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Americans’ Appetite for Poppers Will Never Be Sated

Bell pepper/jalapeño hybrids bred to be big and not too spicy? Just wait until Chili’s gets their hands on these.

Caribbean Tater Tots, Kiosks Are Sizzling & Sexting Servers


When companies started using automated press button 1, press button 2 phone systems (was that 15 years ago? Twenty? The present becomes the past so quickly that one day I’ll just be 75 and think that Starbucks’ Trenta is still newish. At least I don’t put two spaces after periods even though that’s how I learned to type) I was happy to bypass conversation with annoying humans.

Now, eliminating personal interactions could change the way we eat. Well, if you’re influenced by packaged goods companies and like third-tier chains, that is.

I would love to test out Kraft’s “Meal Planning Solution” kiosk. The machine, which is meant to increase the average shopper’s ten-recipe meal repertoire, will be placed in grocery stores and will offer personalized recipes—incorporating Kraft products, of course—using face recognition technology. I don’t know how it could possibly peg me as anything other than a mom since marketers assume all females 25-45 have children in the home. I can live with that miscategorization, but I’m having a hard time understanding how their Tater-Topped Casserole (which calls for “frozen bite-size seasoned potato nuggets.” Kraft really needs to acquire their own tot brand) exists as the featured recipe in their Caribbean section. Also, their “tropical feasts” all seem to be casseroles blanketed with baked cheese.

Sizzler has been experimenting with ordering kiosks to speed up service and increase check size. So far, in the California test locations, it has been working. And don’t think that ordering Malibu Chicken by touchscreen is just for young, white-collar kids. Michael Branigan, VP of marketing at Sizzler, told Nation’s Restaurant News, “Though it might seem as if 18-to-24-year-old urban professionals would be the greatest users of the kiosks, it really is a broad spectrum of people coming in and using them.”

I figured mobile technology would kill the kiosk and TextMyFood is going the cell phone route. The service, which allows diners to boss around restaurant staff via SMS, is being tested at Charlies Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The idea, once again, is to speed up ordering and get people to spend more money. In practice, it is turning into low-risk method for proposing foursomes to servers like Joshua DeCosta who was the recipient of ‘Two of us need something and three of us need your number.” Pls bring Jager asap.

Photo: Intel

Go Figure: Italian Food Favored by American Tourists

Hamburger helper Most Popular Cusines Among US Travelers
1.  Italian 54.3%
2.  American (tie) 35.3%
2.  Mexican (tie) 35.3%
3.  French 27.6%
4.  Chinese 25.9%
5.  Japanese 22.4%
6.  Greek 19.0%
7.  Spanish 13.8%
8.  Indian12.9%
9.  Other 11.2%
10.  Lebanese 6.9%

In shocking news, Americans prefer to eat spaghetti, hamburgers and nachos no matter what part of the world they’re traveling in. According to a survey, a stubborn 13% won’t try local cuisine at all and 18% prefer American fast food chains when abroad.

Two-thirds did say they try local cuisine on vacation, but considering Americans only leave the country to live out a once-in-a-lifetime Parisian or Tuscan fantasy (or settle for a nice Venetian facsimile) or to binge drink at Caribbean/Mexican resorts where you could eat hamburgers and pizza all day, it’s not saying much.

In a way, these food choices simply mirror popular travel destinations, Lebanese cuisine withstanding. A recent TripAdvisor survey found that the top three international travel destinations for Americans in 2011 are Paris, London and Rome. Sorry, England, I’m not sure if British cuisine will never crack the top ten.

In fact, Britons aren't even eating their own food. A December Valued Opinions poll unearthed Britain's favorite takeway food, and fish and chips came in fourth place at only 13%. The top three were Chinese (38%), Indian (22%) and pizza (18%).

Lotus of Siam Las Vegas

Manhattan’s Lotus of Siam has been getting a lot of buzz. I liked it well enough, but I won’t be surprising anyone if I said I like the Las Vegas original much more. Even if the food served at is exactly same, it’s difficult to separate flavors from context. Sure, it’s a bit too obtusely Chowhoundish to posit that cheap, out-of-the-way and shabby is inherently better than upscale, accessible and comfortable. In this case, however, it’s just the truth.

For the same reasons I prefer downtown Las Vegas over The Strip, spicy larb and a bottle of Josef Leitz Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz from a storefront tucked into a sprawling half-empty strip mall that’s populated by Korean bbqs, a wig shop, a country western gay bar and churches of all denominations, just has more charm than when served on Fifth Avenue.

Onto the northern larb. One byproduct of being in a lengthy relationship is that old married couple roles start emerging even if you’re neither old nor married. This is how a meal might unfold:

“This tastes Chinese.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

“I’ve never eaten this before.”

“Um, yes we have. Do you want me to pull up a photo?

Here we go again. The conflict of not-paying-attention butting up against the know-it-all. I used to think I had been blessed with a good memory, but more and more I realize it’s pretty crappy and selective (friends will bring up things I did or said a decade ago and I will have completely forgotten). Food-wise, though, I always remember what I’ve ordered previously. One of the benefits of maintaining a food blog, even if few read it, is that you have a virtual record of meals past.


Lotus of siam northern larb

The northern larb is often noted as differing from the more common Thai larb in that it doesn’t use lime juice. It’s not tart, and it does indeed have a Chinese undercurrent that’s reminiscent of five spice powder. Maybe it’s soy sauce? The ground pork is definitely stained darker than in typical versions.

Lotus of siam curry catfish

Catfish fillets in red curry because the whole fish they had that night, while tastier with fried skin and bones, was too large and pricey for two.

Lotus of siam moo dad deaw

Moo dad daew, a meaty snack that’s described as jerky but much less desiccated and fattier than the American version. 

Lotus of siam yum woon sen seafood

Yum woon sen seafood. Salads tend to be where you really feel the heat and are a good test for a restaurant’s spicing level. At Lotus of Siam you can choose from one to ten. This is an eight, which I thought was perfect. It was fiery but not painful and still let the shrimp, scallops, mussels and squid have a presence.

I’ve been thinking about a second-hand comment (do I even need to mention that it was from Eater?) that took issue with my disappointment over the mildness of the green curry at Lotus of Siam New York, insisting that gaeng keow wan is not supposed to be spicy. I’m aware that not all Thai food is rife with chiles and that not all Thais enjoy crazy heat. My newish Thai coworker has complained that Sripraphai has made her food too hot despite requesting medium heat and our waiter at Lotus of Siam in Vegas said that he eats a level six. But not-fiery isn’t the same as bland, which was exactly what I was served in Greenwich Village. Dullness was never a problem during this meal. And if I return in another two years, I’ll be certain to remember a third encounter with northern larb.

Lotus of Siam * 953 E. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV

Fireside Lounge

Peppermill facade

As easy as it is to poke fun at the increasingly cliched mixology trend (do you need me to make a waxed mustache or suspenders reference?) Vegas could use a little creativity with their cocktails. Well drinks were $11 in most glitzy casinos (yes, you can drink for free if you gamble long enough, but I don’t), a dollar more might get you a sweet and/or fruity drink in a lounge where you can reserve VIP bottle service tables online very democratically. The one time I attempted to order a specialty Manhattan (at the Aria), the bar ended up being out of the advertised fig-and-vanilla-infused bourbon.

Peppermill lounge bar

I also played faux-anthropologist and checked out a “hipster bar,” The Griffin, on the edge of downtown, on the same block as the Vegas outpost of Beauty Bar, which was closed on a Sunday night (the same thing occurred the night before at Raku, a much lauded Chinatown izakaya that’s supposed to be open till 3am on weekends but was dark at 1am). The H-word means many things to many people. Here, it meant girls doing “birthday cake” shots (Absolut Citron and Frangelico, which I gathered from the bartender pouring a steady stream of them during my brief vist), men with gray mustaches in leather jackets, others in football jerseys and a few dudes in skinny jeans with bushy hair. One drink was plenty.

Peppermill lounge firepit

The Fireside Lounge (in the rear of the Peppermill restaurant) I knew to be safe haven and it did not disappoint. Chrome, black gloss, neon and flames blasting from a pool of water circled by red, squishy seats, this is the kind of bar I could imagine being the height of cool when I was a kid. I see it and think waterbed. There’s certainly no small batch moonshine or hand-crafted bitters on the‘80s photo menu showcasing tequila sunrises, pina coladas and something new-to-me called a pancho villa.

Fireside lounge cocktails

I hesitantly asked for grasshopper. Wrong era? Our waitress, a young Eastern European in the black high-slit evening gown uniform, seemed incredulous, “Of course we make grasshoppers.” Finally, I could relax. The Fireside Lounge likes using the blender, pre-made mixers…and the drinks are kind of weak, yet I highly recommend the experience for the fireplace alone, especially if you happen to be around when rare snow flurries begin blanketing Las Vegas.

Fireside Lounge * 2985 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV

More Burgers For Brooklyn

Cheeburger-logo  The prospect of Smashburger peppering Brooklyn with a handful of locations hasn’t really stirred up much discussion, yet the news of Cheeburger Cheeburger (it pains me to type two S-less words in a row) opening in Park Slope’s former Miracle Grill space has already garnered 168 comments on Brownstoner (well, about MLK, wild turkeys and a local hairdresser who doesn’t want women to let their hair gray without approval from their husband—ok, that one steams me a bit). Chain burgers get people talking.

Chain Links: Big America


In 2010, the UK received Taco Bell (a re-entry), Ruby Tuesday and Chipotle. What tactics have they been using? Taco Bell advertised on bathroom doors, Ruby Tuesday has tried shocking Brits by offering massive portions and free refills on soda and fries and Chipotle has been sourcing products locally. [Stores]

Britain isn’t the only recipient of our generously proportioned meals. McDonald’s in Japan has launched Big America 2, a series of four hefty burgers. The 713-calorie Idaho speaks to me with its hashbrown, bacon and pepper-mustard sauce. Also, I’m incredibly confused by this comment. [WSJ]

A staggering amount of effort has been put into creating the perfect McDonald’s french fry in India.  [Forbes India]

If you live in Jamaica you can order iTwists at KFC. Chicken fillets? Whatever, the bright red tomato wrap is what caught my attention. [Jamaica Observer]

Dixie Cream Donut Company, and a slew of other Beautiful Brands International (BBI) restaurants that I’ve never heard of, will be heading to the Middle East. [QSR]

Wingstop is invading Mexico. [Dallas Business Journal]

Go Figure: Vegas Dining Kind of More Expensive Than New York


According to 3,736 local reviewers covering 523 restaurants in Las Vegas for Zagat, the city is now the most expensive place to dine in the United States. The average meal (which is not defined—appetizer, entrée, dessert? Two of the three? Are drinks included?) will set you back $47.53. Clearly, Zagat reviewers are not being lured by discounted prime rib. Also, 20% of them are memorializing their pricey dishes with smartphone pics.

In a December, AlixPartners’ survey, which clearly has little Zagat overlap, diners planned to spend 5% less on each restaurant meal this year, which works out to $12.90. Eleven percent planned to spend no more than $5 per meal, and I doubt they’re photographing what they eat. 

An Intelliprice study from earlier last year found that the cost of an average dinner entrée in 2010 was $13.88. Still too much for the AlixPartners’ crew. And New York, not Vegas, had the highest priced entrées with an average of $15.01.

Image from Slot Machine Finder

Two’s a Trend

Images And the progression of pine flavor in America accelerates. Today, The New York Times featured Primitivizia Mugolio Pine Cone Bud Syrup, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is suggested that you drizzle the tree sauce on ice cream, of course.

Image from–I don’t see her audience soiling themselves over a bottle of this favorite thing.

It’s Greek to Me…You…and Now Us

Baklava Why oh why do I get PR pitches for mommy-and-me cooking classes and using popcorn fish to create sliders for Super Bowl when what I really care about is gentlemen proposing to their ladies using food (would it ever be the other way around)?

It seems that Greek mini-chain, Kellari Taverna, will be awarding a lifetime of free Valentine’s dinners to the first five couples that propose marriage at the restaurant on February 14th. A ring is required; sadly, hiding it in one of the courses is not.

I’m totally going to stash a ring in a wedge of baklava and surprise myself.

Baklava flag infant bodysuit from CafePress