Archive for May, 2011

Stop, Look & Listen

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

As Robert Nyman sees it you can reinvigorate your F&B staff by engaging them in the decision making process. Here’s how.

It’s been an interesting past couple of weeks or so, depending on how you view the world and what is of utmost importance to you personally and professionally.  The usual “talking heads” are putting their spin on things; all coming up with excuses, new ideas and we should have done this and we should have done that.  Some people are so tuned into the events of the day it seems they start to think they invented a new way of critiquing and communicating to us their opinions and ideals.  Oh you thought I was going to opine about Donald Trump?  Hardly, Seth Meyers said enough about that for all of us.

With the price of oil continuing to rise, consumers have decided to use less gasoline, which translates in some areas as less visits to restaurants and going out in general.  Plus with rising food costs as we are told due to increasing fuel costs, hang on to your whatever, we might be in for a bumpy ride all over again or should I say still?  I spoke this week to several operators who already told me their cover counts were off and even with the traditional nice weather in the country this time of the year (with the exception of the flooding areas), business in general is not in a significant upward trend, according to all the “experts” who predict what we are going to eat, spend and the like.  If all of the above is true, and who would doubt the prognosticators, then I guess we might as well close our doors and give up!

But hey I have an idea for you, why not have a staff meeting and ask your employees how they feel about things, what the guest is telling them about your food, portion sizes, prices and operations policies?  Maybe you should talk to the person(s) who answers the phone and see what he or she thinks and the questions customers are asking about.

How about calling your suppliers and talking to them about what is new in the meat, fish, dairy and produce marketplace versus what you’re normally buying; along with speaking to them about upcoming seasonal items and of course pricing too.  Maybe even call up your two favorite beer, wine and liquor suppliers to talk about any specials or discounts that might be available and then call their competitors, the vendors you don’t normally use and ask the same questions.

As an example, we recently introduced a client to an Argentinean wine, no not another Malbec but a wine varietal called Bonarda.  It’s from the same region and because it’s not as well known, the pricing on the wine was substantially less than the current selection on their wine list for Malbec, one of the restaurants most popular wines.  We told the operator to blind taste the wine with their staff and then ask for comments not just about the taste of the wine, but its potential for the restaurant, matching the wine with food,  salability to guests and how much the staff thought they could charge for the wine.

First of all, the staff in the past was never asked to get involved in this way but rather lectured about wine and in no way asked for their true opinions, so this opportunity was a new way for management to get the team to buy into the concept.  Secondly, once the commentaries were done, the service team along with the kitchen staff who also tasted the wine came up with multiple ideas for what to serve the wine with and also helped in setting the price for the wine, both by the bottle and with the team’s insistence and support, also offered by the glass.  The margin on the new wine are substantially better than then on the current Malbec offering, so it was definitely seen by management as a better profit for the operation.

In the meantime, the Chef was so enthused by the wine experience, he started contacting his existing suppliers and some new ones too, to get samples of new products and pricing, and now each week the entire team gets together to taste and vote on new menu items and wines that can complement each item.  The host and hostesses who answer the phone now also participate in tastings as well as give their input and share guest comments in daily pre-shift meetings.

All these simple implemented changes at the restaurant has not only lowered food and beverage costs but the entire staff is now involved in the day-to-day operation and by all measures made the place more profitable with rising guests counts and more unique offerings.   Pitted against the PT Barnum naysayers with their wild predictions and false statements, all the management team had to do was stop what they were continually doing, look at the position they were in and listen to the most important people in their operation, the ones who make the difference every single day.

 

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Vegas Uncork’d

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Last Friday night, we had a chance to experience what has become one of the preeminent foodie events in the country, the Bon Appétit Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting held at the pools at Caesars Palace. 52 restaurants and James Beard winning chefs gathered to strut their culinary stuff to 2,500 guests visiting Sin City. Restaurant’s tables were strategically placed around the multitude of pools, along with collections of wineries offering up samples of their latest vintages.

Earlier in the day, temperatures were in the mid-90s, but the evening turned gorgeous with a constant cooling breeze and moderate weather. Guests were in celebratory spirits – I mean, wouldn’t you be too if you could enjoy delicious food and wines by a pool? Walking outside to the event we immediately ran into some of our favorite foodie friends who were already breaking down the best dishes that the restaurants were putting out. This, while being hysterical, was great information for us to start and plot our walkabout.

Fortunately, we had two great guides for the evening – Franck Savoy (Director of Food & Beverage at Caesars) and his fiancé Leigh, making suggestions of which restaurants to see and escorting us around the event. One of the first tastes I was able to enjoy was the miniature roasted beet salad created by Sage Restaurant and Chef Shawn McClain. Chef McClain’s deft touch was on exhibition and the flavors were in great harmony. One of my favorite tastes of the night was next from Bar Masa, an Australian Kobe Carpaccio with citrus and sea salt – this was rich and opulent but also light and perfectly seasoned.

Moving on, we made our way to Vintner Grill’s booth, where they were producing modern American Carnitas tacos with fig jam, caramelized onions and pea sprouts. It was a delicious take on a Mexican staple and they pulled it off with style. As we continued, tasting some Chocolate from Green & Blacks (very good but too warm unfortunately), we stopped up to the American Spirit Lounge overlooking the pools complex. This was held at the new high roller/VIP pools, which were absolutely gorgeous and serene despite all of the guests down below.

Continuing, we saw our buddy Ben Dayag, the Executive Chef of Social House who had created a delectable Pork Belly dish on edamame puree and topped with pickled onion. This Pan-Asian restaurant is a great choice for sushi, but also their composed dishes never disappoint. We popped over to the B&B table where they were offering some of their house-cured meats – good in concept, but the roll that some of them were served on was dry and a weak complement. We were very fortunate to see an old friend and extremely talented chef, David Varley, who has moved on from Vegas working for Michael Mina where he has become their Corporate Chef based in San Francisco but traveling the country opening restaurants. He was kind enough to introduce us to Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon 555 which Chef Varley had participated in. Brady was in Vegas checking out the experience of Bon Appetit before the All-Star Cochon to be held on July 24th at the Cosmopolitan – can’t wait for that event!

And funny enough, our next move took us to the restaurants of the Cosmopolitan, where we started to run into even more friends in the PR and foodie world, all excited about the restaurants in front of us. Always great to see Gil Lempert-Schwarz, wine writer extraordinaire and his wife Christine, then Al Mancini and his wife Sue, one of my favorite foodies and food writers. From the Kobe Sliders by STK (Delicious!) to the chilled Asparagus soup and Maki Rolls by Blue Ribbon Sushi (personal favorite), the hotel’s restaurants were out of this world. I love going to that hotel to just enjoy the creativity and different vibe compared to the rest of Vegas. Here we ran smack into Robin Leach (with another STUNNING blonde on his arm) and Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review-Journal with his lovely Cara – I’m sure they were getting all of the great gossip from the evening!

Then, I had a chance to see an old friend and co-worker, Anthony Fusco, who is the much lauded Chef de Cuisine for Rick Moonen at rm seafood who was co-hosting his booth with Ralph Pagano the chef of STK Miami. These guys were basically running a comedy routine and by far having the most fun out of anyone at the event. Moving on we saw old friends from Mesa Grill (sans Bobby), Eric Klein, Executive Chef of Spago who’s as personable as he is talented in the kitchen and hob-nobbing with Susan Feniger, one of the ‘Two Hot Tamales’ of Border Grill fame – she’s an absolute sweetheart too!

As the event wound down, we didn’t know where the last 2 ½ hours had gone! It was an amazing experience being able to talk to so many chefs, hang out with fellow foodies and enjoy the culinary adventure. I’m looking forward to Vegas Uncork’d coming back next year and being able to eat and drink so more!

Blue Ribbon Las Vegas Re-Grand Opening Party

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Last week was one for the record books as we had the opportunity to attend the “re-grand opening” of Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. After a freak accident in the hotel flooded the restaurant causing a nearly month closure, the team was back with a brand new restaurant and the same grinning faces and gracious hospitality.

The evening started out in the lounge where bartenders Jeff and Chris had a bottle of Black Dragon sake on ice. If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy this libation, it is a must try and be careful, it’s a bit sneaky. After catching up with proprietor Bruce Bromberg, GM Bowie Fu, Chef Dave Kornell and Co. and presenting them with a little gag gift (child size floaties in a lucite box with a message “break only in case of emergency or flooding) and sharing a lighthearted laugh it was time to get the real festivities started.

In what can only be described as one of the most extravagant spreads at a restaurant opening, the team made sure the sushi bar was stocked with copious amounts of freshly prepared sushi and scrumptious chicken wings. We’re talking tuna, salmon, tako, yellowtail, mackerel and more fresh fish along with perfect spoonful bites of the mouthwatering Oxtail Fried Rice. Add in the sake and shochu bar setup, great soundtrack provided by DJ Peter Shalvoy and it was a fantastic night to catch up with many of the Blue Ribbon Las Vegas faithful and once again see the staff do what they do best, make everyone leave full and happy.

Can’t wait to get back for more Black Dragon and some of the freshest, best fish around.

Southern Sojourn

Monday, May 9th, 2011

As life would have it, you never say never and it’s always good to go for a visit to a place that has some great memories, food and hospitality. With a bit of trepidation I agreed to go back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a long overdue tour of the “Grand Strand” and then to Charleston, South Carolina for a bit of culture, food and libations. This trip also gave me the opportunity to revisit with a young and creative chef who I worked with several years ago and together garnered a Mobil Four Star in the process. Chef James Clark epitomizes “Low Country Cuisine,” in style, substance and dedication to his craft. He has now moved on to the Marina Inn at the Grand Dunes and watches over several different venues, but his current restaurant Waterscapes is the top of the heap.

To begin our epicurean adventure, we dined on Hogfish Ceviche with mint, lime, orange zest & cilantro and Sand Tilefish was done as a Crudo with Kalamata olives, walnuts & basil with 8 Brix Red Verjus and Extra Virgin Olive oil. Next up was a tartar of Snowy Grouper with ginger, cilantro and coconut milk with Limoncello ice on top; and those were just the starters! The selection moving forward was just as eclectic and exciting but lest I tell too much, you will just have to go and visit James and enjoy yourselves!

Nance’s Creek Front Restaurant near Murrells Inlet is the place to go for Oysters, an old time place that looks the same today as it has for many generations. It’s nothing fancy but you go for the Hot Hush Puppies and Maple Butter they bring to the table right after you sit down. Without looking at a menu just order the Oyster Roast; half a bushel of local Oyster clusters steamed in broth served on an old plastic tray complete with a shucking knife, oyster fork and cup of butter; then you just dig in. Interesting note, they recycle the shells so they place a dump bucket below the holes in the center of the table for you to toss your shells into. Sassy servers and cold pitchers of beer round out the experience.

Working our way towards Charleston we took a detour to Georgetown to walk the Main Street and enjoy our first taste of the trip of Soft Shell Crabs and local Grouper Sandwiches at the Rice Paddy. While sitting outside on the sidewalk patio enjoying the fresh seafood we chatted with the local diners about the next stop on our trip, Charleston.

If you have never been to Charleston, you need to go; the charm, architecture, history and hospitality are second to none. The locals certainly understand the charm and tradition of who and where they are in today’s world, they just don’t talk about it, they live it and enjoy the daily experience of living in a historical place. Our first stop at Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar was an unexpected treat. Right off the Bay, this local restaurant only serves the freshest seafood shortly after being caught from the area. Pristine clams, Soft Shell Crabs and Oysters were the order of the day; simple, easy and very good! Gerry Cederwall is the proprietor and he also owns the popular Southend Brewery & Smokehouse, just down the street.

Husk Restaurant the newest offering from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s is the epitome of Low Country Cuisine and style in Charleston. We started our experience off at the bar and lounge which is located in a separate building adjacent to the restaurant where we were happy to order a 2008 Sokol Blosser Reserve Pinot Noir (simply a great wine to go with terrific food). Totally booked until late evening on a Monday night, the meal was a befitting homage to local ingredients and suppliers. Each day there is a new menu with starters such as, Thackeray Farm’s Pork BBQ with a Johnny Cake and Butterbean Chow Chow, Dave’s Wood Fired Clams with Surry County Sausage, Watercress and Spring Onions and Crispy Bread. Main Courses included; Confit NC Duck Leg with Anson Mills Grits and Braised Garden Greens, Red Eye Gravy and Cornmeal Dusted Catfish with Courgettes and Edisto Vidalia’s and Confit Tomato, all great tastes and aroma from the flavorful ingredients. Our only disappointment was dessert; it seemed lackluster after such a fine meal but enjoying a 2001 Chateau Musar, definitely sealed the end of the evening.

Until next time, enjoy, taste and definitely explore; your taste buds will always come back for more!