As a fun addition to my usual web design business, sometimes I’ll do photographs for clients. For Khao Sarn Cuisine in Brookline, I’ll be redesigning their existing website and including the photos I took today for them — here’s a sampling of the photographs. They were so easy and fun to work with, and my job of photographing (and subsequently eating) a table of delicious Thai food was a pretty sweet gig.
I haven’t taken proper food photographs in a long time, so it feels appropriate to share them on here.
My favorite cafe asked me to leave last week. For the second time.
I’ll tell you why I feel sad: when I first found Crema Cafe two years ago, I fell in love. I spent so much time there, my sweaters absorbed its scent, an inexorable melange of lattes, carbs, and indie-pop Pandora playlists. The owners described it as a place between home and work; I took that quite literally. I proudly told my friends I was considering moving in.
Over the past two years, I’ve spent so many happy hours in that cafe. I love bringing my laptop to do work on the upstairs level. I’ve forcibly dragged friends there and bought them my favorites, just so they could be converted. I’ve blogged about them, plugged them on Serious Eats, posted photos to various food sites. When I signed up for Mint.com, I budgeted a very liberal portion for “coffee.”
If you ask me for restaurant recommendations, you’ll likely hear raves about their turkey-avocado-jicama-slaw sandwich or their baked-fresh-from-scratch pastries.
So I disappointed when I was asked to leave during a busy Saturday afternoon to make room for other customers. I’d been there for a little over 2 hours with my laptop, and had planned on taking a seat closer to a wall outlet when one of the owners stepped in. (I had polished off a medium coffee and a chicken sandwich.) He had promised that table to another customer; since I had headphones on, I hadn’t seen the line forming behind me.
He was apologetic. As I was leaving, he apologized again. And this was the second time – a month before, a different owner had asked me to leave, but relented when I bought another sandwich. I’ve generally tried to share my table or buy another pastry during marathon study sessions, but I know I’ve overstayed my welcome in the past.
And I understand why they’re taking a more aggressive tack. Mostly. They charge reasonable prices for freshly made food. They have high labor costs and rent; they depend on table turnover and volume to pay the bills. I ended up chatting that owner for about an hour about the trials of the business world and how to solve the problem of being too popular.
I’m happy Crema has done well. It clearly has no problem attracting loyal customers and long lines. But I’m disappointed that the same place that I cheered for and championed feels that its success is dependent on asking me to leave. Are the two really at odds?
Perhaps this Seth Godin (a well-known marketer) post about “best customers” summarizes some of how I’m feeling:
If you define “best customer” as the customer who pays you the most, then I guess it’s not surprising that the reflex instinct is to charge them more. After all, they’re happy to pay.
But what if you define “best customer” as the person who brings you new customers through frequent referrals, and who sticks with you through thick and thin? That customer, I think, is worth far more than what she might pay you in any one transaction. In fact, if you think of that customer as your best marketer instead, it might change everything.
If you’re a cafe lover, do you think cafe owners should ask customers who have finished eating to leave?
Cafe owners, how do you deal with slow table turnover?
Yet I frequently hear it compared to one. Chinese food in the US, as Jennifer 8. Lee would say, is the true American cuisine. It has wooed the stomach of millions. Its takeout vessels have become iconic of American culture itself. It is the gateway cuisine to other Asian foods. Myers + Chang (not Meyer’s and Chang) is the post-gateway restaurant.
Asian food has been pigeonholed mostly as… efficient. There are grease-cheap Chinese food joints that seem minted from a humorless factory line. The only ambience in these outposts is the sparkle of a sputtering neon sign. Then there are the cramped Chinatown places that Chowhound loves, serving regional specialties and packing serious heat.
But as in any major market, there’s room for niche players. Myers + Chang in Boston has angled itself as a pan-Asian restaurant with all the trappings of a hip bistro. It’s menu is self-aware, even preciously trendy (Asian chicken and waffles, anyone?). There are gluten-free options. It has the benefit of nimbleness without the issue of catering to the lowest common denominator.
Entrees are around $11-17. The waiters don’t wear those awful black vests. Food arrives on nice plates. My coke had a pink twisty straw and a lime wedge. There’s an open kitchen, a crimson dragon print on the windows, and airy, uncluttered seating. You could take a date here, not spend a ton, but not look cheap.
Some people might complain you can get more “authentic” food for less money in Chinatown.
I would say they’re missing the point. Even though I love the divey food experience, sometimes you just want the rough edges sanded off your Saturday dim sum brunch, you know? I appreciate atmosphere. Sometimes you have to fight for your food in a Chinese restaurant and that makes me cry a little inside. It reminds me too much of being in China, the one that travel agencies don’t talk about..
Plus, those places don’t make things like fried egg banh mi! Myers + Chang does. (I took these photos with my Canon Rebel XS, for those interested in such things.)
I tried a few dishes off their weekend dim sum menu.
I ignore a lot of press releases, but I got an interesting one recently about a Persian/Italian dinner done by Lala Rokh and Bin 26 enoteca.
I had to reread the description before I figured it out. This is not some fusion dinner, per se. It involves two courses at Lala Rokh (Persian homestyle food) before getting up and walking over to Bin 26 enoteca (for the Italian portion). You can also pair it with wine for a surcharge, of course. This place would be a great recommendation for foodies like Chantal Royer, who enjoys travelling to seek out great food. Click through the jump to see the menu and deet – it’s every Tuesday. I actually might go.
I’m also doing a review soon of some cookware (ehm, I’m thinking of a chef’s knife or a cast iron skillet) sponsored by CSN who sells all kinds of crazy stuff in their 200 niche e-commerce stores – shoes, kitchen tables, etc. They’re also Boston-based, which is cool. I wonder if they deal with wholesalers or dropshippers. How many people doing SEO. Whether they outsource support staff. Anyway. That’s the ecommerce/Tim Ferriss-obsessed nerd in me.
This exclusive tip just in: Zinneken’s, a Belgian waffle shop, will be opening in about four months in Harvard Square.
Zinneke in Brussels dialect means someone of mixed origins, which not only represents the founders, but also their ambitions to introduce authentic Belgian food to Bostonians. They promise that Zinneken’s baked-to-order offerings will to put your standard Americanized “Belgian waffle” to shame. Zinneken’s signature showpiece is the Liège waffle, aka sugar waffle, which is sweeter, smaller in size, and denser than their conventional brethren.
But it gets better!
All photos courtesy of Nhon Ma.
These sugar waffles ($4-6) are named for their caramelized sugar coating and will be served with everything from Nutella to Chantilly cream. I particularly like the proposed “Oreos Freakin’ Party” (no joke) special which involves a grind-tastic blend of Oreos, strawberries, and whipped cream. See the menu from their brochure below.
Who would chase the perfect waffle recipe across continents? One founder, Nhon Ma, is a Harvard grad who jumped from the corporate world to pursue his true passion: food. But it wasn’t a random coincidence, by any means. In fact, his mother was the only Asian chef to ever get a coveted Michelin star in Europe. After spending his childhood taste testing her creations, Nhon cut his teeth by working for her.
He met his business partner Bertrand Lempkowicz in high school, who’s leaving behind his Brussels communication company to join the venture. They’re still in the process of signing the lease, but envision the shop will be “a cosy European atmosphere” that serves up authentically light and fluffy waffles to passing crowds.
Beyond waffles, Nhon promises that Belgian chocolate, French macarons, flourless fudge, Belgian chocolate brownies, and sweet crepes are also in the works.
Their retail space will be at 1 Mifflin Place, #400. Looking on Google Maps, it looks like it’ll be near FedEx and Harvest. Actually, this is their administrative space – the actual location is under wraps. Nhon reveals that it’ll be closer to Harvard Square, not far from Tommy Doyle’s andUpstairs on the Square.
Can’t wait! Look forward to an interview with Nhon Ma coming soon.
Their tentative proposed menu – with delicious photos! – after the jump.