

Porcini Mushroom Agnolotti …with corn fondue, watercress and summer truffles…$32

MAINS:
Veal Boudin Blanc…with mushrooms and Pommes Anna…$32

Roasted Monkfish with green curry broth, bok choy, toasted hazelnuts and littleneck clams…$32

Maine Scallops with white asparagus, lemon parsnip puree and white sturgeon caviar…$42

Rohan Duck Breast with roasted cherries, oyster mushrooms, charred spring onions, fava beans and mint…$39

DESSERT:
Lemon Posset…a lemony sort of pudding with olive oil gelato, and toasted pistachios…$10

Chocolate Cremeux …espresso infused with toasted hazelnuts.

Pavlova with passion fruit and bruléed bananas.

So folks, not only is this place really smart and well-designed, but if you go, be sure to notice the lighting. And it has a 4.5 rating from ZAGAT!!

Now I can’t figure out the Play-Doh art, but it sure is fun and amusing. Nor do I understand the David Bowie thing, but it’s also fun, albeit a little strange…but in a good way.

But hovering above our table was a giant black-and-white image of a menacing – and not very happy – Grace Jones. She was a little scary glowering down at us (Really, W.T.F.?). Not certain why…but we made sure that we cleaned our plates.


W.T.F.

PHIL

Confused & Confounded

In my post last week, I noted that Joanne and I had taken more than a ten-year hiatus from visiting Italy. It’s not that we no longer liked the country…. quite the opposite…. I just didn’t want to become jaded and numb to the surprise and adventure it promises travelers.


So last month when we took our grandkids, it was refreshing to watch their eyes pop and jaws drop at the splendor of it all: the history…the ruins… the architecture – and, of course, the food.

I was reminded how fascinated my partner Pete and I were with everything Italy when, years ago (in advance of opening Pronto Ristorante), we attended Marcella Hazan’s cooking school in Bologna.

Under Marcella’s tutelage I learned that there was a rather strict protocol about the progression of a proper Italian dining experience at the ristorante’s … not so much at the trattoria’s. And as we visited Rome and the Vatican, with all of the clergy wandering about, I was not about to break any rules and get on the wrong side of “you know who.”

Over the course of that trip, we observed in detail what Marcella taught us. When dining in Italy, for example, one adheres to a structured sequencing of dishes that departs from the American norm of appetizer, main and dessert.

First some information …..

Cuisine in Italy is hyper-regional. Classic Roman dishes like Cacio e Pepe pasta and pasta Amatriciana stand apart from signature Florentine specialties like Ribollita and Bistecca Fiorentina. And Tuscan cuisine is a marked departure from that of Sicily. I also observed that the cuisine in these regions rigidly follows what’s in season. We did not get strawberries in November.

Water is not automatically served. We paid by the bottle, with a choice of still or bubbles. Secondly, we were charged for bread. That appears on your bill as “pane e coperto.” It’s usually two or three bucks American ….. per person.


Away from the touristy places, we found that service is not rushed. In fact, we generally had to ask for our check (“Il conto, por favore”).
And to our surprise and delight, there was no tipping. Service was included in our bill. Always.

In America, the evening meal frequently starts with cocktails. Not so in Italy. Here, one usually starts with wine.


Then the progression begins. First the Antipasti – modestly sized plates of items like Bruschetta or Prosciutto and Melon. Or in Tuscany, perhaps Wild Boar Salami or Papa Al Pomodoro (thick, thick, Italian tomato-bread soup that you eat with a fork).

Next comes the Primi – typically small bowls of pasta, maybe three or four ounces.

The Primi is followed by the third course, called the Secondi, or what we know as the entrée – meats or fish, often simply grilled (except in Milan, of course, where the bucket-list dish is Osso Buco with Risotto Milanese, laced with saffron and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese). Most dishes come à la carte, so if you want a side dish, look for the Contorni offerings.

The drill continues with the Dolce, or dessert. Panna Cotta or Baba Rhum, perhaps? Or maybe just a fresh peach in the summertime. In years back, Joanne and I most often had chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese simply drizzled with a little aged Balsamic vinegar. Finally, to cap off the long evening we would share an order of Biscotti for dipping one-by-one in Vin Santo dessert wine. Oh yes, sometimes we ordered Limoncello instead. Limoncello can be dangerous.

All of which leads me to our recent trip…about which, I have to admit, I’m more than a little puzzled.

Things have changed over the past decade, and I’m not certain what to make of it. Perhaps if we’d continued to visit year after year, I wouldn’t have noticed a culinary creep. But after such a long time away, I was startled by the accumulation of changes to the Italian dining routine. I have no concrete conclusions, only observations that don’t appear to have much connective tissue with one another.

First, let’s stipulate that there are boatloads of Americans in Italy these days – more than I remember from past visits in June.


Now, one of our favorite restaurants in Florence has always been SOSTANZA. It still is. But here’s the deal: Sostanza has lost some of its cachet. They now take reservations, whereas before they did not. Indeed, patrons used to line up outside before Sostanza opened in hope of snagging a spot. Part of my buzz was watching with delight from our table as the pour souls vied for the remaining tables (Is that Shadenfreude – taking pleasure in others’ misfortune or struggles?)

And so it was, with confirmed reservations, we arrived at Sostanza and were seated right away, with no one outside to cast envious eyes on us. And although the small dining room eventually filled, there were empty tables through most of the evening. Was that because now, ten years later, Sostanza had started accepting reservations? I don’t know.

But I do know this: The signature dish at SOSTANZA has always been the kilo-and-a-half (about 3 lbs) BISTECCA FIORENTINA, a two-inch thick Porterhouse steak of Flintstonian heritage. Of course we ordered it. But what came to our table was a much smaller RIB EYE steak masquerading as a BISTECCA FIORENTINA. It was very, very good, but NOT very impressive to look at.

Why would they do such a thing? Again, I just don’t know. Too expensive these days?

Another dinner and another mystery: this time at our favorite Tuscan restaurant in Rome, GIRARROSTO TOSCANO (Okay, okay, I know. I tried and failed to replicate Girarrosto about ten years ago, but Eden Prairie would have none of that.)

To my delight, Girarrosto has not tampered one bit with their Bistecca Fiorentina. Nor have they downsized or diluted anything else on their menu. Girarrosto was just exactly as I remembered it. Check out the image of their Bistecca below.


What was not exactly as I remembered was that the place was virtually empty. Along with our group of seven, there was another couple seated near us, and what appeared to be an American tour group of 15 – 20 people. Why? Why? It’s so good! (I’ve been recommending this place for decades, and it ALWAYS delivers).

Rome is not noted for an abundance of seafood restaurants. But one of the few – and very, very best – is QUINZI & GABRIELI. They have remodeled since Joanne and I were last there, but the seafood remains as it always has: pristinely fresh and perfectly prepared.

Just like Girarrosto, however, the restaurant only had a smattering of customers on the night we visited. What’s wrong here? These are all top-tier restaurants that deliver on their promise. Are they out of touch with today’s consumer? Has the Italian economy cratered so badly that the locals are trading down? But why aren’t they at least filled with Americans? Although none of these places is cheap, neither are they crazy-nuts expensive.

Some other observations…..

Here’s something that has changed. Three times on the trip, I was annoyed when servers asked us to leave a tip on top of the service charge included in our bill (“The owner, he keep everything,” we were told in beseeching tones).

As I noted earlier, Italians usually start their evening meal with wine (or perhaps a low-alcohol aperitivo of Campari & soda. But I noticed that several patrons along the way started with a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth – a boozy cocktail indeed). Maybe because it was warm, I observed more than a few folks sipping on gin & tonics or maybe vodka & tonic). Were they Americans? Don’t know.


But something else was noticeably different. Fewer restaurants were serving pasta as a Primi before the main, and more were heaping it up AS THE MAIN COURSE. Have Italian restaurants discovered what Olive Garden figured out decades ago – that the masses really like great big bowls of over-sauced five-cheese tortelloni or fettuccine Alfredo topped with chicken breast? One thing’s for sure: I saw more pasta main courses at tables than I did proteins on the plate.

What’s next? Will Italian restaurants dispense with the aperitivo and embrace popular cocktails like Olive Garden’s Italian Margaritas (made with Jose Cuervo tequila) or their signature Milan Mai Tai?

Will they start offering breadsticks? (If so, you can be damned sure they won’t be free).

So which is it: Have the American tourists prompted Italian restaurants to offer jumbo martinis and entrée-sized pasta platters? Or are they just knuckling under and being shrewd operators by giving folks what they want? “Turn on the green light. The man wants a green suit.”


To be perfectly honest, I am flummoxed. Were my observations just a one-time blip? Or have Italy’s ancient culinary traditions stepped on to the slippery slope?

One thing that Marcella taught me was that spaghetti and meatballs should NEVER, EVER appear on the same plate together.

But I do remember dining at Olive Garden not long ago (this is what you do as a grandparent) where, to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed my lasagna topped with meatballs – something that would cause Marcella to burn truck tires in the street. Then, three weeks ago, for the first time EVER in Italy I spotted a diner eating Spaghetti & Meatballs. Lord have mercy.


But even with all of this….I ate like a satisfied pig.

W.T.F.

Return to Rosetta

During our BUCA days, Joanne and I led culinary teams to Italy two-to-three times a year – always to Rome, Tuscany and Naples, occasionally to Sicily. This went on for about 10-12 years.

So last month when we took our grandkids to Italy, it had been at least 10 years since Joanne and I had been there. And I think during the course of those 30-or-so visits, we probably ate at most every significant spot (and some not-so-significant ones) that these cities and regions had to offer.

And so it was, on this trip, that some of our favorites were still around while others had closed up shop.

Among our favorites, we were delighted to find that LA ROSETTA, located near the Pantheon in Rome, remains in business. It’s been around since 1966 and was the first ALL SEAFOOD restaurant in Rome.


On Sunday, June 17, 2018, we went back.

My memories of our visits to La Rosetta are delightful. The surprise of the amuse bouche (before I even knew what an amuse bouche was)…shared antipasti plates of “crudo (raw fish), the freshest and briniest oysters on the planet…thin slices of “just-caught” swordfish carpaccio…as well as a morsel of crispy fried monkfish liver in a roasted pumpkin puree. And to top it all off – you know how “star-struck” I can be – on our last visit, Kathleen Turner and her daughter were at the table next to us.

We enjoyed dishes I never could have imagined, like a chicory salad with anchovy dressing. It was at La Rosetta where I first tried “cacio e pepe” (kinda like fettuccine Alfredo except with cacio sheep’s milk cheese instead of Parmigiano Reggiano, and what seemed like handfuls of freshly cracked black pepper).

Platters of simply grilled langoustines, lobster and crab are also embedded in my flavor memory.

Well, on Sunday night we went back for the first time in 10 years. It was a beautiful night and we were fortunate to snag one of the coveted outdoor deuces with a vista of the Pantheon about a block away.

Dinner started off well enough with a bottle of well-chilled and crispy Frascati from just south of Rome.

For the antipasti I tried to share a plate of deep-fried anchovies alongside porcini mushrooms. Joanne would have none of it (well, none of the anchovies; she had no problem snarfing down the accompanying porcinis). She followed with a small arugula salad and ravioli stuffed with crab, leeks, ricotta, ginger and lime. I opted for the black pepper-laced cacao e pepe (as good as I remembered it). Next came grilled sea bass and red snapper, accompanied by more freshly foraged mushrooms (note to readers: there are worse times to schedule an Italy trip than during porcini season).

Now, La Rosetta is not cheap. And here was the problem: The amuse bouche never came (perhaps it was forgotten – or just purposely cut from the La Rosetta experience). The potted white flowers on our table were hopelessly wilted and beginning to turn brown…perhaps dead. Our menus were dirty, torn and dog-eared. And the service? Lackadaisical, a little aloof and not caring.

I flirted with the notion that maybe I was fantasizing and romanticizing our visits from ten long years ago. But no. The flowers were actually wilted. And the menus were, in fact, dirty and shabby. And our server really didn’t seem to give a shit.

I wondered if it was simply an off-night. Restaurants aren’t known for scheduling their “A Teams” on Sundays.

Then again, was our server’s lack of attention to detail a reflection of management’s shortcomings? After all, we never even saw a manager during the entire evening. Had the “disease” spread throughout the restaurant? You have to ask yourself: If the menus are dirty, how clean will the bathrooms be? How about the kitchen? If no one cared enough to keep the flowers on our table from wilting, could they be bothered to keep the lettuce in the cooler fresh?

Based on a single visit, I can’t answer such questions with any certainty.

So would I recommend La Rosetta to you?

Yeah…I would. My memories are so fond from years ago that I just find it hard to believe that the place could slip so much. I think that the ownership has not changed and as I said: the food was good.

Just don’t go on Sunday night.


W.T.F.

PHIL

The Scoop (or the Paddle) on Gelato

Joanne and I just returned from Italy with grandkids in tow. And of course we dragged them – occasionally kicking and screaming (not really) – to all of the must-sees: the Colosseum, Roman Forum, St Peter’s, the Uffizi Galleries, the Duomo, etc.

And while these icons certainly caught their attention, they were rivaled by two other attention-getting experiences – namely FORTNIGHT, with their eyes on their IPhones as they teamed up with their siblings to build massive forts, battle against hordes of monsters, and craft and loot giant worlds (I like to think it improved their understanding of the Roman Empire).

The other thing that grabbed ‘em – without fail – was GELATO.


It was a treat on a hot afternoon and a reward after a long day of touring. Asking the kids to rank order their favorites always fueled an animated discussion. And the threat of withholding gelato provided a powerful inducement for our bambini to behave.

And so it was that as we toured the cities and ancient sights, their eyes were often glued to their IPhones while their taste buds and antenna were tuned to sensing the closest GELATERIA.

Since my video game knowledge never got past PAC-MAN and THE FROGGER …… I’ll talk a bit about gelato.

First of all: a little primer on gelato vs. ice cream. They are different. Both good but simply different.


Both contain milk, cream and sugar. Ice cream frequently contains egg yolks. Gelato does not and uses more milk and less cream. It’s also churned at a much slower rate than ice cream, thus incorporating less air, leaving gelato denser, silkier and softer.

Because of the cream and egg yolks, ice cream contains butterfat in the range of 14 to 25%, while gelato is in the 4 to 9% range. With less butterfat coating your palate, flavors intensify. Also, gelato is kept and served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream – 7 to 12 degrees vs. 10 to 15 degrees. The warmer temperature of gelato causes your mouth to become less numb from the chill and better able to allow the flavors to shine through.

Because it contains less fat and air, gelato costs about 30% more than ice cream. But the good news is that gelato contains about 20% fewer calories.

In Rome there were two important gelaterias in our neighborhood near the Pantheon: DELLA PALMA and GIOLITTI. Each offered about 150 different choices. They were equally good and just a few steps from one another. What they have in common besides the outstanding quality is the incredible artistry in how they display the product – positively jaw-dropping. Check out the visuals below. (Our grandkids sampled 47 different varieties.)


So what about kids in Italy? Well, besides exposing them to the ancient history of the Roman Empire and the cultural history of the Renaissance, our grandkids were troopers when it came to the many Roman, Tuscan and Milanese foods they tried for the first time and loved. Among their favorites: Porcini mushrooms, Bistecca Fiorentina, Tuscan chicken liver crostini, risotto Milanese and pastas and pizzas of all stripes.

We didn’t indulge, but there are numerous cooking classes for kids, both in Rome and in Florence — pizza making and gelato making.

Which brings us back to gelato and some “inside baseball” information. CAUTION! There are two dueling ways of serving up cones: THE SCOOP vs. THE PADDLE.

You want to buy from the shops that use the paddle. The scoop is often used by lesser gelaterias as a way of keeping costs down by controlling the smaller size of the ball of gelato they serve. The paddle method slathers the gelato generously (get three flavors, and the cone will almost topple. Further, the price is often about the same as the smaller scooping joints.

Joanne and I watched with amusement as our grandkids progressed during the trip from the safety of familiar flavors to absolute culinary adventure – starting timidly with chocolate and strawberry and the comfort of Nutella, Twix, Snickers and Mars renditions, then stepping up the pace to include profiterole, watermelon and blood orange. Passion fruit, green apple and Sicilian fruit took ‘em to the next level and by the final few days they were sampling fig and puffo (cotton candy gelato). Topping off the adventure: BLACK SESAME SEED!

I found gelato to be extremely democratic, cutting across all lines from young and old, famous and locals, Arnold and Magic, Audrey and Gregory, princes and priests, not to mention nuns making gelato a habit.

W.T.F.

PHIL

HITTING THE SPOT WHEN YOU HIT THE ROAD

In my last posting, I wrote about our drive to South Bend, Indiana for our granddaughter’s graduation from Notre Dame University.

But it just wasn’t Notre Dame. We made it into a bona fide road trip in order for our 11 year-old granddaughter to see two more campuses: the University of Illinois (Joanne’s and my alma mater) and Northwestern University (our sidekick Tim’s alma mater).


We always eagerly look forward to a big and important evening dinner, but our daytime eating is just that…. EATING, not dining.

Full disclosure: A few weeks ago, while pushing my shopping cart around Lund’s grocery store, a Salut customer caught me red-handed with a big jar of KRAFT CHEEZE WHIZ in my basket. So it should not surprise you that I also like McDONALD’S.

And so it was that every morning started out with a breakfast stop at the Golden Arches. Our granddaughter always ordered pancakes; Joanne and I always ordered Egg McMuffins.


It doesn’t stop there. We’d also stop at McDonald’s for lunches of burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches…and Egg McMuffins, which are now part of their Breakfast All Day menu.

McDonald’s is re-branding their look all over the Midwest (and probably around the country and maybe the world). It’s a NICE LOOK and FEEL: clean, warm and understated.

And not only is the company modernizing the look, they’re streamlining their ordering systems. Two years ago, Joanne and I were at the Louvre in Paris and grabbed a bite at McDonald’s in the museum’s food court, only to be surprised and confounded by the computerized ordering kiosks. Well, I’m here to tell you that two years later, they’ve come to BARABOO, WISCONSIN! There goes more than a few minimum wage jobs.

I like the food and the price, and I like the speed and the cleanliness of McDonald’s. But perhaps my “like” goes a little deeper than that. You see, while Joanne and I were students in Champaign, Illinois, a new joint called McDonald’s opened up, and soon it became the go-to spot to “chow-down” on 15 CENT HAMBURGERS after a night of revelry – and not just two or three, but sometimes five or six. Beer does wonders for the appetite.

I recall that their brightly lit neon sign read….”OVER 1 MILLION SOLD.” Now the sign simply says “BILLIONS AND BILLIONS SOLD.”


Another piece of nostalgia grabbed me on the trip: STEAK ‘n SHAKE. As a kid growing up in Kewanee, Illinois, my Uncle Haydn would sometimes drive my mom, dad and me down to East Peoria for a curb service supper there. Haydn drove because we didn’t own a car.

So when a Steak ‘n Shake popped up as we drove East across I-80 in Indiana, of course we HAD TO STOP. Oh, how times change. There was no more curb service, no car hops – just a drive-thru. The interior was dolled-up in bright red, black and white. And I have to say, it had a bit of a hard edge to it, not very warm and comfortable.

Remarkably, though, the menu content was much as I remember from my childhood: single, double and triple “steakburgers,” the single weighing in at 2.2 ounces, just a bit bigger than McDonald’s 1.8 ounce patty. The smallish thin burgers cook faster than the thick 8-ouncers we serve at SALUT and PITTSBURGH BLUE.

BTW, a page out of IN ‘N OUT’S playbook that anchors the menu for sobering up after an all-nighter is the “7 X 7,” consisting of seven stacked-up burger patties, with seven slices – count ‘em – of cheddar cheese. All for $7.77

A pretty good rendition of the iconic Chicago hot dog is on the menu for $4.99, as is a Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich at $5.99.

One thing that I remember is the Steak ‘n Shake Chili. It doesn’t seem to have changed at all. And it’s not simply a ladle full of glop “whumped” into a bowl. This is chili treated with RESPECT, finally getting its rightful platform. You can order it CINCINATTI STYLE (look it up); or as a CHILI MAC over spaghetti (a bargain at $3.99); CHILI SUPREME with additional chili beef for $5.95; and CHILI DELUXE, with chopped raw onions, Jack and Cheddar cheese at $2.99 for a cup. A bottle of vinegar-based HOT PEPPER SAUCE proudly sits on every table. Douse your chili with more than several drops. Don’t be a chicken – DOUSE IT!

At the checkout counter, you can buy Steak ‘n Shake-branded china. Joanne and I have owned a full set for 40 years – cups, chili bowls, plates and platters as well as glassware, all with logos. They also sell chili in a can. I haven’t tried it, but my experience with HORMEL CANNED CHILI has always been delightful.

CULVER’S is another story entirely. It’s the new kid on the block, founded in 1984. And whereas McDonald’s is fast food and Steak ‘n Shake is table service, Culver’s is a tweener – what the industry calls fast casual.

You place your order at the main counter, like Mc Donald’s, paying before you get your food. Automated ordering computers are there, but so are an army of people to all but eliminate waiting in line. You’re issued a stand-up plastic number to set on your table and within moments your entire order is delivered. NICE.

The décor is “smart casual” – warm, comfortable and stylish, nicely put together.

Their signature BUTTER BURGERS are large for fast casual: 5.4 ounce patties in a single, and 9.9 ounces in a double. Pretty generous when the single Butter Burger sells for less than $3, and the double is priced at $4.29. Joanne and I both had the Fish Sandwich – deep-fried crispy cod on a soft roll slathered with tartare sauce and shredded lettuce. Very good indeed.

Two Chicken Sandwiches are offered – one deep-fried, the other, in a nod to healthy living, grilled. Both sell for $4.29.

It’s Wisconsin, so, of course, Cheese Curds are on the menu. The worst cheese curds I’ve ever had were wonderful, as were these. (Forgive me, but the Cheese Curds at BURGER JONES are the “Gold Standard.”)

Ice cream and custard sundaes, shakes and “Concretes” dominate the Treats section of the illuminated menu boards. We tried ‘em all. All are deadly good.

Until recently, I didn’t really understand the difference between Shakes and Concretes. Growing up, we just had malts, period.

But here’s the difference: Shakes are ice cream-based and Concretes are custard-based. Consequently they’re much thicker. Moreover, they almost always have chunks of something mixed in – nuts, fruit, candy…you get the idea. Think McFlurries at Mickey D’s, or Blizzards at DQ. In fact, the procedure at Dairy Queen is for the counter person to demonstrate the thickness by the turning Blizzard upside down in front of you before handing it off.


So where does that leave us?

If you’re planning a summer road trip, all three are worth a try, but for different reasons. McDonald’s is fast, and also the least expensive. Its menu also has a broad assortment of offerings. If you have a little more time and want a sit-down lunch, then Steak ‘n Shake is a wise choice, particularly if you keep it simple – a cup of chili, steak burger and a chocolate shake.


But don’t miss Culver’s. For food quality and ambiance, it’s the best of the bunch – not as fast as McDonald’s, but hardly slow. And while it’s a little more generous and bit more expensive than either, it certainly provides great value for the money.

BTW, on our four-day road trip, we had one stop at Culver’s, one stop at Steak ‘n shake, and FIVE stops at McDonald’s. Gotta have those Egg McMuffins!


WTF,

Phil