Archive for December, 2007

Hide the Hot Doug’s

December 2007

Thanks to Chow’s Grinder, the one clog with bite, I see Chicago is not stopping with banning a food only a minuscule fraction of its population even eats. Now that the village idiots have come for the duck livers, they are turning their evil eyes on chickens raised in backyards. The justification is that chickenshit attracts rats. And if that’s the case, the City Council chambers must be overrun.

Bowlful of jelly

December 2007

Everyone seems to be mocking Molto for donning silly Santa headgear on the cover of a magazine dubbed Brain Dead by one of our friends who used to work there. I just want to report that I actually saw a woman reading the sucker on the subway, probably the first time that rag has ever been spotted off a newsstand on this island. Obviously it got its money’s worth, but as I pushed out through the turnstile, Roxanne and the red light were echoing in my head. Or was that the red hat?

Up in sugar

December 2007

A typically artful Ann Telnaes cartoon has a woman baking special gingerbread men and her daughter cheerily biting the head off a little Darth Cheney. Not sure even I could bring myself to do that, which makes me wonder about this trend toward passing out cookies with people’s photos imprinted on them. I didn’t even break the cellophane on the Martha Stewart with horns, but the Daniel at Versailles from the “Last Supper” party was harder to resist, despite the fact that the actual chef was surprisingly warm to me as I left. A cookie from Bouchon is a cookie from Bouchon, after all. So the thing sat on a kitchen counter for a couple of days, nibbled on by my consort and me until only a little tiny Frenchman on an ort remained. It was the longest-lasting cookie in our history. Maybe a Chimp face should be plastered on every Whopper bun. The obesity rate would drop overnight.

For immediate retraction

December 2007

My writeme box is always overflowing with gaffe riots from the flack circus, whether straight from the source or passed along by my e-pals who are equally amazed at what people paid to promote actually churn out. Most recently a new variation on the most abused term in the restaurant business turned up (“pre-fixed” menu), but the funniest had to be the release touting a new place and its chef, who hails from TOWN, Italy. Someone must have been too busy writing an invoice and checking it twice to go back and proofread. Then again, she did promise “a menage a trois never tasted this good.” Is the human Scratch N Match moonlighting?

Epago, nicely

December 2007

For professional reasons I found myself at Grand Central Oyster Bar just before 1 on a Wednesday and was stunned to see how packed the counters were. Luckily I had the good sense to look around and notice a pretty young woman directing traffic, so I got in line behind four anxious pre-theater couples and said I was waiting for two seats. My consort was on Bob time as usual and so when “our” turn came I said I would stand aside and let others go ahead, for which she expressed serious gratitude. Sometime in the next 20 minutes, with people bitching and carping and clumping the line, I said “tough job” and she responded, “I love it! I hate standing at the front talking to people. Here I get to say NO!” Maybe what this town needs is an exchange program for hostesses.

Let ’em eat Cheetos

December 2007

Judging by the dustup over a piece by a Murdoch refugee granted asylum at the Taj Sulzberger, bumper stickers on nutrition nazis’ cars should read: Figures lie and liars figure. The dutiful regurgitation of a “study” finding that “healthy eating really does cost more” prompted literally hundreds of comments, some of which actually made sense. A smarter lede would have laid out the truth that “empty calories cost less,” which is no accident given a Congress in thrall to Big Food lobbyists rather than sensitive to small-scale growers. It’s the same kind of sleight of word that made a Coke seem a better nutritional investment than a small cup of Haagen-Dazs at the height of the low-fat insanity, when crazy studies were flying by wildly. The most amusing part was when the verbal scrum turned into an ode to lentils, which Ms. 401K angrily insisted “no one could eat every day.” Tell that to nearly a billion Indians. . . .

No share for the angel

December 2007

If any more proof were needed that the rich are getting obscenely richer and poor writers are just getting socked with big increases for health insurance and co-op maintenance, consider the $2,500 tequila. That’s not a typo like the “million” left off the “$50” in the NYTimes story about the construction cost of a lavish Russian restaurant. It’s the actual price for a single bottle (admittedly, a Baccarat bottle). And we’re talking about booze here. You rent it; you don’t own it. Why would anyone really need to pay $54,000 for a bottle of scotch at auction? Or six grand for a cognac? So much money is floating around at a certain level that “private collectors” are into alcohol now, which is beyond absurd. Somehow I doubt there will ever be a Barnes Collection even of whiskey from George Washington’s distillery. And just imagine the investor lying on his deathbed looking at his life’s acquisitions: Bottles he could not open because their value would instantly dissipate. Instead of being lavished with tax breaks, these fools should be forced to take a few strolls through estate sales in Manhattan. When we were looking for retro accouterments for our 1929 kitchen, we trekked to three or four, and the saddest sight was always the array of liquor on offer. I could never decide which was creepier, the dustiness of the unfinished bottles or the greed that would make heirs think anyone might ever buy second-hand sherry. Maybe there’s a reason caviar is perishable. Otherwise beluga would be covered in cobwebs in mega-mansions all over America.

Up from Iridium

December 2007

Wanna feel like a rube? Walk into the P.J. Clarke’s across from Lincoln Center around 10 and ask for a table. The host will smugly inform you that “the kitchen will only be open another three hours.” What he clearly didn’t realize when four of us dragged in out of the brutal cold was how often we have been turned away by Manhattan restaurants at the same hour in the last year. Not in Kansas anymore, my ass. But we were so happy to be welcomed at all that we sat down and I tried not to consider how much the place looked like one pane in a hall of mirrors. Eight years into a fresh century, why were we in a newish bar that could be either the Ginger Man or T.G.I.Fridays? But our friend’s recounting having shot the original for New York magazine back in the day did inspire me to pull down the first Britchky collection I ever bought, from 1980-81, to revel in his takedown of the prototype. Steak tartare was “spread across the bottom of dog bowls,” salmon “should have been poached sooner or caught later,” steaks “needed salt and pepper the way a peanut butter and jelly sandwich needs peanut butter and jelly,” and all of it was dispensed from “what looks like a small prison kitchen.” Could there have been a less likely candidate for cloning?

Paging Todd Solondz

December 2007

Loudon Wainwright III does a disturbing song called “My Biggest Fan,” in which the adjective is very literal. Imagine if he had one who talks snarky and carries a very big marrow bone. He’d probably be calling for two fat chicks and hot chocolate. I’m beyond flattered.

Chicken-fried

December 2007

Given that everything the Chimp does is more about image than action, you would think the lump in his bed might have had the good sense to rein in the holiday overkill this year. Food banks all over the country are crying the empty blues, but it’s Excess Accomplished on Pennsylvania Avenue: shrimp and ham and steak and crab cakes and tamales and endless asparagus in December, and that’s even before the 18 desserts at each reception. Not surprisingly, even the menu lies — “creamed pan drippings” sounds to me an awful lot like good old “gravy.”

A kingdom for a foreskin

December 2007

At lunch the other day with a food editor friend in from far, far out of town, the conversation naturally turned to mohels (something to do with a rabbi much in demand for his Thanksgiving turkey-carving skills). I had never heard that word but said I was thrilled to learn it because I had been thinking about a little flack who fancies himself a prick but is really only a bris bit. And, wonder of wonders, she immediately knew who I was talking about. If only the memorability quotient were as high with his clients.

Calling SR

December 2007

I didn’t read the whole book, only a magazine excerpt that was more than enough, but I had to agree with my more conscientious comrade in cynicism about the food world memoir now getting latex glove treatment by countless reviewers. I’ve been on both sides of the desk for decades now, and the awful truth is that even extraordinarily brilliant editors do not always make even halfway-scintillating writers. Words like cozy that would be slashed from lazy writers’ copy tend to get overused, just for starters. But it’s fascinating to watch everyone fall in line with unqualified accolades. It’s a big house. Who wants to get shut out?

Mint, muddled

December 2007

Even knowing firsthand how the Jimmy Dean’s is made, I was still surprised to see a honking huge ad for Maker’s Mark smack in the middle of a section largely devoted to the pride of Kentucky. Closer readers than I emailed me to note that the same overexposed brand was mentioned in no fewer than three of the stories. I remember the good old days when the production editor would throw a fecal fit when clean copy got too close to dirty business. (Thanks to cost cuts, has that job been made redundant, as the Brits say?) And even then the purists were not as adamant as one of the first newspaper food editors I ever freelanced for, the one who would not even allow a brand like Tabasco into recipes on her pages; it had to be “hot red pepper sauce.” Now the genie is clearly out of the bourbon bottle. No wonder the stock I bought into at more than twice the price is now selling for almost less than Heaven Hill.

Marco. Polo.

December 2007

In other lapses down by the Taj Sulzberger, a restaurant critic of all people seems to be unaware that shit can happen in a year (or less) in the notoriously volatile world of food. A roundup of chefs’ favorites included one that I seriously doubt is still even in the guy’s mental GPS, a full 14 months after he mentioned it. A certain blog may still be getting kickbacks one way or another, but, as I’ve said, Elvis has left the wine bar.

If wishes were bread

December 2007

I got a very small laugh out of Irving Mill proudly listing the redundancy of an “organic egg omelette” on its lunch menu (can you make an omelet without breaking shells?) But neither my consort nor I was amused by the $4.49 travesty we tried from the cathedral at Columbus Circle; this alleged bread was all adjectives and no satisfaction. Ten organic ingredients plus filtered water were followed by “dough conditioners,” and they all added up to nasty gumminess. Usually we let a bad bread die a slow death over a few days out of guilt; this one went straight in the trash. And it made me appreciate the fact that Ray Sokolov, in his report on Google cafeterias, coined a pretty good one with “Wholier-Than-Thou.” PC is becoming a terrible rating for food.