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Chain Links: Spreading Our Food Culture One Rib At a Time

BabyBackRibsBox Five chains that once gave up on Singapore are now back in business. Regarding TGI Friday's: "Over the years, Singapore has become a more cosmopolitan city with more Singaporeans increasingly becoming exposed to different cultures and foods from around the world. And that's why now is the time to make a re-entry into the Singapore market." Happy to be spreading our food culture by way of Jack Daniel's ribs. []

You'll find McDonald's and Pizza Hut all over the universe; Wendy's is now playing catch up. []

Friendly's wants to expand overseas. "Anywhere else in the world, there is not a single full-service restaurant chain whose differentiator is ice cream and treats," CEO Harsha Agadi says. He might want to rethink his position. Swensen's immediately comes to mind. The ice cream-centric chain is a staple in Asian malls and is also present in the Middle East and Latin America (ok, just Bogota). [Boston Herald]

I still don't understand how there can be a Coldstone Creamery and a Marble Slab Creamery, but the latter is coming to Australia. [press release]

Robeks, a smoothie chain I've never heard of, is going to open 500 cafes in 13 Asian countries. [press release]

Photo from Jack Daniel's Meats

Never Ending Pasta Bowl 2010: A Tale of Two Americas

I like to believe I’m not heavily influenced by advertising. It’s certainly not as if I got the idea to try Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl, an occasional promotion that seems to happen annually around September, based on any commercials (I did flip past one on a Spanish language channel last night–oh, and I see Grub Street has ads in their RSS feed, but not on their site). And I watch a lot of TV. A chain-loving friend happened to mention it was occurring this very second and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. How else do you think I spend my Friday nights?

After my second NYC experience with the NEPB, it’s become very clear that they want to keep the $8.95 all-you-can-eat deal under wraps. If you’re sad like me, you don’t have a lot of free time but still spend stolen moments putting in different zip codes on chain restaurant sites to gauge small town/big city price discrepancies. Not only is it fun, it makes it obvious why the NEPB is top secret in the city.

A basic bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce will cost $14.50 in Chelsea, $15.50 in Times Square…and $10.75 in pretty much all of New Jersey. I think this is what they mean by Two Americas.

Olive garden never ending pasta bowl instructions If you go to one of these Manhattan locations you will not see any signage, menu inserts and no one will dare speak of it. That is fine, ask anyway. You’ll be handed the server’s pocket cheat sheet (sorry for the blurred snapshot) which lists the seven types of pastas and six sauce options—Chianti Three Meat and Creamy Parmesan Portobello are new!

You’ll also see how they are scripted to upsell you on unlimited meatballs, Italian sausage or roasted chicken for $2.95 and how to ring up situations like someone who decides to go for limitless meat on the second bowl. Insidery.

Olive garden whole wheat linguine

Bowl number one: whole wheat linguine with creamy parmesan portobello sauce because we know the presence of wheat will counteract all the fat and cheese. These noodles tasted suspiciously soft like traditional linguine–whenever I make whole wheat pasta at home, which is rarely, I regret it.  Same for brown rice, which I'm eating tonight by choice.

Olive garden penne

Bowl number two: penne with five cheese marinara. Who knows which five cheeses. Your eyes are not deceiving you; the subsequent bowls are much smaller like something you’d serve a scoop of ice cream in. This is not a complaint. One bowl was plenty—even non-chain pasta tends to bore me—but I had to order at least one more in the spirit of NEPB.

This is no time for hesitation; you have until October 10 to gorge yourself silly on noodles (and breadsticks and salad) for less than nine bucks. If anything, it beats newcomers, Nooï and Hello Pasta.

Previously on Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl.

From Dusk Till Dawn


Ramadan has never meant much to me other than being able to ogle all the amazing market food that pops up annually on Malaysian food blogs. (Masak-Masak always has the most comprehensive Ramadan bazaar coverage for Kuala Lumpur.) This year I've learned two things.

That my old block in Ridgewood, Queens (not in a "from the block" sense but in a nostalgic, hey, my first NYC apartment was on Woodbine Street and Fresh Pond Road way) is home to many Albanian Muslims and that local teens make the fasting all day thing easier by sleeping in late, which is totally what I'd do. Street vendors also have it rough.

Also, that every chain restaurant (and Dean & Deluca) in Kuwait is offering iftar specials. I had no idea the holiday was so commercialized in the Middle East. Even Ikea has gotten into the spirit.

I pondered it; then Time wrote about it.

Photos from B&D Kuwait

Put a Ring On It

Onionring “’He asked me to pick out some spices to flavor the onion. When I turned back, he was holding a ring of onion and had the goofiest grin on his face as he started placing the ring on my finger,’ Ms. Bertozzi remembered.

Spontaneous, sure, but it would’ve been so much better with an onion ring. I’m picturing one of those towers they serve at Red Robin.

Chain Links: Transylvanian Pizza

Arrangments American chains have a fondness for Latin America and Asia, but you rarely hear about Eastern Europe. Domino’s will change all that when they show up in Romania. Poland, Ukraine and Bulgaria will follow. If Pizza Hut’s Romanian menu is any indication, Domino’s won’t shy away from corn or tuna toppings, quesadillas and a bright green iced cocktail called a grasshopper. [press release]

Soon you’ll be able to send melons, pineapples and berries carved and arranged to look like a floral bouquet in Mumbai. I do hope that Edible Arrangements, owned by a Pakistani immigrant in the US, uses local fruit—don’t they have like hundreds of varieties of mango in India? [QSR Magazine]

Fifty Buffalo Wild Wings will cross over into Canada in the next five years. I could be wrong about the polite Canadian stereotype, but I just don’t see a Brooklyn-style riot over 50-cent wings occurring up north. []

Fatburger is coming to Jakarta and Kuwait City. Beijing and Dubai locations already opened in 2010. [QSR Magazine]


Why, as an Oregonian, the 1990 Marion Barry scandal was so confusing.

Battered Herb Syndrome


Even though it's crowded on weekend evenings, the spice level isn't always what it could be and worthy nearby competitors aren't scarce, I still rely on Sripraphai for a regular Thai food fix. It's the crispy watercress salad. I know this dish in and out.

Yet, on this Sunday afternoon visit (my second day in a row in Woodside—first for Jollibee, then back to Queens to replace a fried cable box. I need my True Blood and Mad Men. Did you know that the Time Warner office inside the Queens Center Mall is the only location in the entire city open on Sundays?) I was served a slightly different rendition than normal.

There was an unusually tall, fluffy pile of battered watercress sitting on top. More generous than I've seen before, the translucent golden stack gave the dish a more bountiful feel. The ratio might seem off, but once you mix things up and baste the herbs, chicken and seafood with the intensely savory goop resting at the bottom of the plate, the components settle down and mellow into a nice still-crunchy sog.

And the small ceramic dish filled with both chopped cashews and a small handful of whole nuts? It blew my mind. Well, almost. Self-garnishing is new. I don't even recall a crushed nut element in salads past. I liked it.

In a reversal, the drunken noodles did not come with the typical little dish of chile-spiked fish sauce. Shenanigans. Is the Sunday chef putting their own spin on the standards?

Next time, I'm in Woodside, I will force myself to try Centerpoint Thai, one block west of Sripraphai. There's no way that tales of a battered, fried papaya salad can go uninvestigated.

Previously on Sripraphai.

Validation For My Bonefish Grill Fixation

Changshorse To me, the most surprising finding from Zagat’s, “2010 Fast-Food/Full-Service Chain Restaurants Survey” is that the respondents, who I imagine to represent a typical American with at least a passing interest in food, eat at chains 10.7 times per month. My love for chains, apparently, is quite restrained (I've never been one for big public displays of affection) because more than twice a week seems quite high. And coffee/ice cream/frozen yogurt/smoothie joints are not included in that figure.

I'm partial to full-service chains over fast food because I'm classy like that (and like to drink with my meals). I would generally agree with their overall top five rated on food, facilities and service.

1.    Bonefish Grill
2.    P.F. Chang's
3.    Maggiano's
4.    Cheesecake Factory
5.    BJ's Restaurant.

Bonefish Grill, P.F. Chang's and Cheesecake Factory are some of my favorites. I nearly experienced an epiphany at Bonefish Grill while New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” played in their outdoor lounge, and once again at P.F. Chang’s when Morrissey’s “Suedehead” could be heard near the giant horse statues in front of the door. Both are suburban perfection. I don't generally eat chain Italian (though I’m willing to give Maggiano’s a try even though the only location I can think of is out in Bridgwater, New Jersey across from a Crate and Barrel) and I've never been to a BJ's and don’t know that I will. I probably won’t on half-baked principle.

My dad and his wife once took me to a peanut-shell-filled restaurant in Tigard, Oregon called BJ's Roadhouse for my 22nd birthday and I forgot my ID and wasn't even able to order an O'Douls to drown my sorrows. I don't think these BJ's are related. In fact, there's no online evidence of this eatery ever existing. If you Google BJ’s Roadhouse Tigard, you just get me speculating on this same thing a few years ago because I have a short-term blogging memory.

Waste Not, Want Not


Gen Y is "greedy and wasteful" as that cat upstate who got marinated in a trunk. According to NPD's "National Eating Trends" they only make 68 meals per year using a leftover (that actually sounds high) compared to my thrifty, crotchety age group who does sad things like salvaging Cheesecake Factory salads by draining the excess dressing off the lettuce in a colander the following day (not that I would know this first-hand, of course) 14 more times annually than twenty-somethings. Millennials are also the most likely to eaten frozen or prepared foods.

Harris Interactive has found that the 18-33 group, Echo Boomers in their world, prepare the fewest  meals at home. Therefore, fewer opportunities to transform leftovers. 85% do so more than once per week while 34-45s, the homebodies of the universe, hunker down in their kitchens the most (91%). I imagine this is because they are the group most bogged down with small, costly children. Oddly, it's the youngest who say they enjoy cooking the most. Maybe because only a third do it more than five times a week. 

Meat, Spice, Fire

If you barbecue Every summer I complain about the barrage of grilling-themed food magazines that land in my mailbox. So useless, I don’t have a yard. I’m in the minority, however. Lawry’s “What's Your Flavor" survey found that barbecuing outdoors is Americans’ favorite cooking method and that 63% do so all year round.

Maybe I’m just unhappy because according to additional Lawry's findings, I’m a spicy food-lover, a so-called “Self-Assured Adventurer,” when the happiest cohort, “Joyous Joiners,” prefers tart flavors.

I love it when companies get all targeted with their food marketing. Lawry's has two special sections on their site: Food For the Soul and Cocina Latina. Steak with chimichurri sauce (if there's any population that grills more than the US, it's Argentines) doesn't sound half bad, though I don' t know that I'd describe it as having "Latin flare."

Also, Fisher wants you to take a quiz to see what kind of nut you are. I'm not crazy about being a walnut.

Image from Embroidery by Jean