Department of Health Letter Grades, Timely U-Pik Eggs, and Sexy Surf and Turf at Xaviars at Piermont

  Westchester County Department of Health: No Letter Grades!


Phew. It looks like Manhattan’s new bugaboo—prominently posted letter grades—will not spread north to Westchester, which is slightly disappointing for me, because what’s more scandalous than a treasured hang getting a C? (This Gothamist post was a fun one: It calculated that McSorley’s Ale House would pull a C- but, wait a second… are they calling those onion/mustard sandwiches food?)

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Letter grades are gossipy and, yes, scandalous, but anyone who has endured a DOH inspection knows, DOH inspectors are not perfect health code enforcers. They miss things, and have personal …peccadilloes. A fully operating kitchen has so many nooks. Preparing a dish requires so many processes. And rarely do the inspectors visit at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night, when kitchens are in full swing. That means that the inspections cannot cover every aspect of a restaurant’s sanitation, though the inspectors must—and do—pass judgment.

True story. After college, I worked for a highly rated, expensive caterer who stored canned goods in a rodent-infested basement that the inspector didn’t know about. We washed salad in the dishwashing sink (where the dishwasher rinsed food off plates before loading into the machine). We left scores of raw tenderloins out for hours to come up to room temperature before we roasted them. And we cooks were asked to re-use butter that had been returned from the tables. These all strike me as pretty unsanitary practices.

Yet the inspector that we were assigned only visited during prep, and never saw the salad being washed or the tenderloins sitting. No one told him about the basement storage, or—obviously—about the recycled butter sporting the occasional bread crumb. He never saw our deli-style fridges overloaded and rising in temperature; his personal bugaboo was our can opener and staff hair coverings. So we sent the can opener through the dishwasher and donned our un-creased, brand-new caps. Amazingly, we cooks never had hat-head—the caps weren’t on long enough.

The popular imagination envisions DOH inspectors as hanging judges, shutting down violators with court-ordered closures. It’s true, it does happen—but for the most part, inspectors don’t operate by fiat. They “work with” restaurateurs, writing up violations, revisiting, checking up, advising. Restaurants earning scores of violations are permitted to open that very night.

My own dining habits will not be affected by DOH grades. I eat everything, everywhere. I don’t think the DOH is a perfect judge of sanitation (though, to be honest, it’s our only one). A prominent Westchester chef, who prefers to remain anonymous, says it more concisely: “Every inspector has his or her own pet peeve and they are all necessary and vital sanitary procedures. However, they come in the door looking for that specific violation and often miss more hazardous conditions. Like it or not, DOH inspections are an integral part of the restaurant industry and they work to keep us all safe. That being said, I have eaten at many a ‘C’ operation and I’m still here.”

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Ditto for me, but how about you? Would you eat in a B-rated restaurant? How about a C? Let me know why or why not.

U-Pik Eggs

The recent furor over salmonella-laced, factory-farm eggs shows that now it’s more important than ever to Know Your Chicken. Besides offering a day on the farm, these programs stress ethical agriculture and responsible foodways, so you’ll understand why paying more for traditionally raised farm eggs is good for you, chickens, and the planet.

Pick Your Own Eggs at Blue Hill at Stone Barns – September 4, 5, 11am — noon, $12
This family event gets everyone into the act. From the site: “During this program you and your family will get an inside peek at egg production on a small farm while getting hands-on experience with our chickens. Join us to collect freshly laid eggs, then hand-wash and package them just like Stone Barns’ farmers do. The fresh eggs you’ve collected will be yours to take home and enjoy! You will never look at farm work or store-bought eggs in the same way. Each participant receives half a dozen eggs to take home.”

 Chicken Chatter at Muscoot Farm – September 8,10am — 11am or 1pm — 2pm
This program for three- to five-year-olds teaches kids about raising chickens; you’ll see no vast factory egg barn at this traditional county farm. Pre-registration is required for these classes, so visit www.muscootfarm.org or call (914) 864-7286.

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Marrow Mania at Xaviars at Piermont

Call us iron-deficient. We’re on a marrow-bone bender, endlessly scooping out fatty blood matrix with our cool, cruel-looking scalpels. Roasted marrow-bones —like these, offered at Xaviar’s — satisfy our primal blood-lust, and pack all the beefy/roasty flavor of a Sunday dinner. What could be better? This is Executive Chef Peter Kelly’s take on surf and turf: check out the black ceramic spoons piled high with juicy lobster chunks.

 

Factory Farm = Death

Check out this discussion of the Iowan egg/salmonella scandal. Michael Pollan weighs inMarion Nestle weighs in, and, just to be fair, Eric Eckholm’s piece in the Times muddies the water. I don’t know about you folks, but I’m going to need to look my next egg’s layer in the eye.

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