I ate at a “B” health-rated restaurant . . . and I liked it.

So what does it mean if you see a “B” health rating on the front door of a restaurant, bar or other food establishment?

IMG_5268Laddie-da, hoopla and fanciness abound in this Los Angeles community of West Hollywood, CA also known as “Westwood”. Lots of money here and lots of money being spent here. Nice cars, nice stores and nice restaurants. Well, that’s if it doesn’t have a “B” health rating in the front door; or is it just all of that . . . or lack there of?

I was embarrassed at the fact that I didn’t notice on Yelp (I think they have just begun posting the health ratings) while looking up the restaurant our party was planning to fulfill reservations this evening; trying to get a heads up on the menu and trying to get a heads up on the restaurant. I had felt great pride in mentioning some of the menu offerings and some of the review highlights during the car ride over there, but I also didn’t notice that Yelp has begun to pulish health ratings. I am convinced that had I been more dilligent and prudent in my reporting, to include the “B” rating, we would not have had the opportunity to visit the restaurant (a first for all 5 of our party), and not had the opportunity to be a Westwood sheep following each other into a culinary abyss of a “B” rating.

This evening, I was one of those sheep, just following the others into the wolf’s den along with all of the people following what everyone is saying about this popular eatery. But nobody is leaving. My bet is that none of the patrons this evening had become aware of the “B” health rating that has been at the front entrance prominently displayed for two months now. But what does it mean? How common is it? Is it a show stopper for the business?

I have a son who had refused to eat at  a “B” rated restaurant in his past. He was the one that saw the sign displayed at a restaurant we visited, at the time, in Palmdale, CA. But what does that mean, really? I even had to do the research and revisit what I had learned sometime ago while attending culinary school and getting my “Serve Safe Manager” 40-hour training certification. At the time it was of the first courses I took. I knew there was a system from the Department of Health for the rating, but I could not totally remember all of the factors involved, as there are many, like training and competency of employees all the way to refrigeration and holding temps. It was a good refresher.

I had begun to discount the “B” rating as possibly something simple. Something simple like a few minor violations (2 points each) that reduced the overall score from 100 into the 80-89 point range. But how many minor violations? Or was it a couple of major violations (4 points each). But then I saw that the rating has been there for two months and I remembered back when I was just a young lad working in my first delicatessen. At the time when we first opened and we recived a “B”; but our score was upgraded to an “A” in just several days, certainly not prolonged over the course of a couple of months as is the case with the restaurant in question. So what gives with this snooty-clientele restaurant? Why do they have such a poor rating . . . or is it really considered poor?

The Department of Health gives this explanation:

1. Each violation on the Food Inspection Report is assigned a point value depending on its importance. For example, a Major Risk Factor is worth four points, a Minor Risk Factor is worth two, and a Good Retail Practice is worth one.2. Once the Specialist completes an inspection, the points are added up and subtracted from 100. The resulting number is the inspection “score”.

3. A letter grade is assigned to the facility based on the inspection score. An “A” grade means the facility earned a score of 90 to 100 percent and is in satisfactory compliance with state law; a “B” means the facility earned a score of 80 to 89 percent and needs improvement; a “C” means the facility earned a score of 79 percent or less and is a failing grade.

4. The grade card must be displayed near the public entrance during hours of operation. (https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/deh/fhd/ffis/intro.html.html).

Another determination of scores and valuation of inspection were found here in an adjacent county:

A grade (A, B, C) or score card will be issued to each facility at the end of all routine inspections. The card issued will be based upon the score received on the Retail Food Official Inspection Report. The grading is calculated as follows:

90 to 100 points A Generally superior in food handling practices and overall food facility maintenance.
80 to 89 points B Generally good in food handling practices and overall food facility maintenance.
70 to 79 points C Generally acceptable in food handling practices and overall general food facility maintenance.
0 to 69 points Score Poor in food handling practices and overall general food facility maintenance.

A facility receiving a score less than seventy percent (70%) will be issued a score card and not a grade card. The score card will indicate the actual score received.

The grade/score cards must remain posted until the next routine inspection, at which time the inspector will issue a new grade/score card.

All food facilities that have a critical violation may be subject to closure regardless of the score received on the inspection report. Food facilities that score below seventy percent (70%) twice within a twelve (12) month period are subject to closure and further legal action. (http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/misc/ehpost.htm).

So as you can see, there are several factors that come into play on the health and sanitation ratings at the places that you eat. I showed you the explanation from two different and adjoining counties (not directly next to each other) in the same general location of the state to show you that they are basically the same.

Now, being familiar with different regulatory agencies because of my environmental position I understand that there are other factors that come into play with those regulatory inspections. They are all supposed to be based on an inspection checklist, and they are: but different personalities (not supposed to, but they do have some minor bearing) can and do also come into play. I hope they didn’t piss off the inspector, but cha never know.

I mentioned that the heath score card letter grade had been in place for a couple of months at this particular establishment. Many regulatory inspection cycles will be conducted on a calendar year cycle of every six months or every quarter based on the significance of the program being inspected and whether they are a Federal, State, County or City inspection. Some programs may only receive inspections once a year like the Food Establishment Waste-Water Discharge (FEWD) permits that control the grease traps for establishments facilitating kitchen equipment like grills and deep-fat fryers. That may be the cycle used in your county, but it may also be more or less frequent depending . . .

Anyway, if the inspection cycle is quarterly then holding on to their B permit for only 3 months seems to be possibly not that long, especially in Los Angeles, but even that seems very short for that enormous population. Could this restaurant actually have to hold that posture for longer than 6 months? That’s like torture for the owner.  If you had a good relationship with the regulator then you could possibly get them to return earlier unless there are restrictions to maintain that rating in your particular municipality. Just remember, thay don’t come around that often so protect your permits and health ratings.

Another rule of thought is they have a new inspector and this particular establishment hasn’t yet learned the particular inspector’s habits and what or where they normally look and what they normally test. Yes, I know that the restaurant is always supposed to be on top of their game and sanitation should always be a paramount process in the kitchen, but sometimes things fall through the cracks . . . literally. Possibly it’s a new guy and ‘new guy’ is making themselves known as being a hard-ass or something like that. Maybe the restaurant is just having a bad day. They kinda know when the inspector is coming based on the last inspection cycle, so they should have all of their employees training and certifications current, but cha never know . . .

Another thing I have learned after all of these years doing environmental stuff along side of regulators is they will see something upon arrival at the beginning of their inspection, like fresh food or eggs being on the counter. They will perform the remainder of their inspection and return to the container on the counter after they have looked around the entire place. If that container is still out and in the same spot, then they give you a violation based on their finding of fresh food being left out and not properly held. You have got to be on your toes and understand the habits of your inspectors . . . and your employees.

I figured out what it could be . . . a combination of incidents that all lined up at the same time. You know, ‘the old Swiss Cheese’ model. I know that from my safety-guy days. Maybe it was several team members not having their health cards, but I doubt that it would actually be ‘like everybody’. I just think it was a bit of this and a bit of that. But how common is that B rating?

The “B” rating is far less common than the “A”. It’s a numbers game of sorts. We eat and eat and eat. We rarely look at the health signs unless we have some kind of compulsive, reactive disorder or something like that. I may now have that since my recent heightened awareness of the rating signs in the door . . . and on Yelp.

We are now aware of the meanings of those rating signs, but I wouldn’t personally search out those establishments to ‘test’ the cuisine. I can’t say that I would avoid one if I knew of it ahead of time; but I think the fact remains that it is not necessarily a show stopper for a business. Possibly a small black eye at best for an established restaurant. Possibly a bit more of a concern in a prominent neighborhood with many well-to-do establishments; but if the clientele has been patronizing the chef, then they probably have a trust and will continue to return without hesitation. Possibly a small dent for them, but what about those new places, like the one I had worked at many moons ago that had just opened their door? What about the effects of Dicks like me that find this stuff and write about it. What about this day and age of social media and Yelp. Information travels much faster and is far more wide spread. It can be a show-stopper but it doesn’t need to be if the restaurant’s leadership is committed to sanitation standards and communicating with their clientele. People do understand, but they sometimes also follow the others (sheep) into some of the hatred found on such media.

We now understand how that rating has been assigned. We also understand that the rating has a chance of being reversed and the effects it may have on clientele returning to your establishment. But we also have learned about habits of diners. People continue to enjoy food wherever they have become accustomed to patronizing. They rarely look at the health signs, but understand they may become a laboratory animal of sorts. It’s not all that either. We are human and we do like to eat, even pushing aside something that doesn’t look or smell good. I just hope that look and smell is not where I’m eating.

How often will I find that B rating now that I am aware of it. Why am I now aware of it? Because I ate at that restaurant . . . and I liked it?

Dicks

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Just when are you supposed to read the menu?

Just when are you supposed to read the menu? You’ve made reservations at a premier spot. You’ve heard and read so many positive reviews of the place and have researched whatever you can find about the menu and what to expect of your dining event.

You arrive and your initial expectations have been met with the very polite, knowledgeable and attentive host person. You’ve been seated at a comfortable table with you’re friends and have much to look at with your positioning to all of the goings on. You immediately begin to converse with the others at your table and your server approaches with perfect timing sporting menus and greetings while taking the first of the drink  orders

img_5147You continue your initial conversations and glance down at the menu. Suddenly the bus person arrives to bring water to fill the glasses on your table. Your conversations continue as each napkin is unfolded and floated across your lap. You, somehow wilding the menu above the table, try to pretend you are reading it. You have only made it past the first of two attempts at a visual eye scan of the menu and only noticed four possible  items, none of which match any of your immediate likes. You continue your conversations and place the menu back down because your first round of drinks just arrived and the ol’ . . . “salud” begins a dinner celebration to remember.

As a food writer and culinarian, I spend my fair share of time researching and reading food stuff on the internet. Food stuff is defined as anything I may have possibly learned in my education and everything that I also possibly missed in my education. When I get ready for a hot date at a good restaurant, especially one that I know has a seasonal menu, I try to get ahead of the service by learning a thing or two that may be expected once I get to the restaurant. Then, the menu is often similar and my time preparing makes for a bit of swiftness come ordering time. But even with the added preparation of researching your options, when is the right time to read the menu? I mean you don’t want to miss anything that is being offered and you also don’t want to miss any of your conversations without being distracted away from anything gluten or lactose free. So, just when are you supposed to read the menu?

While this may be something to ask of the overall experience with a particular restaurant, being prepared when the server arrives to take your food order can prove to be detrimental if your delay throws off your server’s timing. Now you may not see your server for a while until she rounds the turn the next time. This preparation can still be challenging and possibly something you want to parlay with a swift ordering of an appetizer, that should or could have been done with the initial drink order; and in some establishments, this may prove to be a carefully timed service with ordering of the main entrees’ as well.

“Wait, I still haven’t had enough time to really read the menu.” I mean carefully read the composition of some, if not all, of the offerings. In such haste, I can only hope the menu is small enough to get through possibly 5-6 appetizers, 7-10 main entrees and then selecting sides to accompany everything. Yes this whole process can be accommodated by a well trained staff to explain each item when taking the order; but you also don’t want to be the guy that     s l o w e s     t h e     w h o l e     p r o c e s s     down for the server to have them leer at you wanting to say, “to- to- to- today junior”. And the first ordering trip of the server to your table shouldn’t be the ‘warning shot across the bow’ either. The server has other tables that need to be attended to, not just you. You are not the only person in the restaurant today and don’t throw the server’s pace off. So, just when are you supposed to read the menu?

Of the several rude table methods that can possibly abound like texting on your phone inside of the open menu on your lap; or, the very offensive, holding the hand in the face of someone trying to ask of your conversations saying. “I’m trying to read the menu”. You can always wait until the server comes by with the warning shot. Perhaps you can break up the conversation happening at the table by saying, “let’s stop for a moment to prepare our order”. That’s just like putting a hand up in conversation, but is not as ‘in your face’ as the whole hand thing. Just remember, you don’t want the server returning with the warning shot.

Here’s something else to remember when preparing for your order and minimizing the time actually reading the menu, is to use time to your advantage. While arriving slightly late may be considered fashionable for you or your guest, arriving early can give you an opportunity to read the menu posted behind the restaurant storefront glass in the showcase. Arriving early also may allow you to borrow one of the menus from the greeter’s desk to view while you are seated in the waiting area while waiting upon your guests to arrive. Take a moment to read the ‘chalk board’ on the front door step as well where you’ll often times find the ‘special’. A couple of things to remember about the special. One, not all establishments believe the special should be truly ‘special’. Two, don’t ever order “the ‘rock-fish’ special” at a BBQ rib house. Something to think about, ordering fish at a BBQ house.

image_542595516671984Well, if you are like me, finding the peaceful moment to actually read the menu falls somewhere helplessly between conversations at the table. Unfortunately, only a few of those moments are focused on the menu compositions and ingredients because you just don’t have time to read everything. Having a well planned and well designed menu can help this process by simplifying the eye scan and the amount of time it takes for the customer to find the menu items of their desire . . . or the menu item of the restaurant’s desire (Menus 101).

Here’s another way to read the menu, and to get more coverage of the menu items in short fashion, is to guide your table conversation around the menu. Point to the Chateaubriand with Red Wine reduction and ask if anyone at the table would care to share the plate, and possibly share the Beet Salad appetizer. Now you’ve asked the table to start reading the menu, included some suggestions and other items to be cosidered and scanned in the short time you want to spend reading it. But listen to what others are saying at your table, because they may just point out the “espresso rub” on the rib plate you are about to order at 9pm. You don’t want your evenings mishaps to be replayed at 2am in the morning.

One of the things I learned in school was to learn to begin reading menus. I find it is not that easy to really read the menu, even at the basic level. There is so much information on there already, then trying to read and salivate at the same time is something that just wasn’t taught.

Dicks

A good movie soundtrack

When was the last time a song or several of the songs in a movie soundtrack made you feel good? The kind of good feeling that makes you want to run out right now and buy the movie or the soundtrack? The kind of good feeling that makes you dance in the kitchen?

A Friday evening for my family usually includes dining on a slice of pizza somewhere . . . or two slices somewhere; whether dining on a pizza made at home, a pie from one of our favorite pizza parlors, trying a new pizza place or even reaching into the freezer for the “ol’ Friday night standby”. I call pizza, “the devil’s pie” because every Saturday morning the scale seems to be about 3 pounds high. Then we work hard and go without some of our other favorite foods all week to get those pounds back to where they belong. Then, about Thursday or Friday morning later in the week, just when we begin to see hope, we start the whole game over again.

This last Friday evening included relaxing on the couch and watching a movie. I didn’t feel like going out, ordering out (only one place delivers to us so far after 14 years), or otherwise making a dough and everything else that goes into a homemade pizza. We also had a decent brand of frozen pizza in the freezer as a back-up, but we decided to go against our desire and be strong-willed about it. We wanted a bit of something to munch on, but didn’t want to wreck our week’s work on this Friday evening and the movie we chose was something that we had seen before; so going down the same pizza highway this evening wasn’t working for us either.

We began to watch the movie and soon I found myself somewhat bored. Given this slow Friday evening, I felt the need to entertain myself in the kitchen where I can still glance at the flat screen in the other part of the ‘great room’. I have a fairly good surround sound system in the family room area and I found myself stopping work in the kitchen, to occasionally glance at a recognizable scene based on the audio. I then found myself rocking out to familiar songs being played on the soundtrack of the film, all while preparing whatever I could find that has been in the freezer for too long.

IMG_5098

The view from my kitchen bar counter

Luckily I found some simple pre-formed burgers and some Brioche buns (don’t know where those came from). And, behind the six pack of beer that I was working on this evening, I also found some complimenting produce in the fridge. I didn’t want to make a huge mess this Friday evening so I decided to pan fry the burgers instead of using the outside gas or charcoal grill or even opting for the infamous ‘George Forman’ on the counter. The burgers I found were re-wrapped in cellophane so I could not give you any specifics about the brand, or even if someone in my house had pre-formed them. The only thing I found is that I believe they were 100% beef.

Before I forget, I was told by my 25-year-old son and self-proclaimed burger aficionado (5 Guys and In-N-Out) that tested the burger, that it was an incredible burger unlike anything he has ever had at home. That’s a huge claim since I often attempt but never accomplish greatness (his rating) making a burger at home.

Anyway, I had a refrigerator beginning to emit a peculiar smell of off-gassing produce ripening before our very eyes. So, before the smell made things ugly, I decided to use what I could before it had to get tossed into the composting pile. For some reason (we don’t normally have this) I found a head of the nutritionally challenged Iceberg lettuce that was beginning it’s Navy-vessel browning routine in the back corner of the fridge. Luckily I found a couple leaves yet preserved with a light-colored white/green tinge so I knew that would be perfect to obtain the crunch portion of the bite into the burger. I also found some cherry tomatoes that would make a nice tomato marmalade after cutting each of the little buggers in half and gently squishing them flat. To ensure there was nothing short of everything California in this burger (bacon is not Californian), I smeared a bit of local ranch-grown avocado and placed a few slices of mellow Monterey Jack Cheese, yellow onion, mustard and mayonnaise before placing the toasted Brioche top-half aloft. I also found a half bag of tater-tots and crinkle-cut fries that I baked in the toaster oven to add the finishing touch for enjoyment.IMG_5101

All of this while jamming out to the good tunes from the movie’s soundtrack, occasionally finding myself breaking into my best Michael Jackson dance move and sipping on the last sip of beer that has made a six pack start to look like a 4-pac. I finally plated this concoction and presented it to the wife so she didn’t have to move from her front row movie seat. Now, what had happened next was exactly the same thing that happened recently after passing a McDonalds in a casino lobby and heading back to a hotel room one night. Once inside of the hotel room with a Big Mac in the bag, I had slipped into the bathroom only to return to approximately three bites of the burger remaining. WTF? The wife said nothing, she had her mouth full and just handed me the burger . . . or what was now left of it. All I could say is, “WTF is this?” And now all she could mumble, with her mouth full, was something like, “It’sth threally gudd”.

So when you are looking for a change from the ordinary and don’t feel like going to the local watering hole and hearing the same Willie Nelson cover band. Or if you just don’t feel like going anywhere to get just anything to eat, then reach into your own fridge and get your best “Chef” on and make something creative using whatever it is that you have available. It’s actually interesting and fun. And, if you still decide that delivery isn’t going to cut it tonight, you can still have DiGiorno.

Dicks

Viking Ocean Cruises vs. the others.

I was somewhat surprised when I saw so many wheel chairs and walkers being escorted by so much grey hair in the cruise ship terminal. I knew this was an adult adventure, but I never cruised aboard Viking, and I don’t quite know what I was expecting, so I explained to my wife that “we” could join the kids club once on board because we were aged 65 years or less. That kinda set the tone for our next 7 days of adventure aboard our Viking Ocean Cruises ship to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Having found a number 5 boarding pass sitting atop a chair next to my wife, apparently left from another waiting boarding member that got up to use the restroom or something, and my wife and sister-in-law having a number 9, I decided to board. “See ya”, I said and ascended aboard the escalator in the Miami embarkation terminal.

I thought it a bit odd that I had entered the ship and not a photograph had been taken celebrating the occasion and the atrium area of the ship had a pianist or three-piece string ensemble playing as I checked in . . . I don’t remember; but the staff member that assisted me obtaining a, semi-constant throughout the cruise, Wi-Fi signal was the first part of exceptional service for the next seven days aboard Viking Sun.

vikingsunhavana

My first mission aboard the vessel was to secure some dining arrangements at Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant for the second night underway, and The Chef’s Table for our Thanksgiving day meal aboard and also my birthday. The Chef’s Table offers a pre-fix menu paired with wine, if you paid the extra $137 per person (mandatory both persons pay within a cabin) to have basically unlimited access to all beer, wine and booze while aboard. I was told by one of the ship’s staff that it covered 99% of all the alcohol on board with the only exemptions include one champagne by the glass and other extra curricular drinking events . . . to be explained later. We ended up eating at Manfredi’s twice. It was quite good. The dining aboard the Viking Sun was unlike what we had experienced aboard other cruise lines in that there was no assigned seating and the dining at the specialty restaurants (Manfredi’s and The Chef’s Table) were included other than the wine pairing as mentioned above. I’m learning that Viking Cruise are mostly “all inclusive”. adfh

I finally made my way to the Lido deck . . . or the 7th deck. It was not called the Lido Deck on this ship, where the pool, buffet, burger grill and the constant flow of umbrella drinks being served by eager staff await along with the gently rhythmic Reggae music being played by a live band on the pool deck stage. Nope, it was called . . . the seventh deck, with just some gentle tunes playing modestly through the pool area sound system. I did find the bar on that deck and quickly ordered a double to get me through my next tasks.

Shortly after that I heard over the ship’s P.A. system that all bags have been placed in all of the staterooms. This was at about 1:30pm and I’m used to finding our luggage looming outside of our, and everyone else’s, stateroom at around 3:30 to 4:00pm on Princess and Carnival Cruise Lines. Although those were much larger ships with three to four times the passenger capacity, the service never seemed to be insufficient or excessive either way except for few details like having the luggage not in the hallways . . . ever, . . . even on debarkation.

Soon after getting my drink on the ‘Lido Deck’, as it will ever be referred to by my wife and I, and taking a couple of pictures and sending a couple of texts to the wife still in the terminal, I found our room, and our balcony. Balconies are a very important mandatory feature of our (the wife and I) cruising criteria and every room on this ship had a NON-SMOKING balcony, on a trip to Cuba, … really. This was a very small ship; in fact, it was the smallest of six ships currently docked at the nine-ship capacity (I think they are claiming) Miami cruise ship terminal. Very impressive ship terminal although you’d think you were lost driving around in circles (by design) on the terminal roads. Anyway, for smoking, there was one small area on the starboard side, mid-ship, a deck above and aft of the pool area for all those Cubanos to be tested once we first arrived in Cienfuegos. But I don’t know about the first night, because we had traveled to Havana and back on a reasonably (it was good) comfortable tour bus line for our first days in port.

The food aboard the Viking was decent as was the food aboard any one of the other cruise vessels I’ve been on as an average. I actually felt the foods served aboard the Sun’s buffet dining area was rather limited and just mediocre; there just wasn’t a whole lot of excitement in the food arena. The same layout format throughout the ship of the newer lines that have been coming out of Italy; everything down to the two watering stations next to the mostly unused, on this vessel, shuffle board and miniature golf sports deck. This ship did have a very nice spa and gym area on the 2nd deck (?). It included a steam bath and ice bath rooms that were kinda neat. I can say we did it. The spa area also had a bucket plunge device that drops a bucket of cold . . . not on this ship . . . cool . . . possibly room temperature water over your head. It also had a very impressive bubble machine (that’s what I call it because that’s all it was doing) large Jacuzzi-style tub that was about 92 degrees and a much smaller hot tub that was about 94 degrees. Don’t forget about the iceless water that is served with each meal. Not a whole bunch of excitement aboard this cruise line . . . and not a bunch of stimulation either.

In hindsight, I think I am beginning to realize the quality of the Viking Cruise Line vessels and vacations. They are what I call, “very Hiltony”. Meaning the quality, simplicity, comfort and expectation is very much like the Hilton hotel brand. I have asked myself and my wife several times if we would ever chose Viking again. Our answer is ‘never say never’. We may be looking for this level of cruise line in a few years. Also in hind sight, since witnessing a few things while in Cuba, Viking Cruise Lines seem to do everything with the highest level of perfection toward their brand standard. All of their ship tour adventures seemed top be planned out to the “t”, and everything was always inclusive. We never had to tip or pay for anything . . . and the cruise personnel would tell us that the tip is taken care of and to only tip if you feel it necessary.

The seven days aboard Viking was nice, clean, calculated, anticipated and comfortable. The staterooms were very nice without the towel animals on the bed and the stateroom steward kissing my ass every visit back to my room. Our steward did miss a very important ‘ice in the room every day at 4pm’ request, and I never saw him around that hour to ask him for it again. All I know is that we looked for it many of the days we were on the ship. So when it comes to tipping the steward staff, as was very common on other cruise lines we have traveled on, Viking stewards seemed to be less forcibly social with the traveling guests. The wife and I would rather our room not be visited other than minimally to refresh towels every couple of days. We hang the “Do Not Disturb, sign on the door knob with expectation that the stewards are to remain clear . . . . unless I need ice! The bath area, bed area and closet storage in the room was very accommodating and there is storage below the bed to put your luggage. The balcony area is a decent size with adequate privacy from any next door snoopers.

Since we were of the youngest 10% of the occupancy of the ship, and we usually always had a drink in hand, the bartenders, soon new our names and our drinks . . . and our room numbers. Every staff member, that I had witnessed, would use a personal ‘cell-phone’ styled device to enter all information about drink, food ordering or retail sales in the stores. Our picture was taken upon embarkation for our ships identification badge that was used to access our stateroom and both embark and exit the ship in ports. The ships crew would just verify our picture with our purchase as it was placed on our stateroom final bill. I thought the use of personal data devices for this purpose was convenient for the ships crew.

The Viking staff had everything figured out for the guests. Even when we got to Cienfuegos, Cuba, the ships own 220 passenger life/tender vessels were used to transport us to and from the terminal in that port as we anchored in the harbor off of the docks. This ship also had a fairly new crew, so some things (evolutions) didn’t quite go as planned. Like retrieving of the anchores when leaving Cienfuegos had set us back for about 2 hours due to them being fouled and the ships engineering crew chasing the anchors  around like monkeys chasing around a football. Just below my balcony . . . it was great entertainment.

As for Viking Ocean Cruise lines being compared to other cruise ship lines and how it all comes into play with the overall enjoyment of a ship-board cruise, I’ll have to check out more lines to compare. I did find another writer that does just that, compares the cruise lines from within. I look forward to reading some of his stories as well when I get ready to make my final cruise destination plans aboard another cruise line.

Dicks

An exploration of Cuba – part 1

I have my own personal thoughts and interpretation of ‘all the things going on down there in Cuba’, but one of my last moments on the streets keeps replaying in my head; and it just might set the tone for the stories that follow.

“Mucho color” (Spanish for ‘very hot’ when referencing the weather), I said to the somewhat frail older Cuban gentleman sitting atop a somewhat rickety chair under the shade of a beautiful, somewhat rickety Cuban architectural structure. I was shopping in the street vender area of Cienfuegos when the sun began to really beat down on me this last day of our visit. As I stepped up onto the curb to finally get a bit of reprieve from the mostly humid heat, the gentleman replied, “No it’s not” in perfect English. He then asked if I was from the cruise ship in port. I replied, “Yes”. He asked, “Are you from America?” Again I said, “Yes I am”.

My beautiful wife had graciously and lovingly provided me with one of the best birthday gifts one could ever imagine. Although she bought a new watch on “my” birthday for herself this year due to a ship credit refund that could only be spent in the ship store, I had succumb to a year-long sister-to-sister plan for a Viking Cruise from Miami, Florida to our ultimate destination of Cienfuegos, Cuba.  This trip was my gift. I had met some very interesting people, visited some very interesting places, ate some great food and learned a thing or two along the way. And, just to let you know, I had several hundred pictures that were lost from my IPhone, just a day after the trip; so I will try to do my best novelist writing so you can visualize along with what memories I will still have along the way in this multi-part series. I had many great photos. It’s a shame. Sorry.

Cienfuegos is a fishing port city along the southern coast of Cuba. This day we were part of a street walking tour from our cruise ship in this quiet, yet robust city. Our tour guide for the day was a local Cienfuegos resident of 29 years and a very proud younger generation of that city. She had allowed our tour to walk the streets unattended and the wife and I needed to buy some last minute trinket gifts before returning to our ship for the afternoon ride back out of the channel.

The gentleman on the chair asked, “What state do you live in?” I told him I was from California as I fussed with the bags of gifts I was carrying. I had mostly made my interpretation of this remarkable island of Cuba by now as being mostly a sound country under a socialist rule that was really no different than some other countries I have visited while in the Navy. Cienfuegos, Havana and the outlying countryside we had traveled through the past few days seemed quiet, reasonably clean, graffitiless, devoid of any billboard advertising, except for mostly Castro political posters, and the very interesting display of automobiles and warm Cubans desiring our tourist monies. Most of our ship were visitors from America but I had observed visitors in both cities that were from different countries around the world.

“How’s everything in California?” the gentleman on the chair asked, again in perfect English. I kinda himmed and hawed and mumbled a bit then said , “It’s ok, life moves forward”.  He replied, “It sucks here”. That was the first time I heard anything, or any words about how bad the country might be. We spoke only a few more words after that about the tourism in his country, and the repeated visits from our particular Viking Ocean Cruise Lines ship over the next several weeks. I parted from the old man in the chair, yet I still saw the hope in his eyes. The hope I had observed everywhere in Cuba; a land that I saw bountiful with wonderful people, food, culture and splendid architecture. There is so much history here to learn. I am extremely grateful for my opportunity to witness this country first hand.

I hope to bring more stories to you over those next several weeks while the information is reasonably fresh in my head without my reminder photos.

Good luck hanging in there.

Dicks

 

 

 

Write to write

I reserve the write to write . . . and the right to write. When I feel like writing, then I shall. If I don’t feel like writing, then I have that right too. Confused? So am I, and I just don’t feel like writing about it . . . or righting about it. Then again, am I writing just to write?

I have found that too much in life requires my diligence and timely attention. My desire to write this blog has diminished and I don’t feel like exercising my right to write. Maybe I’ll just complain harshly or be extremely happy about an experience and write about things then.

Until that next time, don’t ever settle for mediocrity if you’re expecting better.

ape

 

 

 

 

 

CritDicks may very well be done. Finally! You can put that in your pipe and smoke it Scotty.

Dicks

Dry-Aged Prime Beef. How to – do it at home in the fridge in 4 weeks. Simple!

There are a lot of videos and web information on the internet about how to dry-age prime rib. There are even more warnings and silliness about precautionary measures, “special rubs” or secret methods from chefs that have done this process countless times at their restaurants or in expensive climate controlled environments. Well, I don’t have a restaurant and I don’t perform this process every day, week or every month. Hell, I’m lucky if the wife will let me buy a full 7-bone roast to experiment with once a year during the holidays. I say experiment because it seems as though every year is a question as to how it is going to turn out, especially if you want to try something even just a little different from one of your previous annual attempts. In this recapitulation I will try to explain some of my concerns and hopefully give you a quick rundown of the process. It was definitely worth the effort as it was really no effort at all.

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Rib roast dry-aged at 4 weeks

I did a lot of reading and watching of videos before I attempted this process. I talked with my wife about the potential for ruining $100 worth of meat or the potential for someone getting sick from a poorly executed aging process. My wife had suggested I try the procedure with only half of the meat. I then told her that I would be wasting time (4 weeks) practicing and by that time it would already be Christmas and I would not be allowed the same time to complete the remaining part of the roast because It would take another 4 weeks. I decided not to concede to her “level-headed” thinking and went about my business with a back-up plan of just buying another roast the day before our  celebration if necessary. The thought of creating something special for my guests to look forward to on Christmas day turned out to be priceless, as many of my guests were aware of my aging of the roast and knew of the dry-aged beef Christmas bonus this year. I mean dry-aged beef is something that usually costs a lot if purchasing from a Prime Steak house. I did it in my kitchen for literally no effort and relatively no additional cost. It was well worth it.

First of all I want to tell you that this was an extremely easy process and almost completely devoid of any opportunity for ruining your investment or getting anyone ill from your crappy cooking. If you read and/or watch videos on the internet, dry-aging of your prime rib doesn’t seem to translate into this simple process for such an acclaimed reward; and other than my attempt at yet another cooking process, this rib roast was delectable and tender as the aging process breaks down connective tissue and intensifies the beef flavor. The only drawback that I ran into is the juiciness of the meat upon service, since the dry-aging process removes excessive and virtually all moisture from within the roast; and I used a roasting method that was somewhat of a change for me that could have been responsible for additional evaporation of juices. In other words it was dry inside. Perhaps it should have been roasted and surrounded by vegetables in a beef stock or broth to add moisture back into the roast. Instead I used the ol’ “Johnny’s Chimichurri” to help out as a table-side condiment. Just another plug for my chimi to help build the demand folks. img_5006

Almost every internet sight says to purchase a Prime or Choice cut of beef from your local butcher. I buy most of my beef from Stater Brothers, a local super market that has given me satisfaction for many years. Their prices generally are less expensive than other markets and they have a good quality meat that was perfect for my experimenting on this project. I asked the butcher (yes they have a good butcher shop that will do almost anything for their customer) for a whole rib roast still in the cryovac bag. The cryovac bag is the first stage of the aging process but is considered “wet” aging. This process is somewhat similar to dry aging but does not remove moisture but rather retains moisture in the beef. This moisture results in more of a boiling effect on the beef. This is what we are trying to eliminate by the dry-aging process, so once the roast is removed from the bag we can begin to remove that moisture by completely drying the exterior of the beef with a few paper towels. Make sure to do a good job drying the exterior and DO NOT SEASON the roast at this time.

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Rib roast dry-aged for 2 weeks

Prepare a space in your refrigerator that will accommodate the roast for a month. I happen to have a “beer fridge” in my laundry room that helped make this process even more simplified. Having more of a dedicated space for the aging process is essential for better guarding against foreign contaminants that could create a mold or fungus on your beef during the first two weeks of the aging process; and it minimizes the chance of cross contamination or transfer of flavors from any other perishables to the meat, or the odor of off-gassing back to the perishables. After the first two weeks the beef has developed a nice firm outer layer that basically prevents contaminants from coming into contact with what will become the remainder of the roast once that outer layer is cut away just before cooking.

 

img_5274You’ll also notice I have my roast sitting just above a 1/2 sheet pan of salt. During my research for this project I noticed one individual had done the same thing claiming that it assisted the aging process by helping to remove any additional moisture from the refrigerator air. Made perfect sense to me. I happen to have a water softener in my home so I already had extra salt and after I was done with this project, the salt would just end up in the water softening tank anyway. No harm, no foul. You can read more about the refrigeration process of dry-aging on the internet so I’ll minimize some of the technical issues with creating the perfect aging environment. All I know is that I removed any perishables and open containers from the “beer fridge” and the ice-making freezer above prior to placing the roast in there. Other than opening the refrigerator or freezer 2-3 times a day to retrieve a beer, grab a bowl of ice cream and inspect my meat, the air circulation and temperature were consistent with the aging process. My fridge keeps my beer very cold at about 34-36 degrees and the fan runs automatically. Also note: I continued to use the ice from the icemaker for my daily water intake as it should/would indicate any foulness in odor of the aging meat.

Another quick note to tell you that the very moderate odor of off-gassing was only sometimes apparent up to two weeks, after that it pretty much disappeared. You can read more about the off-gassing on the internet as well.

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Rib roast dry-aged for 3 days

So now my beef has been thoroughly patted dry and placed on a rack just above the layer of salt. I have now placed the experimental subject into my beer refrigerator and inspected (looking at it is just like watching grass grow) it daily for anything that appears to resemble mold or fungus; but other than the salty looking appearance after just a couple of days, it just kind of sat there and got dried out with not much of an appearance change other than a bit of shrinkage and color difference. After the first two weeks the roast really did not take on that much of an appearance change from that point (at least grass continues to grow). After two weeks I put on a nitrile kitchen glove and prodded the exterior with my finger tip to discover a firm 1/8″ layer had formed around the complete exterior and a softer flesh underneath. This thin layer is what I was going to be cutting off just before cooking. After the full four weeks of aging, the texture of the roast had taken on more of a prosciutto feel and was easily handled and manipulated throughout any refrigerator space after I had removed it from the salt tray about 3 days before Christmas.  This turned out to be very convenient since all refrigerator space was now being consumed with holiday party food and favors. The next time we would have a worry about the roast is when we trim it and season it for cooking.

You’ll also have to pardon my lack of pictures I have to display here. When I am cooking, I am not thinking about taking pictures so you’ll have to take my word on some of these processes and search the internet to find the foodie porn shots.

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Rib roast dry-aged for 4 weeks and ready for trimming, seasoning and trussing

Another thing I want to ensure I pass along is that this project is not about explaining the dry-aging process or confusing you with dry-aging times, calculating the actual age of the beef and other stupid stuff. This project was to see if I could do it at home in my refrigerator and if it was as easy as I thought it was going to be, safe and worth the effort. There are internet stories and models of doing it for only a few days, wrapping it in cheese cloth and rubbing it with other B.S.; but the 4-5 week aging time of beef is considered the perfect time investment for cost, equipment utilization and improvement in texture and flavor. I opened this roast from the cryovac bag and began the dry-aging on Thanksgiving morning when I first placed it in the beer fridge. I prepared it Christmas morning for service that day. A total of 30 days.

Now is the time to prepare your seasonings to be used for cooking. The roast has this nice prosciutto texture now and is ready to carve, season and truss. I had never before had the experience of carving off the 1/8 inch of dry jerky crust. When I did it revealed a beautifully colored and aroma free roast underneath. I seasoned mine with plenty of garlic, fresh rosemary from the yard (out here, rosemary grows everywhere) and plenty of salt and pepper. I then trussed it and placed into the roasting pan per my secretive cooking time and temperature. Again, I said it turned out dry but cooked perfectly. I removed the ribs and hid them from my guests quickly as the on-lookers were already starting to pick at them eager to taste the dream.

img_5294img_5293I’m happy to say this was a success. I don’t know that I will try this full 4-week process again to be cooked as a roast; but I will definitely be using the same technique to make some damn good steaks out of the whole roast. I just need to get the wife to agree to $100 worth of steaks for some special guests some night.

By the way the ribs were definitely the best f’in beef ribs I have ever had. Wow, what an intense flavor and tenderness.

 

Dicks

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