I'd like to buy the world a Coke...

>> Thursday, May 20, 2010

*Political commentary is not this blog's forte. So this is a departure from the norm. But hey, at least it's food related, right?

Recently, bills have been floating around various levels of government proposing a tax on soda that will jump the cost of a serving by a few cents. Or there were bills floating around. The soda industry spent millions courting Congress and Albany and got them either knocked out or back-burnered. We'll see how well they fare in NYC, as Governor Patterson tries for round two upstate.

Some of you reading this might think that the industry's opposition pressure is a good thing; that a tax on sugary sweet deliciousness is a tax on hard-working families, a tax on the poor, a tax on kids' fun, a tax on childhood itself. Some of you might think that, hey, if you're fat it's not the government's job to convince you to eat right. A la Parks And Recreation's Ron Swanson: "The whole point of this country is if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds and die of a heart attack at 43, you can! You are free to do so. To me, that's beautiful." After all, personal responsibility built America. But of course, that's a simplistic fantasy and is about as accurate as saying that we went to the moon "because it was there" as though the Soviets weren't a factor at all. No, personal responsibility, while important, has always been coupled in America with a strong sense of civic responsibility.

I, for the record, am solidly pro-soda tax. I'm sure that this might give stress headaches and twisting gas pains to some folks out there who ride the Any-tax-is-a-bad-tax-and-the-government-is-bad train (next stop, Frankfort, Kentucky), but let's not play bullshit with each other. We're too fat. We are. Period. This is a non-debatable issue. And obesity costs the government money, which in turn costs us money, which in turn costs me money. And I likes me my money and this tax revenue will go towards health programs which will prop up clinics so that those of us who don't need triple bypasses won't have to fund as much of the financial burden of this weight crisis. Plus, the higher prices are bound to reduce soda consumption, just the way cigarette taxes reduced smoking. Thus, fewer obese people --> fewer people in the hospital --> tax dollars go farther --> burden on the medical system reduced --> emergency room congestion reduced --> shorter wait time for you when your Chinatown bus catches on fire. Plus, those who still insist on getting their annual heart attack will have been subsidizing their visit, a few cans of Mountain Dew at a time.

I do NOT, it must be said, advocate banning soda. I think that if you really really want full sugar soda, go nuts. Drink away. In fact, I encourage it. But, like cigarettes, Hummers, Louis Vuitton purses and getting kicked squarely in the balls by someone with nipple rings wearing a leather bustier and holding a cat-o-nine-tails, soda is a luxury, albeit an admittedly inexpensive one. Unless there's some rare disease I don't know about, no one needs to inhale a gallon of soda or quasi-juice sugar water like Hi-C every day. If you want it, go get it. I just think you should have to pay for it and I don't think it's fair that society should have to foot the bill for your diabetes medication.

The beverage lobby made a series of ads decrying the tax. They, actually more than almost anything else, cemented my opinion to be pro-soda tax. Here they are, and here's why they suck:

Bad acting aside, these are offensive to our collective intelligence on so many levels. Mom implies that the 70 cents extra she pays on soda might be the straw that will break her camel's financial back and send her attractive suburban family into foreclosure, but then she walks into a large home on a not-so-poor block. Still, other than her condescending tone of voice, this one isn't terrible. The others are. Mom decries a tax on full-sugar soda at a supermarket fancy enough to have a video game section (GameStop & Shop?), then fills her cart up with fruits and vegetables and doesn't buy any soda!?! After fishing and setting up a campsite, Dad tells us that "taxes never made anybody healthy". I know some former smokers who might disagree with that statement, and if your grandmother is on Medicare or Uncle Lou is getting treated at the VA, then you're related to some people whose health is linked squarely to taxes. Still, the worst ad is a NYC-centered one.

This ad highlights two groups of potential victim. First victim, the poor. The majority of his customers, Mr. Pioneer Supermarket Guy tells us, bring notepads and calculators to figure out their food budget. It makes the inference that poor inner city folks will be unfairly hit by this tax. But this requires the viewer to conclude that these poor inner city folks must buy soda. They have to! Soda, like rent and car payments, are part of a household's non-discretionary spending budget. My God, what kind of sick, twisted animal would expect their children to drink milk or... heaven forbid, water, instead of Fanta? The second victim is our concerned narrator, Mr. Pioneer Supermarket Guy, representing the hanging on by his teeth small businessman. See, if his customers are forced by Big Brother to spend more money on their non-discretionary soda, then they will either not purchase other items because their budget ran dry, or they'll stop buying soda and replace it with... nothing... and either way he'll suffer from a loss of revenue. and presumably have to fire his entire staff and live on the food stamps his customers are paying with anyway. But again, this requires that we leap to conclude that the soda purchase is inevitable and that soda/sweet drinks have nothing that they can possibly be replaced with. We have to conclude that those ladies on line had no choice whatsoever but to buy three gallons of Sunny D. Of course, this makes no sense unless one also makes the assertion that the poor are addicted to junk food like it's crack. But really, they don't have to buy a juice-like orange-tic-tac flavored sugar water beverage. They can get something else. If they bought water or milk, then then the Supermarket Guy will simply adjust around the customers the way he would with any new product line phase-in or phase-out and give more shelf space to the other drinks. Remember Cosmopolitan Magazine's yogurt? Neither does the dairy aisle. Market economics at work.

Anyway, Bloomberg & Co. is pro tax and in response to the industry's opposition, NYC ran it's own ad. It's definitely more slick, but somewhat more... nauseating.

Naturally, the best video of the bunch, the ad that says the most with the least amount bullshit, is also the most boring.

I was at Stop & Shop the other week. Ahead of me on line was a family, two kids and two adult women, doing their weekly or bi-weekly grocery trip. These people seemed like nice people, but they clearly weren't shopping with any sense of health in mind whatsoever. Or if they were, it was a warped sense of what healthy is. They were obese. Mom was obese, her sister was obese, her kids were obese. As they unloaded their cart I looked at what they were unloading onto the belt. Chips, regular sodas, Entenmann's cakes, frozen pizza, bags of frozen french fries. The cart was filled to capacity but they managed to avoid any healthy food. I thought maybe there might be something hidden under the Doritos, but I was fooled. There were no vegetables, not even frozen ones. Forget buying water or orange juice, they didn't even have diet soda. It was all high calorie, high fat, high carbohydrate, processed junk food. They were buying Fruit Loops but I didn't see any milk. These are the very people that need this law and need it badly. It's no longer a matter of self control, because they aren't trying and failing. This family wasn't buying some healthy stuff and then negating the benefits with a years supply of frozen burritos. They weren't buying organic food under the misconception that organic food means you'll lose weight. This family just had no clue. They're going to die young and sooner than they should and that's their business. But before they kick, they're going to have a myriad of health problems that are likely to be a burden on the hospitals and doctors that the system pays for and then it's my business. Then it's our business. This is about prevention.

Think of it the mathematical way. If the average person drinks two (2) cans of soda per day (sometimes less, sometimes more), then they're drinking 730 cans per year. With 39 grams of sugar per can, that's 28,470 grams of sugar. Convert that to pounds and the average person is taking in 62.8 pounds of sugar, just by drinking soda, all without those burdensome vitamins.

For that, you need Diet Coke Plus, which actually isn't so bad...

So I'm not saying get rid of junk food (God knows I love it), just price it unattractively. I'll bet that if McDonalds hamburgers cost as much as a hamburger at DBGB, you'd see far fewer people ordering six of them at a time. If a bottle of regular 7-Up cost as much as a bottle of Absolut Citron, I'll bet you'll see far fewer people drinking it straight out of the bottle during Stargate marathons. Some people argue that diet soda tastes bad and that people won't make the switch for that reason. But that's total crap and I'm proof. I grew up on regular soda, so allow me to assure you that your taste buds shift within a few weeks and you learn to enjoy the diet stuff in pretty short order. In fact, regular Coke will start to exist solely to pour rum into.

If the tax fails, and I hope it doesn't, alternatively I propose that one way to get people to drink fewer sugary drinks is to mandate that the beverage industry only use ads from the 50s.

After watching that on TV for a while, I promise no one will ever drink Kool-Aid again.

I encourage comments. But because political issues fire up the blood, be civil. I have no desire to delete what people say. But I also won't hesitate to do so. Unlike Queens Central, I moderate.

Also, I apologize for the videos getting cut in half. They didn't embed properly from YouTube. Maybe someone knows what I did wrong. Alas...



>> Wednesday, May 12, 2010

71-75 Yellowstone Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 793-3464

I realize now that I should have done for pizza what I did with the Chinese food takeout smackdown. But I didn't. Don't ask me why. I failed you. I failed my blog. I failed the neighborhood. I failed America. But enough about me and let's move on to Mike's.

Mike's Pizzeria rests Yellowstone boulevard across the street from what used to be a C-Town and down the block from what still is a Dunkin Donuts. It's not without it's competition. Lillian's is only a couple of blocks away in one direction and Capolinea is a couple of blocks away in another. We in Forest Hills can't stand being more than a few blocks from a pizza place even, it would seem, if that pizza isn't really worth being that close to anyway.

And therein lies my opinion of Mike's. It's nothing special. The interior is large and rather upscale for a pizza place with what look like new tables and plenty of them. They have a decent variety of pies under the glass, but you've seen them all before. This isn't some haute, Artichoke-esque place churning out Gruyere pies with a topping of pesto and mushroom. Mike's makes normal pizza. If only they made it better.

The Plain Cheese slice was way too greasy, most likely from cheap cheese. Bright orange cheese grease seemed to coat both my plate and the back of my hand. Meanwhile the Vegetable slice, which was loaded with mushroom, zucchini and broccoli was as dry as a bone and so top heavy from its cargo that half the toppings fell onto the tray. Neither pie had much in the way of sauce, either, which compounded the problems of these ultimately disappointing triangles.

Slices cost the average or maybe a bit above it. The two slices above and a Diet Pepsi came out to $9.



>> Sunday, May 2, 2010

98-04 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-4223

Il Poeta is the latest Italian to open its doors on Metropolitan Avenue. To say it has competition is like saying that Honda has competition in the minivan market. There are seven Italian places on Metropolitan Avenue alone, with at least a half dozen more on Austin and Queens Boulevard. We here in Forest Hills are drowning in Italian food, and my experience thus far, as you've no doubt read, has been severely wanting. I suffer from Italian restaurant fatigue. I just want to throw my hand to the sky and say "That's it! I'm getting Boston Market!"

But I had high hopes. The guys who run the best liquor store in the area, The Wine Room of Forest Hills, on 69th Avenue, spent about five solid minutes touting the place. I was sure it was because they supplied Il Poeta their vino, but hey, that's a good thing. I'll say this, Il Poeta has a decent wine list. It's not quite at the level of Danny Brown, but you won't find any Ecco Domani bulk crap either. The menu is also atypical for Italian in the area. The menu is small, instead of being a twelve page long book. There's no red sauce slop that came from an expired Ragu jar and no soft noodles that may lead your mind to wonder if the last place the chef plied his trade was at an institutional soup kitchen.

Il Poeta is very much an Italian bistro. It's small, it's decorations aren't ostentatious, the music is dim, and most importantly, they don't play Frank Sinatra or any of the other Rat Packers. Indeed, playing Rat Packer songs virtually guarantees that you'll ruin my meal. Il Poeta's crowd ran the gamut from old to young, families to couples, people out with their work friends to me and Bro. It's an intimate place, but not overly romantic. Perhaps the lights are too bright. The worst thing about the interior are the curtains over the windows. On at least three occasions I passed up eating here for another restaurant because I couldn't see inside and didn't want to be at the only occupied table. I understand that the view from inside is of a McDonalds drive-through, but I seriously think that blocking passers-by from seeing how popular you are is a huge mistake, financially.

Bro and I ate here twice in the span of a week. Both meals were very good without being fantastic. Still, of all the Italian restaurants I've reviewed in Forest Hills so far, Il Poeta is the best by miles. Fresh bread was placed on the table with a tapenade spread to smear atop it. Day one was mushroom spread, day two was a bean version. The bean one was insanely good. No cheapo foil butter packets are offered.

Of the starters, bro ordered a salad, something I'll never do. The Insalata Tricolore Con Formaggio Di Capra, a simple simple simple salad of arugula, endive and radicchio with crusted goat cheese. There was no dressing or vinaigrette, which bro felt it could have used, but only because there just wasn't enough of the goat cheese. The cheese worked well with the salad, but they should have given it three times as much. I decided to try some soups. On the first trip, I ordered their Potato Leek Soup. It was quite good, albeit a bit heavy on the salt. Unlike most potato leek soups, this was a puree and looked exactly the way a split pea soup would look. There were no chunks of potato or shreds of leek, but there were a few croutons for some added texture. As someone who doesn't really care for croutons one way or the other, these were fantastic. My second soup was the Pasta Fagioli, a pasta-bean soup. Like the Potato Leek soup, it was bisque styled with a thick and rich, smooth texture. This time, however, pasta and beans added some depth that the potato leek lacked. The soup was extremely good.

Bro and I ended up trying three pastas and one meat entree. This was mostly because of Il Poeta's expense. First, the Garganelli Al Ragu D'Anatra, a simple pasta dish in a sauce of mushroom and shredded duck. The pasta was quite al dente. Those used to the soggy soup-kitchen pasta of the Family Restaurant ilk may be disappointed, but I was taught that this is pretty much the way pasta's supposed to be served. If you can't pick the noodle up with a chopstick without it being squeezed out back onto the plate or fired like a bullet across the table, then it's overcooked. However, I did feel that the duck itself was on the bland side. A few more spices would have made a world of difference. We also tried the Penne Al Salmone Affunicato, penne pasta with smoked salmon and asparagus in a light pink (vodka) sauce. Again, the pasta was al dente. I preferred this dish over the previous one, but since Bro ordered it, I was only able to steal so much. I'm not much one for pasta with salmon, and think that chicken or thin strips of beef would have been better, but this worked well, too.

The Gnocchi Di Patate In Salsa Leggera Di Gorgonzola E Rugola Selvatica is Il Poeta's gnocchi dish. As a guy who loves his gnocchi, it's hard for me to pass up a chance to order new renditions of it. Il Poeta makes their gnocchi like small little oval balls, unlike Uvarara's ginormous ones. The Gorgonzola cheese is very smokey and bitter, like blue or Roquefort, so if you don't like that flavor, you won't like this. It came topped with walnuts (but could use more walnuts) and arugula. Bro was a huge fan, but in spite of what looks like a small amount, it's very heavy and about a third of it had to be taken home. The only meat entree we tried was the Petto Di Pollo In Crosta Di Parmigiano, a tender chicken dish with a Parmesan coating under a lemon white wine sauce with a side of the smoothest mashed potatoes I've ever had. Was the chicken good? Yeah. Was it great? No. The sauce was too tart for me and there was too much of it. I also think that the plate was in desperate need of some dark greens like spinach or Swiss chard. Something rough to help soak up the sauce. Still, I can't avoid recommending it.

For dessert, Bro ordered the Napoleon Cake, a crisp filo dough sandwich filled with strawberries and cream and topped with more powdered sugar than a beignet. My choice was the Panna Cotta. I really like panna cotta and Il Poeta's was no exception, with a strong "but". It was very good BUT they needlessly drowned it in chocolate syrup. It was fine on its own. If you order it, ask for it with a swirl of chocolate (if any) next to the strawberry syrup underneath it and leave it topped with nothing more than a sliced strawberry. Then it would have been perfect. We also ordered a handful of coffees before proceeding to Manor Oktoberfest for a couple liters of beer.

Appetizers are average $10, pasta dishes average $17, and entrees average $22. So expect to spend no less than $50 per person when you factor in tax and tip.




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