Cat Cafes Have Arrived.

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Cat cafes: The basic idea is as follows. An establishments that allows the customer to make feline friends while they enjoy their coffee.
This rather unusual business model already exist not only in Japan, but in Paris as well. Yet outside of Japan, the concept has yet to really gain much momentum for different reasons, including Health Department regulations, but there are some ready for their launch coming up this year and the next.
Entrepreneurs in Canada are giving the idea a try in British Columbia and Vancouver, the United Kingdom has already launched a handful in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Nottingham with reasonable success. True to the tradition of the French, food is involved and their version of the cat cafe is essentially a diner that includes desserts, tea, and, of course, cats. It is ideally situated in the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, but call for reservations before just walking in.

The concept has hit Oakland, California as the first city in the United States to engage in this model, with a bit of a feel good twist. Unlike many capitalistic cash grab business with possible animal exploitation, the model of the cat in Portland, San Diego, Denver, NYC, Michigan and Massachusetts, partner with a local chapter of The Humane Society or another local cat rescue group.
Cat Café History: The world’s first cat café, “貓花園” (Cat Flower Garden), opened its doors in 1998 in Taipei and became a smashing success attracting tourists from all over Japan and beyond. Part of the reason for the success is in part due to the limited living space in Japanese apartments and rules disallowing most all pets that you can pet and play with. In addition, customers’ young and old, looking for mild to more serious companionship were the most prominent of all customer profiles.
This confirms that it’s time for Americans to just let animals start hanging out in our cafes and restaurants all the time. Health codes are kind of bogus anyway, right?

Here’s a YouTube video of the experience in Japan’s Cat Café. (Cut and paste in to your browser.)

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How Restaurants are Bamboozling You into Spending More.

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Dining out has become so common that many of us that sit for a meal probably do not consider what goes into a dining experience behind the scenes, having not worked in the business. What I recently found most interesting about the behind the scenes activities is what restaurant consultants and menu engineers get paid to do by many top tier eateries. The menu consultant is a relatively new niche that has paid tremendous dividends to the restaurants bottom line which explains the boom in popularity.
Significant thought and planning goes into properly nudging the customers decision making process toward the way the restaurant wants you to choose the food you eat.

Listed below are only five of the many ways restaurants use psychological tactics to get you to spend more money, trust me when I tell you that there are many more:

1. Have you noticed many restaurants defer from using dollar signs before the listed price of the dish? The dollar sign is one of the top printable characters that most all restaurants avoid using. The symbols initial interpretation to the customer is a reminder they are about to spend money, triggering a slight pull back response to higher ticket meals as negative feelings can enter their thinking, resulting in less money pulled from their wallet or purses.

2. How is the difference of the last two numbers to the right of the decimal interpreted by consumers? (Eg1: .09 – .95 and .99 ) Menu items ending in .99 tend to signify value as opposed to .95 which is more effective as it appears friendlier and not as close to the next higher dollar amount. That is why menu consultants advise their clients to scrap the entire idea of adding the decimal and the numbers to follow, making the menu easier to decide from but increasing the price if only by a few cents.

3. Using extremely descriptive language is a new approach to offering menu items. Using creative and clever wording has proven to increase sales on many menu items when compared to those that do not have such descriptions.
As an example the item would read something like this. “Maryland Style Crab Cakes: Hand rolled, Chesapeake lump crab meat with a touch of sweet mayonnaise, our secret blend of herbal seasoning encrusted in golden cracker crumbs, creating our one of a kind, signature crab cakes”.
The words description brings a high level of sensory experience to the customer who is reading over the menu. Similar to how a professional server can tantalize the table with their descriptive terms when explaining the evenings special’s and both deliveries typically add more money to the total bill. Additionally it leaves the customer with a more satisfied sensation an the meals end and continue right on through to the desert menu.
Note: I do not intend to include chain restaurants gross misuse of descriptions when using other company names to sell their poor meals such as ‘Jack Daniels sauce atop our Angus Beef Burger’. Its not a novel idea and a poor marketing ploy only Well Doner’s would fall for. (A Well Doner is someone that orders a steak well done, basically cooking out any of the steaks flavor)

4. Connecting food to family is another useful and popular way menu designers drive traffic to a particular item. Customers are drawn to names of relatives such as Aunt’s and Grandmothers. It is likely that Grandmas Homemade Meatballs or Aunt Margie’s Beef Stew sell better than without their names involved.

5. Using expensive items as decoys to draw your attention to a slightly less expensive item is a tactic employed by many fine dining restaurants. The idea is as follows. The restaurant is betting that the customer will not buy the most expensive menu item, but is likely to spend on the second most expensive menu item or one closer in price, believing they are getting a similar item at a more reasonable price, that is the trap.
The reason the $120 item is on the menu is that it stands out as likely the only triple digit menu item and distracts the customer into thinking that all other dishes near it appear more of a bargain yet the entire menu in the same time can be increased in price. What the customer does not realize is that they will receive a smaller portion at a relatively higher price based on what goes into the food cost of the meal. Exactly what the restaurant wanted all along.


Baa Humbug to the Last Outdoor LIC Flea for the Season.

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The outdoor venue gods must have a special place in their hearts for Yelp Elite events as the sun shines down upon the LIC flea market in mid October.

The beer garden area was my first stop and with three taps pouring local brews, Queens specifically, my head soon felt like a toasting marshmallow after I consumed a few beneath the suns rays. It felt good.
I had the opportunity to chit chat with some of the people but the food distractions were far too difficult to ignore to discuss anything meaningfully lengthy in time. Samples were abundant which left me perplexed by those vendors that did not participate. The Greatful Bread stand sold breads with none of the genetic funny stuff, bought two loaves.
The tempura stand folks were so sweet and generous with their delectable offerings. But Southern Wheels Eats really won my affections with a great spin on Southern fare, as a former Charlstonian (SC) the flavors brought me back to where mac-n-cheese is a vegetable, ah yes, the deep south.

With other dogs in attendance Sydney was entertained, great company that I brought as well as just met not to mention close proximity to the Beer Garden, I was having such a great time. So good in fact that I was stuck in my location, just north of corn-hole, I rarely moved unless needing provisions.

With so many other fabulous vendors selling their wares, I lapped the market two more times and was quite thrilled to learn the market will be moving indoors for the remaining season located directly next to the outdoor venue.


Station House Beer House & Whiskey Den: Positively Piquing Taste Emotions.

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With the end of summer and the advent of winter dangerously lurking behind the few weeks we call Fall, cozy bars with great food are now in season for me.

Within the harvest season we harvest many things that we desire to store as we baton down the hatches for the ever nearing long and cold winter.
A new acquaintance, a sweater or cinnamon swizzle stick for your hot apple cider, we all surround ourselves with things that make us feel cozy and comfortable and perhaps, places we can comfortably burrow into and relax within.

My stocking consists of a short list of the finest local food and beverage establishments where I can swing by at anytime and enjoy comfort foods and some fine craft beer selections. Which has always been the motus operandi of my blogs focus. Putting Local Back On The Menu. (bestbitesclub.wordpress)

Never has Station House delivered less than top eats served up by a well trained staff and a beer list that is fit for food pairings, beer club discussions, there are no bounds to what great beer can do to lift spirits and raise a meals flavor profile.

To illustrate:
1. For lunch a friend and I ordered the special for starters. Lamb, feta cheese, cucumbers and sauteed tomatoes atop an amazingly light and crisp flat bread. New Holland’s Full Circle was the accompanying beer, light in body and tangy crisp it did not overtake the delectably light appetizer.

2. Medium rare cook temp for The Decadent Burger allowed the boursin cheese and demi-glace to work into the magnificent chopped meat creating a unique burger texture change with the braised short rib topping. As per Steve’s suggestion I dove into my Southern Tier Imperial Stout with reckless abandon.

3. The hits just kept on coming with a hearty plate of beautifully encrusted Haddock fillets, crisp on the outside moist yet well textured on the inside, I slapped some dollops of the tarragon tartar of the fishes side and down the hatch it went.

The Many Mac & Cheese has just arrived to the table, choosing the sausage and bacon meat infusion. I wavered not. Fork in hand I took down the greatest beast of comfort food but not without the help of River Horse’s Bourbon Oak Vanilla Hip Lantern.

Thank you Station House for whipping up another memorable lunch experience.


A Shape That Remains

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They were a tradition of sorts, those golden brown dehydrated sack shaped figs that magically appeared during the holiday season. “Are these exotic looking items actual fruit or mainly purchased for looks?” I often wondered. Nobody really ever ate them, not family nor visitors and the few that I did try I would cautiously pierce into with the tips of my front teeth. I questioned the inhuman feeling of the leathery texture and the seemingly thousands of tiny seeds that find their way into the deepest caverns between teeth and gums and scrape the roof of my mouth like sandpaper. I would always manage to chew down a few before Christmas but after Thanksgiving, yet the taste of pasty blood and brown sugar was never truly palatable, cloyingly sweet.

Come January when all the desirable treats had vanished I would revisit the figs again that now had a light coat of dust upon their cheap, cracking cellophane packaging. I liked the packaging, perhaps more than the figs. The Made in Greece label kept me coming back as I conjured up views of goats with bells around their necks, just walking the mountains in this distant land, which is why I suppose I still do purchase them, but its more than that.

Now I am the faithful holiday purchaser though nobody will ever eat them but me, I have a full year to do so. Yet year after year, they endure this same debate and remain with me. I guess they remind me of being home during the holidays which had all the joys of eating figs.


When I Eat Sushi

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The slices of Yellow Fin Tuna, Mackerel, Salmon and Roe are served up at my favorite table along with a bottle of Biwa No Choju as it has not arrived sooner as imagined. Rows of piano tuning pin sized scales and slabs that sit erect next to the pickled ginger and wasabi sitting patiently on the trays outer corner sharpening its great breath.

I gaze closely to unravel the briny map that tells 0f the deep dark ocean recently carrying these narezushi to my dish. There’s an echo calling out about the Sushi slices that once rippled through the Southeast Asian currents about a place the fish began, a place I could never find on my own, nor were ever meant to.

Even the plum and the tiny eggplant are no relief. Perplexed and inflamed I continue hoisting piece after piece off my ceramic plate as the fish now seems as diminutive than possible.

My mouth opens for the last piece, exposing the truth it so desperately wanted to keep hidden from you,
and you,
and you,
and you.


Charcoal: Choice Cooking Fuel

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The aroma of carbon and ash begins as the material charres, creating to some a disagreeable but very necessary initial reaction. But this smell is not disagreeable to me, for it is the smell of the presence of friends who come and gather in the yard at my humble abode.

The smell speaks of temporary moments of younger days activities, current days hopes, laughing, drinking, smoking all while awaiting the large barbecue grill to heat the unheralded brittle, lightweight, black wood briquettes.

We grill steaks and we roast potatoes, we eat with our hands as if on safari and watch as the coals glow on. Mature conversation was the one dessert purposely unplanned for our summer evenings.

We drank bad wine and fine beer while watching the heat consume itself.

It died at last; we had time to burn.


If I were a Spice, What Spice Would I Be?

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If I were a spice I would be Paprika.

Hot tempered and adventurous, I would lurk beneath the surface while you stir slowly. Just waiting inside the pot for that moment to singe a tasting lip, if only for a brief chuckle.

My vibrant color would ward off any foolish varmint who pressed its lips on the precious Capsicum Pepper, from which I was derived from.

But as I matured into my final stage of fine powder, I would elevate from an under appreciated spice to a force to be reckoned with. Don’t let my rich, red coloring scare nor concern you. Will you try me as a garnish or atop your deviled eggs?

Do you think I will create a heat more fearsome to taste than a stream of volcano lava poured upon your unsuspecting tongue? If only you knew me better. My intention is not to cause pain. Seething fiery breath is not my goal for those that will choose to enjoy me, I am a spice of healing. Not only beautifully vibrant in color but my genetic make up contains Vitamins C & E, I lower Hypertension and provide anti again benefits. I also have a healthy fear of wrongdoing, and I’m passionate about being a good condiment, abiding by all cabinet and spice rack laws.

Don’t look at me as some conjurer of cheap spice thrills, or one who will explode in laughter when you snarl and fan the flames of your mouth. I am really none of these. I’m just a little different; it’s just a natural instinct. Fancy yourself a dash or two of my mystery, I reward those who are loyal.


Cooking Salvation – A Poem

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What I’d sensed as a large failure upon one of my first high heat cooking endeavors, seared bits
securely clinging to the inner section of my cast iron pan, near scorched at the verge of burning into a state irretrievably beyond bitter, sour, salty or sweet- I salvaged.

With a splash of beef stock I had been simmering on the back burner and vigorous stirrings with a slotted and flat edged wooden spoon, salvation and discovery began.

The burned chips, flakes and flecks liquefied into a glaze born of incertitude and recalling this evening years later at the very same table, however set for two this night candles ablaze within the
presence of beautiful company, I recall the decision I made that very night years earlier with a table set for one.

It was then I vowed to make a meal each day from scratch, to make of solitary tedium a spiritual practice, beginning with the overture of chopping and dicing into the cabaletta of
saute and simmer. Watching you raise the piping hot creation, pressing it fast against your lips for a quick moments respire before taking nourishment there.

I learned to savor loss, to find beauty in the death of the raw ingredient as it lead me to understanding salvation.

Tonight I once again roll my tongue around and around recalling my day of cooking salvation. I hold it tight in my mouth and in my mind, the irony of it.


So What’s New About Olives?

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As I wander around my local markets here in Queens NY, I always keep a special eye out for a new olive oil that I have yet to experiment with. Due to the versatility of most olive oils, I tend to keep multiple bottles and jars close at hand in my kitchen. At any given time, my pantry could contain six different bottles of all different shapes, sizes and qualities.

After collecting all of these bottles, it was becoming glaringly clear that my enjoyment of olive oils and the shopping attention given to them, had eclipsed the food pleasure of the olive itself. So I decided to delve a little deeper into the olive’s background, the olive that creates the oil which is such a intricate part of not only my cooking, but my overall diet as well.

Technically classified as fruits of the Olea Europea Tree, a tree that typically lives for hundreds of years, most all olives we as shoppers encounter come mainly from California, but also from the Mediterranean region in Europe. While some olives can be eaten right off of the tree during harvest months, late September through November, others find their way to the smaller cans and jars we have become accustomed to purchasing them in. As finding an olive tree with which I could harvest my own olives is not likely, leaving me the alternative of going to different neighborhoods beyond Queens to locate new and exciting olive options. Unfortunately, most olives sold commercially have been processed to bring down their intrinsic bitterness. These processing methods vary with the olive variety, region where they are cultivated, and the desired taste, texture and color the producer is looking to achieve .Some olives are picked unripe, while others are allowed to fully ripen on the tree.

To bust a quick myth that I have heard around my foodie circles is that the color of an olive is directly related to its state of maturity. It is true that many olives start off green and turn black when fully ripe. However, some olives start off green and remain green when fully ripe, while others start of black and remain black. In the United States,California more specifically, olives are typically green in color, picked in an unripe state, they lye-cured and then exposed to air as a way of triggering oxidation and therefore a conversion to a black outer color. Water curing, brine curing, and lye curing are the most common treatment processes for olives, and each of these treatments can affect the color and composition of the olives.

How beneficial to your health is it to eat olives?
Dozens of health protective nutrients have been identified in olives, yet recent studies that have taken a closer look at olive processing, recognize changes that take place in olive nutrients which are not necessarily health protective. However, the overall conclusion from these studies is that olive’s from the tree and preparation olives, provide valuable amounts of many different antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. This holds true for all varieties. From Greek style black olives to Spanish-style green olives to the more common Kalamata style olives.
Two quick top benefits:

1. Hofydroxytyrosol, is an olive nutrient that has long been linked to cancer prevention and it is now regarded as having the potential to help people prevent bone loss as well. As we all have been reading about over the course of the past few years, the consumption of a Mediterranean style diet has been associated with decreased risk of osteoporosis, and olives often find themselves on center stage in Mediterranean diet studies.
2. Olives supply anti-inflammatory benefits to our bodies, especially during circumstances involving allergy. Olive extracts have now been shown to function as anti-histamines at a cellular level. By blocking special histamine receptors (called H1 receptors) olive extracts may help to lessen a cell’s histamine response.

How can you locate the best olive options close to your home?
Olives have been traditionally sold in jars and cans, sitting up on an occasionally dusty and neglected shelf, today many stores offer them in bulk, sold in large barrels or bins. Buying bulk olives allows you the consumer to experiment with many different types of these health protective little fruits of a formerly far away land. Just keep in mind that if it looks unfamiliar, do not let that dis-way you from the purchase, buy two or three only if your not completely sure if they will be to your liking.
It’s not uncommon to find several different textures, including shiny, wilted, or cracked. The size of olives may range from fairly small to fairly large or jumbo. In general, regardless of the variety you choose, select olives that still display a reasonable firmness to pressure and are not overly soft or mushy. If you purchase olives in bulk, make sure that the store has a good turnover and keeps their olives immersed in brine for freshness and to retain moistness.

Go out and try some of the olives that are available in your area and if it looks good, eat it!