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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Wine Off the Charts

Imbibe presents a thoughtful take on the hoary old topic of wine ratings in its November/December issue.

The controversy surrounding how numbers are assigned to wines goes back to Genesis, at least.

This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. In his vineyard, he produced a pinot noir. Although Noah’s wine was of surpassing fineness, it was given 81 out of 100 possible marks by a soothsayer of the Moabites. This mark enraged Noah, who cursed the soothsayer in the name of the Lord, saying, you present as objective what is clearly subjective, and therefore disrespect the subtlety of the vintage and bring down fire from the heavens upon your head, and the heads of your little ones. And the Lord smote the soothsayer and his little ones with an all-consuming fire, and also their fields, and their goats, and their womenfolk, and Noah rejoiced.

And so on. What the Imbibe piece does well is connect the vexing scores with sales—and, more interestingly, with the way that winemakers tailor their vintages to appeal very specifically to the known prejudices of the number makers.

The antidote? The piece sensibly suggests that well-informed
winemakers and sommeliers are the answer. And, on a happy note, it even points out that such well-informed (sometimes even free-thinking!) individuals are becoming more numerous these days.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Artificial Flavors

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Artificial Flavors

The term "artificially flavored" has long drawn scorn from food lovers. Products besmirched with the term are deemed cheap, vapid, and vaguely evil. Such foods declare themselves to have been produced via methods diametrical to the artisanal credo that yi READ MORE

Cuckoo for Kugel

Everything's been coming up kugel lately. Kugel (literally "potato pudding") is sort of a baked potato pancake. Its ingredients are simple: grated (using hand or meat grinder, never a food processor) potato -- and perhaps some onion -- along with egg, sal READ MORE

Nibbles and Sips

Our low-hassle, high-payoff cocktail party. READ MORE

The Best Thing Between Sliced Bread?

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported last week that McDonald’s is seeking to patent its methods of sandwich assembly. The following day, in a story headlined “McDonald’s puts patent on sandwiches,” British newspaper Metro.co.uk said that the fast-food giant “wants to own the rights to how a sandwich is made.” That piece subsequently appeared on Digg, boingboing, Slashfood, and Netscape News, sending commenters into an anti-McDo tizzy.

The story has also generated a fair share of confusion among readers, likely because none of the articles have been very specific. McDonald’s isn’t trying to patent the generic act of slapping a filling between two pieces of bread, as the Metro story suggests—at least, not exactly. The chain is seeking a patent for “novel methods of making a sandwich and novel sandwich assembly tools,” according to the patent application; a closer look reveals that the “sandwich assembly tool” can be as complicated as a three-chambered apparatus or as simple as a hamburger wrapper or clamshell container:

Sandwich preparation in accordance with the invention can include placing sandwich garnish and/or condiment directly on a piece of paper, a wrapper that is eventually used to contain the sandwich, the container used to hold the completed sandwich when it is presented to the customer, or preferably a tool adapted for assembling and applying garnishes.

What about those “novel methods”? Here’s one of them:

An order for a sandwich is taken from a customer and a bread component is placed onto a pre-heated, preassembled sandwich filling. The filling is made from two or more foodstuffs. Next the bread component and filling combination are inverted.

(Presumably the top piece of bread is added once this “patented” flip trick is complete.)

As a UK patent official told the Guardian, it’s unlikely that McDonald’s will get its way; the chain “might have a novel device but it could be quite easy for someone to make a sandwich in a similar way without infringing their claims,” the official said.

What I want to know is why McDonald’s would think making a sandwich upside-down and then flipping it over is a time-saving trick, let alone a patentable one—doesn’t that extra step just increase the incidence of employee repetitive-stress injury? If you’re a reader who works in food service, have you encountered any bizarre and unnecessary techniques at any of your workplaces?

A Tale of Two Chowhounds

A Tale of Two Chowhounds

The salesman had had quite enough of my waffling between two overcoats. Howard Turkell, 60-ish and a garment center veteran, was trying to be polite with the weirdo hipster kid who'd turned up at his third-floor shop that fateful morning, but patience had READ MORE

How to Truss a Chicken

Play Video

Don't let your roast flop about untied. ... WATCH THE VIDEO

Egghead vs. Bobblehead: Round One

Christopher Kimball, the bow tie–bedecked alpha male of New England’s food nerds, finally took his shot at Rachael Ray in this month’s edition of Cook’s Illustrated.

As you might expect, the jab emerged in the midst of a typically elegant yet rambling editor’s column that jumped around between rabbit-hunting, World War II, and teaching 11-year-old Charlie about “the birds and the bees.”

He was too cagey to call the yappy-trapped kitchen minx out by her proper name, but can there really be any debate about what he’s driving at here?

In cooking, there are folks who are fundamentally curious as to process … and sympathetic toward the notion of culinary education…. Others are content to believe that cooking is about no more than positive attitude—anyone with sufficient enthusiasm
can cook a great meal. This golden age of the American amateur has been a long time coming.

While not quite rising to the level of Anthony Bourdain (who famously dissed
Ray—by name—as a vomit-inducing “bobblehead”), the put-down is clear. Cook’s Illustrated readers are smart, curious, and humble before the awesome task of making good food—and the Food Network’s increasingly attractive and undereducated hosts are barking up the wrong tree.

Let it be known: There is no one more in Kimball’s corner on this issue than this writer. And yet … it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Ray after reading Kimball’s underhanded jab. Is Ray annoyingly upbeat? Sure. Undereducated? Arguably. But condescendingly catty? Not on camera, at least. Score one for the bobblehead.

Not Invited Back

Not Invited Back

Are you obliged to reciprocate dinner party invitations? READ MORE

Old Wine in New Boxes

OK, we wine drinkers got used to synthetic corks (less chance of cork taint) and even screw-top wines (no oxidation). Hell, we’ve even been known to quaff some of the higher-quality wines that come in a box.

So why am I shocked by an article in Restaurant Business noting that the House of Blues is set to become one of the first restaurants to serve Trinchero’s “Bandit Bullets,” pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon in “single serve aseptic packages”—in other words, juice boxes?

Maybe it’s just the shock of the new. After all, the House of Blues is serving a glass alongside the recyclable containers, so there’s no need to sip your cab through a straw (although I’ve always heard you get drunk faster if you do).