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All I Want Is a Perfect Cappuccino, Just Like the Ones I Had as a Youth, Is That Too Much to Ask?

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You can't try everything on every menu at every restaurant, so it's good to have indicator dishes that you can try out to see if they meet your tastes or specifications, I think. I heard somewhere, for example, that you should always get a tamago nigiri at a new sushi restaurant. The cooking of an omelet isn't, of course, exactly related to the handling of raw fish, but it's just complicated enough that if a restaurant can't handle this staple of Japanese cuisine then you might want to be wary of the rest of their offerings. (That's the theory, anyway.)

Aside: This is the same idea, by the way, behind Van Halen's (in)famous "no brown M&Ms" tour contract provision. Rather than being evidence of rock star diva-ness, the line was a test. If a venue didn't read the contract carefully enough to handle this odd-but-easily-accomplished request then it was a warning sign that they might not have complied with more serious sections of the contract, like those dealing with electrical power or the load-bearing requirements of the stage.

Eating at so many different kinds of restaurants, as we lucky big-city dwellers do, I don't have any universal indicator foods. But I'll definitely always go for something called a 'specialty of the house' or named after the place itself. "You say this is what you're good at? Bring it on!"

These musings are inspired by a cappuccino I had this morning. Cappuccinos are, in themselves, my favorite coffee drink, but they're also my test beverage for a coffee place. Anybody can make drip coffee, and espresso is usually a push-button affair on most modern machines. But a cappuccino actually requires mixing some elements in some semblance of care. A properly made cappuccino is a delicate balance of the earthly espresso, the sweetness of the milk, and the airiness of the foam. The biggest flaw in most places' cappuccinos, in my opinion, is a more-is-better philosophy that leads to huge, milky cappuccinos that might as well be a latte-with-a-touch-of-foam. Sometimes I can tweak my order by asking for a "dry" cappuccino (if the barista is worthy of the name and knows what that means), but at Starbucks, at least, I've given up and I just get macchiatos that are themselves over-milked for what that drink should be, which then approaches my cappuccino ideal.

All this, just because I had a bad cappuccino at the new coffee shop in my office building this morning, which doesn't bode well for coffee runs of the future. Oh well.

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