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Six months ago on our City Desk blog, I started fielding inquiries from readers under the startlingly original heading of “Ask Tim.” No doubt many of you have overlooked the feature because, well, you’ve been watching animals humping on YouTube. If you ever get tired of that (like that’s possible), send me a question of your own at email@example.com. Here are the best ones I got this year:
• In October, Erin Ferguson of Gaithersburg asked: “Why does leaving the pit in the avocado keep it green longer?”
Frankly, I’ve never thought the pit did much of anything—other than take up room that would be better filled with lush, fatty flesh. I came to my belief the hard way. I, too, once trusted that old wives’ tale about plopping the pit into freshly made guacamole if you want to prevent browning. Yeah, right, and strippers really do want you.
Well, I guess there’s a reason why I’m a food writer and not a chemist. Barry Swanson, professor of food science at Washington State University, tells me that avocado pits actually do contain a group of chemicals—called flavonoids—that slow down the browning process.
Just don’t expect miracles. The truth is, once you disrupt the avocado’s cells, allowing enzymes to mix with substrates, the browning process is inevitable. The pit, Swanson says, “will slow the browning reaction a little bit. So…for example, if [you] took a knife and cut it to the pit, it’s going to brown a little bit less, probably, in the center than it will on the outside.” Likewise, the pit will help slow browning in your guacamole “a little bit,” the professor says, “but probably not a whole lot.”
If you really want to keep your guac green, Swanson suggests two things: The first is to blend your guacamole well and “get an emulsion going.” In other words, there’s so much fat in an avocado that, if stirred well, it can prevent enzymes and substrates from doing their browning dance.
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His other suggestion: Add lemon or lime juice to your guac, preferably lemon, since it apparently has more of the acid you need. “Lemon juice, containing citric acid, is going to help you keep it much greener than the pit ever will,” Swanson says.
• In August, Robert Renner of Silver Spring had alcohol on the brain: “Normally, when you buy a bottle from [a restaurant’s wine] list and you don’t finish it, you aren’t allowed to take the rest with you, at least in D.C. But what if the bottle that was opened at the restaurant was one that you brought? Can you take the rest home?”
Robert, I offer this rhetorical question in response: Who would have guessed Maryland, with all its weird alcohol laws, would be more progressive on this issue than D.C.? Last year, a law went into effect that allows Maryland diners to take home unfinished bottles of wine consumed in Free State restaurants. The only caveat is that you must transport the recorked bottles in a locked glove compartment, trunk, or other cargo area. Hey, we can’t have you swiggin’ that vino as you weave your way back to Beltsville.
In D.C., however, you must suck down that bottle at the restaurant and hope to Christ you avoid the checkpoints. Cynthia Simms, community resource officer for D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, says that the Alcohol Beverage Control regulations don’t allow diners to remove BYOB wine from restaurants. She read this to me from Chapter 7 of the general operating requirements for licensees:
The holder of an on-premise retailer’s license may permit a patron to bring to and consume on the licensed premises an alcohol beverage that the licensee is permitted to sell or serve under its on-premise retailer’s license.…However, the holder of an on-premise retailer’s license shall not permit any alcoholic beverage opened on the licensed premises to be removed from the licensed premises.
So what exactly does a licensee do with a leftover bottle? I checked with Dean Gold, owner of Dino in Cleveland Park, which has one of the best Italian wine programs in the region. Does an unfinished bottle just get dumped down the drain, Dean?
“Something like that,” he jokes. “Maybe the staff [drinks it] or the owner. It depends upon if it’s an old Brunello.”
• In July, Kate Antoniades of Gaithersburg asked a question that generated more comments—70—than any other item posted on our blog: “I always like to tip servers at least 20 percent, but lately I’ve been hearing that ‘20 percent is the new 15 percent.’ Is this true?”
This is a tricky question because of the way the American restaurant industry has positioned wait service: Servers must meet every diner’s goddamn unspoken expectation, and if they don’t, the diner has the “right” to stiff ’em. That’s the way the merit system works. Servers must perform for their cash like organ-grinder monkeys at the table.
But the issue is more complex than that. The cost of living keeps rising—I believe my last gas bill came with a ransom note—and servers may not even pocket all their tips. They may have to split them with busboys, bartenders, and runners. While you have the right to stiff your waiter or waitress for poor service, you should also consider the ethical side of this monetary exchange. Each dollar you withhold is one less for these people to live off.
My position is this: I always give 20 percent. I give more when the service is great.
I also put this question to two restaurateurs—Ashok Bajaj, owner of many restaurants in the District, including Rasika, Oval Room, and Ardeo; and Manuel Iguina, owner of Mio and former GM at Café Atlántico and Restaurant Nora.
“The answer is ‘yes,’” Bajaj says. “Twenty percent is the new 15 percent. I think it started about five or six years ago…after the Internet boom, when everything was going well. Everyone was looking for better service.…So then it sort of became the norm.”
But with the average check price going up, I ask Bajaj, isn’t the 20 percent tip a double whammy on the diner’s pocketbook? “Everything has changed,” Bajaj says. “You could get a decent apartment for $800; now it’s $1,400 for a one-bedroom.…Salmon [used to] be $3.95; now it’s $8.50. So everything’s relative. With inflation, everything’s gone up.”
Iguina has a different take on the 20 percent threshold: “I’m a 20 percent tipper, if not more, if I’m blown away by somebody. But let me give you something that happened to me the other day. I went to this place, and I didn’t get any kind of service that I wanted, and they put an 18 percent tip on the check, and it was a party of four…I was a little bit upset about it, because I think the gratuity should be optional for service.…There should not be a minimum or a maximum.”
And yet, Iguina admits that he always leaves at least 15 percent, no matter how bad the service, because he knows servers “live on tips.” Bottom line: Don’t be an asshole. Give your servers something to live with.
Eatery tips? Food pursuits? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 466.