“According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the food stamp program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty.”
I’m in Napa Valley, California, at the Restaurant at Meadowood’s chef’s counter, which is a fancy way of saying I’m sitting in someone’s kitchen. There are outdoor seats, which overlook the croquet course. I opt for the indoor seats, because I rather watch chefs make food than rich guys hit croquet balls. Creedence Clearwater is playing on an iPod hooked up to Bose Speakers. “I ain’t no millionaire’s son,” John Fogerty croons. The cost of my meal is $500 before tax, wine, and booze. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m ready for a ton of caviar. And what I get is a ton of leaves, roots, and flowers. WTF.
A bunch of radishes appear in front of me. They look no different from the radishes I pass by and forget about at my local Key Foods. These radishes, however, are fermented in champagne yeast. I pop one in my mouth. Tastes like a radish. So what? Then something happens. The flavor goes on. And on. And on. Sort of the same way you can taste uni a few minutes after you eat it. I take a sip of Billecart vintage Champagne (gotta live, right?), and the flavor is doubled. I’m giddy now, in the same way I once got giddy about knocking back some Dom Ruinart with a whole lot of Israeli caviar at Le Bernardin.
And that was all before they gave me this kale crisp pictured here. Chef Christopher Kostow makes it by pureeing kale with tapioca, drying it and frying it. It wasn’t so much a regular kale chip as it was kale impersonating a pork rind. Yep, kale can do it all. Instead of dip, the kale rind comes with a few dots of chorizo-flavored kale puree. Meadowood isn’t the kind of place where you ask for a bowl of sour cream dip flavored with powdered French onion soup mix. How did it al taste? Like kale, times ten. So no, we’re not talking about “fig on a plate” vegetables here. We’re not talking crudites. We’re talking about manipulating vegetables from the point of growth, to the point of cooking, to the point of consumption. We’re talking about cooking good food, dammit. And that all costs good money.
“You could run 95% food costs it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good meal…I think too many people associate high food costs with high quality experiences.”
“I am not aware of any evidence to support the theory that professional servers are a subclass of humanity who can only do a good job if “incentivized” by tips, like monkeys dancing for peanuts.”
“At least with priority boarding on airplanes everyone gets to China at the same time. Line cutting at amusement parks is like the rich guy bumping the poor guy off the flight to Beijing and shouting, “Wait for the next one!””
Here’s the second-half of our phone interview with David Kinch, the chef behind the two Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos, California. Dinner is $130 per person for the short tasting, $185 for the longer menu. Service, like at most American restaurants, is not included and is at the discretion of the individual guests. Sure, good guests will tip 20%, but we’ve long argued that adding a service charge (in the style of Coi, Brooklyn Fare, Alinea or Atera), or adopting service-included pricing (in the style of European restaurants) is the fairest solution for both restaurants and for diners.
Such policies give guests a more transparent picture of exactly how much they’ll be spending. Such policies, can also have positive economic benefits for the staff, but we’ll let chef Kinch talk about that in his own words. Keep in mind that Kinch once worked at the late, lamented Quilted Giraffe, one of the first NYC restaurants in the modern era to (controversially) impose a service charge on guests. Here we go:
How do you feel about French Laundry and Per Se-style “service included” policies? Would you ever adopt such a system?I would love to do it. It’s the last major hurdle that’s is holding back dining in America. We are the last major industrial nation, civilized nation, where tipping is still in effect. I think it is holding back an entire half of the industry. The hospitality industry is about service. Servers will always be treated as a domestic, as a hired gun, if they’re paid like a domestic, if they have this carrot dangled in front of them. ‘If you don’t give good service, you’re not getting your 15%.’ It’s a terrible mindset. And I don’t see the whole of America coming out of it because it’s so ingrained, which is a real pity.
Earlier this year, the two-Michelin starred Saison moved from San Francisco’s Mission to a larger, more luxurious space on Townsend Street in the SoMa district. The menu is also more expensive, at $298, up from the previous price of $248 earlier this spring, which in turn is up from the (shorter) $198 weekday tasting menu offered around this time last April. That’s a total an increase of over $100, or 51% of the menu’s price, in a year’s time.
Saison currently serves California’s third most expensive tasting menu after Meadowood’s $500 chef’s tasting (inclusive of tip), and Urasawa’s $375 omakase. We’re always fans of discussing value and cost here at The Price Hike and The Bad Deal, so we were honored when Chef Joshua Skenes took the time to chat about his new space and prices. He also talks about a pretty cool payment alternative he’s trying to develop with Square.
What prompted the price increase from $248 to $298? We have a lot of extremely expensive stuff in the new space. It’s the price of doing business. In terms of our working with a local fishermen, we set up a deal where we pay for his trip fee, where he goes down to Half Moon Bay or to Monterey or to up north and sources all these little things for us and it drives our cost up. But at the end of the day, it’s really just based on the cost of the ingredients…the menu price is always dictated by the cost of the ingredients… if we were to use a traditional model, I think around $400 for the menu would put us in line with average food costs for a restaurant. By that logic we’re underpriced and it’s a value for the menu.