Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Meditation On Steak

I believe that any time a steak is cooked more than medium rare, that is the single biggest mistake in all of history. Every time it happens, it's worse than the last time - haven't we learned anything? Don't people realize how bad overcooked steak tastes?

I know it's personal preference, but I believe steaks are at their absolute best when cooked medium rare; it's the perfect temperature for a nice piece of meat. The steaks should start out at room temperature. I can always tell when somebody's cooking a steak right out of the fridge. It never really cooks as evenly, the center taking just a little longer to get to that sweet spot, the exterior drying out while the middle takes forever to come down from the cold. I'll still always say, "Wow, great steak", but I'm just being polite.

Ideally, whoever is cooking is going to want to heat up their grill or frying pan or whatever, get it really, really hot, almost smoking, so that the outside of the steak will have that nice char, that crisp brown. And then, when you cut into it, man, it's great. Red to the center with a warm interior.

So I always order my steak medium rare. Unless, of course, I'm sitting at a table in a steakhouse with a large group of people. In that case, it's not so simple. I'm a gentleman, so I never just go ahead and order first. I'll hold off for somebody else to start, and then I'll wait until it's my turn to order. Chances are, somebody else is going to order their steak medium rare. I'm telling you, it's the best way to have a steak. But then the waiter will come around to me, "And for you, sir? How would you like your steak prepared?" I can't say medium rare now - I'll look like I have no idea what I'm doing. I'll look like I've never ordered a steak before, like I'm just copying everybody else.

This is why it's great to order first at a steak place. Everyone else is definitely going to get their steak medium rare, so when you order first, you look like you're in charge, like everyone else is following your lead. The second person will also say medium rare. "Very good, sir." And maybe he really did want his steak medium rare. It all depends on how fast he said it. If there was even a second's hesitation, it would be perfectly obvious that he was probably going to go for medium, but he didn't feel like being outdone by the first person. "I'll take mine medium … rare. Medium rare." A classic rookie I've-never-eaten-in-a-steakhouse-with-a-large-group-of-people mistake.

And then it goes down the line, medium rare, medium rare, medium rare. But now everybody ordering, the fifth, sixth, seventh, even if they wanted medium or medium well, it's just not happening. Nobody's going to stick their neck out like that. By the third or fourth person, the waiter is only even asking because he has to, because it's part of his job description. Restaurant managers always get really pissed when waiters try to save some time and cast out a blanket, "Medium rares all around?" question to the table.

Every once in a while, the waiter will happen to start with a person who clearly doesn't know how to eat steak and they'll say medium or medium well. And the next person will order theirs, extra loud, "MEDIUM RARE," as if to say, "Please don't confuse me with my idiot friend to my left. I'd like mine medium rare. Please." And it'll go down the line, medium rare, medium rare, and after two or three people, that first guy will realize his mistake, and he'll get really embarrassed, and he'll just shout out to the waiter (who's already past him), and he'll say, "Excuse me, you know what? I'm going to go for that medium rare also. Thanks." And the waiter will say, "Very good, sir," and he'll pretend to cross out something on his pad and write in something else, but it will all be an act, because he's not writing anything at all. It's always medium rare. The first person always changes to medium rare after everyone else orders medium rare. It's a science.

But then it gets to me, and maybe I'm the eighth or ninth person ordering. And I'm no follower, I'm no nameless face in a crowd. So I'll say, "Rare, please." And everyone drops their fork and stares. I learned this trick at my friend's wedding in Iowa last summer. The rehearsal dinner was at this steak place, and the specialty was rib eye. Delish. Of course I was going to order medium-rare, but the first person ordered rare. I was like, "What? Rare? Crazy!" But then the second person ordered. Rare. Third, fourth, fifth. Rare, rare, rare. There was definitely a pattern here, and it became clear to me how I'd have to order my steak.

It was good. I liked it. It was a little chewier than I was used to, and you have to cut the pieces really thin to make them somewhat manageable in your mouth. But it's nice. I still like medium rare better, but I'll never tell that to anybody. I'll only order that if it's just me and somebody else, or if I'm cooking the steak myself. From now on, when I'm at a steak restaurant with a lot of people, rare it is. I'm a one-of-a-kind kind of a guy. I just love it, sitting there. Medium rare. Medium rare. Medium rare. Medium rare. Then, bam! Rare. I always stand out from the pack.

I really hope that someday, I'm out to dinner with a bunch of guys, and for some reason it's my turn to order first. And I'm definitely going to order rare. And I know that the second person is going to have to order rare also. And it'll be like dominoes, everyone falling in line, everyone getting a rare steak. I'm pretty sure that's what happened in Iowa. I think.

Just do me a favor and never order a steak well done. I have it on good authority that whenever a chef at a steak restaurant gets an order for a well done steak, he walks over to a nearby trashcan where, under all of the trash, he keeps a stockpile of some of last week's worst cuts of meat. After he pulls out the nastiest one, he spits on it a few times, and then he throws it on the grill until all that's left is a charred blackened piece of coal. Then he puts on some parsley and sends it out to be served. It's true, I swear.

-Rob_G, Qiyu Liu ed.

P.S. I hate it when people order "medium to medium well." That's not a temperature. Pick medium or medium well. There are five temperatures, that's it. You can't just go around making up your own weird non-existent styles of preparing steak.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Not Copy Commercials?

Steve Jobs once said of Apple, "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." Samsung appears to have taken that to heart, developing a reputation for copying Apple's design aesthetic for everything from smartphones to tablets to laptops.

But why stop there? If you're copying the products you're trying to advertise, why not copy the advertisements themselves? Here is Samsung's newly released commercial for their smartwatch, the Gear:

And here is Apple's 2007 commercial for the original iPhone:

Despite the commercials' similarities, the Gear is unlikely to copy the iPhone's success. And while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, I somehow don't think the folks in Cupertino are amused.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Little-Known Connection Between Richard Nixon and Obamacare

Before Obama, the last U.S. president to propose a universal health care system was Richard Nixon. His older brother Harold had contracted tuberculosis as a teenager, and Harold's medical costs devastated the family. To help out, Richard worked as a janitor while in high school and still managed to graduate third in his class, earning a tuition scholarship to Harvard. Unfortunately, the scholarship didn't cover room and board, so Nixon attended Whittier College in his hometown in order to help his family care for his ailing brother; Harold died three years later.

Yet, for all his shortcomings as president, Nixon understood the miseries of being poor, of being unable to afford health care. He became an advocate for health care reform, and in 1971, he pushed for an insurance mandate, the same mandate over which Congressional Republicans shut down the federal government today. Think about that for a moment: Richard Milhous Nixon, a man whose name has literally become a synonym for fecal matter, was more compassionate and in tune with the needs of the American people than the modern Republican party.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Perfect Cocktail

In the autumn of 2012, I conducted a series of cocktail competitions - an Iron Bartender, if you will. These weekly battles took place at Holeman & Finch, a decorated gastropub in Atlanta. Once a week, I would arrive at the bar, announce the liquor of the evening, and the two bartenders would each make a cocktail based on the "secret ingredient". Sometimes I offered latitude, simply naming whiskey or gin; other times, I would request a specific liquor like rye. During one of the Battle Whiskeys, Tyson Bittrich made for me a bourbon-based cocktail of his own creation, the Newport '65. Incorporating celery bitters, it was unlike any drink I ever had, and it was amazing.

Fast forward to February 2013 and Iron Bartender had been retired. I couldn't make it out to Holeman on a regular basis, so I attempted at one point to order the Newport '65 at my regular bar. Unfortunately, I didn't remember the exact recipe and my regular bar didn't carry celery bitters (to be fair, almost none do). On my third attempt, I arrived at the recipe below. It was boozy yet crisp, spicy with flavors that evolved during consumption. In other words, it was the perfect cocktail.

It's called the December '69, but this etymology has nothing to do with a mutual admiration society. The Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was Bob Dylan's first live set with an electric guitar, and my drink being derived from Tyson's Newport '65, I named it for Dylan's "derivative" - his son Jakob - born December 9, 1969.

December '69 cocktail
1 oz Bulleit rye
1 oz Maison Surrenne Galtaud cognac
3/4 oz Cocchi sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
2 hard dashes Angostura bitters
Stir over ice, served up w/orange peel

Update: On April 17, 2013, the proportions of vermouth and fernet were slightly altered (and improved) on the suggestion of Omar Ferrer of Empire State South.