Skinny Cans

Kish went out to the grocery store the other day and came back with some Diet Coke — but it doesn’t look like any Diet Coke I’ve ever seen before.  This version is packaged in much taller and skinnier cans than were previously used.  The cans are almost as tall as your standard bottle of bottled water and about a third skinnier in diameter.

The redesign of the Diet Coke can seems like smart marketing to me.  If you’re trying to sell your product to people who are watching their calories, why not design a package that fits better with the known aspirations of the purchaser?  If you were hoping to lose a few pounds and were buying some Diet Coke as part of that process, which product design would be more appealing to you:  the squat, sturdy cans that used to be the standard, or these new cans that are notably willowy and elegant by comparison?  Would you rather take a swig from a thickset, brick-like can, or grasp a cool, slender can that looks like it might float away on a light breeze?  I’m guessing that the marketing tests that inevitably were part of the process of rolling out the new can design showed that a lot of purchasers preferred the decidedly leaner cans because the purchasers are hoping to be decidedly leaner, too, one of these days.

When I saw the new Diet Coke cans it reminded me of the introduction of Virginia Slims cigarettes years ago.  Virginia Slims were considerably longer, and skinnier, than standard-sized cigarettes; they almost looked like you were using a cigarette holder.  The advertising campaign for the new brand inevitably showed lissome, obviously sophisticated women clad in evening gowns having their Virginia Slims being lit by handsome gentlemen in tuxedos at elegant parties.  The slenderness of the cigarettes was a consciously planned part of the product — as the name of the brand confirmed — and it was all designed to capture the aspirations of a segment of the smokers’ market.

I don’t know if they still sell Virginia Slims, but I’m guessing the new Diet Coke design will be a success.  If you want to be thinner, why not buy thinner?

Now, what’s with the ginger-lime flavor of this product that Kish brought home?

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All Beers Are Not Created Equal

Deutsche Bank has performed a useful service for travelers who enjoy a fermented beverage now and then:  its latest Mapping The World’s Prices report includes a pint of beer as one of the cost items being surveyed.  As a result, beer fans (like me) can get a sense of the comparative cost of a glass of suds in 50 different cities around the world.

save-pubs-hed-page-2018According to this year’s report, the most expensive pint is in Dubai, in the Arab Emirates, where the average cost of a cold one is $12.  Oslo, Norway is the only other city to exceed the $10 barrier for a brewski.  The most expensive beers in the U.S. are found in New York City and San Francisco — no surprise there — where you’ll pay an average of $7.70 and $7.40, respectively, and Boston isn’t far behind at $6.70.  The cheapest pint can be found in Manila, in the Philippines, where beer afficionados can slake their thirst for only $1.50.  Columbus isn’t one of the 50 cities on the list, but in my experience the beer costs here are closer to the Manila end of the spectrum — which is one of the many nice things about living in Ohio’s capital city.

But while the Deutsche Bank report is useful for travelers who might want to factor in beer costs to their trip planning, it really doesn’t tell the whole story.  A beer isn’t always just a beer.  To me, at least, whether we’re talking about a lager, an ale, one of those infernal bitter IPAs that seem to dominate beer menus these days, or something else, would make a real difference.  Even $1.50 for an IPA would be more than I would pay.

And the setting is important, too.  I’m guessing that someone coming into a pub from the fiery heat of Dubai might consider $12 for a cold one to be a bargain.  And speaking as someone who particularly enjoys the dark, warm, woody ambiance of a real British pub like the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden, I’ll gladly pay $7.20 that is the average cost of a beer in London.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXI)

Sometimes, you just want something quick over the noon hour.  Yesterday, work demanded that the New Mentee and I get back to our desks promptly, so she suggested that we head to the Elia Athenian Grill.  It’s in one of the storefronts along High Street near the corner of Broad and High, where a lot of food places have come and gone in recent years.  Unlike some of its predecessors, Elia has shown some staying power.

Elia Athenian Grill is designed for the busy worker who is not going to be lingering over lunch.  You order at a counter, choosing from four base options — a pita, a salad, a grain bowl, or a “mixed bowl” — and then you identify toppings to be added as you move down the line.  By the time you reach the cashier and pay your food is ready and you grab your tray and head to one of the nearby tables.

I went the pita route, and had them assemble a pocket of “chicken yeero” — chopped chicken, helpfully presented on the menu in phonetic fashion for those of us who always wondered exactly how “gyro” is pronounced — with onions, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce.  And, because the preparer behind the counter said it was “traditional,” she added a few french fries on top.  I’m not sure that french fries are in fact traditional Greek fare, but the meat was good, the sauce added a pleasant zing, and adding a few fries meant that I got a reasonably limited exposure to french fries without have to deal with a mound of them.  In short, the pita was good, and filling.

The New Mentee went for something called a Power Green Mix salad, which featured kale, romaine, spinach, chards, and cabbage, hummus, olives, some kind of non-meat substance that looked like meatballs, and God knows what else.  There was a lot of leafy green stuff in that bowl, so I tried to avert my eyes and not give it too close an inspection.  Clearly, the New Mentee needs mentoring in the food department!  Nevertheless, I did observe that, after eating about half of the Power Green Mix, she walked back to the firm, clutching her carry-out bowl, with a demonstrably more powerful stride.

Elia obviously has a solid core of regulars; the Bus Riding Conservative came in when we were there and no doubt grabbed a Power Green Mix to consume at his desk.  And the New Mentee was right — we were in and out in 45 minutes, easy.  Elia Athenian Grill is a good option if you’re in downtown Columbus looking for something speedy . . . or a Power Green Mix.

Air Fare

Once, far in the past and well beyond the recollection of modern travelers, American airlines used to serve actual food on planes.  To quote Steely Dan, those days are gone forever, over a long time ago.  Now, on most flights, it’s a quick offering of lukewarm coffee and some kind of “snack.”

And it’s not like the “snack” options present the air passenger with a broad smorgasbord of mouth-watering choices, either.  Typically, three choices are offered, and two of them inevitably are peanuts and pretzels.  Any time, day or night, whether you’re on an early morning flight or trying to just get home before midnight, you can get twice your daily quotient of sodium by having the flight attendant hand you a tiny bag of greasy peanuts or stale pretzels.  Somewhere, somewhen, airlines entered into a devil’s pact with the peanut growers and pretzel bakers of America and agreed that they would comprise two of the three choices offered American air travelers.

Do you ever wonder what kind of exotic, interesting, and possibly non-salt-laden food is offered on Air India, or Air Mozambique flights?  What does Finnish Air furnish to its passengers?  We can be reasonably certain that peanuts and pretzels aren’t on the menu in every airline flying anywhere in the world.  It makes you want to fly on an international airline just to see what kinds of alternatives might actually be presented.  This is a radical notion, but perhaps — just perhaps — the offerings move beyond the already overused nut and salt categories.

If, like me, the idea of eating pretzels or salty peanuts isn’t all that appealing on a 7 a.m. flight, your focus is on the third option.  If you’re lucky, it’s some kind of granola bar or trail mix — something substantial, and chewy, and maybe with a fleck or two of dried fruit in it.  If that’s not available, you hope for the generic faux biscotti cookie/cracker, which at least is edible and not overpoweringly sugary or artificially flavored.  But sometimes, you get some mad airline food buyer’s failed experiment — like the maple-flavored cookies I was handed on a recent flight.  Really, maple-flavored?  How many people really crave the maple taste on anything other than a stack of buttery pancakes?  Can’t airlines at least aim for the middle, and try to identify food offerings that are reasonably calculated to appeal to a significant chunk of the weary air travelers of America?

I ate the maple wafers, of course, and I can say that while they were maple-flavored, at least there weren’t many of them.

It’s time to start booking some overseas travel.

 

 

Waiter’s Choice

Sometimes, after a long day of work on the road, I’ll get to a restaurant, review its lengthy menu, and just not feel like making tough decisions about what to order. In such circumstances, it’s nice to have a waiter who will make knowledgeable recommendations about the options, without mouthing platitudes about whatever happens to be the daily special.

So it was last night at Fork Restaurant in Boise, Idaho, an excellent bistro that advertises itself as being “loyal to local.” Our waiter was experienced and glad to offer candid suggestions after asking a few basic questions like whether I wanted red or white wine or meat, fish, or vegetable. I accepted his recommendations across the board and ended up with a very fine Syrah from the northwest and succulent, melt in your mouth beef short ribs — which you can’t really see in the photo above because they are covered in crunchy Idaho “potato hay.”

His recommendations were so good that when we were considering dessert we decided to blindly rely on his choice. He came through like a champ, bringing us a ridiculously moist butter cake topped with local ice cream and a coulis made from an assortment of berries. It was a sensational end to a very fine meal.

Being a waiter is not easy, especially if you want to do it right. Our experience at the Fork Restaurant last night showed how a really good waiter can complement a really fine meal.

Cookie Culprits

The kitchen at our firm is legendary for its cookies.  Some of our lawyers intentionally schedule their meetings in the afternoon so they can get a plate of cookies to munch on while the discussion is proceeding.

But when the scheduled meeting is ended, and before the conference room table is cleared by the staff, the office cookie culprits go on the prowl.  They might just be innocently passing by when the sight of an available plate of cookies in an empty conference room tempts them into action, or they might intentionally take a foraging swing past all of the conference rooms to see whether there are any cookie remains that could provide them with a sugar boost during the mid-afternoon lull.  Whatever the reason, the abandoned cookie plates don’t hold on to their cookies for long.

When I left the meeting in this particular conference room yesterday, the cookie plate was virtually full, but when I passed by a short time later, the cookie culprits had been at it in force, leaving only orphaned oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies — and another sugar cookie from which somebody had taken two huge bites.  Hey, and what’s with putting a half-eaten cookie back on the cookie plate?  I thought the cookie culprits were more genteel than that.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XX)

The Ringside Bar & Grill is one of the oldest establishments in Columbus, dating back to 1897.  Also known to those of us of a certain age as Clem’s — the name of the gruff, cigar-chomping boxing fan sitting at the bar who ran the place for years — it’s a modest brick structure in Pearl Alley, tucked in behind the Rhodes Tower and the other buildings fronting Broad Street.

These days the Ringside is also one of the unlucky businesses shrouded by the massive scaffolding apparatus surrounding the Rhodes Tower, where lots of exterior work is being done.  The Ringside has exercised a little self help, decorating the concrete abutments for the scaffolding to direct patrons to the front door and hanging signs on the scaffolding itself to remind people that the Ringside, and the other restaurants in the alley, remain open for business.

Yesterday a group of us decided to hit the Ringside on a rainy day.  Inside, the place is a snug joint that has the warmth and pleasant feel of an Irish pub, with the kitchen on one side, the polished wooden bar on another, a row of wooden booths against the wall, and some tables in the middle.  I always feel right at home at the Ringside.

And the place always serves a very fine burger, too.  Yesterday I went for the patty melt, and I got a piping hot, juicy burger on crunchy toast, dripping with melted cheese and sauteed onions, served with kettle chips.  It was excellent, and left me well nourished for the afternoon’s work.  I hope patrons don’t let the scaffolding deter them — the Ringside is right there where it always has been, ready to dish out one of the very best burgers in downtown Columbus.