Wednesday, April 30, 2008

REVIEW: Le Crêperie- *** / $

Sacray Bluh! Eet eez juss lyke gaa Pairee! Perhaps not, but if all that concerns you about France is their food, La Crêperie is a great place to get some at some good prices. Quaint, cozy, full of character, and having a wide selection of crêpes, smoothies, and wraps, the charming hole-in-the-wall provides Thayer walkers with something to think about in place of the countless sandwich shops.

The inside is cozy... very cozy. Actually, you better hope the person next to you doesn't smell too bad, because you're going to get very intimate with them during your stay. I've never been here during a busy time, so I have no idea when the busy times are. I assume the lunch rush during the school year would be brutal, and perhaps an after-work crowd, but any other time is a steady flow. During these times, the space inside is more than enough to manage those who wish to sit and eat, and there are usually empty tables if you're one of them, but anything approaching busy could send the line clear out the door.

I liked the bohemian atmosphere. Quirky, friendly people work the register and prepare the food, and the music selection is firmly in the eclectic category. some French touches to the decor make you feel like you're there, such as a photo-realistic drawing of some gates (pictured), some French words, and very small tables. All in all, a pleasing interior that has both hole-in-the-wall charm and a nice layout.

The menu is anchored by, shocker, crêpes. They have a decently wide selection and you can easily request your own fillings. Both the sweet section and savory section have ten crêpes up for eating, and nine wraps bring up the rear. The wraps are all quality, but I have no idea why you'd be coming to a place called the Crêperie for wraps. They have a display of eight teas, which is more than many places (lazy bastards), and a small selection of sodas. It's here where I wish the smoothies were better, or they had coffee, because both would go wonderfully with the finished crêpes.

So yes, about those smoothies. They're not very good. The ones I've gotten are icy, sour, and watery in flavor. I don't know whether they're using too much ice, not enough yogurt, or just crap fruit, but the end result is sub-standard smoothies. You'd be much better served to head just down Thayer to Juniper and get one of their higher-quality concoctions. This leaves you with their selection of Soda and tea. And, wait, you still drink soda? You philistine. All judgment aside, the carbonation doesn't go very well with the sweet crêpes, so if you want a drink, go for the tea.

On to important bits. For all intents and purposes, the crêpes are a home run, or at least a double. Most of the recipes are pretty bulletproof (like Nutella and bananas could ever fail), and the crêpes themselves are of good quality and preparation. They're cooked rather thick, which may offend purists, but I enjoy my crêpes a bit thick. What I don't enjoy are the undercooked insides. Since the crêpes can't be burned, they can only be cooked for so long. As such, some of their more inventive fillings never have enough time to cook. Either pre-cooking, or a quick bake after folding would be enough, but as it stands, many of the vegetables hit the table undercooked and cool. A prime offender in this area was the Rita, with spinach, tomato, onion, mushroom, and feta. My favorite is the Lisa, with turkey, tomato, swiss, and a good béchamel sauce. My least was the Nina, a mixture of apples and brie that fell totally flat. Bland, bland, bland. The apples were overly tart and weak, and the brie wasn't very creamy or sweet.

The sweet crêpes are generally more pleasing, with sure-fire hits like the aforementioned Nutella-Banana combo, the Connie. Not healthy enough for you? The Creperie, with its mixed seasonal fruits is good, but at the mercy of the fruit quality, which the Nina proved can get dodgy. The Nori, with apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar would have been better if the apples had been softened, but they were hard and cool. If they had been softer, it would have been divine apple pie in a crêpe.

And finally, it must be mentioned for those who know crêpes, this place is actually a bit on the expensive side of the crêpe world. While the Betty, with butter and sugar, rings in at a pretty cheap $2.75, that's still nearly three dollars for twenty-five cents of batter, butter, and sugar. And from that point up, the prices rise quickly, with any fruit sending the price up to $4.55-$5.50. Roving crêpe stands in other major cities, like London, will throw two, maybe even three, of these bad boys at you for similar prices. Still, the prices are not nearly expensive enough to cry foul. They're tasty and worth the cash.

So does the Crêperie succeed? Certainly yes. Not like you have any choice, they're the only game in town. And that's about the only reason they can get away with that name. That would be like a cafe calling itself 'The Cafe.' Regardless, the crêpes are well-made and backed by simple, but good, recipes. Combined with the quirky atmosphere, they overcome crap smoothies and, at times, undercooked fillings. All things considered, you would do yourself a disservice by not stopping by, if for no other reason than this selection of crêpes is to be found nowhere else in Rhode Island.

La Crêperie: ***
Price range for two: $10-$18

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82 Fones Aly
Providence, RI 02906

Monday through Thursday 10:00am to 12:00am
Friday 10:00am to 2:00am
Saturday 9:00am to 2:00am
Sunday 9:00am to 12:00am

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Day in Portland

The east-coast Portland, not that sad imitator over in Oregon, or Oruhgun as those wacky Westerners call it. I was up in town to visit a friend, and it was a momentous occasion for two reasons: it was my first time in Portland, AND it was my first time in Maine. It was also rather momentous since I didn't have to drive. And because it was the first trip in awhile where I didn't have a raging case of diarrhea in the middle of it.

Moving on, Portland is a VERY nice city. The crime rate is well below the national average in most ways, save for property crime and rape. Cold places are frequently like this. For example, rape is practically Alaska's national pastime. I like Alaska. I thought about moving there, once. I just don't think I could deal with at least one neighbor being raped nightly. I also couldn't deal with me being raped, which I assume would happen while getting off the plane.

Other than that, crime in Portland is low, the city is clean, and the quaint-ometer is off the chart. Somehow, Portland has managed to attain many of the benefits of a small city, avoid many of the problems, and wrap itself up in a clean, walkable, and full-featured metro area. Their culture and music scene is impressive, with dozens of small venues filling with revelers and bands every weekend. I saw three the night I was there, with the third, Strange Pleasure, having a phenomenal lead guitarist.

And the food, oh my lord, the food. Considering the size of Portland, it's impressive that such a small city has such an enormous restaurant scene. I guess, since Portland is essentially the economic hub of Maine, that Portland has a small live-in population, but an enormous active population that fills the streets beyond what the numbers indicate. The five colleges and universities in town also lend around 14,000 students to the local population during the school season.

This large, fluid population means lots of restaurants, lots of tastes, and lots of price ranges. Even the hottest ticket in town, the Gayot-rated Hugo's, cost a pittance in comparison to their big-city cousins. Hugo's, for example, charges $68 for a four course prix fixe menu cooked by an alumnus of The French Laundry. An eleven course chef's menu, customized to the diner's likes? $120. Hugo's is one of the great bargains of haute cuisine in America.

And I didn't get to go there. Closed until May 1st. Shitballs.

I ate everywhere else I could, though, what with my bum leg the last few weeks. I had a tasty breakfast, some of the best french fries on Earth, a latte from heaven, some excellent gelato, and bought a jar of very expensive jam.

Duckfat: From the owners of Hugo's, they fully understand that even if you don't cost that much, always offer people something different. Duckfat's menu is all unhealthy, all the time. French fries fried in, what else, duck fat were truly to die for. They took the lowly fry as close to gourmet as it will ever get. Salted ever-so-lightly, these were dynamite. Bravo. The sandwiches, I got roast turkey with cranberry coulee, were some rather good panini. The outside was cracker-crispy, but not browned, and the insides were buttery soft. I felt the sandwich needed something more to really kick up the flavor, but it was otherwise good. They brought out some of the best milkshakes I've ever had.

That's not really all that hard, but just making a freaking milkshake seems to be a lost art, these days. They made it right. I was so happy. The insides were quaint and simple, service was very friendly and quick, even a crying baby in the corner did nothing to dull our mood. The ingredients are also much more interesting than your average sandwich shop, with panini packing duck confit, meat loaf, and cherry-pepper relish. If you really want to have a heart attack, the Duckfat poutine will kill you just by thinking about it. Wines, beers, Numi tea, french press coffee, and a variety of desserts turns Duckfat into a true destination on the cheap.

Maple's Gelateria: A stone's-throw from the local Coldstone is this good local gelato shop. Situated in a small, mall-like building, with music, comic, and other stores, Maple's was recently awarded Best Ice Cream by the Portland Phoenix. Sure, but it's gelato. I make a distinction. Regardless, Maple's was damned good. Again, some of the best gelato I've ever had. I still think our own Roba Dolce! is better, but they're pretty much on equal grounds. Rich, creamy, and full of flavor. I only wish they had a few more, dare I say it, normal varieties. Yes, Turkish fig and Orange is very nice, how about peanut butter cup? God dammit I'm uncultured.

The insides were sparse, but wide and airy. I especially liked the lighting. Beauitful, wooden tables make the place feel even more artsy, and a corner full of games and toys for kids makes this place emminently family-friendly. A stack of more adult-oriented board games and cards mean the grown-ups have something to do as they nurse their espresso or affogato. I got a chocolate affogato, and the espresso was dark and earthy, but they didn't put very much gelato in the cup. Consequently, it melted a bit too fast and the last half was more a coffee-ish milkshake.

Big Mama's Diner: We broke our fast at Big Mama's Diner, a popular local breakfast place that has more customers than seats. Not as bad as, say, the Brickway (GAH!), but we had a few minute wait. Diner inside, Diner outside, there's nothing to surprise you at Big Mama's. Everything was well-priced and well-cooked. I was very happy with my omelette, which was cooked with fresh ingredients, and was still moist inside, as opposed to the dry husks that I so frequently get. French, FRENCH, do you people know what a French omelette is? It's only lightly browned and still wet on the inside. This wasn't a true French omelette, but still better than most I've had. All in all, Big Mama provided us with an affordable and good breakfast.

Breaking New Grounds Cafe: My cafe experience was fantastic. There were tons of cafes along seemingly every street, and I knew I had to try at least one. On the way back from Big Mama's, Breaking New Grounds seemed good. Nothing special. Austere interior, with a few mis-matched chairs. Sitting area in back. Some pastries. All of the things you would expect of a normal cafe was present and accounted for. The La Marzocco machine gave me my first hint that this place was a very serious shop. We ordered a peppermint mocha and a latte. The peppermint mocha was too strong on the peppermint syrup, and it left an oily residue floating on the surface of the coffee. Nothing was wrong with the texture, but the peppermint flavor was overpowering and, at that level, tasted artificial. Not a bad mocha, happy enough with it, but I've had much better. The latte was where the fun began. Deep and flavorful. They used a light roast for their espresso. I prefer the darker stuff, but whatever they chose was perfectly roasted.

The milk was a masterpiece. Thick, velvety, and rich, all topped off with a leaf. Yes, a leaf. I got latte art. In all of Providence and the surrounding area, I've never gotten latte art. This guy was a true barista. He didn't fuck around with a spoon. He free-poured like a rock star. I must say, I've had better lattes, but that's probably associated with the roast. But none of those other lattes were made with the degree of skill that is required of latte art. Coffee by Design won the Phoenix's award for best coffee, and being their own roaster that may be true, but the barista makes the drink, and they'd be hard pressed to beat the athlete at Breaking New Grounds.

Stonewall Kitchen: I finished my visit with a quick drop into Stonewall Kitchen. Manufacturers of gourmet jams and jellies, they have an excellently appointed interior and a friendly staff. They win you over with their sheer variety. It's actually a bit awe-inspiring. They have jams made from just about every fruit known to man, as they do jellies. Toppings for sundaes, spreads for sandwiches, and tools to make your own. I bought some strawberry jam which was very good. Sweet, thick, and with perfect texture, it's some of the best jam I've had. It is expensive though, $7.50 for my jar, and enough so to make me think twice about this over, say, Smuckers, which I also think is pretty darned good. I mean, come'on, with a name like Smuckers, it has to be good. Just not as good as Stonewall. They have a selection of utensils, like spoons and spatulas. They also sell other things, like over-priced bowls, storage nooks, hand soap, moose-shaped doorknob bells, catnip, and gardening supplies. This is... weird. I can't tell if they're trying to be Linen's & Things or Williams Sonoma. This isn't a place to decorate your home. This is a place to buy jams, and a damned good one at that.

And in closing, a really creepy flier I saw.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CASE STUDY: Espresso Continued

This is a follow up to my earlier post about bad espresso, this one is about good espresso. While I don't own the world's best espresso machine, it's pretty damned good and produces a good study in how espresso should look as it comes from the machine.

STEP 1: Preparing the cup

Most espresso machines, and I'm not talking about the machines you get at Target, will come with a cup warmer on the top for eliminating the chill of the cups. This is CRITICAL. The hotter you can get the cup, the better. The hotter the cup, the less heat it will immediately sap from the espresso upon pull.

Since the cup warmer on the Capresso Z5 is really bad, I usually use the steam wand to blast raging-hot steam into the cup. I'm using a standard espresso cup with a fun design because this is the cup most people think of when you say espresso. I'll use a clear shot glass later to illustrate the heart and body. Regardless, it will be apparent how the general quality of a shot can be judged even in an opaque cup.

Step 2: Pulling the shot

I'm not actually pulling shot, here, the machine is doing it for me, but you get the picture. Look at the swirling, and the reddish tan color of the espresso as it comes from the machine. It should look like an oil coming from the spout.

Remember, espresso is a colloidal mixture of oils, proteins, sugars, and water. These do not naturally go together, which is why the crema, not so apparent in this photo, will float to the top upon finishing the pull. It's also the reason you need to get this drink to the customer as quickly as possible before separation occurs.

Step 3: Analyzing the shot

Look at that crema! Now that is a good shot. Remember the pathetic, watery crema from shot I showed you, now compare it to this. It's colored perfectly, it forms a dense, oily foam, and completely conceals the goodness below.

No matter the size, you should see this layer form on top. If you're producing a large espresso drink, use two shots. An Americano? Pull the shot directly into the hot water. Even with a lungo, the top should fill with crema. This is the single, most important metric by which to measure a shot of espresso. You can sweat the details of beans, roasts, and grinds, but once all of that is cleared, or you are a barista with no power of those decisions, this is your metier. Crema. Learn it. Know it. Love it.


Temperature is both your friend and your enemy. While it is what allows espresso to exist, the loss of it destroys everything you've worked hard to achieve. As you can see in the photo, the crema completely coats my finger in its oily goodness. This is because of the temperature allowing the oily, sugary, protein-ey mixture to co-exist. In lower temperatures, the various phases of the colloid will separate into various types of disgusting.

As you can see, I pulled the shot and it sat in the cup, the hot cup, for about 90 seconds as I prepared the various photos. A flawless barista will get that espresso to you at 150 degrees, give or take a few. If I gave this to my customer, I was not flawless. Less than two minutes in the cup resulted in a temperature of less than 138-139 degrees. The espresso has already begun its quick, inexorable journey to nastiness and time is against you. Get that espresso served!


I used the opaque cup before to prove a point. I'm now using my chosen method for producing espresso: a clear shot glass.

The clear glass lets you see into the very workings of the espresso shot. Here, you get an even better impression of the oily, viscous nature of espresso and see how truly different it is from drip coffee. At this point, it's a swirly, tan-colored mess of various substances suspended in the hot water. It doesn't look even remotely like coffee because it's so amazingly turbid. If at any point during this early production it doesn't look thick and, well, like this, you're doing something wrong. Maybe your temperature is off, maybe you didn't grind the beans fine enough, maybe your machine sucks and can't produce enough pressure, it doesn't matter. You need to produce better espresso.

Look at that! Look at the dance of colors and textures. It looks more like a freshly draughted Guinness than a coffee. It's at this point that you can see the separation of the heart and body. The heart is the dark, almost black part at the bottom, while the body is the swirling mass of particles that slowly gets consumed by the heart. Think of them as the three, separate phases of the espresso. The crema on top, the mixture of crema and heart in the body, and the body at the bottom. Taking a sip when this swirling is ongoing is one of the best aspects of home-brewed espresso.

In this photo, you can see that the heart has fully consumed the body. Settling is finished and you have only two parts, of which the crema is the only indication of the shot's quality. By this time, the shot should either be in your stomach, on its way there, or in the customer's hands. This settled, side shot also gives you an excellent indication of how thick a well-formed crema should be. In this shot, the crema was over .5cm tall. Anything less and you've got to recalibrate your process. Obviously, the amount of surface area must be considered. A wide-mouth cup would have a thinner layer, and a thinner shot glass could have a bit more.

I hope this has given you an idea of why the shot I got was so bad, and, if you didn't know already, taught you how analyze a shot you may get in a cafe. Making good espresso is at once very simple and very complex. It is something a dedicated coffee connoisseur can do at home, and something you damn well better be a master of before even considering opening a cafe.

Roba Dolce's Dolce Vita

I've known of Roba Dolce! for some time thanks to the freezer at Dave's Market. I knew they were from Providence. I knew they made gelato! I did not know about they're Italian-styled cafes on Thames in Newport, and Thayer in Providence.

During a recent four-location food bender on Thayer street, where I pumped myself so full that I had a hard time sitting in my car, I had to finish my run with some espresso. Too bad I chose to get said espresso from Roba Dolce! Too bad that espresso came in the form of an affogato. Affogato literally means 'drowned.' I know this because I used Babelfish. And that's pretty much what they do. They drown a healthy scoop of gelato in a shot of espresso. I got chocolate. Just what I needed.

Roba Dolce! makes some of the best gelato I've ever had. It's soft, rich, creamy, and bursting with all the right flavors. For example, the chocolate is a deep, darker chocolate flavor. It's not the most sweet thing on the planet and for a real chocolate lover, that's fantastic. Combined with a well-pulled espresso, this was one dynamite affogato.

Also on the menu was cappuccino. He free-poured it! A real barista! So impressive. Apparently, in the recent Starbucks re-training sessions, they were supposedly going to be taught how to free-pour a drink. Well, all I ever see is spooning. Not here, though. It was a very good cappuccino. One of the better I've had in Rhode Island. They used a lighter roast, how European of them, instead of the darker roasts popular in this country. Not better or worse, but my own proclivities lie in darker varieties. I preferred Coffee Exchange.

Coffee Exchange cannot hold a candle to what else is available in Roba Dolce!, though. A wide selection of scrumptious gelato, sandwiches, panini, and the self-styled "best lasagna on Thayer Street." A large variety of cakes, pastries, the omni-present tiramisu, and sweetbread-gelato sandwiches would keep my busy for weeks. This is a very unhealthy place.

So in conclusion, I didn't have enough even for a Quickview, but I'm definitely going back. A full review will come soon, but don't wait! Go! It was really good. A very wide selection, fun atmosphere, even if the refrigeration unit shakes the floor like a 4.7, and some of the best gelato in New England make Roba Dolce! a must-try.

UPDATE: 11/10/2008
As of February 16th, 2008, Roba!Dolce is out of business. The eviction notice was placed on the door and referenced a law suit between the owner of the cafe and what I imagine is some investment group or perhaps the owner of the property. Reagrdless, it's unfortunate. This adds to the growing number of vacancies on Thayer and it's kind of scary.

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178 Angell St
Providence, RI 02906

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CASE STUDY: Espresso

I'm going to start a new feature just for this one event. In a Case Study posting, I will analyze a single thing I receive at a restaurant or store and discuss why it's a good example or a bad example.

I'm starting this feature because of an "espresso" I received a few days ago at Brewed Awakenings, a cafe to which I recently gave three stars. This espresso was so bad I considered going back and taking back a half a star. Luckily for them, I got a good cappuccino today, so I'm not feeling vindictive anymore.

EXHIBIT A: The Espresso.

Everything is wrong with that espresso. It smelled bitter, it tasted sour and watery, and had subtle, delicate notes of butt and armpit. Baristi, everyone, do not make espresso like this. It should have been apparent to the person making, just by eyeballing it, that this was a bad pull. There was damn-near no crema on the top. None! What you see is what I got. It looks like coffee. I paid $2 for this.

I also suspect that this shot was pulled directly into the cup. I know that it's common practice to pull shots directly into an opaque cup, but I'm a perfectionist. You never, NEVER pull shots into a cardboard cup. Pull it into a heated, clear glass so you can analyze the crema, the heart, and the body to ensure the shot is of acceptable quality. Of course, that would be asking too much when this espresso quite obviously went from the machine and into my cup with nary a glance by the barista. Very, very disappointing.

So, to re-cap, you make good espresso by always filling the porta-filter. Never skimp on the grounds. Use fresh-ground beans. Run clean cycles regularly. Pull the shot into a clear glass that allows you to examine the three parts of the shot. The crema should be thick and viscous, and the heart and body should swirl around for some time before settling. In fact, the barista should never hold the espresso long enough to see the settling. He/she should know about that event as myth and legend only. Espresso begins to separate and degrade the instant it is born, so do not dawdle!

QUICKVIEW: Juniper Frozen Yogurt- +++ / $$

Oh yeah. They're gettin' sued. After trying Pinkberry in New York and being very happy with it, I was ecstatic to hear that a copycat had popped up on Thayer Street. Well, you know how life is; it fucks with you and you never seem to find time to do anything. As was the case with my desire, nay, my mission to try this new place. Finally, after over a month of kinda' sorta' doing it, I did. I came. I saw. I ate. I wasn't disappointed.

Situated in a small storefront next to Tealuxe, Juniper is easy to pass by. They have no large signs, and the small, hand-sewn letters strewn across the window don't exactly scream brand-building. They used to have, according to a photo, a name and logo on their awning, but that's now missing. I suspect that they are purposely keeping a low profile in hopes of not getting the ol' cease-and-desist. I got news for ya', it's probably in the mail.

Juniper is a pretty blatant Pinkberry ripoff. The interior aesthetic is similar, the food and menu is similar, the logo is similar, hell, it was even founded by a Korean pair (I assume from the last name). Aside from the whole marketing/legal problem, none of this is bad. I like the interior. It's clean, plastic, bright, and cheerful, if not a bit austere. The seats look hard but are pretty comfortable, and the space inside is being utilized well. Oh, and in blessed contrast to Pinkberry, they don't have thudding techno music preventing conversation.

The counter and menu are similar in structure to Pinkberry, which was similar in structure to Coldstone Creamery. You walk up, order a size, the corresponding cup is filled with frozen yogurt (represented by a cup display with what looks like cardboard poop), and you then pink (Freudian typo?) pick your toppings. Unlike Pinkberry, you don't have toppings included in sizes. You pay for a cup, $2.95 for the small, I forgot to write down the other prices, and then $1.00 for toppings. My small with three toppings cost me... oh, add the 2, carry the 12, I before E except after 9... $5.95. A little pricey, but as far as the dessert goes, comparable to Coldstone.

They have a good selection of fresh fruit. The usual suspects are present and accounted for, such as strawberries, raspberries, and bananas. They also have a selection of chocolate chips and cereals to add some crispiness to the yawgwert. The toppings were good. The strawberries were fresh and sweet, the raspberries were flavorful, and the chocolate chips were chocolately chippy. Unlike Pinkberry, the frozen yogurt here was much thicker and more yogurty. Pinkberry is very light, very tart, and crisp and icy. It's creamier, here, and not as tart. While I was initially upset that it wasn't as tart as P-Berry, it was still quite good. Different, but neither better nor worse. And, in retrospect, I wish I had gotten a large. The small I bought disappeared down my cavernous maw much too quickly.

I would assume that their smoothies are tasty, since good, fresh fruit is the most important part of any smoothie. According to an interview with the Brown University newspaper, the owners are planning a possible expansion to the menu in preparation for summer. If it's as good as everything else, I think we have a winner on our hands. That is, of course, until Pinkberry comes to town.

UPDATE 10/18/2008: Well I finally got around to posting their hours and also to report that they are free from the threat of any legal action taken by Pinkberry. The logo has been totally changed and is, in my opinion, more attractive. And is anyone as curious as I am to try and order some plain yogurt, then start chopping my own toppings on their counter just to see what they do?

Juniper: +++
Price range: $4-$10

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229 Thayer Street
Providence, RI 02906

Monday through Thursday 12:00pm to 10:00pm
Friday & Saturday 11:00am to 11:00pm
Sunday 11:00am to 10:00pm

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Logee's Greenhouse Rocks!

Logee's Greenhouse has been around since the late 1800's and it only seems to get better. They have well over 1,000 different plants, a wide variety of fruit-bearing varieties, a large greenhouse that looks like a rain forest, and a knowledgeable and friendly staff. If you have never been to Logee's, go. I can almost guarantee you will leave wanting to start your own garden.

Such an amazing place couldn't look less impressive from the road. A small back road. A small sign. A small front. All of the magic lies far into the back. The quaint entryway has a large pile of soil for immediate re-potting. They also have a fun selection of other goodies, like fresh vanilla, living rocks, and accoutrements for your new, potted friends.

You walk down a small set of stairs into the secondary greenhouse, which is directly connected to two smaller greenhouses. The focus of my adoration, fruiting plants, are scattered about, with the citrus plants way in the back. All down the middle and filling both sides are racks and racks of plants. Behind each rack is a detailed description of the plant and its requirements. The selection and quality is amazing.

The center section of each greenhouse is filled to the brim with examples of plants that grew too big for the racks. Some of the plants are enormous and cannot be shipped. The greenhouses ages lend a character that could only come with time. The old, wavy floors are themselves filled with the droppings of the nearby plants. The very ground is a wonderland of random plants and flowers that have taken up root. In the main greenhouse some of these plants have been allowed to grow so large as to bump up against the ceiling, with leaves that can measured in feet.

If you can't make the trip, make sure to stop by Logee's well-made website. It's laid out nicely, and some of the photos give you good indication of the breadth of the house layout. They may be a bit pricey, but the quality of the plants is top-notch. You would be a fool to buy your plants from anywhere else. Wal*Mart? Lowes? Ha!

This place makes the garden centers at Wal*Mart and Lowe's seem like a Toys R' Us. They get all their plants from massive plant farms (sounds odd, I know) in Mexico. No wonder your ferns from Wal*Mart seem to die after three weeks. The quality and selection is unmatched for as far as I know. I've been on two occasions recently and have still not seen every greenhouse. I've bought far too many plants than would have been rational. And I now dedicate a large chunk of every day making sure my new friends are trimmed, lit, and well watered. And I'm loving every second of it.

The Secret Revealed!

Well, I went into a Starbucks, today. It was as I discovered yesterday, a handout of a coffee samples. At first blush, this doesn't seem like a big deal, but I think it kind of is. While they're marketing the Pike Place Roast as their new daily roast, what really makes this important is the return to freshly scooped and ground coffee on premises. It also is the nationwide introduction of cheaper drinks, undoubtedly in response the tailspin (ooh we oh!) of the economy.

All the changes are, obviously, the Pike Place roast, cheaper drinks like cafe misto, on-site scooping and grinding, and, strangely, the old logo on cups. Like, the very old logo. Obviously, they're really trying to drive home the return to tradition, but the logo betrays reality. They're not entirely about a return, perhaps because that is impossible.

Only marketing and Starbucks geeks knew about the old logo, and they also know that the Starbucks which had that logo has very little to do with the Starbucks of today. Today's 'Bucks is the baby of Howard Shultz, through and through. The original owners, who actually started Starbucks in '71, sold the place to Schultz in 1987. Before then, they sold beans, spices, and other weird, hippy stuff... and NO espresso!. While it's cute to go back to the pre-Starbucks Starbucks, at it's heart, it makes little sense.

I mentioned that the logo betrays a deeper reality, that the past is the past and there's no going back. Aside from the change in wording, of course necessitated by Starbucks not actually selling spices, notice that the siren is no longer bare-breasted. I consider this the most important revelation of the day. Scooping coffee? Cheaper drinks? Those are all obvious business decisions that any first year marketing student could come up with. But insight into the very functioning of the company, that's rare. This tiny detail.

A cowardly decision, in my mind. If you don't have the balls to go all the way, don't pretend like you do. I fully understand why they did it, but I still disagree. I would have gone whole-hog. Moreoever, this doesn't bode well. Real change means rocking the boat, if they're too scared of rocking the boat to simply show two, little dots to affirm their dedication to tradition, how the hell can we expect them to have the balls to really rock the boat and effect change.

How the Starbucks Siren Became Less Naughty (
The Evolution of the Starbucks Logo (Brand Autopsy)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Something Brewing?

Does anyone know what's going down at Starbucks, tomorrow? There was a big, full-page ad in the Times looking as though somebody murdered a coffee cup. Their website is now in full display, too. Well, the secrecy is interesting if nothing else. I'm... excited?

UPDATE: Ok, nothing all that big. It's a new roast that's all eco-happy, being sponsored by Conservation International(?). You also get a free short coffee of the new roast. This is, of course, five cents worth of coffee, but kudos for effort.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Quickview Key Change

I changed the review key for my Quickviews to better represent what I mean. I found myself restricted by the language. Some places I could not reasonably return, like a location in Alaska on a visit, but would if I could. So instead of rating based on whether I planned to return or not, I'm rating it on whether I would return if it was reasonable to do so. Thus, I have changed the words "will/won't return" to "would/would not return."