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                   Email: nanette@freerangegourmet.com

Monday, March 17, 2008

 

Nordstrom's Marketplace Café:


We figured it would be safe now to do Nordstrom without getting trampled, and of course, we wanted to check out their Café. We've visited Nordstroms in other cities and pretty much knew what to expect (though I don't remember quite as much sticker shock as we found on our inspection trip today!).

After returning home I read Nadine Kam's review in this morning's Star-Bulletin. We have had totally different experiences of the Café. All I can do is tell you our side of the story.

We'll start, as Nadine did, with the line outside. Altogether, line to cash register, we probably stood in the ordering process for about 20 minutes. We didn't score the strips of mozzarella-stuffed crust Margherita pizza that she mentioned. We did get menu pamphlets, which was handy as you'll see.

Cool bottled water for only $4.50As the line snaked in, we took our trays and passed a cooler with drinks, including bottled fizzy water for $4.50 a pop. They have regular water inside, no charge, so no need to invest quite yet.

Next, the menus came in handy because at the front of the long cafeteria-style line a man behind the counter took our order, filling out a form. If we had wanted soup, he would have given it to us there (but good thing we didn't, for as you'll read, it would have been cold by the time we got to sit down with it). Having placed our orders, we inched forward, gazing at the sandwiches, Sandwich counterPanini counter paninis and pizzas behind the glass counter. One sandwich could be lunch for two, they appeared to be quite substantial. I suppose, had we not ordered already, that we could have chosen from the counter, but since they asked each person for their order on entering, each of us had an empty tray with only a table-number flag with our order sheet clipped to it. Ahead of us was a woman with one soup on her tray, but that was it.

Oh, I said we were inching along, but that was an exaggeration. Maybe centimetering along would be closer. I got to watch the pizzas go into and come out of the wood-fired oven.

Salad section

Nanette had chosen the salade Niçoise with the seared ahi, to the left in this picture.

At this point the person behind us called on a staff member to see if she could go directly to the cashier, since she had already ordered everything she wanted to eat. Actually, all of us ahead of her were in the same fix, we were waiting to get to the single cashier that was operating out of the three stations. So she didn't get to cut ahead in line, but darn, neither did we. At least we didn't have to juggle shopping bags along with our trays as some people did behind us.

We did get to watch how the cashier, in addition to ringing up each order, was busy fetching things like desserts and bread. Indeed, as we got closer, the woman in front of us (the one with the soup) asked for her crustini. It seems you get one free crustini slice with soup, but they didn't give it to her, so she had to ask. Off flies the helpful cashier to get it, returning with the small slice in a little white paper bag, while the whole line waits.

I had ordered the ravioli, and I should probably have received a little crustini also, but by the time we got to the cashier, I forgot to ask for it. I had asked for a crème brûlée, with two spoons, as we passed the dessert counter, and received another numbered table flag for that, so the cashier didn't have to fetch anything for us. She gave us the two glasses for water we asked for and pointed to the soda machine which would dispense water for us.

Ok, off we go with our numbered table flags, we get our water, and let ourselves be guided to a table by the helpful staff. On the way I counted seven open tables in that section, and it looked like maybe four more were open in the back part. When a restaurant has a long line out front and lots of empty tables, it's a giveaway that things are not working well. But get this. No sooner had we been seated than a guy appears and announces he will be our server today. He took the order slips clipped to our numbered table flags and read them back to us, to check. Yes, that's what we ordered. He said he would bring our orders to us.

Well, why did we wait on line all that time? Wouldn't it have been better to have just taken one of the available tables and placed our order with our server? It took about as long for him to read our order back to us as it would have taken for us to order from a menu. Then we could have been sitting for the few minutes it took for the food to arrive.

The ahi salad was wonderful, as was my ravioli, although the sauce was quite heavy and ordinary. Too bad I didn't read Nadine Kam's review before we went. The ravioli was served on a cool plate, so I was left with the choice of relaxing and chatting over lunch only to have it freeze, or of gobbling it down and chatting while Nanette worked on her salad.

Oh, the crème brûlée came with only one spoon, no one had marked that we wanted two. It was an ok crème brûlée, but my standard is Horatio's version, and this was no challenger.

In the end, we felt that the operation of the restaurant was totally dysfunctional. They can fix it. Just let those who know what they want order from the table. Make sure there are three cashiers working. Relieve the cashiers from having to fetch food. Don't go through giving us glasses to get our own water when someone will be coming by the table with a pitcher later.

Oh, and if it's going to take so long to move through the line, why not deliver the soup to the lady along with the rest of her order? Several staff members hovered nearby, so there could have been some action taken to alleviate the numerous difficulties. Instead, they smiled and heard our complaints, but did nothing.

There are models of a classy cafeteria that work. The la Madeleine chain in the Southeast is a great example. With a much wider and more ambitious menu, things move along quickly and efficiently. Nordstrom can learn lots from them.

Will we be back? I'm not sure. At least not if there is a line outside.





Saturday, March 08, 2008

 

Well, aren't those flowery descriptions of wines you see in the store just designed to sell it?


(Thanks to the Progressive Review News for a pointer to this article)

GRAPE EXPECTATIONS AFFECT WINE TASTING

BOSTON GLOBE - Scientists at Caltech and Stanford recently published the results of a peculiar wine tasting. They provided people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices. The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.

The experiment was even more unusual because it was conducted inside a scanner - the drinks were sipped via a network of plastic tubes - that allowed the scientists to see how the subjects' brains responded to each wine. When subjects were told they were getting a more expensive wine, they observed more activity in a part of the brain known to be involved in our experience of pleasure.

What they saw was the power of expectations. People expect expensive wines to taste better, and then their brains literally make it so. Wine lovers shouldn't feel singled out: Antonio Rangel, the Caltech neuroeconomist who led the study, insists that he could have used a variety of items to get similar results, from bottled water to modern art. . .

Expectations can even play havoc with experts. A few years ago, Frederic Brochet, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Bordeaux, conducted a rather mischievous experiment. He invited 54 experienced wine tasters to give their impressions of a red wine and a white wine. Not surprisingly, the experts described the wines with the standard set of adjectives: the red wine was "jammy" and full of "crushed red fruit." The white wine, meanwhile, tasted of lemon, peaches, and honey. The next day, Brochet invited the wine experts back for another tasting. This time, however, he dyed the white wine with red food coloring, so that it looked as if they were tasting two red wines. The trick worked. The experts described the dyed white wine with the language typically used to describe red wines. The peaches and honey tasted like black currants.

According to Brochet, the lesson of his experiment is that our experience is the end result of an elaborate interpretive process, in which the brain parses our sensations based upon our expectations. If we think a wine is red, or that a certain brand is better, then we will interpret our senses to preserve that belief. Such distortions are a fundamental feature of the brain.





  

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Email: nanette@freerangegourmet.com
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