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Filtering by Category: DINING

World of Etiquette: Sharing a Meal

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean returns with a second installment in our “World of Etiquette” series, this time with her notes on dining in and out. Once again: etiquette is for life, not just special occasions...

Exactly where your family eats dinner when AT HOME means everything! Do you all gather at a table in your kitchen? Or does everyone get their own food, take it to their bedrooms, and eat at different times? These habits may develop slowly, for perfectly understandable reasons. But the trend continues, and the problems that develop might snowball over time and wreak havoc later.

 Because you never know who you'll end up seated next to at a dinner party later on... (L-R: Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, Anne Hathaway)

Because you never know who you'll end up seated next to at a dinner party later on... (L-R: Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, Anne Hathaway)

Dinner time is prime time for a family to communicate, get to know each other, realize that all people have daily ups and downs. It is a time to learn empathy, manners, nutrition, listening skills. What happens when a family never eats together, at least a few times a week, without their cell phones on the table? When the children become teenagers and then young adults, they will 100% embarrass themselves at a date’s house, their job interview, or other social occasion. In the future you may receive a call from your child accusing you of never teaching him how a table is set or the importance of waiting to dive in.

 Always serve your company first. (L-R: Keith Richards, Tina Turner, David Bowie)

Always serve your company first. (L-R: Keith Richards, Tina Turner, David Bowie)

Here are mistakes we see far too often IN RESTAURANTS: forgetting to put the napkin in your lap first, or to close the menu signaling the waiter you are ready to order; and asking questions like What beers do you have? when the list is right in front of you. There is nothing tackier than being disrespectful to the service staff or acting too privileged to say Please and Thank you. People who talk with food in their mouth, fail to wipe their face with a napkin, or help themselves before passing come off as completely gross. Always offer the platter to your neighbor, serve them with a fork and spoon, and then keep it going around the table. Your plate will soon have plenty of food on it, too. P.S. Always pass the S&P together.

 Settle the the bill with a game of ping pong, if you must. (L-R: Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 

Settle the the bill with a game of ping pong, if you must. (L-R: Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 

Who pays? Especially if it’s a negligible amount, offer to pick up the bill and let your company treat you next time. It will all even out eventually. (People will notice if you always let them pay, regardless of how much money they have.) And anyone who has worked in F&B knows that splitting the check for more than a couple of people is a total pain and can slow things down, especially in the age of Venmo. Better yet, bring cash and settle your dues the old-fashioned way. Remember that if you order an expensive wine without consulting everyone at the table, you are responsible for paying for it regardless of who else drinks. Even if you do split the bill, ask to add the cost of the bottle to your half of the food total.

Finally, if you have real FOOD ISSUES, including illness or serious allergies, be confident in yourself. Call your host ahead of time to let them know. Although this is a considerate gesture, your issues are still your problem and you must take care of it yourself. You are not asking for a menu change. If you do not eat something on the plate, they will know that it’s not because you do not like the cooking. Bottom line: it’s your job to be self-sufficient!  

Lamb Tagine

Suzanne Pollak

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In my African childhood, we ate dinner in Middle Eastern restaurants every single Sunday night for eighteen years. The Moroccan, Lebanese, Turkish, Indian, Iranian flavors bring back memories and feelings from my childhood. Every time I smell the sweet, savory spices of tagines, I am transported to the moments when I first tasted these flavors on my tongue.

These were dark little hole-in-the-wall restaurants with beaded strings for doors; a mother or grandmother standing over a tiny stove in the back; a waiter, her relative, placing plates of food we didn’t order all over the table, family specialties. Fancier restaurants with maîtres and head waiters presented us menus and explained the various dishes and their virtues. Whatever style of place, out tables were covered with feasts ensuring we sampled the Middle Eastern world through our taste buds. 

There was no such thing as: I don’t want that, I only eat white buttered pasta, No vegetables! How did today’s children get so damn picky? Consider bringing the world into your house through nightly meals. Pay attention to what you feed your children. You are making memories, even though taste, especially through taste. 

LAMB TAGINE

  • 2-1/2 lbs. lamb shoulder 
  • 2 tbsps. ghee
  • 14 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 preserved lemon, chopped
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 small turnips, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb 
  • 4 dates, halved
  • Handful baby cippolini onions, peeled
  • Ras El Hanout, dry rub plus medium-sized dash
  1. Coat lamb shoulder in Ras el Hanout dry rub four hours in advance of cooking.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sear shoulder in medium skillet using ghee. Place in tagine dish and layer remaining ingredients on top.
  3. Put tagine (lid on) in the oven. After about an hour and a half of cooking, the aromas will begin to round out. The dish is done in two and a half/three hours, when meat is falling off the bone. 
  4. Enjoy adding these exotic tastes to your very own flavor bank!

Shut the Fork Up! It Goes Where?

Suzanne Pollak

 Photographed by Landon Neil Phillips for Local Palate, Spring 2016.

Photographed by Landon Neil Phillips for Local Palate, Spring 2016.

How important is it to set the fork on the left side of the plate? A very reasonable question recently asked to the Dean, and naturally the Dean has answers, two actually, both completely correct. 

If you are a young professional moving up in the world, planning on making your mark, the answer to the question is that placement of the fork is of upmost importance. Let's say you did not learn how to set a table and it escaped your notice where a fork goes. Sadly you may be marked as a person who has no clue about table manners, and perhaps even as one who is confused in other life skills, business matters, political savvy, social situations -- however incorrect these assumptions may be. Therefore, you must master the seemingly insignificant fork placement to be the person you want to portray. 

Now, if you are an older person, say as old as the Dean, it makes little difference where you place your fork. Because you know the rules, and have abided by them forever, you now have the choice to go off pist and do exactly what you want. Say you are running late for your own dinner party and arrive minutes before guests knock on the door. It is perfectly okay for you to put the pot on to boil, place a pile of silverware on the table and pour cocktails without missing a beat. You are not even required to set the table, instead ask your guests to sit down and help themselves to their own fork. Not only will your dinner be delightfully relaxed, you will be known as chic, sui generis, and possessing your own style. 

Manners and etiquette must be learned and adhered to to make our society work, including where that damn fork is placed, but once you learn the rules you are allowed to break them when you have already made your mark on the world. Got it? 

No More Excuses

Lee Manigault

 Haute To Go, Holly G.-style. 1961.

Haute To Go, Holly G.-style. 1961.

The Charleston Wine & Food fest begins today! In the midst of all action, the Charleston Academy has found ways to celebrate our loved local chefs from the comfort of home.

In the space of 20 hours, the Dean once attended two totally different parties with a single brilliant solution: takeout food that went far beyond just calling for a pizza.  At one, the host was expecting a James Beard award-winning chef and called the Academy all aquiver about what to serve.  We had an immediate answer, not only innovative but it was also humorous. We told her to order the entire meal from one of the OTHER James Beard Award-winning chefs in town's restaurant. This would keep everyone on their toes while the hostess received all the credit (and all she had to do was make a phone call.)  We realize this is a very expensive dinner party, but it is one that also astounds with its originality and cheekiness.  

The other event benefited from takeout, but for a totally different reason.  Anybody with toddlers knows that taking them to restaurants results in a huge bill and not one moment of peace.  Even the Dean gets tired of cooking but never of seeing her favorite people; so if toddlers are part of the event, even if there is just one, then at-home entertaining is a must.  You can put your toddler down for a nap and enjoy your guests because the food is taken care of.  One partner can go get the food while the other puts out the plates, silverware and napkins.  When the guests arrive, down goes Jr. and the party begins! 

Most restaurants that serve food will let you order and take it home with you.  Pizza is delicious, no question, and there will always be a time and place for Chinese food, but don't limit yourself to these old war horses.  Charleston has a variety of local favorite options to choose from: Artisan Meat Share, goat.sheep.cow, Ted's Butcher Shop, Butcher & Bee, Chick's Fry House, plus most of the finer dining restaurants in town (if you call, perhaps not at the last minute or at the height of an 8PM dinner rush, and ask nicely.) 

The show must go on, folks, even when you don't feel like cooking or going out at all. The Academy eliminates that option with a friendly reminder that Charleston's world-class chefs and restaurants are always just a moment away.

 

The Double Napkin Awards

Suzanne Pollak

There are some current rave favorites that the Deans feel guilty about having kept to ourselves for so long. If we were nominating the James Beard Awards, and we are not sure why we are not, here would be our nominees in the Almighty Sandwich department. If a sandwich doesn’t require at least two napkins it cannot even get in contention! No gluten? No way!

THE DEANS LIST:

Our six favorites (in no particular order) are:

When in New York, like lemmings to the ocean, we find ourselves pulled towards these two Manhattan jewels: John Dory Oyster Bar’s Lobster Roll and the Russian Dressing Hamburger at the The Mark Hotel Bar.

When fishing closer to home we currently have an embarrassment of riches in Charleston. Having exhaustingly and methodically tasted every sandwich in this city, we have noticed three sandwiches that have consistently pulled ahead of the pack. Butcher and Bee’s Porchetta Sandwich, Artisan Meat Share’s Porchetta (is there a theme here?) and the Wagyu Beef Panini at Ted’s Butcher Shop (be sure to ask for a little extra time in the press so it’s piping hot). And on the lighter side (only on Tuesday) is the Lobster Roll at The Ordinary. If you must go gluten free, we don’t want you to starve, get over to Edmund's Oast for the Charcuterie Boards. We just know you won’t be sorry.  

 Lobster Roll from The Ordinary

Lobster Roll from The Ordinary

 Edmund's Oast Charcuterie Board

Edmund's Oast Charcuterie Board

Crouching Tiger Hidden Liquor

Suzanne Pollak

Dean Pollak went to China this weekend. Well, not really, but as close as a person can get to Shanghai without leaving mainland US. She was an attendee at a Chinese banquet in New York’s Chinatown at the Golden Unicorn Restaurant.

Dean Pollak was stunned at the differences, and yet soothed by the similarities, of a large gathering of a totally different culture.

Let’s start with the most salient differences.

There was no bar at all. Each table had a bottle of red and white wine, bottles of Coke and a pot of tea. Only the tea and soda were opened during...not the cocktail hour. The Deans will call the hour and a half before the food was served the "meet and greet."  From 5:30pm to 7:00pm guests mingled with one another without alcohol, and here the Dean’s have been preaching all along the bar must be the first thing people see. Evidently not. In this case a bar was not necessary. 

Husbands and wives were seated next to each other. A total departure from what the Deans espouse.

No elaborate floral centerpiece, the food was the star. The center of the table was alternately platters of food or stacked with the just used dishes.

The Chinese New Year puts our Thanksgiving to shame. The courses, all twelve of them, had multiple components, each different colors and textures, so that the banquet was not just twelve different dishes, but came closer to fifty.

The overarching similarity is the sense of family and conviviality that a multi generational party hosted by a nonagenarian patriarch provides.

Just like many parties we’ve been to ‘here’ there was a dance floor and a live band, and people really got up and danced. Getting your boogie on was a necessary bit of salubrious movement to help make room for the next course.

Dean Pollak thoroughly enjoyed her trip to the Far East, and was honored to be invited. Dean Manigault was not able to enjoy her Saturday night just thinking of the Chinese New Year's Feast she was missing. 

How Dare You Spend My Money for Me!

Suzanne Pollak

This might be one of the shortest blogs the Deans ever write because our message is so pithy. When you go out to eat with friends splitting the check does not mean splitting the check in half. It means everybody pays for what they consumed. If you think it goes unnoticed that you ordered three or four glasses of wine and a three course meal while your companion had tap water and an appetizer and yet you suggest that the check be split down the middle, let us tell you that you should not be surprised to get fewer and fewer invitations. You have just put your friend on the spot to pay for your indulgences. Unacceptable and rude! 

There is one thing still ruder: when the check comes, acting as if you expect to be paid for. In these modern times, even a single woman out with a couple should wrestle the check to the ground before she lets the man pay for her. She should never assume that her meal is comped. 

First World Problems

Suzanne Pollak

 Image courtesy of  Black Tap Coffee

Image courtesy of Black Tap Coffee

Has it happened to you too? We bet it has. Starts out innocently enough just meeting a friend for a cup of coffee at that chic new coffee shop and then later swinging in by yourself for a quick pick me up midmorning and without you even noticing, and sooner than even seems possible, you are addicted. Your Mr. Coffee and Brunn drip machine sit on your countertop forlorn and completely confused as to what they did wrong to cause you to abandon them. First it was Starbucks but now it's Couture coffee made with a Hario pour over for which we all line up obediently and happily pay up to five dollars for the privilege of a cup of this valuable black gold.

Are we insane? No, we are not! We just can no longer be satisfied with dark dishwater or bitter home brew. Some of our friends have capitulated and bought expensive coffee machines and diligently recreate these masterpieces in their own homes. The Deans don't fool themselves. Part of what we like is the ritual of communing with people and meeting up with friends. And let's face it, it wouldn't really do for the Deans to become bar flies, so consider us coffee shop flies. 

The Deans List:

(Our favorite coffee shops in Charleston)

 

If Mr. Coffee weeps too loudly for you to ignore at least be sure your coffee is the caliber of La Colombe, Stump Town, or Blue Bottle. 

Who Do You Take To Dinner?

Suzanne Pollak

Have you ever noticed that some people act completely different when their spouse is around?  The Deans notice this more often than we would have thought because we often meet with people individually through our work at the Academy. We are always looking for new dinner guests so we frequently invite them for dinner. Upon entering our house with his or her spouse the person has been totally transformed. When they are without the spouse generally people put out more. When accompanied by their spouse they have someone to lean on, and this brings out either more energy or sometimes they let their spouse be the star.

The Deans think everyone should be on the lookout for this behavior for info about themselves. Hosts deserve your A game whether you come with your partner or not. So we encourage you to start paying attention to how you behave when you are with your spouse or not. We always want to see you at your finest. 

Our Daily Fix

Suzanne Pollak

We are almost afraid to post this because we may never see our favorite sandwich again.  On one of Charleston’s most charming streets, Church, and below Broad no less (outside private kitchens, the only food below Broad) sits a dainty little shop called Goat. Sheep. Cow.  Inside they sell a fragrant dizzying spectacle of cheeses from every corner of the globe and cured meats to match, as well as a comprehensive selection of affordable wines.  But that’s not all!  We are going to let you in on the secret.

              Owners, Trudi Wagner and Patty Floersheimer

             Owners, Trudi Wagner and Patty Floersheimer

They ALSO sell a daily sandwich! The store uses Charleston’s best bread (from EVO bakery) down to the millimeter of the right depth for a sandwich.  The bread is highlighted but is not the whole story. You don’t end up with a mouthful of bread unable to taste anything else, which is lucky, because ‘anything else’ changes daily but is always delicious.  They pluck from right out of the case thinly sliced cured meats, aromatic cheeses and layer with fresh or pickled vegetables or fruit preserves.

                                                                                                                   Image courtesy of Goat.Sheep.Cow

                                                                                                                  Image courtesy of Goat.Sheep.Cow

Part of the thrill is wondering if you are even going to get the sandwich because it sells out the minute the store opens at 11 a.m.  By the time you realize that nothing but a Goat. Sheep. Cow. sandwich will do, they very well might be sold out. Lucky for the Deans that we are always hungry for lunch by eleven.

Since this sandwich comes wrapped in sleek white butcher paper you don’t know what the sandwich will be until you disrobe it.  High drama Academy style!

What we take away from these lunch experiences is that a little surprise can add a lot to a home cooked daily dinner. Stop asking your unresponsive family members what they want for dinner and go out on some tangent you have been thinking you want to explore.

If you don't live in Charleston don't despair. The owners of Goat. Sheep. Cow. have given us the fundamentals of their mini masterpieces. 

Sandwich Combinations:

  • Proscuitto Cotto, Triple Cream Brie, Fig Jam with Orange, Butter Lettuce or Arugula.
  • Italian Sweet and Dry Salame, Fresh Bufala Mozzarella, Roasted Marinated Tomatoes, Arugula, and either Pesto or Balsamic Vinegar.
  • Speck, Raclette, Plum Jam, Olive Oil, and Arugula.
  • Proscuitto Cotto, Big John's Cajun Cheddar, Lusty Monk Whole Grain Mustard, Vermont Creamery Butter, and Cucumber Slices.
  • Finocchiona, Marinated Feta (aka Crack Cheese), Marinated Roasted Tomatoes, and Arugula.
  • Lonza, Promontory Cheddar, Dijon Mustard, Mayo, Roasted Peppers and Arugula. 
  • Proscuitto Cotto, Pt. Reyes Tomma, Bacon Jam, Roasted Marinated Tomatoes, and Avocado Slices.