Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Name Game

Yes, it's been awhile since I've written and I'm still in the midst of writer's block. My birthday was a couple of days ago and I had quite a nice time of it, but someone was missing. A call would have been nice, you know?

Oh well, so much for those hopes and dreams.

I've been watching a lot of Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube, so my mind (and therefore my world) is filled with Gordon Ramsay's "fuck this", "fuck that", "fuck me", "fuckin' hell" and "you're a fuckin' donkey." I mean really, this is not a healthy way to live. Everywhere I eat now, I want to ask the chef: "did you even taste your fucking food before serving this shit to me?"

And unfortunately, I've endured some disappointing meals lately.

Like the God-awful "Fried Kim Chee & Tofu" at the ill-conceived Aloha Tokyo here in Baltimore. Warmed kim chee, topped with nori strips on top of a sliced tofu cake. There's nothing "fried" about that dish. Just limp-dick bland tofu and warm (what the fuck?) kim chee. I really did wonder if those people bothered tasting the food before putting it on the menu. How about deep-frying the tofu for some texture? That might have been exciting.

Of course, I knew we were in trouble right off the bat when I asked the sushi chef for a spicy tuna temaki, or hand roll. He looked at me like he was a deer in headlights. He didn't have a fucking clue.

Then there was the sad "bulgogi roll" - a sushi roll filled with cold bulgogi Korean-style beef. I really felt as though I was in Gordon Ramsay's Nightmare. I could go on but I'll only piss myself off and rant about my house shouting "What the fuck were you thinking?"


Today, we checked out Baltimore Pho. Finally, supposedly good Vietnamese has landed in Baltimore by Hollins Market. The place looks just like a Las Vegas nightclub should look. In my usual jeans and black t-shirt, I was decidedly underdressed for this decor. Bright red leather seats with matching chopsticks and eye-catching logo'd tableware, it was stunning.

The first thing I noticed was that this pho restaurant had no Asians anywhere in sight. In fact, I was the only person of Asian ethnicity in the dining room. It didn't bode well.

Since my seat had a view of the door to the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of what might have been the black hair of an Asian man (hopefully Vietnamese) who might have been making out food. Now, don't get me wrong, I have no problem with a team of Mexicans or Latinos cooking my French meal, but I'm comforted by a Vietnamese guy cooking my pho.

The food was pretty good. Fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls, fish cakes and beef pho. Unlike my favorite places in Columbia and Honolulu, the pho selection is quite limited - but at least they will serve me a side of raw meat (which I love). Their pho is missing the tripe and tendons that make a good pho and maybe that's why I found the beef broth to be lacking. It lacked body. It lacked "ooomph". It lacked soul. I put the usual basil, sprouts and lime but it was still lacking. Hell, I even added a lot of salt - and I've never added salt to my pho. Ever. Still lacked the body. The chili pepper helped but wasn't enough.

When it comes to pho, I want to guzzle the broth. It should be rich, beefy and with that weird almost sweet twang that sets it apart. Again, this pho was like it was tuned down for white people. Jesus Christ, it's like the Outback of pho.

But enough about those food adventures, the reason for this post is to ask your help. Once again, I'm looking to open a new joint and have started discussion with several developers for a proper location and I need a name. It needs to be a good one and one that communicates. It's going to be a coffee and cuisine concept that will bring the vision of the barista chef together in a forward-thinking, progressive and delicious way. We're planning on utilizing as many sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices as possible, as well as sourcing top-quality ingredients from local suppliers. Casual but serious, though not a white tablecloth environment.

As far as names go, the sky is the limit - just so long as you don't suggest those fucking stupid coffeeshop names you find in every city like: Daily Grind, Common Grounds, Central Perk, Perking Lot. No cutesy coffee puns. And nothing that ends in a fucking "Z", like Grindz. Bloody Hell. Nothing that ends in "coffee" either - no Spro Coffee, Hines Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, etc. It's meant to be more than that.

And of course, no names that are already being used in another city, like: Starbucks, French Laundry, Alinea, etc.

Some of the names that have already been suggested are:

- Spiral Jetty
- Persephone
- Level
- entonces
- kayumanggi
- talyer

So please, any ideas you have, drop me a line or leave it in the comments. I'll compile a list and report back and maybe you'll have a hand in naming our next venture!


Anthony said...

ARRRGGH! I can't stand GR on the American shows. His British ones are OK, but I started to get the desire to throttle my computer at the mere mention of his name.

It is because of chefs of his type that I'm not in restaurants anymore. I know most of that is probably drama for TV, but there is no one on earth that is famous enough for me to let them treat my like that. It's no wonder restaurant people drink so much. It could also be why a lot of cooks don't give a shit about what they produce when it's "just a job" to them. I might have done the same if I hadn't cared so much about the food I was making.

I'll have to marinate on the name thing for a while. I know you want to keep things a bit more secretive, but it might help to know a bit more about dishes you're planning to serve, decor, location etc. Though that might be hard for a Mid-Westerner to help with an East Cost rest. idea.

onocoffee said...

I agree. The American shows are too focused on the "reality" moments - and I haven't seen anything else except the British version of Kitchen Nightmares, one episode of the American (Pomona, CA) and a short clip with Ramsay and Martine McCutcheon.

While Ramsay sounds like he came from the "old school", I wonder if cooks don't give a shit because of chefs like Ramsay who seem obsessed with quality and perfection. His methods certainly are rough, but it seems difficult to dismiss Ramsay because his results speak differently.

Actually, I'm not trying to be coy or secretive about what we want to do. The plain fact of the matter is that we haven't decided what we're going to do yet. Of course, quality and local sources are important. Definitely espresso. Certainly French Press service. Maybe even VacPot or Melitta to order. It's meant to be an evolution of our customer experience and service levels from what we're doing now at The Spro. We're going to capitalize on the lessons and standards set at Woodberry Kitchen.

But outside of those current parameters, it's still very much open. No menu has been selected, but it will be a local and seasonal menu focused on delicious and affordable meals for the local clientele - maybe with some "molecular" flourishes.

Decor? Thinking seriously about reclaimed materials as much as possible. Rich Oak floors with light, fresh colors. I want to stay away from overtly modern (a la Scandinavian style), away from "coffeehouse" colors (a la Starbucks) and away from college flop house (a la Third Wave).

Location is the one item where I do have to remain coy per the developers request - as well as my own experience knowing that nothing is really happening until the lease is executed. But it is in an urban environment with a relatively young and affluent community.

One Red Chair said...

Kabura - a Japanese term taken from kabura-ya, an arrow that makes a howling sound when fired and was historically used to signal the start of a battle.

Basically, you are putting the coffee and culinary industry on notice; you are about to start a revolution.
oh, I still reserve the right to use the name for my next espresso blend ;p
Keep me updated on the new venture, I am excited to see what you will do!

See you at SCAA? I still owe you dinner!


Athos21 said...

How about 'Rover 21'

It is a nod to travel to taste and see coffees from around the world, a nod to going around to get seasonal ingredients etc.

As for Gordon, he seems to know his stuff. I know nothing about running a restaurant but he tries to find ways to give you and edge and have a winning idea...I wish he would call more people "donkey." I read one of his books and it talked about hsi successes and failures and he has put ina lot of hard work.

Anthony said...

I do like the Kabura suggestion.

I just realized you said 'Kitchen Nightmares' and not "Hell's Kitchen". My bad. I do like 'Kitchen Nightmares'. You are right in that he does try to get the best out of people in that one. At least when he gets on people in this show, it's because he has told people one thing and they go and do another.

Describing him as 'Old School' still doesn't absolve him from owing other regular human decency and respect. 'Old School' is used to cover up far tooooo many errors in behavior.

I don't agree the other cooks are producing or putting up with him because he is committed to 'perfection'. I've worked for some pretty demanding chefs (that others hated) that were nowhere near the level of asshole he has achieved or portrays on 'Hell's Kitchen'. His results do speak for themselves. Would you rather people produce at your requested level because they believe in and respect you, or because they fear you? Personally I would rather the former.

Anonymous said...

Jay, you know I love great food: I watched Spike put Woodberry together last summer and talked talked talked food. I also love great coffee: I drive to Spro (especially after Artifact closed) to get great espresso and signature drinks from you. I've listened to you and Nick Cho talk about this concept (Nick doesn't get it, does he?) and I have to say, unfortunately negatively, that in all my years of dining out with people I have never heard one speak about the coffee, unless it was horrible. I presume that you are not talking about the Starbucks coffee/food model, but a place with a real restaurant atmosphere, that is known for great coffee. It only succeeds if the food and drinks are great, the coffee won't drive the ultimate sucess. This is Baltimore, after all.

Having said that, I would die happy if you came down to SoBo and did something here. The density and variety of restaurants is still growing and there is a big enough economic base to survive the startup. ( I had a very good meal at Aloha Tokyo, but I agree that the concept is stretched ). Name, name? You can call it Cibo e Latte, exotic but reachable.

Best of luck, I can assure you of at least one eager customer.

Mike DiNovi

true said...

Spiral Jetty? Really?

I blogged a photo of the Jetty last summer when I was brainstorming ideas for Volta:

I once rented a red convertible Mustang to drive from SLC to see the Jetty. It was back in 97, and it was completely submerged. A few rocks marked where I should have been able to see it, but it was latent and obscure. The place stunk like rotting seaweed.

I just hope that the Smithson executors and the Dia Arts Foundation doesn't sue you out of existence for using the name.

My suggestions: Liberty City, C.H.U.D., or Cloverfield.

onocoffee said...

I won't disagree with you. It's better (from my perspective) for people to produce because they believe in and respect you. I may not agree with Ramsay's approach, but I do understand it. Most of the people I've mentored under I respected because of their approach. The worst it ever got was expectation and some ribbing, but nothing approaching the high-pressure cookery that Ramsay can foster.

Glad to hear from you. It's been awhile. Definitely the new concept will pay respect and attention to both the food and coffee but I'm not comfortable portraying the concept as a restaurant because it really isn't. Hopefully, it will be more than what people expect but it won't be a restaurant like Woodberry.

And I'm glad to know that someone else has enjoyed a meal at Aloha Tokyo.

I tell you, with your understanding of Gary Clail references and more, we really must have some things in common. Though I have to admit that "Spiral Jetty " was Spike's idea. The copyright challenge was the first thing that came to mind.

"Cloverfield" - cute. Especially considering my history...

Anonymous said...

I do like spiral jetty but how about - Seedbed