Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Want to know what goes on in your restaurant's kitchen? Order a hamburger!

Hamburgers are simple to make and yet some restaurants are still taking shortcuts. Cheap ingredients, pre-cooked patties, dry mealy patties, sad toppings. When a burger arrives, it should never be room-temperature. Burgers are easy to dissect at your table. Just open them up and you'll be able to spot all the shortcuts and disrespect an establishment has for you and for its food.

I have a simple rule: Everything on a menu is worthy of the restaurant's name.

Sure, there will always be signature dishes that are the best in the city. I cannot expect everything on the same menu to be the best in the city. What I can expect, is that the standards that go behind making signature dishes are the same standards that go into everything they make. Cheat me on a burger and I know you're cheating me on every single thing on your menu.

A friend of mine had a restaurant, The late Saint's Diner, with one of the best burgers I've ever eaten, "The Deuce". What made the burger great was the fact that it was fresh and that all the ingredients were fresh. Several toppings had to be cooked (it was complicated burger) but every topping was cooked AFTER I ordered the burger. It was hot, it was messy, it was great. A small restaurant with a big delicious burger. I was sorry to see it go.

Then there's the insults I had this past weekend. Two restaurants 80-miles apart. Both were advertised as Bar-B-Que/Grill restaurants. The first, Clay's in Marksville, the burger was simply okay. It left me wanting. What got me, though, was the toppings. Limp lettuce and tomatoes tell me you've given up.

The second restaurant, Bergeron's in Port Allen, had the smell of smoked ribs and brisket. Oh, hope of hope. It smells like they may have respect for meat. I may have to make note of this place if I'm passing here with the family. No. I made note to never eat there again. The burger was ready in UNDER FIVE MINUTES. Awwww, crap. You can't make a burger that fast. Not if you respect meat. The patty was barely warm. It was obviously cooked earlier. Earlier in the day, or earlier in the week was anyone's guess. The patty really was that bad. The toppings were fresh, but the meat was mealy. No respect for me or the meat. I was very hungry and ate about half the burger before my hunger was replaced by sadness. The burger made me sad. Not sad, as in "Aww, I wasted my money and time on this," but sad, as in "What have I done in my life to deserve this?" The only thing good was the battered fries. I wish I had saved some for after the burger. I hated finishing on a bad note.

A few weeks ago, my coworkers asked me to come along for lunch. "Bill, we're going to River Shack for lunch. They have great burgers." I'm up for a recommendation like that. I was disappointed. The burger was barely warm and the meat was dry. Did they cook it for me? Likely. But I don't know what they did to it after that. I'll never go back.

In December, we visited my parents in California. I've heard nothing but great things about In-N-Out Burger. I'll put it at the top of the list of fast-food burgers. However, beating McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, What-a-Burger, Rally's, and so forth, is not a proud achievement. My wife and I gave them a rating of "Enh." Don't make it a destination, but if you're given a choice, pick them. Oh, and whatever you do, don't eat the fries.

The cafeteria here at Loyola has a grill. They make better burgers than I can get at any fast-food location. Fresh meat they have to form by hand, cheese, ketchup, mustard, happy. You can get them right as they come off the grill. It's not a complicated thing to make. This is why I'm so sad when it's done wrong. And why I'm happy these cooks are doing it right, right here on campus.

On the road, I eat at Five Guys. It looks like fast-food, but it's not. It is a chain-restaurant, and I'm not a fan of chains, but I'm a bigger fan of good. They make the burgers ONLY after you've placed your order. The ingredients are fresh and crisp. The french fries are fantastic (an understatement) and only begin cooking after you order them. The people at every Five Guys I've eaten at in 6 different states are exactly the same: Happy, courteous, a pleasure to be around, and accurate. If you have a problem with an order, they over-compensate to correct it. The food is not cheap, but then, the food is not cheap. There has to be something about the attitude of the employees being so consistently wonderful that makes the food so consistently wonderful. My wife is actually mad at Five Guys. She used to be able to eat burgers from McDonalds or Wendy's. Now she can't eat anywhere else.

One last reference: One vacation, more than 10 years back, I searched Panama City Beach looking for the best burger. I found a couple of places that weren't all that bad. On the last day, we hung out by the hotel pool and I remember feeling that my good burger quest had gone unfulfilled. But then, I noticed the pool-side grill. They made me the best burger of my vacation. More than a decade later, I can remember that burger. Good God, it was great. Why? Because the guy making it took no shortcuts. It's so simple to make if you only have a little respect for it.

It all fits. If you want to assess a restaurant and burgers are low on their menu, order it. Examine it. Eat it. Judge everything else on the menu by it. If they care about food, they'll care about the burger. If they don't care about the burger, they didn't care about you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Glass fusing is NOT as easy as some may say.

Judy Martin, in the "Fused Glass Fanatics" group on Facebook, shared an article from HGTV.com titled "How to Make a Fused Glass Sculpture". If you're into fused glass (aka warm glass), this article reads like dark humor. If you've never worked with fused glass before, please don't follow these instructions. Or, if you do, photograph everything. Those of us who are laughing nervously at the HGTV article will be laughing hysterically at your exploits and expensive losses. Your choice.

The article lacks refinement in its "Materials and Tools" section. The "Steps" section begins weakly, but not necessarily wrong. It's half-way down the steps that a crucial step is missed and the next step can only lead to a costly error. Let's have a look at what's going on...

Materials and Tools:

"dichroic and iridized glass in various colors" 

With no mention of COE numbers. The "Coefficient Of Expansion" number tells glass artists which glasses can work with which. You should also look for glass that is "tested compatible" because COE is not the end-all-be-all of compatibility factors.
Why we're laughing: Glass of differing COE values is going to crack as the glass cools (bad) or break when it's sitting on your bookshelf (worse).  Either way, this article just cost you money: Pretty glass = Expensive glass

Why we're laughing: If you get your own kiln and follow these instructions, you now own a worthless kiln.  "Why" is later...

Why we're laughing:  We're not.  You're going to get the wrong file and cut yourself.  The list says nothing about a dust mask which is needed for "cold work".  So don't.

"circle mold"
Why we're laughing: You need a "spherical section mold".  Circle molds make nice round disks.  The only photo in the article indicates that you will be making a rounded object, but gives you no instructions on how to do this.

"(missing things)"
Why we're laughing:  No mention of "shelf paper" or "boron nitride spray" or anything else that will come between your molten glass and your kiln furniture or your "circle mold".  Molten glass is sticky stuff.  You are going to be placing an awful lot of glass pieces into your mold and screwing up everything it touches. Very expensive to repair.  You may have just totaled your kiln.

Steps 1-5 are only okay.  Photos would go a long way towards helping the reader.
Why we're laughing: No shelf paper.  You're on your way to ruin.

Step 6 is the "Holy Shit" step

Why we're laughing HYSTERICALLY: A) Unless you're firing fine glass frit, if you go from room temperature to 1500 as fast as possible, the glass pieces are going to shatter.  Not crack, but shatter.  Without shelf paper, that glass is everywhere on the floor of your kiln.  Own a clamshell kiln?  You may have just glued glassed it shut.
B) Eight hours at 1500 might be good if you're melting a cubic foot of glass.  For the project pictured, you can get away with less than 30 minutes at 1450.  Oh, and all that pretty dichroic glass turns to a muddy mess if you fire it for eight hours.
C) "Cool for 12 hours" can shatter your glass on the way down.  Now, all those glass puddles are fracturing.  Enjoy your sharp stuck wrecked kiln.

Step 7 is not a funny step.
It should not be done with a "file".  You need a special file with diamond grit.  Maybe a couple files.  And a dust mask or file it under running water.

Step 8 is almost as bad as Step 6
Why we're laughing: A) You're not told to fire each circle separately.  If you're reading this article for your first fusing project you may not have known this.
B) Heating straight to 1200 degrees is going to shatter your piece the same as ramping to 1500, only without the resulting puddles.  Still messy but the shards will be pretty.
C) Oh!  Almost forgot.  You didn't prep your mold.  You just ruined your $50 mold.  Ta-Da! 
D) Six hours should be 30 minutes.  For a wagon-wheel type of design, you may have already gotten a good slump after 10 minutes.
E) After six hours at 1200, a spherical slump is going to be much thicker at the bottom with thin walls.  All detail from your design will be melting towards the bottom of the mold. 
F) Again with the bad cooling step.  Your slumped piece is now shattered.

Steps 9-11
Will never be achieved by following the instructions in the article.  Here are the steps you'll likely encounter:
9) Cry
10) Call your kiln manufacturer for a repair estimate
11) Cry
12) Find someone who knows what they're doing and start all over under their supervision.

There you have it.  A recipe for broken glass and shattered dreams; empty wallets and mad spouses.  This article has three failures to inform that will result in you dealing with broken glass.  I wish I had a throw-away kiln to show you why.  Then even those of you with no knowledge of glass fusing would be laughing along with the rest of us.