Electric Lingonberry Lemonade

I’m back with another new recipe. This time, it’s a delightful mixed drink that smacks of summer. The recipe is mine, measurements arrived at through a little trial and error, but credit for the idea has to go to my wife, who suggested the liquor in the first place.

Electric Lingonberry Lemonade
1/4 cup lingonberry cocktail
3/4 cup lemonade
1 shot vodka
Mix and serve over ice.

I get my lingonberry cocktail from IKEA. They sell a concentrate in their swedish market. I didn’t even know they sold it, as I had always gotten my lingonberry “soda” at the snack counter, premixed from the fountain. Once I found out it’s available to make at home, it made this idea much more viable for others to try on their own. This will taste great in summer, or when you need a taste of summer during those long winter months. Enjoy!

And remember… Please drink responsibly.

My 16 Truths: Expanded – No. 1

In writing my sixteen truths, my lengthy monolog on serving and being served, I realized that I had a great deal more to say about each truth, but at that time, I wanted to keep it concise.

The feedback was generally positive, so I thought I would expand on each truth a bit further in a series of follow up posts, as time permits. So here is my further thoughts on my first truth.

1. I love serving people.

I was speaking about a range of wine-related topics to a couple on Saturday night for several minutes. Experience has taught me to be better aware of my time and surroundings, and I realized I needed to visit my other tables to maintain a proper balance. One of the guests remarked that she understood I had other things to do. I replied, “Are you kidding? This is my favorite part of the job. I wish I could do this all day.” 

It’s true. What I truly love most about serving people is sharing with them. Interacting on topics of common interest in a dynamic manner is a tireless endeavor on my part. I love to share what I’ve learned with others, whether it’s knowledge or experience.

For example, when guests ask me for recommendations, I thrill at the opportunity to not only provide the answers they seek, but to provide the idea that they should expand their questions. Too often, people look for binary answers: yes or no, on or off, black or white, what’s good or bad. Yet the world is so much more complex than that. By going beyond simple answers, I get them to truly think about the experience they want to have, and I’m able to serve them in a more rewarding fashion. The end result isn’t just about a great meal for them, and hopefully better gratuity for me. It’s in teaching them to look beyond what they are eating to why they are eating it.

This notion of raising the bar for every guest is a part of my bigger passion for raising the bar for every person I encounter. It’s not always as easy to do with people I’ve known for years, yet many of them, if given time to truly reflect on our history, would see my passion for serving and supporting others. I have spent a great many years being the best “right-hand man” I could, to some of the most talented people I’ve had the pleasure to call, “friend”.

Much like a guest who will not or cannot tip well, regardless of my effort, I have not always seen the results I’d hoped. I have not always been the best servant I could, and some of my efforts have fallen short. I still remain committed to the ideal that serving is the noblest profession, no matter the capacity to which one serves, and I still remain committed to the passion that I have for serving. No matter what the future holds, I hope I never lose that passion, and I hope I never stop serving, one way or the other. Enjoy!

A little taste of summer!

I’ve previously mentioned one of my favorite sushi places is Sushi By Chef Soon, located inside Seocho Garden in Lisle, IL. Yesterday, I finally got to share it with my good friend, Martin. I had already experienced it with my other sushi-obsessed friend, so this was long overdue for us.

We arrived for lunch just as they opened. Since it was a Tuesday afternoon, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Chef Soon was there, skillfully preparing our meal. We started with some tasty miso soup. (I enjoy miso soup, but it’s one of those things that is so specific a recipe that few disappoint and fewer impress.) Martin and I both love eel, so we ordered one piece each of the more common fresh water unagi and the less common salt water anago off the ala carte menu. Both were as good as any we’ve had. We asked the server about popular maki, because I couldn’t remember all the great ones I’d had during my last visit. We ended up with three, Ocean Drive, Tropical Island, and a favorite I soon remembered from before, the Summer roll. These are listed under the section, “CHEF SOON’S SIGNATURE MAKI”. We started with the Ocean Drive and Summer rolls and followed with the Tropical Island. Ocean Drive is almost triangular-shaped and tastes amazing, with the distinct freshness of the bell pepper and lime coming through. Tropical Island is also great, with an almost tortilla-like wrapping, that was very fresh tasting as well, and had a noticeable mayo flavor.

Both of the other rolls were delicious. Neither was as mind-blowing as Summer. The presentation of the Summer roll shows off it’s most unique feature; razor-thin slices of lemon top the roll and give it it’s signature zing. It’s the kind of roll that takes you back a bit, slows you down, makes you relish ever chew, the kind of taste sensation that makes you chuckle a little at how good it is. As Martin reacted with exquisite surprise, I knowingly nodded and replied, “I know, right?” I felt a little bad saving my last piece of Summer until we finished the Tropical Island, because I’m sure Martin was jealous watching me savor that last morsel.

I’ve been to enough sushi places to notice a pattern. Some excel at the nigiri (ala carte) while providing adequate maki (rolls), and vice versa. Sushi by Chef Soon is one of the rarer places that excels at both. Martin and I will continue to explore Chicagoland for great sushi, but I’ve officially proven to him now that my current favorite will be hard to beat. Enjoy!

My 16 Truths For Serving At Restaurants

I recently came across a post in my Facebook feed for an article called, “16 New Rules For Tipping At Restaurants”. It made a great many perfectly accurate and reasonable statements about the challenges of working for tips.

I won’t share it here for two reasons. I feel the author immediately loses credibility by using profanity to make her points. More importantly, she (presumably) humorously suggests stabbing a guest in the parking lot who stiffs a server intentionally because said guest is “cheap”.

I will however take inspiration from said article to  make my own sixteen points. Don’t think of them as rules, but truths as I see them.

1. I love serving people. The interaction with my guests is the highlight of each workday. The chance to have not only a great meal but a great experience is something I’ve expressed in the past as one of my joys in life, and I do so love to share.

2. Serving is a noble profession with centuries-old roots in cultures from around the world. Being a server connects me to the courts of kings and the banquet halls of caesars and emperors. Not every server feels the same way. Not every server serves at the same level. I recognize this. You should as well. Before taking anything else into account, one should respect the server, and respect the profession.

3. My primary source of income is the gratitude of my guests, specifically in the form of monetary compensation, for the time I spend with them. My hourly wage is less than minimum. It’s main purpose is to pay my taxes and benefits.

4. My role as a server is essential to the guest experience. Remove me from the equation and every restaurant is a cafeteria. A server is your host, guide, butler/maid, entertainer, confidant, banker, and more.

5. No one else in the restaurant is as dependent on your enjoyment. If any other employee fails, the server represents that failure. Yet no one else in the restaurant bears the sins against the guest as the server does.

6. The alternative to gratuity is restaurants who pay those who serve a livable wage. To do this, restaurants must pass this cost on to the patrons to remain in business. We already have this business model in place. The most successful include McDonald’s and Subway. As a result, their “servers” provide no where near the volume of service one can enjoy at other establishments such as The Cheesecake Factory or TGIFriday’s, to name a few.

7. Coupons, rewards, gift certificates, sales, and other discounts, do not impact my service. I will have worked as hard as the original total suggests, regardless of what the restaurant ends up asking you to pay. If I gave you 100% of my effort, you should tip according to 100% of the pre-tax, pre-discount amount of the bill.

8. I am your server. I am not your cook, your dishwasher, your seater/greeter/host, your parking attendant, or any other employee of the company who can impact your experience. Tip me for my service and take your other issues to the manager. Judge me on my own merits this visit; judge the restaurant overall when deciding if you should return.

9. If you ever visit an establishment where servers rely on gratuity, and you knowingly don’t intend to tip for any reason, you are a thief. If you don’t know if the servers rely on tip, ask a host or manager. If you do not ask, you are a coward. Either way, thieves and cowards don’t deserve great service. Yet I give it anyways.

10. I love food. I don’t love all food. I have my reasons. I will give honest feedback about everything on the menu, and I will have favorites. I won’t be disappointed if you disagree with me, because we don’t have the same taste buds. I will be thrilled if you agree with me, because I’ve made an effort to enhance your meal that succeeded. Not all servers will be as honest as me. If you can’t tell the difference between an honest server and a dishonest one, don’t ask for an opinion about the food.

11. Every day I work is a “quality versus quantity” contest. The highest quality/quantity guest stays a little while and orders a lot. The lowest quality/quantity guest stays a long time and orders very little. I will serve either guest equally well. Yet the latter guest has the most negative impact on my income, and the level to which I can provide for myself and/or my family. If you aren’t that hungry and just want a place to hang out, pay the “occupancy” tax with a more generous tip. Be grateful no one is asking you to vacate the prime real estate you are occupying.

12. A great guest experience is extremely important to me. It is also extremely important to my current place of employment. If you are frequently visiting restaurants who don’t provide that experience across the board, you have to take responsibility for your own happiness.

13. Poor tipping or non tipping will have zero impact on improving your experience. Your gratuity is not an effective means of communication. Use your words. Tell me, your server, what’s wrong, verbally. Bad tipping isn’t a statement, it’s a series of questions.

“What did I do wrong?”
“Did they forget?”
“Are they just bad at math?”
“Are they blaming me for (insert any reason outside my control here)?”

And so on. If you don’t explain the lack of tip, you don’t answer the questions. If the questions are not answered, you won’t make an impact.

14. I have no problem splitting the check for my guests. Please, don’t make me regret it. Every server lives with a lingering fear that someone will drop the ball on the gratuity now that the bill is broken into pieces. It happens enough times to justify that fear.

15. Bad tipping won’t ruin my day, because I don’t have bad days. Bad days are always offset by good days. That’s why I still love serving, and I still approach every new day with hope. In this numbers game, I win more than I lose because I keep playing as best as I can. I also approach every new table with hope. Some patrons fear I will stereotype them. I’ve seen cheap businessmen and generous housewives, cheap servers from other restaurants and generous families with small children. I never assume a stereotype based on race, gender, age, or other factors. It’s sad when the stereotypes play out. It’s delightful when they don’t.

16. In the end, my little monologue (unless it goes viral) will have little impact on the world around me. I have only a handful of subscribers, and my Facebook followers will mostly be people who are usually like-minded, so they aren’t generally part of the problem. While I would love to bring about real change in the service and hospitality industries, what I really needed most from this post was the opportunity to get this off my chest and maybe bring a little humor to anyone who reads this.

There you have it, a snapshot of my state of mind about serving and gratuity, taken in early 2014. As I am fond of saying when I deliver food to my guests, and as I have signed every post since I started… Enjoy!