Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Wearing Cowboy Hats in Restaurants

by Diningroom Diva

While we were dining in the Stack restaurant at the Mirage in Las Vegas a large group of gentlemen came in all wearing cowboy hats. As they proceeded to their table only one of the gentlemen removed his hat. The hostess quickly offered to check it for him. She glanced briefly at the others, but got no response- their hats remained firmly planted on their heads. Seemingly unperturbed, the hostess seated the rest and nodded to the server.
This interested me as I grew up in New England where gentlemen always removed their hats upon entering a restaurant -or bar for that matter. Especially the duck bills, the red wool hunter plaid with ear flaps and the foul weather gear types. It was certainly expected of all our male family members, or quietly knocked off by Dad from behind -as a gentle reminder.
In addition, gentlemen who wore felt hats often removed them very dramatically and with flourish, bespeaking of culture and breeding. I believe you still see that in Europe today.
Since we had observed the cowboy hats in many establishments in Texas and other Western cities , I decided to check with Miss Manners and Amy Vanderbilt, just in case we were ever caught wearing them ourselves. For instance at the Redford Ranch or the Hawaiian Rodeo Spa.

Well, Amy Vanderbilt doesn't even give an option for men, "men should check their hats as they arrive", however women may and should wear their hat "unless it is a rain hat or wool helmet or wind scarf". No mention of Cowgirls.

Miss Manners has a slightly different slant: "Dear Miss Manners: A certain lumpish fellow of my acquaintance contends that it is not a breach of etiquette for a man to wear a cowboy hat indoors. He states that cowboy hats are unique in this regard. My mother was always a proponent of the Mrs. Paul W. Bryant, Sr. school of thought on this subject. (You may recall that when Bear Bryant was asked why he didn't wear his trademark hat in the Astrodome, he replied that it was because his mother taught him that a gentleman doesn't wear a hat indoors.) To your knowledge has there been a special papal dispensation or whatever the equivalent is in the world of etiquette for cowboy hats?"
Miss Manners replied: "Mrs. Bryant's rule certainly applies to cowboys who wish to behave as gentlemen and, Miss Manners would like to add, to gentlemen who wish to disguise themselves as cowboys, a proliferating breed. For example, a person wearing a cowboy hat, along with a gray suit and lizard boots, in a city office building elevator, is not excused from removing the hat- no, not even if he is wearing a complete cowboy suit, with fringed jacket, jeans, and spurs that he got for Christmas. However, a genuine cowboy, wearing cowboy clothes and going about his cowboy business, does wear his hat everywhere. In other words, it is not the hat but the head that defines the man, oddly enough."
So, do women get to wear their cowboy hats to dinner? It seems so.
Would you want to ask that handsome cowboy seated next to you to remove his hat against his wishes? - Not me!. And we'll not discuss his boots at this juncture.
For a fun read and lots of up to date etiquette tips check out 'Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior'.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Healthy Dining Out

Someone commented the other day on how difficult it is to eat out at different restaurants and also stay within healthy eating guidelines. There's lots of information out there, but short of lugging around a big fat notebook - how to do?
Here is a brief guide that may help.
• Don't skip a meal on the day you are going out to eat.
• Eat a light snack (such as an apple, orange or slice of low fat cheese).
• Choose a restaurant that offers a variety of food including low fat options.
• Be aware that snacks served with wine or other alcoholic drinks are part of the meal too. We often tend to overeat when using alcohol.
• Order more plant based foods - pick salads and deserts that emphasize fruits or vegetables; look for whole-grain pasta, bread, rice and cereal.
• Order baked, not fried; grilled, not greasy.
• Ask about substitutions of lower fat,, lower carbohydrate food as side dishes.
• Taste your food before adding salt, butter, sauces or dressings.
• Order dressings on the sides of your salads.
• Substitute healthier condiments such as mustard for mayonnaise, or pepper or lemon juice instead of salt.
• Resist the desire to 'supersize' your meals.
• Make the salad your first course with plenty of veggies and fruit.
• Eat slowly.
• Order food that requires work such as crab legs.
• Order water, sparkling water or mineral water with a twist of lemon - it's filling and has no calories (most diets insist on at least 8 glasses a water per day for a reason)
• Finish the main course before you think of ordering dessert.
• For dessert consider lower fat, lower calorie options such as fresh fruit, angel food cake or sherbet.

• For more information on healthy eating check out Healthy Eating at Best Place to Eat .com

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Greek and Mediterranean Cuisine for Healthy Dining Out.

The Mediterranean Diet has probably focused more attention on Greek cuisine than ever before. And Greek restaurants are becoming much more popular. If you haven't ventured into a Greek restaurant yet, summer is an especially good time.

Mediterranean people love to eat. The sunny climate allows for many social gatherings where food is served. Greek cuisine has been influenced by every culture who battled for, conquered, traded and immigrated there. Many who inhabit Greece and the Mediterranean region are a mix of religions, nationalities and races. Influences include the past Ottoman Empire, Southern Italy, North Africa and the Middle East.

Mediterranean cuisine offers a great deal in the way of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pita, pasta, olive oil, cheese, milk, eggs, fish and red wine. Less on red meat and processed foods. People of that area have been observed to have less incidences of heart disease and certain cancers, and this has been attributed to their cuisine. And that is also the basis of the currently popular Mediterranean Diet; although you certainly don't need to be dieting to enjoy the food.

Still, if you are basically health conscious and looking for some variety in dining out, Greek restaurants will definitely accomodate many of those desires.

A typical Greek Restaurant offers a wide range of vegetarian style dishes as well as seafood and chicken and of course lamb. You might enjoy a baked vegetarian moussaka with eggplant, parmesan, riccota cheese and zucchini layered, topped with tomato sauce. Other great healthful dishes include Greek Skillet Snapper or Greek Lemon Chicken. There are many lamb dishes offered too, of course. Be mindful, though, that lamb, like any red meat, should be eaten sparingly in accord with many modern health advisories. Mediterranean herbs and spices and traditional ingredients make for a very flavorful cuisine regardless of meat content. Greek Rose wine is wonderful too.

Wild marjoram grows in the mountains in Greece and is often used to flavor meat dishes. The herb is much sharper in flavor than domestic marjorams or oreganos. In Spain it was used to brew fine ales.

Here is a recipe for a Greek salad dressing with marjoram (rigani) to enjoy with fresh greens.

-1/2 cup virgin cold pressed olive oil
-Juice of one lemon (pierce with a fork and heat for a few seconds in a microwave to extract the most juice.)
-1/2 teaspoon of wild marjoram (rigani)
-1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
-1 tablespoon chopped onion
-1 tablespoon parley or cilantro
-1 teaspoon fresh cinnamon basil minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon thyme

Combine all ingredients and chill for a few hours before serving. Great on dinner salads.

Don't forget the desserts! Baklava, Kataifi, Amydgalopita....
That's pronounces bahk-lah-VAH, kah-tah-EE-fee, ah-mag-dah-lo-PETA.

Find Greek restaurants in your area at

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Don't Settle For the Same Old Salad, Go Bitter!

Restaurants these days have increased their salad options. Largely, of course, because of our new national nutrition concerns, but also because people are hipper and looking for some variety beyond the same old 'garden salad' fare.

Try eating weeds! Dark green bitter greens are packed with nutrition, and whether you are seeing them on a menu or are preparing salads at home, they are well worth trying.

Dark greens including arugula, nettles, dandelion, watercress and chickweed are the most healthful. Especially for the digestive system. When the bitter dark greens are chewed and eaten, the taste buds respond by increasing salivation. Then gastric acid secretion increases, (and) pancreatic enzymes are primed to respond when the food enters the small intestine, helping to maximize food breakdown and speed waste elimination. In other words your body will appreciate the 'spring cleaning'.

Dandelion leaves are experiencing a resurgence in popularity in restaurants. Chefs are recognizing the nutritional value and zippy taste of these little lawn invaders. Dandelions are rich in vitamin A and C and rank high in overall nutrition. And according to reliable medical resources, dandelion leaves are also a natural diuretic, increasing urine production by promoting the excretion of salts and water from the kidneys. Purchase in bunches at your produce stand.

Arugula also boosts vitamin A and C, calcium and fiber. Tangy arugula contains naturally occurring compounds called isothiosyanates, powerful anticarcinogens particularly effective in fighting cancers of the lung and esophagus (according to Drug Metabolism Reviews 2000, Vol. 32, #3-4.) You can find arugula year round in most grocery stores.

Nettles (Yes nettles, those little boogers in the woods that sting like crazy!) Nettles contain protein and dense amounts of minerals including iron, silica and potassium. The mineral content of nettles supply a basic energy source that helps support the nervous system and provides energy in times of fatigue and stress, according to Keegan Sheridan, N.D. of Beverly Hills, California. To harvest nettles, put on your rubber gloves first -to avoid the inevitable stinging when the leaves touch bare skin. Cooking will deactivate the sting.

Chickweed supposedly grows all over the world, and is well known for its medicinal uses. According to the Journal of Natural Products, Chickweed has calming effects on tissues when applied topically, and it's drying and cooling anti-inflamatory properties heal everything from cuts and burns to puffy eyes. Chickweed is an excellent edible green that is high in fiber, protein, and vitamin A.

Watercress grows partially submerged in creeks and streambeds. It contains abundant beta carotene which converts to vitamin A in your body. It contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of beta carotene. It is rich in cancer protective isothiocyanates.

Try arugula on a tomato and cheese pizza. Chickweed chopped in a waldorf salad, or with chicken and fish. Dandelion leaves (purchase at market, or grow in a garden at home) are great in salads. You can also saute them. Nettles can be served like cooked spinach, or the leaves dried for a tasty tea. Watercress is great for dressings and dips.

All these greens are best purchased in a produce section of a grocery store-or garden grown. Roadside plants are obviously not your wisest choice. Stinging nettles can be found in the forests - ouch.

The next time you see an offering of any of the above on a restaurant menu - wouldn't you want to give them a try?

A savvy chef knows his greens.

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A Relaxing Afternoon with Pastis

You're in a hammock, gazing lazily over the Cote d'Azur. A glass of pastis in one hand, the other hand dangling in the tall sweet grass. The warm air drifts in from the mediterranean past the ancient stone walls and rustles the silver green sun filtering branches over your head. You have resolved to never set foot in the 'rat race' again.

And even if you can't stick to your resolve forever, at least enjoy the moment with your glass of pastis. It is a drink to be enjoyed leisurely, and since it has a rather potent alcohol content, it should not be rushed. It is best lightly sipped and even put down out of view a time or two, drawing out the ritual.

Pastis, in case you are wondering is a very popular drink in Provence. Seen on many beverage menus of U.S. restaurants as well, pastis is a licorice or anise flavored spirit meant to be enjoyed slowly.

Pastis is descended from the notorious absinthe, a mind numbing distillation popular in France until early this century. Absinthe was banned in France in 1915 and was blamed for murders, criminal unsanity, and even of Van Gogh's hacking off of his own ear. Despite the colorful vintage posters, absinthe is ugly stuff, and although can still be had by foolhardy risk takers, it is advised to stay clear of it. Pastis is the sane descendent.

Pastis is made from alcohol and distilled herbs or herbal extracts. Chief among them is grand wormwood and green anise; and almost always including three other herbs - petite wormwood, fennel and hyssop. Star anise is sometimes substituted for the green anise.

Pastis with its sweet licorice taste should be taken from a tall narrow glass. Add some ice cubes and slowly pour the pastis over the ice. Then add water. The general measurement is 1/3 pastis and 2/3 water. Then you can add more ice as you go along - many prefer up to 4 parts water to one part pastis.

It is considered a daytime drink and a real thirst quencher. It can be mixed with grapefruit juice for a sweet-tart flavor. A handful of crisp almonds is a good accompanient.

There are several brands sold in the United States, many distinguished by the variety of spices added, like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper and nutmeg. Among the brands available here are Pastis 51 - very viscous and pungent; Ricard, a popular pastis in the States similar to Pastis 51; Baldanis, dry with the essence of anise; and Jean Boyer, a dry aromatic bouquet said to contain 24 herbs and 12 spices. There is also a non alcoholic pastis called Pacific. Pernod is another brand that is handled like pastis but is not really pastis. It is actually distilled from a wine flavored with anise, fennel and other herbs. It tastes similar and is served in the same way as pastis.

Enjoy a pastis on your next afternoon sojourn. If even on your own back porch, sit back, tip your drink and enjoy the scents of the warm mediterranean summer breeze as it slips over the lavendar Provence fields and meandering stone walls just a little bit beyond the horizon.

Then find a good restaurant at

Friday, June 09, 2006

MSG, what's it for anyway?

Akin to peanuts on airplanes, MSG has an air of danger about it. Menus everywhere proclaim MSG free!, no MSG used, we never use MSG!!! Ah, but almost all cooks once did, and some still do, and for good reason.

Monosodium glutamate is a naturally occurring form of glutamic acid, an amino acid, that is extracted from certain grains and vegetables. It is long known for enhancing asian dishes. Experts agree that MSG adds a particular zing to many foods. But how this works is probably still a mystery.

The MSG people claim that MSG replaces the glutamates in food that are lost during storage, processing, and cooking. However, it also enhances food like chicken which have no natural glutamates to lose during cooking. In light of this, other 'experts' believe MSG joins with other chemicals and magnifies them. MSG works well with meat, poultry, fish and vetetables, but not with other foods such as sweet, acidic or salty. In addition, some say the MSG brings about a fifth taste to the human palate adding to the well known quartet of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Japanese have favored MSG since they isolated it from sea vegetables early in this century. They call it 'unami".
In China, MSG is known as wei ching or wei chen meaning 'essence of taste'.

Now, many chefs recommend that this spice be used sparingly if at all. Too much of it makes all the flavors in a dish taste the same. It also has a high sodium content and creates an unpleasant allergy reaction in some people.

A prudent chef relies on the colorful flavors of the food itself.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Pizza Revealed. Or not.

What is the real history of pizza? Who knows! There are lots of good guesses. However I found no Internet consensus. Maybe Italy, maybe Greece, maybe Eygpt. I am sure every culture wrestles with it's own claim to pizza fame. For me, I can imagine a caveman flattening out a bread textured mushroom or gourd with his club to make a 'plate', slapping down some pieces of bloody game and a few leaves, maybe topping with some curdled goats milk and throwing it on the fire to heat up. He would eat the whole thing and call it good. And where did this caveman reside? Chicago? Italy? Armenia? Surely there must be an undiscovered sketch of the first pizza carved in a rock somewhere. Or a yet-to-be found fossilized pepperoni supreme buried in a tomb.

Well, whatever, it was interesting to read about the various forms of pizza and of some of the topping origins. Some traced the first pizzas to early Greece where they topped pita bread with assorted foods like goat cheese and olives; others wrote of Italians finally getting up the courage to taste the tomato. Up until about the 16th century Italians thought tomatoes were poisonous. I wonder who they got to try the first one? A Pagan?

In this country it is generally accepted historically that Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in New York City in 1895. And that Chicago reigns supreme with the invention of the deep dish pizza.

But another pizza style that is often overlooked, and wonderful is the Armenian meat pie. It is close to a meat covered pizza, but without a dripping sauce. You can find these pies ready-made in LA, San Francisco and New York. Here follows a recipe to make some yourself.

Armenian Meat Pie.



One pound of lean ground beef.

One large can of whole tomatoes crushed and drained.

One medium yellow onion finely chopped

One small green bell pepper seeded and finely chopped.

One teaspoon crushed garlic or to taste.

One quarter cup chopped parsley

One tablespoon fresh mint leaves finely chopped

One tablespoon tomato paste

One half teaspoon each paprika and allspice.

Salt and pepper

One portion of ready made pizza dough .

( Or you can find a from scratch recipe anywhere on the web or cookbook. But why work so hard?)

Divide into 12 balls and flatten into 6-7 inch discs. Place the discs on a lightly greased baking sheet and let rise slightly. Then spread the meat sauce over each disc coming close but not up to the edge. Bake at 375 degrees 25 - 35 minutes.

Here's a quick and easy veggie pizza recipe.

Two packages of dinner rolls. Unroll and place flat on a baking sheet folding up the edges to form a crust edging. Bake for about 7 minutes and cool.


Two eight ounce packages of cream cheese softened with three quarter cup salad dressing and one quarter cup skim milk, one teaspoon dillweed and one teaspoon of basil. Garlic salt to taste.

Spread the mixed ingredients over the cooled crust. Cut up broccoli, cauliflower, onions, green and red bell peppers, carrots and black olives and sprinkle over top. Press this into the cheese topping slightly. Add some grated Romano and Parmesan cheese and bake in the lower portion of your oven for 10 minutes or so.

Etiquette tip: Amy Vanderbilt says that while eating pizza with a fork and knife is ok, generally you can just go for it and use your hands, that's what they're there for. But use a napkin and forget using the tablecloth.

Wines that go good with pizza?

Chardonnay, Beaujolais, and Chianti go well with cheese pizzas.

Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris or White Zinfandel with pepperoni.

Chardonnay or Syrah with sausage or mushroom and onion.

Sauvignon Blanc with veggie pizza

Sauvignon Blanc or Reisling with Hawaiian.

We prefer ice cold beer on tap. Sorry.

Find a pizza place in your neighborhood, or tell us about your fave - go here to

Diningroom Diva is a writer and precariously employed by Guide Communications. *And is married to an Italian.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Breakfast in the Northwest

We who live in the Great Northwest welcome sunshine even though it means
a 20 degree drop in temperature! Finding interesting and different
breakfasts has become an obsession to ease off both the dark mornings and
chilling temperatures, sun or not.

When dining at home, eggs are enduringly popular, as are waffles, bacon, sausage, crepes, french toast and the like. But once in awhile we like to reach out for something a bit different but easy to do too.

I have a tasty recipe to share that is quick and will add some variety to the
traditional breakfast fare.

It's called Hangtown Fry:

Prep time is about 5 minutes and cooking takes about 10 minutes.

For two people in love: Start with 4 oysters well drained; 1 beaten egg;
cracker crumbs; butter; 3 eggs; 2 tbsp water; salt and pepper; crisp bacon, lemon and
orange slices.

(For four people simply double the ingredients with the exception of the egg.)

Dip the oysters in the beaten egg, then in the cracker crumbs. Fry in
butter until golden. Beat the eggs well with the water, add salt and
pepper to taste. Pour the eggs over the oysters and cook as for an
omelet. Roll the omelet onto a hot platter and garnish with strips
of bacon and some sunny lemon and orange slices.

One thing about living in the northwest, there is an espresso
stand on every corner - we just need to find one that delivers!

Portland, Oregon,
If you are in Portland and looking for a good place to have breakfast, here's a couple of great breakfast places we'd like to tell you about. The first is a little restaurant on the southeast side called Zell's an American Cafe. Great atmosphere, very interesting menu for both vegetarians and meat eaters. Good prices. You'll find them at 1300 SE Morrison.

The second restaurant is Hawthorne Street Cafe, 3354 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Nice variety, sunny windows, friendly staff. Everything we tried was fresh, great looking and delivered promptly.

If you are going to Naples, Florida for a little sun, stop in the Cove Inn Coffee Shop for a great breakfast; try their famous pancakes. You'll find them at 900 Broad Avenue South.

Etiquette tip of the day:
'When to begin dining': At a small dinner party guests should wait until the host or hostess has been served and begins to pick up her utensils. At larger dinner parties guests should feel free to eat as they are served, as the food is better hot. Children should wait for their parents to begin. For more etiquette information check out our etiquette references here.

Visit us at Best Place to Eat .com

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Etiquette and the Nose

Every once in awhile a situation comes up to remind me of the good old days when table manners were expected from everyone - and dutifully drilled in! Manners were, after all, what "separated us from the animals for Heaven's sake!"
Sometimes they became quite painful lessons. For instance, in primary school the nuns would stab your elbow with a fork if you left it on the table; or you could find yourself dining on the floor in the corner of the school kitchen should you have dared talk with your mouth full! Oh, and those uneaten lima beans could linger on your plate for days!
Way back then (60's), there were handbooks for table etiquette, handbooks for social events, handbooks for hygiene, and so forth. One etiquette book that was in vogue then, and is still used today (in a revised edition) is Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette.
Of course Amy has long passed, and the revisions to her original text are many. In fact, every successive revison has included a preface from the 'new' editors on how times have changed and how the rules of etiquette have had to be 'downgraded' to fit society today. Not that I am all that picky after all, but there are times...

We were dining in a very nice restaurant, quite plush, with linen floor length tablecloths, elaborate silver candle holders and very lovely wine glasses and china. It was a twilight atmosphere, muted classical music playing in the background. Part way through our meal, oysters on the half shell to be exact, my guest and I both seemed to notice the couple at the next table at the same time. They were very well dressed, and appeared happily engaged in an animated conversation.

Suddenly, the man sneezed loudly. "har-choo! har- choo", again and again, "Ah-choo! Aurggh!"
Now all heads are turned. The next thing you know, he had reached forhis white linen table napkin, held it up to his nose and gave it a good goose-honking blast, not once, but twice. He wiped the napkin across his face a few times then balled it up and tossed it in the middle ofthe table, picked up his fork and proceeded to shovel in his dinner. His wife shot him a fiery look, tightened her lips, turned in her seat and gazed desperately across the dining room, obviously wanting to disappear.
We also glanced aroundto see the waiter standing at another table glaring over his shoulder with a clenched jaw.

The waiter (who had up until now been very calm, solicious and reserved) fairly leapt toward the table like an annoyed cat on prey; and with a fly-by pass, tossed a bunch of linen napkins on the table sneering almost inaudibly "in case you need to go the men's room , Sir!.
The man's wife stood up quickly and headed for the bar. If we weren't so sure that he would be following, we would have headed there too.

Well, in case you ever wondered - we looked up the situation in 'Amy', and here's what she said:
"Sneezing: If you feel a sneeze coming on at the table, and you have no time to reach for your handerchief, cover your nose and mouth area with your napkin, but never blow into it. If you are going to be in dire needof a handerkerchief or some tissue, excuse yourself quickly from the table with an "Excuse me one second" and head for the bathroom. "When you return to your place, murmur a quick apology" "and forget about it.""When you have to blow your nose at the table, do it very gently, as it is hardly an appetizing sound."

There you have it. In case your really wanted to know. Were you surprised at some of her advice? We were.And maybe you know someone this flu season who could use it.

Check it out. Amy Vanderbilt's book can be found here
Diningroom Diva is a writer for