Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Value of Customer Service

I'm the kind of person that believes you get what you pay for. My experience is that if it's priced like a piece of junk, it probably is. Side note: the one kitchen tool that defies this logic is the Benriner mandoline. Some of these mandolines go as high as $300, but this little $27 beast is all you ever see people using. I don't like replacing things. I want to buy them once and not have to deal with the frustration of untimely malfunctions, or crummy designs.

On New Years Day I decided to sit down and write a couple of emails to companies who's products were failing me. My Thermapen had a stress fracture that was slowly making its way across the face of the display. I knew I was a few months over the warranty date, but figured I'd give it a shot anyway. The second email was to Microplane. An Ultimate Citrus Tool 1, which I bought because it was three zesters in one, developed these cracks in the plastic around the periphery that caused it to flex when you used it. I attached a couple of pictures illustrating the problems for both and then sent off the emails.

I figured it would be a week or more before I heard from them.

Thermoworks got back to me two days later, their first day back after the holiday. They gave me a case number for the return and told me to send it in so they could look at it. I'm not certain, but I think I ended up sending it out to Utah. By the following Thursday I received a brand new Thermapen in the mail. From the initial complaint to receiving the replacement (from Utah no less) took under 10 business days. There was no argument about the warranty. No charge for repair. A brand spanking new Thermapen. I was pretty chuffed at the experience from beginning to end.

Microplane got back to me four days later. The customer service person stated that their products are dishwasher safe and that the plastic should not have reacted that way. She told me to trash the one I had and asked me for my address so they could send me a new one. Within three business days a brand new Ultimate Citrus Tool 2, arrived in the mail. Again, from beginning to end it took less than 10 business days.

Now it gets crazy....

Once a week my wife indulges in a siggi's Pomegranate and Passion Fruit yogurt. One day last summer she went to open the container and it was filled with mold. My guess is that the seal around the lid wasn't airtight and as a result - mold. She contacted siggi's about the problem and within a few days (from Iceland, the Icelandic postage gave them away) sent her an apologetic letter about the mishap along with a generous number of gift certificates and coupons. More so than the free stuff, the letter was very heartfelt and the response time was off the charts.

Here comes the crazy part...

I open the mail the other day (February, six or seven months since the aforementioned bit) and there's a letter from Siggi's. THEY FOLLOWED UP on the previous complaint!

    "We wanted to send you this note to truly express how much we appreciate your kind support and honest feedback this past year...Looking back into our records for 2011, we noted that you contacted us regarding a less than perfect product form siggi's."

More coupons and more gift certificates fell out of the envelope. Are you kidding me? The Icelandic banking system may not be worth a damn, but these siggi's yogurt people are something else! We were both gobsmacked.

 I write about these stories, not because I want you to go out and get upgraded stuff or gift certificates, but because I think it shows what can happen when a company is told about a shortcoming or design flaw in their product. I could have just as easily gone on the internet and flamed these companies through review websites, or whatever. But I'd like to think that, given the chance, most companies (especially if they're premium brands) are going to try to make things right. After all, you get what you pay for.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hawai'i: The Paia Inn

People will ask me, "Where should I stay on Maui?" While on the surface it seems like a fairly simple question, it really comes down to what people plan on doing while they're there. Are you driving to Hana? Kite Surfing? Golfing? Watching the sunrise from Haleakalā? Just laying out or swimming in the ocean?

What you plan on doing, in terms of activities, should probably drive your decision on where to stay. Our first time there we stayed up at The Ritz Carlton Kapalua. I went to golf - that's really the only reason we were up there. It was a little cooler than I was hoping for, not nearly enough sun, and out of the way in relation to the rest of the island. It doesn't help that I'm not much of a resort person, but thankfully it wasn't overrun with children.

On our next couple of visits we opted for the Pineapple Inn, in Kihei. The location was warmer and sunnier, the price was very affordable, and the digs were nice. I would describe it more as a hotel-in-a-house rather than a bed and breakfast. Even though they are a mile or two from the ocean, there's a pool and hot tub on site. I'd have no problem staying here again, but it did require you to hop in a car every time you wanted to go somewhere.

Then there's Paia......

Paia is a small one intersection town (a 3 way intersection at that) that sits at the base of The Road to Hana, or the Hana Highway. This little hippie town has more character, and characters, then all of the resorts in Wailai, Ka'anipaali, and Kapalua could ever hope to muster. Whenever I hear Jack Johnson's song "What You Thought You Needed", this is the place I think of.

The Paia Inn

Tasteful Pacific influenced decor

As with most things architecturally related Paia, it's all a retrofit, and the Paia Inn is no exception. Molded around a Lululemon, dotted through some on-the-way-to-the-oceanfront property, with  parking on site as well as a few doors down, is the ever evolving Paia Inn. This little hotel's constellation of rooms is tied together with a consistently strong knack for efficient use of space as well as supplying a modern feel at each level of accommodation.

Our Deluxe Sweet
A strong customer service experience ties together the whole package here. Are the girls that work at Paia Inn cute? Totally, but let's not judge a book by it's cover. These girls (Nina, Tina, Carly, Angelina, and Sarah - yes three names end with -ina) are extremely helpful. Whether it's getting something for your room, asking a question about activities, getting info on general Maui stuff, or finding a bottle opener for your beer, they are all more than happy to help you anyway they can.

 Pathway leading to the ocean

There's also beach access from the hotel. At the end of the path that leads to the ocean is a private entrance that offers beach chairs, boogy boards, beach towels, and outdoor showers so you can rinse off the sand a salt water. Three separate beaches can be accessed if you have the will to walk them, but be warned it is Paia so there may be a missing bikini top from time to time.

Around the back of the building, near the front desk is the outdoor eating area. They've got a guy that makes breakfast everyday except for Tuesdays. Monster omelets with fresh local ingredients can be had the other six days of the week. If you feel like getting something from somewhere else, you're more than welcome to bring it back and eat it, as well.

Outdoor Dining Area

For us Paia Inn is all about location. We love staying close to the area, but in terms of access you're close to a lot of things. You're fifteen or twenty minutes from the airport, down the hill from the Upcountry, at the base of the road to Hana as well as Haleakalā. We love the energy here. It's just a fun place.

Paia Inn Hotel
93 Hana Highway
Paia, Maui, Hawaii96779

Tel. (808) 579-6000
Fax (808) 579-6001
Toll Free (800) 721-4000

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cleveland: P Jay's Pizza

I'll admit it, I was pretty hard on the whole process the Plain Dealer used to crown the best pizza in Cleveland. Regardless of what I think, in the end the judges got it right. Angelo's has one of the best all around pizzas in the city. The one big surprise for me was that P Jay's Pizza in Parma made it to the final four.

Interestingly enough, a month or two before all of this Plain Dealer stuff started, I was talking to the repairman who was fixing my furnace (Len's Heating and Cooling, great company btw). He noticed I was wearing an Antonio's Pizza shirt and asked if I'd ever had P Jay's. When I told him no, his eyes immediately lit up. "Oh man, you've gotta go there. That is the best pizza! Antonio's is good, but this is better." I told him that I ought to throw his ass out of my house for saying such a thing. Since he was much bigger than me and had just fixed my furnace, I let him slide. But next time.....

Fast forward to last night, I had just dropped my wife off in Seven Hills and was on the hunt for dinner. Since I was flying solo it was completely my choice, and when it's up to me - it's pizza. I had looked into P Jay's once before and realized that for the most part it's a carryout and delivery type place. (They have a few seats and a table but not really "dine in".

As I was leaving Seven Hills I placed an order for a 12" pepperoni and sausage. Having read that it was cash only I made sure that I was stocked up with plenty o' green.

The shop itself is actually on Ridge road, but is very near St. Charles Borromeo (used to bust the 5:30 Sunday mass back in my west side days), and the parking is in back. The interior is pretty sparse with a conveyor style oven placed right in the middle of the room.

The middle aged guy (I'm assuming he was the owner), was extremely friendly and gave me the rundown on the coupons and frequent customer offers. I had no complaints with their service, in fact I'd say it was great. I had my pie and was headed home. *I live 25 minutes away and can say that these pies travel well.*

Even though it did smell very good, I was able to keep from sneaking a piece before I got home. When I opened the box the first thing I noticed was the enormous hunks of sausage. If ever there was a pizza made by men, for men - this was it. Judging by the enormity of the repairman that alerted me to this place, I figured it was going to be a hearty pizza.

P Jay's SAUSAGE and pepperoni

I would describe P Jay's as a pan pizza with a thickness very similar to Antonio's. The crust is a little greasy but not necessarily in a bad way. The bottom actually has this nice brown crispiness to it that I thought really tasted good.

The sauce (like Antonio's) has a very herbaceous flavor to it. With the pizza here in Cleveland, I think you can taste the difference between exceptional and middle of the road. You can tell that these guys take pride in the sauce. This isn't some puree out of a can type nonsense. This is something they take time to make.

Judging by the slight greasiness, I'm going to guess he's using straight provolone or some type of mix that is close to it. As best I can tell, they aren't wasting their time with part skim mozzarella or anything like that. I'm actually surprised more places here don't use provolone. When I'm on the east coast I see it quite a bit, not shredded but whole slices of it. A full fat cheese is going to get greasy, that's just the way it is. And it tastes so damn good....

The toppings threw me off a little bit. The sausage is awesome. As you can see in the picture there are huge chunks of it. Carnivalicious. There's a small bit of spice to it, but nothing that would deter a "spice wimp" like my wife from eating it. The only letdown was the pepperoni; thin little red disks that didn't really add a whole lot of flavor. Next time I'd probably just get a sausage.

I've been to some of the other contenders from the PD pizza challenge and P Jay's is definitely worthy of the accolades. I loved the pizza here. If Antonio's was going to get beat by anyone these guys would be it. There's also a pierogi pizza that I have no desire to try, but is very popular. In fact, I've been to pizza shops on both coasts that sell pizzas with potato slices on them, so it's certainly not that much of a stretch.

If you get a chance, pick something up here. If you go to their website they have what basically equates to buying a pizza and getting the second at half price type coupons. Even at full price I think P Jay's represents a fantastic value.

P Jay's Pizza
5767 Ridge Rd
Cleveland, OH 44129
(440) 885-4355

P Jay's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LA: Pizzeria Mozza

Instead of flying out to Hawai'i all in one day, this year we flew to LA, stayed overnight and then flew first thing in the morning to Maui. What a difference a break makes. This was actually the way I think we'll probably do it from now on. (I'm afraid if I was to stay over in San Francisco, I'd be torn on whether to get on the plane or not.)

As with most major metropolitan areas, I had pizza on the brain. Actually that's not totally true. Regina and I have wanted to try Pizzeria Mozza ever since we had the olive oil drenched crostini topped with burrata and roasted tomatoes at the Great Chef's Event in Philadelphia.

My other motivation is to give some love to all of the establishments that made Ed Levine's and *gulp* Rachel Ray's, Pizza Madness bracket. Pizzeria Mozza makes it to the final four for the Western Bracket, which is quite an accomplishment given the contenders in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

Getting back to our visit.

I called and made a reservation easily enough a month ahead of time. As with most popular restaurants that use, prime times were blocked out. Should you not have the luxury of getting a table that far ahead, there is open seating at the bar and around the kitchen area. Depending on how interested you are in your dinner companion, it might actually be the ideal place to sit.

The decor is what I've come to expect from this tier of dining  at a Batali / Bastianich restaurant. The space as a whole is smaller relative to neighboring Osteria Mozza. I'm going to guess capacity is somewhere in the neighborhood of  70-80. They do a pretty good job of shoehorning everyone into their seats, but know that you're probably going to learn a fair amount about your neighboring diners. While certainly not the loudest restaurant I've ever been to, there is definitely a din that could deter those who are sensitive to noise.

But what about the food?

I'm actually going to cut to the chase here because all I really want to talk about is the pizza. I think ideally, I would order a couple of items off the antipasi section, or share a salad (they're big) and one antipasto. We ordered the butternut squash bruschetta and I have to say, if you're getting a pizza it seems a little redundant. Not that they're bad, it's just that there are less "bready" things that would compliment a delicious pizza a bit more than toasted bread topped with something. For dessert, the butterscotch budino is legendary. I've had it, but the maple budino at Locanda Verde in NYC, has pretty much ruined budinos for me.

And then there's the pizza....

Nancy Silverton has developed a dough recipe that is so undeniably enjoyable, that it damn near overshadows everything else on the pizza. This is a classic case of pictures not being able to do something justice. At first glance, it would appear that trying to eat every bite of the crust would be a feat of jaw strength and stomach space. The reality is, that it's one of the most light, airy, crispy, and flavorful corniciones (crusts) that I've ever had the pleasure of biting into.

Fennel Sausage Pizza

Silverton's dough offers the crispy, blistered goodness that you find at places like Emilia's or Franny's. The kind of crisp that you get when you toast a bagel and ever so thin blisters  plump slightly outward, making it impossible to bite into without making a significant amount of noise. The inside has the vast labyrinth of whole structure you get from a well fermented dough that hasn't been beaten into submission by a careless pizzaiolo. The wide, seemingly bloated, cornicione compresses into what I can only characterize as the "perfect bite". It's that good.

We ordered the Fennel Sausage with panna (which was a hugely pleasant surprise), red onion and scallions, as well as the Funghi Misti with chanterelles, fontina, taleggio, and thyme. Both were good for different reasons. The fennel sausage actually comes out like medium sized meatballs. At first glance, you look at it and wonder how you're going to eat this whole thing, Cooler heads prevail and you figure out that breaking them into little pieces and spreading them about the pizza is your best bet. The chanterelles are the star of the Funghi Misti. The pungent earthiness of the mushrooms try there best to share the stage with the uber fabulous crust. Regina feel in love with these mushrooms when we had them at Pizzeria Picco up in Larkspur, CA. Both were amply topped with a generous allotment of thinly sliced and ever so slightly charred vegetables and herbs.

My overall impression is that Pizzeria Mozza is every bit worthy of the high regard that it's held in by the pizza cognoscenti. I have to say that Nancy Silverton has really put together a pizza dough is the stuff of dreams.. The pizza here isn't cheap, but it's a pie that certainly warrants such a price tag.

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 297-0101

Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I'm back...but I'm not

It's been a while, hasn't it? Despite what many of you may think, I am alive and kicking. I haven't done much on this here blog for quite some time because...well...I just haven't had the time. There was the inevitable pre-vacation work blitz. Followed by the two week Hawaiian vacation. Followed by a mind crushing avalanche of post vacation work.

I'm guessing I'll have a chance to bang a few posts out in the coming week. All things considered, life is pretty good. At least I can look at my nicely tanned feet while I'm working.

Paia, Maui