28 April 2008

28Apr- Interesting test for taste.

Answer the questions and it'll tell you what type of taster you are (tolerant, sensitive, hypersensitive or sweet). It'll also extrapolate from your answers what types of wines you might enjoy and even goes on to suggest specific labels.

It's a bit broad and I don't fully agree with my end result. It told me I "demand intensity, plenty of oak and power." I don't, really. "Demand" is such a strong word.

Regardless, it's an interesting exercise.

27 April 2008

27Apr-late night ramble on hiring and optimism.

I want a lot from this restaurant. We all do, I think it's fair to say. I have daydreams of the perfect Baan Sawan: running as a well-oiled machine. Nary a problem nor a hiccup. Each server well-trained and unflappable in response to every query and comment. Each one making me proud. Each one a trusted ambassador for the restaurant. Each one a true reflection of how we want Baan Sawan to be perceived. One wonders how, after twelve years at this game, I'm still optimistic enough to believe such a crew exists as to post this ad on Craigslist:

"A lot's been said on the subject of ambition and expectations. There are those who applaud great ambition and great expectations and those who believe lofty aspirations distract us from taking advantage of realistically attained goals. Perhaps both schools have some merit and, as in most things, a balance should be found that incorporates ideas from both points of view.

I write this now for a couple of reasons.
One is to begin weeding out people who wouldn't fit in at the restaurant. Most, at this point, will not likely have read this far. Those who have and want to continue reading have a higher chance of getting along with us.
Another reason is to give the potential applicant an idea of what we want. For years we were generic in our job ads and we received interest from too broad a spectrum. Time is too valuable to squander on the application process for a job there's no chance of getting.

What we want is the best. The best for our customers. We want the best from ourselves. The best from our staff. Every person we hire from here on out should be, in some way or another, better than the person before. Each new team member should fortify and enrich what we do. Each person should instill a desire in the other to do their best and always seek improvement. We're none of us perfect but to accept that as a reason not to strive for perfection will only keep us that much further away from it."

Not surprisingly, I haven't had any responses.

Perhaps I want too much. Perhaps I'm too hopeful. But am I at fault for hoping that I can do better than the cold-calling applicant who strode in to his interview, nearly ten minutes late, wearing jeans he frequently hitched up, a golf shirt and flip-flops? Not to mention he conducted his interview with a mouthful of gum and his attention on his watch bezel and something over my left shoulder but only too rarely on my eyes? Here's an applicant whose personality makes me edgy just in the interview; I can't imagine that he can put one of our many loyal customers at ease.

But with so few people applying and so many of our current staff making preparations to leave I find myself in something of a pickle.

I ramble.

Regardless, to whomever may be reading this: whether you be a current or prospective customer. Rest assured that we strive to provide you with the best experience that we can.

Our crew may be pretty solid now (and, it's true, in many ways they all work together to create a net that seems to catch most of what's thrown at us) but we're not the type to rest on any laurels. We're always trying to improve. And, in a more grand sense than just our little restaurant, we should all strive for more.
Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be if everybody tried to be a better person for ourselves and for everyone around us?
(maybe I wouldn't have to park next to grocery carts abandoned haphazardly everytime I went to the store...)

25 April 2008

24 April 2008

24Apr- Announcing the "Dirty Tricks for Gracious Living, Seminar Series: Crash Course In Women's Self-Defense."

Hey all,

Alex, here. I'm finally doing it; I'm going live with this thing I've discussed with so many of you. I'd like to announce officially a series of training seminars, here at the restaurant. They're not JUST food-related, however. They'll be fast-paced, two-hour classes which happen to end in a decadent little bite.

What sort of classes are these? Well, as some of you know, I have nearly twenty years of experience in studying various martial arts. I have a passion for it, and over the past several years I've missed the experience of teaching it. So, this is my solution. Basically, this introductory seminar will teach you two or three (frankly brutal) defenses/counter-attacks. Then, we will focus on running you through some of the more common women's self-defense scenarios, armed with the techniques you've just learned. This is what I call, "Tactical Self-defense." It's more of a mindset, rather than merely a check-list of moves you learn in a gym without any sort of context. You focus on situational awareness, threat avoidance, conflict de-escalation, and reasonable use of force.

At the end of our two hours, we'll discuss what we've covered over a cool beverage and an eclectic selection of hors d'oeuvres.

[Please dress as if you were just getting off work, running errands, etc. Although there will be strenuous elements, this is NOT a workout class. The feeling of doing these drills in "regular" clothing is a subtle, but important distinction.]


Alex Suaudom


P.S. reservation details...


2 Hour Introductory Seminar, hors d'oeuvres/1 glass of wine: $45/person
Half-Day Intensive Seminar, light lunch or dinner/wine included: $95/person
Small groups of 2-8 preferred. With prior arrangements, we can do this at your place of work.

P.P.S. the following is an excerpt from a manuscript I've developed during this project.



In the autumn of 1996, when I was away at graduate school, we would have terrific parties at a farm belonging to another student in my section. It was less than an hour out of town but there were fields and cows and a sense of lush, growing things being cultivated across vast spaces. The farmhouse was, of course, post-card perfect; it had been in the family for quite a number of generations. There was a band made up of students, faculty, and staff; everyone brought a hell of a lot of really great food and drink, and kids ran utterly amok. Once, at the second of these get-togethers I attended, my friends and I noticed a couple of the kids were imitating me. I gesture a great deal when I talk, especially when I get worked up about something. They would stop abruptly when they saw me looking their way, then scream with laughter when I turned back.

Later that night I found myself sitting at a table with one of the kids standing close by, and we watched the party in a companionable silence. Jessica, a pretty blonde girl, was about ten years old. "So, guess what?" I said to her conversationally, as if we'd been talking all along, "There's this girl I think is cute. She's smart and she's really fun. Should I go up and talk with her some more, or would that be pushing it a little bit right now? Should I just go hang out over there and talk to somebody else?" Jessica looked at me and shrugged. I tried again. "Okay, I get it." I said. "You're telling me no, no, no. I should let it lie for a while and get something else to drink. Maybe have a nice slice of watermelon?"

She regarded me briefly, chewing her thumbnail. "Who is it?" she asked.

It hadn't occurred to me that she would want to know. If you let them, kids can be very crafty, and this one seemed up to something. You can't be too careful, I congratulated myself for remembering. "There is absolutely no way," I said, "that I would ever tell you." Then, I relented. What was the big deal, really? I could give the kid just a small clue; it might actually be kind of fun. "Well...." I said, grudgingly. "I'll tell you this...she's a brunette."

Jessica seemed to pounce. "Oh yeah?" she said. "Oh yeah? Okay. I'm going to go up to every brunette here and say, 'Alex likes you! Alex thinks you're cute!'"

Uh, oh, I thought. This is getting sporty. I tried to affect a casual tone. "Fine," I said, airily. "Go ahead. But if you do that, I'm going to tell my friend Dan that you like him. In fact, I'm going to tell him you're in LOVE with him." Dan's a pretty good looking guy, I thought. She probably is in love with him. Checkmate, I thought smugly.

I've watched hummingbirds dart and flicker as they hovered in my parents' garden, but I tell you I have never seen a creature so precious and little move with such blinding fury. From out of a clear night sky came this tremendous WHACK across my face: my disbelieving cheek rocked and was smacked again immediately with another WHACK! Jessica stomped away with a certain righteous hauteur.

That was a very novel experience for me.


But the moral of the story is this: we are all capable of making incredibly fast decisions, and we are all capable of acting on those decisions with marvelous speed.

Alex Suaudom
Columbia, SC
February, 2008

21 April 2008

21Apr - WSJ article about pairing wine with Asian foods.

A Perfect Pairing
21Apr- self-indulgent digression on memory.
Now, as I'm wondering what to cook for dinner, I realize with some sadness that I'm beginning to forget what the baked spaghetti pie at Mother's (as mentioned in the New Orleans entry) tastes like. Curious how something so relatively simple in a panoply of exquisite culinary experiences would demand so much of my memory. I worry sometimes about when my recollections of wonderful wines will fade. There are some wines I hope I'll never forget: Latour is always striking and comforting. I've never been able to afford a bottle of my own but whenever I've enoyed it, oddly, I've felt at home. Tenuta di Trinoro, with its richness and velvety texture. Cos d'Estournel, with its leather. That older La Grange that taught me how unbelievably silky an older Bordeaux can get. But outside of wine, when will the great foods of my past go? Those crabcakes at the Canyon Grill in TN. Slow roasted wild mushrooms with thyme, butter, garlic and olive oil that renders an extraordinary, rich au jus.

It would be nice to think, somewhere out there, there are people who look back on our food and our wine with such fondness.

But now, as my stomach grumbles, I try to remember that baked spaghetti pie. Served in a little, white bowl like those in which we serve rice. On a little oval plate with a piece of French bread. Lima beans. Ground beef. A sprinkle of Tobasco. So rich and piquant and reassuring. That feeling of contentment. And that's all that's left: mostly a feeling. I should've taken a picture or tried to reverse engineer it while I was sitting there but I didn't even think about it. And what next month? Will I just remember that I liked it?

hm. Gather ye so on and so forth.

Sunday, Edward Hopper, 1926

fascinating lecture by Dan Gilbert on the nature of happiness .
about 20 minutes long.

19 April 2008

19Apr - Interesting article on kosher wines.

Sure beats Manischewitz. from Slate.com

(...can't sleep...
...don't know why...)

18 April 2008

19Apr- 10 tips for a trip to New Orleans.
Leigh and I spent a fantastic week in New Orleans. In order to spare everyone a lengthy treatise on how wonderful the town is I'll just boil it down to a few tips for visiting the French Quarter (and a little beyond.)

1. Have lots of cash. Seems counter-intuitive for a town known for its crime but there are so many places that don't take credit cards and, unless you're with Chase Bank, it can be up to a $3 ATM fee. We liked buying a water at Walgreens and getting their maximum of $40 back. Plus it's good to have some cash to tip street bands. (the corner of Royal and St. Ann seemed to be a good place for music in the early afternoon.)
2. Parking lots on Decatur between Bienville and Toulouse. If you have a car and plan on exploring the French Quarter, I say just park there. At the end of the day $12 to $16 isn't that much. And it'll save you the hassle of trying to find parking on those packed, one-way streets.
3. Many retail places don't open until 11 or 12 and several are closed on Wednesdays, for some reason. Coffee joints are great places to spend some time, as are parks or
4. Checkpoint Charlie's. On the corner of Decatur and Esplanade. For those of you who know me, this may seem incredibly unlikely. For those of you who know me quite well, it kind of makes sense in a strange way. No bones about it, the place is a dive. A wonderful dive. It's open 24 hours, got pool tables, a great jukebox and a laundromat. As I was extraordinarily poor I could only afford cheap beer but I looked at that in a "when in Rome" kind of way. There's food I didn't try and live music at night but, as I spent most of my time there between 10.30am and 1 while I waited for things to open up, I mostly enjoyed the lack of tourists, the good chit-chat with the staff and the generally warm and friendly feel I got. Plus I got to watch a crazy criminals show one day and most of "The Cell" on another.
playing pool at Checkpoint Charlie's

5.Verti Marte. Small and easy to miss. On the corner of Gov Nichols and Royal. We only went there once as we only found out about it on our last night in town from the owner of a cool bookstore on Decatur. We got the shrimp scampi, which they scooped out of a catering pan and microwaved for us. Best shrimp scampi we've ever had. And they deliver.
6. Jacques-Imo's Cafe. This is out of the French Quarter, though. It's uptown. Truly amazing corn bread. Great crawfish etoufee. And if you happen to go to the bathroom in the kitchen, look behind the mirror.
7. Mat and Naddie's. Also uptown. Great wine list. We went for lunch buffet. Great greens soup, sliced meats (with a variety of mustards!) and a deliciously interesting portobello cheescake.
8. Martin Wine Cellar in Metairie. We got to meet and lunch with Cedric Martin, the owner. We were impressed with the broad selection, the fantastic food (beautiful french fries, great catfish po'boy and Leigh's first soft-shell crab that seemed to change her life it was so good.) and, most of all, the genuine kindness and generosity of Cedric himself.
9. Mother's Restaurant. In the Central Business district on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Poydras. Baked spaghetti pie! Little bit of Tobasco on top. Jesus, I want some right now. I saw a long line begin to form around 11 in the morning, so timing is important.
10. If at all possible, have an amazing friend who lives there, was born there and loves his city with an infectious enthusiasm. We happen to have one in Tim and he truly made our visit unbelievably wonderful. It was through him that we enjoyed numbers 6 and 7. And Sid and Meg, regulars at the restaurant, had met Cedric at #8 before and recommended we talk to him. So thanks to them. And Sid of Sid and Angie told me about Mother's. (seriously, I'd do terrible things to get some of that baked spaghetti pie right now.)

And, of course, there were plenty of other wonderful places we visited and in which we dined that were great but they're all already noteworthy places that any list would feature prominently. I wanted to mention some little places that might fly under the general radar.

well-worn keys on a piano at Pat O'Brien's

at one of New Orlean's many cemeteries

nina simone - my baby just cares for me

boy, do I like this