Smooth Talk From the Windy City

Among the worst pickup lines bartender Joe McClure (Cricket's, Chicago) has ever heard, as he told Nation's Restaurant News a while back: Is that your real hair? Are you the one I'm meeting from my personal ad? I think you're wearing my ex-wife's perfume. What's that on your shoe? Hey, great rhinoplasty!

Hey, What Is That on Your Shoe? A Restaurant?

The word "restaurant" came about because in 1765 a Parisian soup vendor offered a dish of stewed meat and wine sauce, both illegal for soup vendors to sell under the guild laws of the time. Eventually the French Parliament ruled in his favor. He called his soups restaurants , or "restoratives": The Anglo-American food writer Paul Levy suggests they were simply hangover cures.

Fun With Starch

Cream Cornstarch has a booklet of free recipes offering creative uses for (guess what!) cornstarch. It thickens gravy and makes desserts, of course; but it also makes fried chicken crisper and soothes sunburn, and you can make a child's play clay out of it. To get the booklet, call (800) 528-0849.

Oops

The Washington Post advises that escolar, a delicious white-fleshed fish it wrote about last year, turns out to have some sinister aliases: oilfish, castor oilfish and purgative fish. The flesh and bones contain an oil, not destroyed by ordinary cooking, that can cause severe diarrhea.

Next: Coffee Cellars

Connoisseurs like to compare coffee-tasting to wine-tasting. Now they can take the comparison a little further with the Coffee Keeper: a canister with a valve that purges air and covers the coffee with a blanket of nitrogen, just like wine preservation systems. It's $39.95 at some cookware stores such as Cook 'n Things and can also be ordered through coffee bean chains such as Starbucks and Gloria Jean.

The Shame of America's Back Yards

The most recent Weber Grill survey shows that one third of us don't wait for our briquets to reach the proper gray color before cooking on them, 51% turn grilling meats over more than once, and two thirds use forks, rather than tongs, to handle meat (all this costs flavor). Worst of all, 70% lift the grill one or more times while the food is cooking.

Pushing the Hot Side of the Envelope

New hot pepper products: "I Am on Fire--Ready to Die" chile flakes, with a staggering claimed heat rating of 180,000 units (many times hotter than jalapeno): 0.4-ounce shaker (possibly a lifetime supply), $3.50. Positively cruel Habanero Lollipops, 25 cents apiece/three for 50 cents. The truly insane may order them from Mo Hotta Mo Betta, (800) 462-3220.

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