Every morning’s food news should come with a warning: If the libertarian in the clown car gets anywhere near the White House there will be no Big Gubmint to get between you and sick chickens and listeria-laden ice cream. The United States of Somalia will have no mandated kills and recalls — live free market and die. But on the lighter side, I was reminded of the first guy I ever heard rave about Blue Bell, a supervisor in a soft-shell crab processing plant on the Chesapeake who described how those beautiful swimmers molt: “They have to be real still after shedding. It’s like a hangover, a bad one, where you wake up and your skin is in the bed next to you.”
Just back from Philadelphia, I have a higher suspicion that the hometown paper’s bacon-saver might not be. Judging by a lively discussion over dinner one night, the more some cooks see it the more they wanna get back to the Garten. And if you search but can’t rate, you’ll go find 17,000 choices elsewhere.
Also, too, the whitest, hottest elephant in the room was the libel case that went unmentioned in the all-the-news-that’s-fit for printed and digital pages. Nearly a million bucks is not exactly chump change as penalty for calling a mere bad boy a drugged-out bad boy. Come to think of it, though, facing down barristers while wearing a diaper was one way to get a free trip to London. Even if the rooms were not quite George V.
Back story on my Tweet that you should always take your camera to the bathroom in Philadelphia: I made the mistake of leaving mine at the table in a ramen bar where a sign over the toilet advised pressing the small flush button for broth and the big button for noodles. Which of course reads funnier in the original handwriting. Elsewhere a sign warned the closet-sized water closet was for patrons only, “no newspapers or magazines allowed.” Take your balky colon elsewhere, I guess. I did tote my camera into nearly every bathroom in Buffalo last trip but only made crappy (so to speak) pics of a revelatory sign everywhere. Usually the rule over the sink says “employees must wash hands.” There the word “their” is included. Which makes all the difference. Not just any hands handle food.
Language is hard, though. Especially in this age of victimhood. I haven’t checked recently, but the rate of food allergies has always been around 2 percent in this country, yet we’re allegedly in an epidemic of food issues. Which leaves those hoping to cater to the sensitive at a loss for precise words. I saw a place about to open in Philadelphia with a sign boasting it would serve “allergen-friendly” fare, which I guess means it would happily provide sustenance to peanuts. And now I see “Disney Parks Becoming More Allergy Friendly.” Take your sneezes to Orlando?
I have to admire the Pentagon for at least acknowledging what the troops are fed is not actually fit to eat. But hiring the ex-Mrs. Rushdie to fix it does not exactly instill confidence. She is not only not a chef; she doesn’t even play one on teevee. I guess it could have been worse, though. They could have contracted with Ms. Goop to squeeze blood — or at least lime juice — from $29 worth of stones.
Strange things happen when you find yourself in the real Restaurant Wasteland of Manhattan, the one that always gets a pass because the Big Homme has a coupla places there, which for some reason does not curve the grade over on the western side of the park. My consort and I were fried after hours wandering the aisles at AIPAD, marveling at how the 1 percent are so happy to pay out the nose for images of the poors, and so I acceded to his Yelped suggestion of Dos Toros for a dinnerette before a downtown screening of “A Faster Horse.” I’ve resisted ever since trying a mediocre quesadilla at the original outlet near Union Square, but he admitted he’d always been curious. And it had the most important allure with eating opportunities: Location, location, location — 78th and Lex. So off we wandered.
It was early and I wasn’t hungry, so I just ordered guacamole and chips, and neither was either special or awful. Bob had tacos, one with carne asada and the other with chicken, and I thought the cheese the assembler talked him into lining the tortillas with saved them. When we were all finished, though, he asked whether I thought DT or Chipotle was better. And we were both shocked to find we voted for the national chain. Which makes me think all the fuss over Hillary’s Iowa stop has missed something seismic. Candidates generally do not show up at chains. Their strategists search out the kinds of places that need searching out in an Interstate-blanderized country: mom-and-pops. Something’s happening here, and it might be a better food supply. Every day Chipotle admits it can’t serve carnitas might just be a sign of morning in America. Or maybe I just have mad cow.
Apparently the reason the big dogs can’t take home the gold from the Westminster of the food world has morphed. Having been present at the creation of the ban, I can say it was not about any notion of perception of a restaurant trade group. It was about whether taking awards from an organization compromised reporting on an organization that might be compromised. Whatever. The result is the same: A cost-conscious media outlet at least saves megabucks on entry fees every spring.
I’m not sure saying someone is “in good spirits” is so wise as a rehab update. // Poundcake is a P word, like potpie. As in, one word. // Is “butcher’s bone broth” made from a butcher’s femur? // Mock hollandaise mocks back. // I have to hand it to the toilet advertiser who approved the “after-dinner ware” hed. // “Grocerant” is language abuse. Unless you’re talking insects in the salad aisle. // More heds like this, pls: “Jail time in salmonella case.” // Time to drink the hemlock: They’re talking kale cocktails. // The Cruz Control I spotted on a Phila cocktail menu really should be made with rum, not tequila. // When you resort to “Say Cheese” as a hed, you’ve officially reached the limits of your imagination.
News you can use: Finds are often found on the food scout’s desk. With a hint of mint.
I always joke that I recognize more names lately in the paid death notices than in the socially vetted wedding announcements. One reason I scour them is to keep up as food legends fade away. The latest was our old neighborhood butcher, who was a real character who did things right back in the competitive days when every neighborhood had at least one butcher. His shop over on Broadway was very Old World, with gleaming tile and a sawdusted floor, and he was always behind the counter, wearing a bolo tie that looked doubly incongruous as soon as he started barking. The great Irene Sax summed him and his business up well in her still-invaluable “Cook’s Marketplace” in 1984: “Yes, he has prime beef, pale veal, game, does 50 percent of his business over the phone. But you don’t have to be rich to shop at his market. Specials are always posted, and his butchers are glad to sell an elderly woman a piece of Romanian tenderloin or some lamb breast. That’s why, Oppenheimer boasts, his shop is busy all summer, when other butchers go hungry because their customers are in Maine and the South of France.”
As his family said in paying to memorialize him, he was a butcher to the stars as well as to us earthbound cooks. Maybe if he had played bass on a one-hit wonder back in 1968 he would have merited a real obit.
Our most memorable encounter came the day after one Thanksgiving, when we went back to bitch that our “fresh” turkey had freezer burn. He just said, with his German brusqueness: “Take anything you want. I know you’re not trying to put one over on me.” He bought an awful lot of goodwill with a few veal cutlets. And don’t get me started on the butcher farther south who once sold us a turkey with a tumor and pretty much told us where to stuff it . . . .
Speaking of potential goldmines, airport chefs really need to invade Terminal One at JFK, as do a few of those trend trackers who rave about the food revolution beyond the get-there-crazy-early-so-we-don’t-all-die security. I was trapped for hours in the megastorm, waiting for Turkish Airlines to board, and the only crap on offer made the old days in the Cafe Regret look misty-colored. After trudging past all the same bleak offerings repeatedly, I finally settled for a $13 “smoked turkey” club with “Swiss” on “ciabatta.” And, once again, I realized why Americans are so fat. When nothing tastes like anything, you keep eating, and eating. Maybe there was bacon in that mess, but it was really just a salt strip. Someone, say at ORD, should be laughing. Of course, just a few hours in that overpriced food desert gulled me into thinking a guy in a chef’s hat greeting passengers on the plane might be a sign the food onboard might be above average. About five hours later (including two at the gate, one in de-icing and on the runway), dog dinner was served. Not dog’s. Dog.
I had to stop and take a snap after emerging from the stories-deep, gleaming-clean, efficient-and-cheap Metro and seeing this. To be fair, my lunch hostess the next day did say the place is wildly popular. She won’t go back, though, because “they’re too friendly — you walk in and eight people want to help you.” And that’s from someone who lives in a city where, when I couldn’t find a particular restaurant, I stopped in a graphic arts gallery to ask for directions and the mailman who happened to be dropping off letters insisted on walking me to the nearest corner to point to where it was.
Not fud except for the source, but: Traveling in the Obama era is always better than it was during the Reign of Error when we had to pretend to be Canadian or at least insist we were not Americano but New Yorkese. Still, it was illuminating to talk with a Northern Irishman in Turkey who responded to my lament that there’s a whole lot o’ racism and ignorance on display in this country lately. “No offense,” he said, “but hasn’t there always been?” And before returning to irregularly scheduled snark, I have to note that the consensus among the mostly youngish Turks I met was: “Fucking Erdogan is killing everything. But we need the economic stability.” Looking at the rampant destruction of the city for shopping malls and luxury housing, it did seem as if, as one young put it, “We’re losing our birthright.” Unlike Americans, though, they will at least credit their leader for the extra lira in their lives.
On the lighter side, the story about Erdogan installing a food lab in his megamansion to test for poison inspired some animated discussion over one lunch. One tablemate wondered why, if he’s so terrified someone is out to get him through the gut, he doesn’t just have his wife cook for him. My response: “Maybe he can’t trust her, either.”