Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Slow Journey Through Fast Food

The NY Times features an article today "Life in the Fast Food Lane", by its restaurant critic Frank Bruni. It details an 9-day coast-to-coast excursion in which he and his companions eat fast food morning, noon and night. Along the way they traveled 3640 miles and made 42 stops.

The ground rules - the restaurant must be a part of a chain and it must have a drive-through window.

The trip turns out to be not nearly as scary as Morgan Spurlock's Supersize me. Still, I wonder what it says about the fast-food America in which we live. Fast, cheap, calorie-laden food consumed in cars. Bruni keeps alluding to how awful his car smells and all the trash he accumulated during his cross-country trek.

Here are the author's 10 favorite meals from the trip:

1. Four-piece Original Recipe combo from KFC (Mechanicsburg, Pa.)

2. Chili from Wendy’s (Morgantown, W. Va.)

3. Tots from Sonic (Georgetown, Ky.)

4. Chili slaw dog from the Varsity (Atlanta, Ga.)

5. Onion rings from the Varsity.

6. Classic chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A (Birmingham, Ala.)

7. Georgia Mud Fudge Blizzard from Dairy Queen (Shreveport, La.)

8. Cheddar burger from Culver’s (Rockwall, Tex.)

9. Frozen vanilla custard, Culver’s.

10. Burrito Ultimo from Taco Cabana (Dallas)

I was in a Culver's once in Jackson Wisconsin with a couple locals who raved about it. I couldn't bring myself to taste their ice cream, not because I thought it was foul (it actually looked really good) but because I had just finished consuming four slices of pizza and about a gallon of beer, so I didn't have any room for it.

This article would have been alot more interesting if instead of chain, drive-in restaurants, Bruni had eaten in locally-owned restaurants serving authentic, non-massed produced food.

Now there's an idea.....

Friday, May 05, 2006

Feed Cars Industrial Corn Not People

A interesting shift appears in progress. America's industrial agriculture complex is moving into the corn-based fuel business. Amen, I say. Wouldn't it be nice if all the industrial corn that currently gets turned into corn syrup or fed to livestock, instead is processed into fuel for vehicles.

Archer Daniels Midland (known as ADM or by me as "The Great Satan") just hired an oil industry executive as their new CEO. She is targeting corn-based fuel as their key area of growth. Terrific. But already, pundits are warning of an ethanol glut - forecasting profits to drop from 1.05 a gallon today to 75 cents a gallon by 2012. Gee, that's sounds normal for a business that goes from hot startup growth to a more mature growth rate.

Still, venture money seems to be pouring into this industry and the good news is that corn refining plants cost about one-tenth the price of what it takes to build gasoline refineries and they will be coming on line quickly too - before 2010.

Switching big time to corn-based fuel makes sense to me - it will reduce our dependence on petroleum which puts us far less at the mercy of unstable countries and leaders, allow us to burn environmentally cleaner fuel thus helping to ward off the environmental disaster we're heading for, let us switch to renewable energy so we don't have to worry so much about running out of fuel and generally put industrial corn to a positive use instead of poisoning the food chain and people along with it.

What's not to like about this idea?

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Vanity of Bonfire

My wife and I had reservations for dinner last Friday evening at Bonfire, Todd English's new Boston restaurant in the Park Plaza Hotel.

It was pre-theater so we were in a hurry. This is not the place to dine if you have a show to catch. Or for that matter, if you want authentic, well-prepared food, competent service and value for money.

The service was slow and inattentive and it took almost an hour to get our main courses, which was regretably about 12 minutes before curtain up.

The food was mediocre - a mish-mash of cuisines from Mexico to Argentina.

And the prices were stiff. Dinner for two - appetizer and main course - with a modest bottle of wine is in the $100 plus range. That's not exorbitant but it is alot to pay for mediocre fare and spotty service.

I had to make a decision - the opening act of Massenet's ephermeral opera Thais or Todd English's steak tacos? I chose Thais and believe me it went down far better than Todd's mixed up degustations.

I used to like Todd English way back when. He trained in Italy and seemed to know how to produce creative yet authentic cuisine. But then he became a rock star and food empirist and from media reports his ego has turned him into a bloated and stale shadow of his former self.

That just about describes Bonfire - a place that should be up in smoke.

By the way, I'm not the first or the most knowledgeable person to pan Todd - see food blog super chefs.