Had a rare Night On the Town Saturday. We went to Via, a new restaurant located in the old Pizzeria Uno building by Southdale. I’d tried all week to get reservations at the little mini-bistros that have sprung up in our neighborhood (no less than five in the last year) but they’d reserved all seven tables in each place, so off to the burbs. The hostess seated us right by the kitchen.

“What have we done to be seated by the kitchen?” I asked, with a smile. The table was also inordinately broad, so I couldn’t have held my wife’s hand without standing up and leaning over. She looked nonplussed – and if you want to make someone nonplussed, correct them on their usage of nonplussed – and asked if we wanted another table. I pointed to a four-top in the middle of the restaurant, and there were were deposited. We started laughing as soon as we sat down; the chairs seemed ridiculously low, and the table was high and thick, hinged so it could be convered into a six-top. My wife asked the waiter about the height of the chairs, and he seemed surprised. I was surprised, since he was about nine feet tall, and if he’d sat in the chair his knees would have been level with his ears. He asked my wife if she wanted a cushion to sit on. She said no, that was fine, just wondering, thank you! Then she balled up her coat and sat on it.

My coffee cup had some undefinable grot baked to the side; another was fetched with haste. I was certain we had now established ourselves as the Trouble Table. Nothing would satisfy these people. The table was near the kitchen! The chairs were too low! The cup had tubercular sputum affixed to the side! There’s no pleasing us! I ordered a Caesar, and was served the most peculiar example I’ve had in a long time. It was very lateral. The greens – well, they weren’t; it was all the core of the head, white and crunchy, cut in long wedges.  The cheese came in narrow brittle strips that had to be broken with a fork, and then refused to alight on the point of the fork. The dressing was watery, and the croutons would have baffled Michelangelo’s chisel. It was inedible, and I noted to the waiter that if there’s ever any groundswell of opposition to their interpretation of a venerable classic, count me among those who’d prefer a more traditional approach.

He apologized and said he’d take it off the bill and whisked the offending dish away. We ordered sea bass and a filet mignon. My steak arrived a bit more raw than I like, so I sent it back; it returned as warm and tender and juicy as it had originally arrived. My wife’s bass was perfect. My steak was legendary. It was like buttermeat. It was incredible. I did want a jot of pepper, so I took the shaker and upended it at the far end of the plate –


When the waiter returned I said that I knew we must seem like the hardest people to please all night, and you add this to our list of sins, but: is the pepper the two-holed shaker and the salt the three-holed shaker, or the other way around?

“Pepper is two holes?” he said?

I pointed to the shakers as though revealing the result of an astonishing magic trick. “They’re backwards,” I said.

“Oh, no,” he said.

“And they’ve been backwards for a long time, because I opened them up. You can tell. There’s not a little salt and pepper inside the cap; it’s all one or the other.” I spread my hands to suggest, however gently, the nightmarish possibility that the person who filled the salt and pepper shakers was fundamentally misinformed, and every shaker in the house was reversed.

Well, they’re new, and there’s always a few things to figure out. Verdict: excellent service. The coffee was superb and he kept it coming. The entrees were glorious. Recommended. But bring a cushion.

(I will be reposting this at buzz.mn tomorrow, so don’t flip out if you see it. I have many things to do tomorrow morning and this will stand for the 10:30 AM post.)


I love going to the grocery store. They're better now than the 40s, when meager goods were heaped in untouchable pyramids, and murderous adulterers met over boxes of Farina to reassure each other:

(Watched "Double Indemnity" this weekend, but that's another story.)

When I was working at Ralph and Jerry’s Market to the World – a convenience store, actually – I felt embiggened by the fact that it was a real grocery store, in minature form. We shrinkwrapped our own meat. We had our own Chiquita Banana tree, with those sharp hooks and crinkly plastic foliage on the trunk. We had aisles. I love to stock up, to provision, to outfit the USS Jasperwood for the week’s voyage – but since I have particular recurring items I have to visit no less than four stores a week to get everything. I hit Kowalski’s because they’re close, and have the only salami (G)Nat will eat. When I want to bleed money out my nose and buy fancy cheese I go to Lund’s. Oh, they have sales, but their heart isn’t in it. They’re almost apologetic. We know what sort of trade this brings in. Bear with us.  I go to Target once every fortnight, and ditto for Rainbow; the latter stands at the end of the continuum from Lund’s, since it’s a bit shabby, the produce looks tired, and the clientele leans towards grizzled mutterers and sizeable loud people who yell at their kids. The staff is also indifferent and occasionally sullen, unlike the staff at the other three places. I’ve never had the same check-out clerk twice. You can tell they’re always new, because they can’t frame a bag to save their lives. I put everything on the belt in order of genre – frozens, cold, dry, non-food – and everything gets jumbled in different bags.

For every anal-retentive, there’s an exact and equal opposite reaction, wondering what the hell your problem is.

Anyway. If you’re interested in product design, layout, typefaces, mass-market manipulation, food trends, and every other aspect of selling things, you’ll find no better lab than the grocery store. Most of the design is dull, but occasionally you spot New and Interesting Trends mingled among the staples, along with peculiar items birthed from someone’s copy of Illustrator on the other side of the country. Here are some cellphone photos snapped Sunday.


  If yer putting yer name on Ham Jerky without a trace of self-consciousness, yuuuuuu might be overextending the brand.

Quick question: this cereal is intended for A) women, or B) men? Extra credit: explain why your reasoning is insulting.

  The “ethnic” food department is a reliably bounteous source of labels that haven’t changed since Eugene McCarthy ran for office. Note that the can has a tiny inset picture of someone picking up the food with chopsticks, which indicates to all cultures that this is meant to be eaten, not spread around on the floor and left alone until the bugs come. In case you wondered.





Kraft has changed its look; the old paper labels with zoomy fonts are out, and the new labels are transparent, with much more sedate and tasteful design. Applause.


This side-by-side array of new Total and old Total design indicates that someone finally stopped huffing nitrous oxide long enough to realize what a noisy, ugly catastrophe the old box was. You got the sense that the box never slept, but spent the night jumping up and down in the cupboard waiting for morning.



They did this before, I think: a Mystery Flavor. It can’t be that mysterious, though; it’s not going to taste like Frankenberries or dog food or cigarette butts. It will have the same salty-ranchy-tangy flavor they all have, with perhaps a note of lime.

In any case, I can’t be arsed to figure out what the flavor is. I want some clues.  Sweet website – although I question its assertion that Taco flavored Doritos were introduced in 1985, and Nacho Doritos came out in 1972. I believe it was close to the other way around. Taco flavor was the Doritos flavor. They were delicious; the bottom of the bag was a complete flavor overload. The new ones don’t taste the same – so it’s possible they were discontinued, and brought back in 1985. I’d google it, but I know I’m right. Trust your heart, Luke, not the Internet.

The entire site seems geared to get young people to eat Doritos, and I wish them luck with that. They certainly have their work cut out for them.

  Because if you’re putting syrup on French Toast, there’s a chance the French Toast may have insufficient French Toast flavor, and needs a French Toast flavor boost for more frickin’ French Toast flavor.