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Le Plat du Jour: Thursday March 29, 2012

This last Thursday of March brings sunshine to the west coast before another forecasted winter storm, all of this rainfall absolutely necessary after the summer-like winter we’ve been having.

Showing a visitor around San Francisco yesterday, we spent some quality time waiting in line and then enjoy excellent Dungeness crab louie and smoked salmon on rye at the famed seafood bar Swan Oyster Depot. As usual, the seafood could not be fresher and the sharp, witty Sancimino Brothers always there to re-fill your Anchor Steam or bring capers to top the smoked salmon. It is a truly unique and fascinating institution, truly one of a kind.

Swan Oyster Depot got me thinking though about the whole debate over restaurants being cash only or accepting credit cards, even at a certain minimum. Credit cards do cost the restaurants a fee and of course, cold hard cash is instant money, while the credit card payment brings cash to the restaurant over time. Most of the U.S. restaurant industry accepts credit card and certainly a high er percentage than in any other country. Yet, let’s use Swan Oyster Depot as maybe an example that should adopt the use of credit cards. I love their vintage old cash register, part of the charm of this now 100 year old business, along with one of the Sanciminos grabbing a pencil and paper to calculate your total.

That ending total though tends to be a lot higher than most other cash only places. With lunch, a drink, tax, and tip, a meal here can easily be over $30 per person. You hear the Sanciminos yelling out the likes of $60 and $70 per bill, followed by $20 bill after $20 emerging from wallets to the granite counter. That’s a lot of cash being thrown around. I have many friends and even family who do not carry cash period, whether it is just for ease of payment by credit or for safety reasons. I warned by dining partner beforehand yesterday that the catch on Swan Oyster is cash only…a reason that I have had friends not able to join me at other places because they simply don’t carry cash.

There are cash only places and then there are cash only places where diners will pay over $20. I am not anti- cash only establishments, knowing the pros for the business of not relying on credit card payments. However, are the pros for the business worth the cons for diners? What are your thoughts? Or at least should a cash only business accept credit cards at a minimum total payment like $20? Let the debate commence…(answers don’t cost anything by cash or credit card!)

In other news, I am torn about the cash only question, but as The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Jon Bonné wrote last Sunday about the wine list price and size question, I am all for shrinking the wine list to unique, creative, quality wines, just like I’m all for smaller food menus. Nobody wants to research through a phone book wine list, though it is a symbol of pride for fine dining institutions. Let’s keep this trend going sommeliers. Let’s keep wine lists focused, sharp, creative, and exciting to lower the stress and prices. Wine should be approachable and most of all, a complimenting part to the meal, not a huge hurdle in the way of the meal.

Celebrity chefs has an interesting day yesterday. Ever wondered what a day in the life of Mario Batali is like? Now you can follow him around, from business meetings to taping for The Chew.

Global superstar chef Gaston Acurio has dozens of restaurants now across North and South America, most recently branching out to New York where Pete Wells of The New York Times is not a fan of Acurio’s newest La Mar Cevicherià outpost.

I thoroughly enjoyed the one Acurio restaurant I have dined at, Astrid y Gaston in Santiago, Chile. Bold flavors, beautiful platings, and epic ceviche platters came one after another for our premier meal in a trip to Chile and Argentina. Acurio in his home country Peru, is an absolute icon, beloved for giving his country a real identity to set foot with on the global stage. When people think of Peru now, they imagine Machu Picchu and now cooking thanks to Acurio. I was at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York last summer when chef Dan Barber had just returned from a global food summit in Lima, Peru. Barber could not stop raving about the produce, especially the potatoes in Peru, and how Peruvians go crazy for Acurio as if he were the President or how Americans go crazy for TebowMania.

Finally on this Thursday, we’ll be heading out to Kauai for the week. It is the special destination for our family, where we have been visiting since long before Hurricane Iniki. For an island of its size, the dining options are shockingly impressive. We have our longtime favorites (Beach House, Roy’s, Lappert’s), newly discovered favorites (Hamura Saimin Stand, Kauai Kookie), and a list of new places to try (Josselin’s, Merriman’s, Kauai Grill by Jean-Georges…), please let me know if you any advice on places we must try! Mahalo nui loa!

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