Sakagura and a few thoughts on restaurants

We returned to Olstead when the weather was brutally cold.  One of the wonderful things about Olmstead is their beautiful backyard.  It is the perfect place to have a pre-dinner drink or an after-dinner drink or just a drink.  Not when it is below 15 degrees.  I didn’t take any photos as we had been before but the food was incredible.  Some of the most creative, delicious, interesting dishes I have had in quite awhile.  I am really looking forward to going back when the backyard is screaming spring is here.

We went to a new spot, Sakagura, that is not new to NYC but new to us.  They have been around since 1996 and consider themselves a pioneer in introducing sake to NYC.  Located in midtown, underneath an office building, in a large funky space.  There is something very edgy to the place as it isn’t fancy at all but has this great funky vibe.  A great sake menu and a really good Japanese small plate menu.  We shared everything and we enjoyed each bite.  The highlights were the raw, seared Kobe beef covered with daikon radish and ponzu sauce.

Sweet soy marinated salmon was the special of the day.  Each of us had one of these pieces that just fell off the bone.  Really good.

Unisoba is buckwheat noodles topped with sea urchin in a sea urchin broth.  Yum.

There were other dishes but those were the tops.  Even dessert was delicious and simple.  Sesame ice cream over a sesame creme brulee and a crispy sesame chip.

We also went to Union Square Cafe for a meal.  I applaud that they reopened the spot nearby after 20+ years but have yet to wrap my arms around the look of the new place.  It looks like the old place so it feels very 80’s to me and I don’t why they didn’t keep some references vs trying to just stick with the complete look.  This is not our first time there.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy some of the dishes but it was the service.  Super slow out of the kitchen and also slow in regards to paying attention to the table and that was the same as the last time.  Even the pasta with the white truffles of the season wasn’t shaved at the table but brought out already on the pasta from the kitchen.  I know that all of USHG restaurants have eliminated tipping but I am not sure it works here like it does in Europe.  People who work there are making a lot less income and the service shows.  Some other restaurants have tried the no-tip policy and have returned to it.  I’d be surprised if the data pointed to this concept actually working for the hospitality piece of the business.

Back to Sakagura and Olmstead for sure.

Ugly Baby

Emily went to Ugly Baby a few times before the big reviews began putting this restaurant on everyone’s list.  She kept telling me to go because the food was incredible.  Then the onslaught began with people waiting for hours as there are no reservations and only 25 seats.  If you live in Carrol Gardens, delivery is always available but for anyone else in the city, you have to get there early or brave the lines.

We were in Brooklyn around 430 on Thursday night and I suggested we go to Ugly Baby early and see if we could get in.  There were a few seats taken at 545 and by 620 there was a line.  We were there at 545 and sat ourselves down.  The room is simple with splotches of oranges, reds, greens and blue paint on the wall.  The kitchen is open and towards the back. It is so clean it almost sparkles.

There are 18 things on the menu not including a nice selection of beers.  Some of the dishes are noted as spicy which means it is seriously spicy as pretty much everything has heat.  We stayed away from the serious heat.  People that can handle high levels of heat have trained themselves over the years eating spicy food, unfortunately, we haven’t and the first bite Fred took gave him hiccups.

We had four dishes.  The first was Kao Tod Nam Klook which is curried rice with pork skin, peanuts & ginger.  The rice comes with all of these things in it and I really like how the peanuts are whole served with pieces of lettuce to wrap the rice in to eat with pieces of basil to add to the wrap.  After the first bite, the extreme layers of flavors take over and then pow, your entire mouth is on fire.  This dish is incredible if you can stand the heat because if the heat takes over you lose out on how nuances of all the spices.  It was a tough dish for us.

This dish was a nice counter-balance.  Pad Tua Ngok Rau Kao which is King Bhumibol’s stir-fried bean sprouts with minced pork & tofu.  Lots of flavors and pretty much no heat.  The crunchiness of the sprouts with the flavor of the pork and softness of the tofu is a good combo.

Khoong Muk Kai Kem which shrimp, squid & salted egg yolk is excellent.  The sauce holds tightly to the squid and shrimp because of the egg.  Really fresh ingredients and just the right amount of heat.  Huge winner.  Goes nicely with the white rice they serve on the side.  The rice is soft and fluffy and grabs that sauce perfectly.  The rice also helps cool off the heat.

Our fourth dish was Gai Golae which is southern style chicken thigh skewers.  These are juicy with a light yet layered curry flavor.  I could eat this all day long.  Perfectly balanced spices.

The food is really good.  It is authentic Thai food.  Ugly Baby is a name that helps to cause good fortune in Thailand.  People refer to their babies as ugly babies with the belief that by not praising their child and calling them ugly that good fortune will come to their baby.  The name definitely worked here.  Get there early because even at 930 at night, the line can be up to 3 hours.  It is the 25 seats that keep the food amazing.  The people in the kitchen just keep putting out the same dishes but in small doses and it works.


What is happening to the dance?

I have posted several times about the bad behavior of men and how it is unacceptable especially from men in power who have used that to take advantage of women (and men) who are put in positions where they are scared to say anything because they are told not to and mostly because they are concerned about the impact on their careers.  Someone finally spoke up and there has been a wake-up call that has spread like fire.  There are a few industries who have yet to be drawn in but it is only time before we see them unravel too.

Yet, there is a huge difference between powerful sexual harassment and stupidity.  I am fearful of putting them in one big pot as it minimizes the really bad offenders.  And so I ask the question, what is happening to the dance?  The dance being men flirting with women and women flirting with men.  Over the past 50 years, a lot has changed in regards to sex and dating.  Perhaps it is the long-tail of birth control.  There were the days in the 1950’s when if a single woman got pregnant, she was ostracized and looked down upon, but now if you are responsible, you can have sex freely without getting pregnant until you want to get pregnant.  That has created a different playing field for women who feel empowered to hook-up with men for a one-night stand where 50 years ago that was shunned. There is a slew of dating apps that are used for that alone.  Now it is the norm but perhaps the expectations of women are different from men when it comes to hooking up and it shouldn’t be.

There is also social media.  You can take to the airways when an evening did not go as planned.  You can take to the airways when someone at work said something stupid or did something stupid.  Maybe it is the access to our smartphones that makes it easier to just relay what is going on in our heads.  Here is the thing, we all have voices and we need to use them.  If you meet on an app or meet someone at a party or a colleague asks you out and the evening takes a turn that you didn’t see coming, then speak up.  We can all say, this is not ok, no I do not want to go back to your place with you, please get your hand off my leg, thanks but no thanks, I am not interested in you and so forth.  Words are powerful and we are taught them as a young child to speak up.  Go into any 4-year-old class and the teacher says over and over again, “use your words”.  Speak up before writing a social media piece that destroys someone’s character that doesn’t deserve to be destroyed.

I am not minimalizing anything that happened to anyone but women and men put themselves out there in ways where the rules are changing and nobody seems quite sure of the rules.  Let’s use our voices in the moment not after the fact leaving the one person completely ignorant of their behavior until they are called out on the plate in a post.  Do it in the moment.  It is fun to dance but nobody can read someone’s mind, they can only understand clear concise words especially when they are yes or no

Design that Speaks to a Rising Ride, Rachel Berks, Otherwild, Podcast #49

This week I chatted with Rachel Berks, owner of Otherwild and designer behind the insanely popular ‘The Future Is Female’ t-shirt. Rachel had a lot to say about the unexpected reach of her design work, the steps she took to get enough freedom in her business to create, and how she’s dealt with having her work copied by other artists.

Porter Road Butchers

Food has always been a top priority in our household and that means sourcing healthy products.   I have probably tried every new ice cream that has come on the market and if a new product comes across my desk, I order it and try that too.  One of the most important products I have sourced over the years is meat (and chicken).  I want to know where these products are coming from, that they are delicious and full of flavor, and that they do not come from mass production facilities.  I buy directly from butchers and have probably ordered from more than a dozen places around the country.  I have done my own research in this area.

When an investor who I am a fan of and who I have done deals with before, started to talk to me about Porter Road Butchers, and their business, I got really excited.  The butchers/founders, who are out of Nashville, have been providing no antibiotic, hormone-free and pasture-raised products to consumers and businesses for years.  They were looking to build their business so that anyone could buy them and have them delivered to their door.  Packaging was incredibly important as most of the meat shippers do not use environmentally friendly packaging.  They wanted the next step in their growth to reflect what they have built locally.

First of all, I had to try their products to confirm that they were delicious….and they are.  I am now an investor in Porter Road Butchers and am excited to be part of their journey.  The products come vacuum-sealed so you can either keep them in the fridge depending on the product (meats can stay for up to 10 days) or freeze them until you are ready to use them.  I love putting meats in the freezer knowing that I can just pull it out of the freezer in the morning, sit the product in a bowl of cold water to defrost and have a product I believe in ready for dinner that night.

Order something, I promise you will enjoy the experience especially the taste.


Paying for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The MET announced that visitors who do not live in NY State will soon have to pay a $25 admission fee vs the past pay-as-you-wish fee of the past.  The articles and conversations around this change have been interesting and of course, the common theme is that the museums should be open to all.

The MET had been poorly managed for years with losses in the tens of millions.  That comes as no surprise if anyone spent some time peeking under the hood of most non-profit organizations.  They rarely run with the thought of being fiscally responsible.  They hire expensive consultants to give direction around projects instead of turning to their own staff or board members.  The mindset for many is that they can always go out and raise capital from wealthy donors to make their budget work.  Boards should hold the organization to a balanced budget and that includes being creative in the attempt to be profitable or at least to have no losses.

Museums and parks in most foreign countries are generally free.  The states/countries have a line item in their budgets to make sure that these cultural institutions are open to everyone.  There is wisdom in that, perhaps a civic duty.  Unfortunately, our public budgets can’t even afford to upgrade our transportation which is why our subway tunnels look like something out of 1940 so adding cultural institutions to the budget is not on the to-do list.  These institutions are kept running through private funding, from donors, from visitors and if they are lucky, foundations.  Also, the cultural institutions in NYC and I would assume throughout our country, make it their mission to engage the under-served communities around them to make them part of the programs they run.

When I was involved with school activities and we created the pay-as-you-wish fee, we found that the first year that we instated that rule, we made more cash.  It was the importance of embracing everyone to participate regardless of their income so the school activities could be true community events.  We were very transparent about why we had this kind of payment system.  If the MET, and others, espoused that it was private money that kept the doors open and to change the conversation, perhaps the pay-as-you-wish fee would work in their favor.  I wonder if people who travel here from around the globe even understand that their dollars are how the doors stay open.  We support the arts by belonging to almost every cultural organization in the city because I know that our donations go to the bottom line.

This change at the MET is indicative of one of my pet peeves about non-profit organizations and cultural institutions which is poor fiscal management, lack of transparency and not being able to think out of the box.  It is the people who can’t afford to walk in those doors that miss out and it is more than unfortunate, it is sad.

Company names

The naming of a company is not easy.  Buying the URL is even more difficult.  Once a name is picked, the URL is purchased, then it is about building the brand around that name.  If I gave it more thought than I did, Gotham Gal might not have been the name I would have chose but it stuck and it is what it is now and there is no going back.

There are certain industries, where having your own personal name on the door is what people choose.  Perhaps ego or perhaps lack of imagination but I have never understood it.  It is hard to build a company to sell when your name is on the door.  I have spoken about this before that I want to see more women build Googles, Twitters and Tumblrs vs a Martha or Oprah.  Also, when your name isn’t on the door, there is a different mindset.

One of the industries that has been connected to someone’s name forever is the fashion industry.  When I saw the Dior exhibit at the Museum des Decoratifs in Paris, what was fascinating is that the Dior house began in 1946 and he died in 1957, yet the brand has continued on with new designers at the helm who have modernized the brand yet each new design head has made each of their reigns feel fluid as if Dior was still behind the door.

Many of this generation’s new fashion brands such as Rag & Bone, Common Projects, and the Row, have built brands without most consumers knowing who the designers are behind the product.  It is smart as it is the brand that shines not necessarily the players behind it and that makes it easier to be agile…and if you want, an exit.

Creating company culture starts day one

Many founders are brilliant product people and will tell you that managing a company and creating culture is the biggest thing that they struggle with.  Creating company culture starts when you go from one person to two, aka day one.  On the other side, the importance of working in companies where you fit into the culture is just as important.  You could go see ten companies in one building on one day and feel the different vibe the second you walk in the door.

Katherine Zaleski wrote an editorial that was published in the NYTimes on Sunday about gender-blind job interviews.  She writes about the new gender-masking tools that are being built by start-ups.  I have been pitched by a few of them and although I appreciate what they are trying to do, I don’t believe that software is the fix to gender-diverse companies.  It might help women get through the first couple of interviews easier but building an inclusive company is not a software fix.

Building a gender-balanced company is about creating a culture that women and men feel comfortable in, where respect and collaboration is a priority, where respecting parents to make their children their number one priority is embraced, where each team works hard to make sure that there are just as many women at the table as men, where the C-suite also has as many women as men and where a myriad of faces is an important consideration.

All of these factors are as equally important as the product that the company is built on.  It is about creating an inclusive environment and by making this a priority from day one.  The data has shown that companies with strong diversity are more successful.  It is hard work to build a company that has a product-market fit and it is just another step of hard work to create diverse gender-balanced companies.  The rewards will pay off and in time it will become easier to do so because the environments are built for everyone and anyone.  This is not one of those fixes that can happen with software, it is about building a culture with eyes wide open.

Sessions Cannabis Idiocy

When Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo this past week it defined everything wrong with this current administration.  They are living in the past and any data-driven factual information is not calculated into any decisions that they make.  It is frightening.

I could start by pointing to the coal industry that they feel a need to keep alive although every other country is phasing it out. Or how about their interest in drilling for more oil although it doesn’t take much to see that there is a lot of change happening in the energy space that is a win for the environment and creates new jobs but that would be asking too much of them to focus on new big picture opportunities.  It is a pack of white men who have industries cash deep in their pockets to keep them in power and has nothing to do with intellect or representation of the people who elected them.  On top of it all, the office of the President has lost all respect when on a daily basis we see tweets from anyone calling out all these officials with vile, derogatory language.  In only one year we have sunk to an all-time low level of decency.  Sad for all of us.

Back to cannabis.  As a nation we are legally killing people with opiates and alcohol yet nobody has ever died of a cannabis overdose.  It would be worthwhile for Sessions to understand the benefits of cannabis proven by medical institutions who are digging deeper to understand the multitude of health benefits that can also fight disease.  If he would read the facts he would discover that we should continue to move forward with legalization in every state.  The Cole Memo has allowed more Americans to enjoy the health benefits, the economic benefits (taxation and regulation) and not see friends and family members put in jail for possession which is costly and destroys people lives and families over something so inconsequential.  Our prisons are filled with people for small amounts of marijuana possession.  For 70 years we have used cannabis to lock up young black men and it is disgusting.  Although our Government officials have had zero problems making sure opiates and alcohol are legal while taking money from lobbyists in those industries to make sure that cannabis is treated just like heroin even though it is an opioid epidemic that is killing communities across the country.

It is unfortunate that Sessions is such a backward thinker and an intellectual lightweight.  History will not be kind to him or this administration’s social policies.  The smart states will break away and benefit from the taxes and regulation.  Rescinding the Cole Memo will backfire as there are a lot of pot smoking Republicans out there who don’t like paying taxes and read Breitbart.  Sessions isn’t putting this genie back in the bottle.  The ship has sailed.  If anything, his backward thinking without any data and his super right pious conservative views are only costing the Republicans votes.  Over 64% of Americans think that cannabis should be legal and 89% believe in medical legalization.

We should be federally legalizing cannabis now as it will happen at one point in the future and it will good for our economy as well as the health and well being of many.  Honestly, someone should give that man a joint.

Listening to Customer #1, Jordan Salcito, Ramona, Podcast #48

Jordan Salcito is the sommelier and entrepreneur behind two successful beverage ventures — Bellus Wines and RAMONA. To kick off 2018, Jordan and I sat down to talk about her path towards entrepreneurship, and how she really followed herself as potential customer #1 to drive the ideas behind each of her businesses.