Posts Tagged "food"


I’m not vegetarian, but I am allergic to fish sauce. This may affect the dining experiences of vegans and vegetarians. My adventure took place in a highly-rated Thai restaurant in San Francisco this year.

There was a menu item that sounded great. It had an asterisk that meant “can be made vegetarian.” My immediate thought was hooray, they can make it without fish sauce so that I can eat it! After all, (real) vegetarians won’t want fish sauce in their food.

I asked if they can make it without fish sauce. No, they can’t. The fish sauce is already in the sauce.

Then how do you make it vegetarian?????

She told me they replace the animal protein in the dish with tofu. I was a bit surprised.

“You’re serving fish sauce to vegetarians?!?!?!”

She shrugged and walked away.

If not eating animal protein is important to you, check on the fish sauce, shrimp paste, and other “ingredients” that are made from the animal kingdom.

Some restaurants think that they can still serve you fish sauce or shrimp paste and call it vegetarian. I think my vegetarian and vegan friends would DISAGREE strongly.

Bonus: If you didn’t use certified gluten free oats in your oatmeal cookie, your cookie isn’t gluten free. If you didn’t use wheat-free soy sauce, it’s not gluten free. I may not notice but people with serious health conditions WILL notice… and they will not be grateful for your loose definitions.

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This Food Agrees: It’s Food


Posted By on May 21, 2014

WTF does this even mean?

This bacon agrees with itself on its consumable nature?

Everybody got together and agreed it could be eaten?

The lettuce and tomato are of the same mindset on a number of key issues?

image

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You’ve been told by someone that you should eat lots of whole grains. Everybody got on the whole grains bus and now a bunch of crappy foods are made with whole grains. You now think you must be doing something nutritionally good.

Unwhole grains are unholy.

Unwhole grains are another way of saying processed grains… grains that have had the key nutritional bits removed. Take your standard white flour, which can be used for seemingly-everything from breading your chicken wings to baking your cupcakes to being the key ingredient in your breads and pastas. Here’s how the nutrition on something like that looks:

  • 1 cup (158 grams) of white flour
  • 578 calories. 1 cup of white flour has about 1/4 of the calories suggested that you eat in an entire DAY.
  • Low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Great.
  • 126 grams of carbs. Less than 4 grams of “dietary fibre.” So 2.5% of it is healthy fiber.
  • Not much protein or vitamins. You’re not eating chicken wings and cupcakes for the vitamins.

This is what you’re eating all day in your bagels, macaronis, and on sandwiches. A giant pile of high-calorie carbs with pretty much no nutritional value. It’s sadly the foundation of an American diet, even for vegetarian and vegans (who aren’t reading labels).

Now let’s talk about whole grains. Whole grains are unrefined and still have the healthier parts of the grains included. And that implies that we’re talking about non-GMO grains. Anything Monsanto has touched, well Lord knows what’s in that.

Let’s consider quinoa.

  • 1 cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa
  • 222 calories. Less than half what the same amount of white flour had.
  • Low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Great.
  • 39 grams of carbs. 5 grams of dietary fibre.
  • Not much vitamins but it has 8g of protein and 15% of your daily value of iron.
  • Plus it’s gluten free for anybody looking to avoid gluten.

You’ve heard you should eat brown rice with your Chinese food instead of white rice. Well, eating brown rice will give you a bit more fiber but also a bit more calories.

Well if the whole point is to have fibre, what should I be eating?

The foods with the highest amounts of fibre include bran (yeah, just bran), cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, raspberries, celery, squash, and kidney beans.

Notice that other than bran, NONE of the foods in the top 10 are grains.

The health promises of whole grains are mostly a lie unless you are eating the right things.

If you are eating crappy processed oatmeal with sugar, preservatives, and it promises some “whole grains,” what have you really eaten? Did you really get any of the nutrition your body needs? What nutritional elements are you getting daily from your pasta, bagel, sandwich bread, cookies, pizza, cereal, etc…? I suggest you are getting nearly zero nutrition and mostly empty calories from these things.

And have you ever noticed how quickly you’re hungry again? You could eat a whole bowl of Cheerios and be ready to eat some more in an hour. This is one of many reasons why “all you can eat pasta” is such a bad idea. No nutrition, endless calories.

You’re eating whole grains to reduce your risk factors for heart disease, cancers, and other health issues. Is the rest of your diet aimed at that goal?

I would bet that staying away from starches, especially refined flours and grains, would give you just as many health benefits if not more than eating “whole grains” or products made with whole grains. What if you got your fibre mostly from broccoli instead of the small amount of truly whole wheat you’re getting each day.

Keep reading labels because wheat and whole wheat aren’t the same thing. Whole grains and “made with whole grains” aren’t the same thing. Don’t believe the lies and don’t tell yourself lies about nutrition. We can all do better for ourselves and the children. 🙂

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Who cares? I wish more restaurants did. Because I and other people care. I’m one of many people with serious food allergies. My main food allergy is fish. I can have shellfish. I can’t have fish fish. To the extent where when I get sushi (usually with shrimp), if the sushi chef cuts something before mine, I’ll get a tiny like 5% reaction just from what was on his knife.

My reaction is anaphylactic shock, so I really don’t want to mess with this. I want to have zero fish. A small reaction means my esophagus feels like it’s swelling, and I just have to live with that until it goes away.

Sushi Chefs: What Gives?

I think sushi chefs are my best example of restaurant cross contamination and nobody caring. No, I won’t even go into my story of the time I watched a sushi chef cut himself and try to serve me a roll with blood on it. I will just go for the every-day version of how they cut a zillion things with the same knife even though many of the things they cut are known allergens. Most people are allergic to shellfish but can have regular fish. They don’t even clean the knife or change knives for that!

Diners, Do You Care?

I once got my fish allergy at a NY diner after ordering an omelette with onions, tomatoes, and spinach. I know. You’re thinking, wow, that has tons of fish! What had happened was someone else at my table ordered salmon. I’m guessing they flipped the salmon and then flipped my omelette with the same tool. Sucked.

Fast Food, You’re Lazy

Lots of fast food places will toss their fried fish in the same oil/fryer as the french fries. So if I order nothing fishy but ask for french fries, at some places, I’ll get fishy fries. Restaurants are guilty of this too. I went to a well-known fish restaurant on the piers in San Francisco. I ordered their fried shrimp. I got a small allergy attack. They’re obviously just throwing everything in the fryer, which means all you people with shellfish allergies are running a risk there too.

Red Lobster, You’re Out Of Your Minds

I avoid Red Lobster for two reasons. One, it’s a bloody fish restaurant! Second, I perceive it to be low quality. But someone else in our party wanted to eat there, and there we were. I told the waiter that I had a fish allergy, and asked what CAN I eat. Salad, he told me. What about a burger? Nope, they throw that on the same grill they throw the fish.

WHAT? You serve people fishy-tasting beef burgers? In addition to shitty kitchen cross-contamination, I’d think that just makes the burger taste bad! There are reasons why I can’t think of any delicious dishes that mix beef and flounder!

Locally Owned Coffee Shop, You’re Phoning It In

I went to a well-known, local SF coffee chain and ordered my usual decaf latte with soy milk. I watched the woman pour regular milk into what seems to be her lone metal steaming thingy, realise I wanted soy, pour it BACK INTO THE CONTAINER, and then pour soy into THAT without washing it. Holy cats. That was so many cross-contaminations, my head was spinning.

I’ll now be going 2 blocks in the wrong direction to get Starbucks on days when I don’t make my coffee at home. My non-dairy thing is a preference and not an allergy, but holy cats, what if it were an allergy and I weren’t watching what she just did.

Starbucks Is Trying To Get It Right

I recently saw this hanging in a Starbucks for employees, and took a pic. Click to enlarge:

20130212_083223

Thank you to Starbucks for including a few key things on this sign:

  • What people tend to be allergic to.
  • What symptoms or reactions to look for.
  • What to do if a customer has an allergic reaction. Don’t call for a manager. Call 911.
  • That cross contamination is serious. It is!
  • Examples of what they mean.

You’ll also notice Starbucks puts each beverage type in its own marked metal steaming thingy. I’ve never seen them pour the wrong thing into the wrong thing.

I wish more restaurants and kitchens gave a crap about all the allergies people have and how even small cross-contaminations can make people ill or crazy freaking ill.

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Food Delivered To Your Airport Gate


Posted By on Jan 22, 2013

I was recently in PHX around Xmas 2012, and while having a snack near the restaurants and shops in Terminal 4, I noticed this sign. Click to enlarge:

20121224_101235

I didn’t try it as I was already eating, boarding soon, and unlikely to be hungry again. But it seemed like an interesting idea and way to bring more revenue to the restaurants outside the security area in the terminal.

I wondered (but don’t know the answers to):

  • What’s the delivery fee? Is the food the same price/ Sometimes, places claim no delivery fee, but then their online/app menu has slightly higher prices.
  • How long does it take them to get to me? My plane will not wait for my hamburger, so timing is important. I wonder if it asks your flight, and then stops you from ordering if you don’t have time for prep and delivery.
  • Is there a special security line for the restaurant workers making the delivery? Or do they spirit it to some other part of the gate so that the worker doesn’t go through security? Just wondering if my deliver is slowed down by TSA.

Seems like a good idea. Will have to try it some time just to have tried it.

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I was in Disney World, Florida in mid-November 2012, and was lucky to be let into the previews of their still-being-built Fantasyland. A few rides are ready, a few still being built. A lot of it is themed from the Beauty and the Beast movie, including a face character (guy walking around dressed as someone) of Gaston, who was perfectly narcissistic and rude to everyone.

For me, the Magic Kingdom has always meant “eat somewhere else.” The place is full of chicken fingers and fries. Haven’t tried the turkey legs though I did find out they are REALLY turkey legs and not some other animal. Or it’s soup in a breadbowl. Ugh. Knowing I’d be in the Magic Kingdom most of the day, I doubled up on breakfast thinking I wouldn’t be able to eat there anyway. I was pleasantly surprised.

Let me tell you about my experience, and then my suggestions for better UX.

Disney Tries Something New

Disney typically has two types of eateries on their grounds. Quick Service are your cafeteria style places. Order, wait for a tray, get your tray, go sit down. See “soup in a breadbowl” above. The other is Table Service, where you are waited on by wait staff, your traditional dining experience. Be Our Guest uses a new style. I sadly forgot what they’re calling it. They’re labelling it Quick Service for ease of the dining plan many people are on. But it’s a variation, and here’s why.

You start by going to a kiosk, not a cashier. It’s a touch screen environment. It wasn’t as intuitive as I’d hoped, but I knew it was going to be not totally intuitive when I realised it was a cast member’s job to stand next to me and tell me what to do. Ugh. Hire more UX people, please! Starting the process wasn’t intuitive. I was given a red plastic pin cushion, which they told me was a “rose.” I start by matching up the green Mickey Head on the rose to a not-lit-up Mickey Head on the credit card machine attached to the ordering kiosk. Ugh. Someone had to tell me show me what to do because the text explanation on the screen didn’t cut it.

And the ordering begins. Some good choices. Healthy, seasonal choices, which are new to the Magic Kingdom. As you tap the touch screen, your order is updated in the right column. I was surprised it didn’t allow for more customising of foods. Somethings offered “no cheese” or “dressing on the side,” but I couldn’t truly customise most things they offered. Click to enlarge:

I mused out loud that it might be hard to find something to suit my food allergies/preferences without being able to really customise things. The cast member (what Disney calls every worker) standing there said no, here is an allergy section. Didn’t see that. Hire better UX, please, Disney! OK, there is an allergy button at the top, which reveals a set of check boxes. You can’t add your own, but checking these and submitting that WILL recreate the menu based on what you can have. Most interesting was that things NOT on the menu before now popped up. So the allergy menu wasn’t a subset. It was part subset, part things I never saw before on the menu. Interesting. Click to enlarge:

Once my order was done, I was told to go find any seat in the dining room, and leave my “rose” on the table. Here it is (click to enlarge). Note the green Mickey Head that I was supposed to line up with another thing I didn’t easily notice.

In what seemed like a couple of minutes, someone came to my table carrying my food and confirming my allergies. Disney is great about making sure you are NOT eating anything you can’t have. They’re beyond great. Deserves it’s own post for amazing dining UX. 🙂 So to avoid fish and gluten, here is my quinoa salad and gluten-free lemon puffy thing dessert! Click to enlarge:

Not only was it fast, priced OK, and allergy-free but it was GOOD. Goodbye, chicken fingers, fries, and soup in a breadbowl. I can finally eat in the Magic Kingdom again. This was GOOD. Tasted really fresh. Nobody just reheated this. The salad was so light. The quinoa had a great flavour, mildly spiced. The dessert was so yummy I couldn’t believe it was gluten free. Great job, Disney chefs!

And for those of you thinking about that Disney attention to theme and experience, here is a shot of the dining room. It’s a bit dark, but you can see it’s designed to look exactly like the ballroom in Beast’s castle from the movie. Click to enlarge:

For dinner, Be Our Guest is traditional table service, and doesn’t use all this tech.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, this is a GREAT start from Disney on new ways to order. I’m sure this is killer efficient for them. However, it won’t be as efficient for Disney or the guests if you need a helper to place an order at a kiosk. Yes, have helpers on hand in case someone is truly lost. But in general, I should be able to walk up to that kiosk, and know exactly what to do.

Here is how I would suggest changing the user experience of the kiosk ordering. In general, I think I’d treat it more like self-check in for a flight and then the safety video for your flight. 🙂

  1. If you need me to match my rose’s green Mickey Head to the hard-to-notice green Mickey Head on the credit card swiping device (on a waist-level platform), don’t write it as text on the screen. Write it, and show a looping video of someone taking that rose, going to the green Mickey Head, and holding it up to the other thing. That’s partially to make it more obvious and partially for the zillions of international guests who barely speak English. Think airline safety videos!
  2. Next, ask if anybody in my party has any food allergies. Think airline self-check in. Do you have any bags to check. No moves you along, yes brings you to the flow for that. If it’s NO allergies, great. Leave the not-totally-obvious allergy button at the top, and get them into ordering. If it’s yes, great time to find out how many people you’re ordering for and who’s allergic to what. Knowing there are probably kids there, maybe it would be fun to have kids enter their names. Like Danny is allergic to peanuts and Samantha is gluten-free. Then it can walk you through OK, time for Mom to order. She gets the whole menu. Time for Danny to order. He can tap the screen. He’ll love it! 🙂 Time for Samantha to order. Then the Disney cast member delivering the food can address people by name. Like, “Hi, Danny. You can’t have peanuts, so here’s your chicken salad!” I think people will love that, and it makes all the allergy stuff REALLY clear and easy.
  3. If that thing is supposed to be a rose, make it look like a rose. The company that brings you talking robots who can play catch (well, they don’t talk in this video, but Disney already has audio animatronics, as they call them) SHOULD be able to give you a rose that looks like a rose. Sure, it can still have the RF in it or whatever tells the servers which table you sat at. But make it look like a rose and not a pin cushion.
  4. Now this may be going way out there, but I’d say install an ordering interface right at the table. Sounds kooky. But how many times do kids order different things, and then whine, “I want what SHE has!” In that case, someone would have to go out, get on line for a kiosk, etc… But how much extra visit could you get from a family who decides they want another salad, side of fries, or extra dessert? Might be a worthwhile cash machine for Disney and family happy-maker. Heck, make an app for it, though that may not tell the server what table you’re at.

In fact, I’d love for Disney to test my last idea for efficiency. The test would be get in line for kiosk, stand at kiosk deciding and ordering, get rose, go sit down versus wait for table, be seated, order from touchscreen AT your table, wait for food. Both are equally safe and equally cool. The whole rose thing is now eliminated. It also makes sure that you can only sit down if you can find a table. Since it’s cafeteria style, what would happen if families got their rose, ordered, and then couldn’t find a table? Sitting them first would ensure they have a table. I think ordering AT the table would give people more time to decide, lead them to order more, and cut the line I had to wait on for a kiosk.

Just an idea! But I say test it!

All in all, Be Our Guest was a great experience, and Imagineers admit it’s evolving. I’ll certainly eat there again next time I’m in the Magic Kingdom.

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The Best Meal I Ate In 2012


Posted By on Nov 28, 2012

2012’s not quite over, but I’m ready to crown my best meal of the year. First, Honourable Mention to my second best meal of the year, which was at the brand new Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in Florida. But since that place had some interesting new tech and is Disney trying out a new style of food service, I’ll make that a separate post.

The best meal of my whole year was the breakfast buffet at Trail’s End, which is the restaurant at the “settlement” of the Fort Wilderness Campground. FWC is a Disney “hotel” on the WDW grounds in Florida, but it’s not your typical hotel. It’s got cabins, RV spaces, and room for you to set up tents. It’s camping and RVing on Disney property, so it has a “settlement” with a playground, marina, food, and a show called the Hoop-De-Do Review. Didn’t see the show. Did take a marina boat to the Magic Kingdom.

Why was the food the best meal of the year.

First of all, it’s a buffet. Those can be horrible. This was a good one. It’s a small one. They’re not trying to do 100 dishes. They’re trying to do maybe 20 things, but really well. Some fruit, some muffins, some cereal, build a yogurt parfait, OK the usuals were there.

The hostess told me to make sure I try their home-made juice blend, which themed-ly enough came in a mason jar. Everything was in mason jars. Disney goes way out to theme stuff, and this place was no exception. Food served on giant metal, worn-looking plates. The orange-guava-passionfruit juice was called Moonshine (cute), but was damned tasty. The hash browns looked hand-made. Everything was in skillets at the buffet, a cute touch.

But the coolest dish of all? Pulled pork eggs benedict on a biscuit. Great theming. Delicious taste. Only downside was that the egg was not poached. I’m guessing they do the egg more fully cooked to avoid any problems for people who shouldn’t eat half-cooked eggs. But it was still genius. The food was great. It’s a hidden gem for sure!

Plate #2… banana, pulled pork Benedict, hash browns, bacon (which was available in many levels of crispiness). Water, decaf, and Moonshine Juice. Note salt and pepper in baby mason jars. Click to enlarge if you like giant food pics:

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UX Labyrinth: Restaurant.com


Posted By on Dec 13, 2011

Restaurant.com is a great place to get discounted gift certificates to restaurants you like or want to try. I generally like to use it when I can find the right place to eat. However, FINDING that place is PAINFUL.

First, I noticed that they are NOT using the Yelp API to bring in reviews. I can only assume that’s on purpose since I’ve noticed that a good number of restaurants on Restaurant.com don’t have the greatest reviews. So I have Yelp open in another tab, and flip back and forth. If Restaurant.com doesn’t notice a lot of repeat biz, they should go for better places that are likely to make people happier with their dining experience!

Second, searching starts out tough and gets worse. On the home page, you can enter a zip code, or pick one of about 15 major cities. Well, let’s say we want Napa, CA. Not a major city. I don’t know the zip code. I was just going to go there for a night. Now, I have to Google the zip code of Napa, CA since there is nowhere to type in a city name. UGH.

From there, it kind of gets uglier. Click to enlarge to see search results for part of San Francisco.

No map. Right side column of ads for places I’m nowhere near. Mix (2nd one in the right side ads) is in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas. I’m searching San Francisco. Not logical. The sort menu that shows “relevance” has other choices for average entree price and restaurant name. Not sure how they determine relevance other than pushing their featured people at me.

On the left side, if I hit the + for entertainment, I find that two places are karaoke places. I click karaoke. The site takes forever, and then shows me this (click to enlarge):

A bunch of left side choices went away. The right side is still there (useless). Karaoke is now in my breadcrumbs. If I want to take karaoke OUT, and find just the places with pool tables, I have to hit the garbage can next to karaoke. I have to wait for that page to load. Then I have to go back, hit the plus to expand entertainment, and pick something else.

There are many easier ways to do this. I don’t think this site has been touched in a very long time. Restaurant.com has been running a lot of specials lately to sell gift cards. I am hoping they will put that money towards redoing how the site is navigated and used. I’d think that making this easier and faster could contribute to them having more customers. As usual, I offer myself if they need some UX help. 🙂

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I cook well. And I have a pet peeve: restaurants that don’t cook. They reheat stuff that they made earlier or off-site. I’m not talking about a chef preparing a large batch of sauce, or slicing all the veg he’ll need for that night. I mean the places we all KNOW are not using fresh everything, and making our order from scratch when we order it. Red Lobster. Olive Garden. TGI Fridays.

In fact, a Facebook friend just posted this pic he took of his TGI Friday’s dinner. The vegetables still had a plastic bag around them. So not only were his veg prepared in some other time and some other place, and readied as a single serving, but whoever microwaved these forgot to remove the bag. I guess they are microwaved in the bag? But then you should take them out! Click to enlarge:

If I want to microwave something, I can stay home. I don’t need to pay $8-20 per entree to have something cold rewarmed. This became my pet peeve in 2005, when I first tried El Charro Cafe, considered an institution (in a good way) in Tucson, AZ (my adopted hometown). I ordered an appetizer. My teen waiter told me they were out of that. Oh. But he continued, telling me the “factory” hadn’t made enough. Factory? Tell me more. He did. He told me there was some “factory” somewhere out of town that made their food for them. Ohhhhhh.

I ended up at another El Charro location a couple of years later. Knowing this was the case, I went right to the manager with the menu, and asked WHICH things they made fresh when I order them. He had to think, but he told me salads and anything that has chicken. OK! Food sucked.

I ended up at another El Charro location a year or so after that. I figured, THIS time, I will beat the system! I will order something SO customised they will HAVE to make it fresh for me! OK, I’ll take your carne seca quesadilla, but let’s get some extra onions, blah blah blah. I dressed it up! What I was served was a refridgerator cold quesadilla with what I asked for on TOP. Think about this for a moment. A quesadilla is a Mexican grilled cheese. That means it’s someone’s job there to pre-make grilled cheese, and then dump them in the fridge for later for rewarming. And they served me a cold quesadilla. Even Taco Bell will serve you a hot, albeit super crappy, quesadilla.

I also went through this at a restaurant in a now-closed Vegas hotel. I asked the waiter WHAT they make fresh when I order it. He lead me to ONE item on the menu. I ordered that. Not good. So evidently, some restaurants are only good at microwaving. We also know this from scary and upsetting Gordon Ramsey TV shows.

Is there any other industry where this would work? Why do we accept this? Why do we pay lots of money for microwaved dinners when we could spend $3 on a microwaved meal at home? Save gas, save the tip. Or COOK a fresh meal yourself for probably 1/2 the price. I say speak with your dollar. Stop going to these places.

Bonus tip: Before I try a new Mexican restaurant or hole in the wall, I ask if they make their own chips and salsa from scratch. A place that serves chips out of a bag and/or salsa from a jar will NOT work for me. I like that real home cooking, or at least fresh cooking!

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