Recipe: Pescado Los Feliciano

It is not all pies and Mac n’ cheese molded into giant mozzarella sticks around the Sidework househould. Most of the time I try to eat healthfully.

This dish evolved out of a Pescado Veracruzano that was on the menu at a restaurant I managed several years ago. The restaurant dish featured a feared fish filet atop a bed of rice surrounded by a rich broth packed with lime, onion, olives, oregano and tomatoes. It was delicious.

So I took that idea and amped up the nutritional density by switching out the rice for quinoa and adding the ubiquitous southern california hippie brassica du jour, kale. Thus the name, Pescado Los Feliciano, after the arty-crunchy LA neighborhood where I live.

The result is a forgiving dish that is sustaining yet light, comforting yet healthful. It comes together easily for a weeknight dinner but is impressive enough to serve for company. If you are overcoming a cold, dial up the lemon and garlic and let the steamy broth carry it into your bones. This truly is a go to dish for me.

For a vegetarian version, I double the quinoa and turn it into fritters. Then serve an island of fritters in a rich vegetable stock. Continue reading

Restaurant 101: Bussers and Backwaiters

Bussers and backwaiters are both dining room– “front of house”– staff in a restaurant. They perform service that does not include taking orders, pouring wine, or delivering drinks from the bar. They clear tables, refill water, perform bread service, and reset tables between guests. Sometimes they will ‘mark’ tables, i.e. reset them with clean silver, between courses (though some establishments reserve that task for servers.

Some more modern establishments will alternately use the term “Server Assistant” or “SA” in place of the older “busser” or backwaiter.

The terms are pretty much interchangeable and vary mostly depending on the style of restaurant; busser is more common in casual spots, backwaiter in fine dining, SA in corporate locations. In a way bussers and backwaiters are “assistants” in that much of their work enables servers to perform their tasks more efficiently. But I prefer the term backwaiter, because I think it is more indicative of their role as integral to the service. They may not be required to memorize the wine list and know all the allergens in the tortellini en brodo, but their work is no less important than that of the sommelier or the head waiter.

In most restaurants in the US you can ask any front of house staff member for help if you need a fresh glass of wine, or don’t care for your entree. But generally you will get these things faster if you request them from your server rather than the backwaiter. By all means catch the backwaiter’s eye if you have spilled something and need assistance, if you need more water or coffee, or if your table leg is wobbling. They are the head of the brigade and best equipped to meet those needs. But if you need to know if the cannelloni is gluten free, wait for the server.

Restaurant Etiquette: Mothers’ Day Brunch

Things to keep in mind when brunching out on Mothers’ Day.

1. It is Mothers’ Day for everyone. Your party is not the only party who loves their mother (or mothers). Chances are there will be many, many special requests for particular tables, quiet tables, tables that are not near the kitchen or the bathroom or a draft. You can increase your chances of getting all of your requests met by booking your reservation well in advance and booking for an early seating before the restaurant fills up.

2. Prepare for a pre-fixe. And if you know that members of your party have dietary restrictions or allergies, ask to have this noted on your reservation.

3. Be mindful of modifications. As with most services when a restaurant is busy, you and your guests will likely be more satisfied with a dish that meets your needs without requiring modifications. On rare occasions at some restaurants, modifying a dish on a busy service may result in your table’s order being cooked after a run of orders that did ordered everything as-is*. (*Most every restauranteur will deny this happens. “No one does that!” They will cry. All I am saying is that after 14 years in the industry, I have absolutely seen this happen. So do with that advice you will.)

4. Prepare for the children. For the children in your own party, prepare age appropriate entertainments (coloring books, a surprise treat, an ipad with games), but be careful about toys and games that make noise (as your neighbors at the next table may not enjoy their eggs benedict punctuated by sproings and rat-a-tats). Most restaurants will have some diversion for little ones (crayons and coloring sheets), but some won’t. Do not rely on the service staff to watch your children, as well. If your toddler is restless and wants to look at the fish tank, by all means let them look at the fish tank, but go with them. The service staff is doing their best to keep an eye (as they know to expect many children on Mothers’ day as well), but they are carrying heavy trays of hot food and beverages. No one wants to drop a cup of coffee on a curious primary-schooler.

Hospitality @ Home: Tea Service

Ah, tea. More than mere coffee’s aromatic cousin, tea is an event in itself.

And if you are a coffee purist who asserts that decaf shall never cross your lips, herbal teas are a great hot beverage for when your caffeinated heart gets close to bedtime.

From Japan to Ethiopia, Russia to Great Britain, tea is an important part of many culinary traditions. Tea services can be elaborate and intimidating, but the best equipment for a simple tea is what you have on hand.

The most important aspect of tea service to keep in mind is this; Tea is about gathering.

Like the fire was to our ancient ancestors, so the piping hot tea pot at the center of the table is a place for us to arrange ourselves around something warm.

All that is required is hot water, tea leaves, and vessels to sip from. But if you have some sweeteners, cream and some odds and ends of savories and sweets to serve alongside, all the better. You will hardly ever go wrong pairing mild buttery, fruit, or nut flavors with tea. Scones with cranberries or currants are classic with an afternoon tea for good reason.

Tea as an event is a great idea if you are cash strapped and still hoping to entertain; because tea is generally in the afternoon, or presented as bit of a diversion between or after meals. To host a tea, you need not prepare an elaborate affair. With a quick tart or clafoutis on the table and a simple tea service, you will be the consummate host for any guest who pops by.

Generally, I fill a glass teapot (because that is what I have) with boiling water, and prepare a tray with an assortment of bagged tea, lemon wedges, cream, and sugar (or other sweeteners) so my guests can choose which tea suits them best. I am persnickety, so I arrange my teas from highest caffeine level to the lowest so it is easy to find when pulling a packet for a guest!

A simple tea service is an excellent alternative to a glass of wine for those teetotaling times.

I hope you gather around a cuppa today!