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Plat du Jour: Friday April 13, 2012

Friday the 13th! Oh no!

Let’s think of some non-spooky items for the end of the week. How about wine and wine bars? Eater National has a very useful guide to the best wine bars across the country. Wine bars are an all too often neglected subject in the restaurant-bar world, probably because what really is a wine bar? Can a wine bar serve more food than just cheese and charcuterie? Obviously the wine list must be prominent and there must be a bar. Is A.O.C. in L.A., an exquisite small plates restaurant from Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, also a wine bar as it suggests? Any restaurant with a bar can have a wine bar since the wine list will most likely be comprehensive, unlike many restaurants’ cocktail and beer lists. The debate goes on…

I’m always fascinated by Bloomberg‘s restaurant critic Ryan Sutton’s articles on price increases at restaurants. Saison in San Francisco received attention this week for increasing its wine included chef’s counter menu price to $641. Today the price went back down to a more affordable $498.

This of course raises the question of at what point does it even matter what the price is? The French Laundry tasting menu is currently only $270. The El Bulli menu at Next in Chicago is $473, all inclusive (The French Laundry is not). Some people would claim that once a dinner is over $40 per person, or even $20 a person, it’s all the same exorbitant gastronomy with sous vide this and caviar dashi broths.

It’s not. Like Grant Achatz likes to do, I compare fine dining to Broadway plays and sporting events. Think of a meal at Saison or Next as an opera at La Scala or Game 7 of the World Series. Nobody probably plans to dine at Saison once a week. For the labor, the ingredients, and all the other costs of a restaurant to produce at Saison’s level, I am not at all surprised, as chef/owner Joshua Skenes claims, that restaurants of this caliber barely make a profit, if any at all.

The one little side note to this article is the question of SeatMe, a new rival to Opentable and Urbanspoon, charging a fee for reservations. It’s for the credit card fee used to reserve a table at Saison, so no big issue there. I’m curious to learn more and see how SeatMe does in challenging Opentable and Urbanspoon in the reservation engine wars at work in San Francisco. There’s no doubt already that SeatMe provides the most useful information and pleasing visually site amongst the trio.

Discovery of the day: how to eat a passion fruit. I absolutely love the name of it, love the juice, but prior to today had never eaten or even seen the interior of a passion fruit. I highly recommend trying it, learning like I did from this editorial. It’s quite simple and refreshing with the juice mingling with the crunchy seeds. Eat the seeds, but not the skin or the somewhat tough inner membrane.

Finally, being a passionate fan of hoppy double IPAs like many of America’s hop heads have become from the recent craft beer movement, I’ve wondered how these powerfully flavored beers can ever actually accompany food, instead of dominate it. Here are some excellent matchings from Serious Eats. Pliny the Elder with pâté…I can certainly toast to that and toast to the weekend!

We’ll wrap up the week of Kauai in a few moments. Lots of excitement next week, including reviews from Aziza and Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco. Have a great weekend!

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