Archive for May, 2008

Free bar with every $500 million order

May 2008

I always think Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong, but “Iron Man” was no “Home for the Holidays,” let alone “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” I’m glad I saw it, if only for the dramatic tension of wondering how he dealt with caressing all those glasses of brown booze, given his issues. But things fell apart midway through when his character started nattering about needing “a good American cheeseburger” and then showed up with shit from a Burger Death bag. A real superhero would be rescuing the immigrants being rounded up in raids on slaughterhouses lately, not ingesting the gray matter that exploitation keeps cheap. What’s funny is that the producers could have gotten a real restaurant to spring for the brazen product placement. It would not have been a bigger waste of money than the bus-side ads a Flatiron joint is running around town. Does anyone ever decide on dinner off the M96?

Prunes in armagnac

May 2008

Massimo Bassano, our first guide to the Italian table way back in pre-Columbian Geographic times, taught my consort and me to eat salad last. While he never put it in clinical words, his message was that it’s a scrub brush for your system. Which took the same pleasure out of greens that Planters is determined to extract from nuts, one of my favorite things to eat. Marketing them as a “digestive health mix” is about as alluring as selling ghee as Ex-Lax. The graphic of shelled and unshelled nuts in the shape of biceps and forearm is also symbolic TMI. The only thing worse was the NYObserver’s comparison of “soft brown ricotta gnocchi” to “kids’ Lincoln Logs.” Flush those floaters.

All that in two trips?

May 2008

I hope whoever used my name to reserve at Benoit got more out of it than I would have. I almost always hide behind whomever I’m eating with, but when I called to reserve for my consort’s birthday I figured Alain Ducasse would have no idea who the hell I am (if he did, his minions would have responded to my pissed-off letter many years ago after we had a disastrous dinner and breakfast at his then-new auberge in Provence). Turned out this one-of-a-kind name was in the system with an 873 prefix. Stupidly, I did not let the reservationist rattle off the other digits so that I could play Nancy Drew. Now that I hear our onetime Paris lunch companion Jean-Jacques should be cooking the chicken as well as the quenelles and cassoulet, I’m half-relieved we will be eating somewhere else. Which we will be doing because no one bothered to answer my request to change the reservation to the early bird special. But in reading the initial reports on Barca BBQ, I’ve been reminded why it really is so important to eat anonymously. Freebies do skew your judgment. . . .

But the appliances are green

May 2008

One thing I have abandoned all hope on is a vaccine against the Stupid. And so the future will inevitably bring more people who are paid to write about food not knowing that you don’t spell it “pallet,” that the shoes are not Minolos, that there is no way to carve a steak off a catfish (even one recalled for bacterial contamination). Chefs will always be doing “seasonal” menus with Brussels sprouts in springtime; big food companies will always invent garbage like a dressing called — seriously — Tuscan Romano. (As opposed to Venetian Reggiano?) But the true proof that there is no stopping idiocy was the layout in the magazine of the newspaper that simultaneously ran a big story on Americans wasting food. Showcasing stylish kitchens, the shoot squandered enough fresh vegetables to feed 17 Ethiopian villages. And the irony is that those are the kinds of kitchens that once installed will never make contact with fresh favas and fennel again. I guess it could have been more ridiculous, though: The prop stylists could have used Chicago foie gras.

Myanmar toast

May 2008

I can’t be the only one who suspected the Chimp sent the lump in his bed out to distract the press on Cinco de Mayo simply because he was busy meeting with Jose Cuervo. But my cynicism was validated by the Vino Fossella affair: Where did that hypocritical fool start drinking on DUI Day? At the executive drunk tank. Obama is going to have a heckuva job restoring honor and integrity to the Animal House.

Whither Bolo?

May 2008

Now I know why buildings in Manhattan have to be thrown up in record time these days — if construction takes more than three days, the promo signs are obsolete. I spotted one on Park Avenue South touting a new apartment house as center-of-the-cool-food-universe by showing matchbooks from nearby restaurants with travel times below each. Candela was a five-minute walk. Except it’s now Irving Mill. I forgot to look for Barca 18, but having actually braved bogus Wildwood only to walk right out, I would say omitting mention of any restaurant in that space might be a very wise idea. It’s not worth another steelworker’s life.

Cane-sugared

May 2008

Orwell should be glad he’s not around to see what buzzwords are doing to human intelligence. I got an e-release last week touting “local” Dover sole.  Sounds good, but those white cliffs are not exactly on Long Island. (Of course, the same menu boasted “farmed” foie gras. As opposed to free-range, you think?) And then there was the poor trendoid I overheard at the meat case  while I was scouting Holy Foods for national sausage indicators. He wanted “organic, grass-fed brisket.” The guy behind the counter said they were out just then, but he could order either organic or grass-fed. He chose the former, I guess because cows raised on unnatural food are fine if the chicken byproducts are pesticide-free. Let’s hear it for fair-trade Doritos.

Ko. Doky.

May 2008

One good thing about publicly ranting only once a week is that the smart set gets out ahead on the big sins of the day, leaving the venial ones for me to masticate. Ezra Klein rightly took the NYTimes to the cyber-woodshed for its staggeringly condescending review roundup of restaurants where the little people eat, as if the editors who approved that idiocy for publication did not go to Chili’s themselves (Applebee’s, not so much — I remember when it first opened on 42d Street and a co-worker said it was too pricey). Didn’t a political reporter even take Gomer to the Olive Garden, for crap’s sake? Some boss must have been blinded by arugula (although that canard was thoroughly roasted by another blogger who wondered what’s so elitist about a green so ubiquitous it has made iceberg esoteric in all the best restaurants). And Jay Rayner pretty much said fuck-all that needed to be said about Gordon Ramsay and his bombastic notion of fining chefs for using produce out of season. One word: Dubai. It hadn’t occurred to me, but I, too, kinda doubt there are locavores around Abu Dhabi. What’s most energizing about all this smart talk is that it is mostly coming from outside the food coven. While so many food blogs increasingly prostitute themselves to Big Food, emulating the glossies where the wine copy is indistinguishable from the Yellowtail ads, people who love to cook and eat and think about food are stepping up to the plate with really sharp perspective. Minds can’t thrive on asparagus recipes alone.

Cleanup in the insulin aisle

May 2008

The NYC study on the incredible shrinking supermarket was disturbing even to someone who gets depressed walking west and looking north at the Holy behemoth about to invade her own neighborhood, which now has almost equal numbers of food shops and drugstores. But it occurred to me that two ailing industries could be healed with one merger. Just turn all the spaces rented by Wachovias, WaMus, Chases, North Forks and First Republics into something useful. Call them food banks.

No bags for airsickness

May 2008

I admit my travel is pretty much limited to the C train these days, but I am still mystified by the constant flurry of news reports on the upgrading of eating options in airports. Every day another “top” chef seems to be announcing some deal to bring serious cooking to the most barren of wastelands, the concourse just past security and before the gate to airborne hell. It always reminds me of the day I went up to Harlem with a bunch of Moveoners to meet with Charlie Rangel to argue against the coming insanity of a war on Iraq. The congressman turned out to be represented by an aide, but the aide had the most revealing revelation: Anytime you see the Chimp photographed at a soldier’s hospital bed, you can be sure he is going back to sign a bill cutting something that benefits veterans. Now I think every story touting food in airports is another sly way for the airlines to distract attention from the reality that they are now lower than flying Greyhounds. I used to move between states by bus, and even they stopped to let riders eat. All of which is by way of saying my travel-advisin’ friend is right to raise a red flag on the plan to sell energy drinks at 30,000 feet. The last thing people stuffing dirty diapers into seat-back pockets need is caffeine easily ingested on an empty stomach. . . .

French for picnic

May 2008

One of the best parts of traveling with a consort whose job guaranteed him local fixers was learning that most of what the “experts” back here in the homeland had to say was total horse shit. Some dilettante would meet an expatriate in Rome and make a pronouncement that food writer after food writer would pick up and regurgitate until there was no arguing about the proper carbonara, even though guanciale has only recently entered the culi-vocabulary. Starting with my first trip to Europe, to Cornwall for a week in 1986, I have been repeatedly astonished at how many myths can be busted just by meeting real people in real places where they don’t know from T&L&F&W&Cookbooks Inc. And so I let my dander up only slightly on receiving a strange letter from an importer who wanted to set me straight on the origin of the name of a certain varietal I had written about in a moment of expense-covering weakness. Before traveling to the source, I had read the same sentence — verbatim — in about 35 locations on the series of tubes. But when I got to the region and started talking to the people who have grown the grapes and produced the wine for a gazillion years, not a single person had ever heard of it. Instead, they all offered their own root, one that seemed weird but sounded right in the vineyards. And what was the response to my carefully phrased response to the strange letter? “Next time, ask me. I’m an expert.” I guess that’s the polite way of saying, “Americans! Fuck, yeah!” It’s the last bleat of insular supremacy.

WPE feed

May 2008

Now might not be the smartest time for a relative of the Chimp to be publicizing a food-related enterprise, given how his li’l brother’s latest scam has been proven to be just like all the others: not simply a scam but a bilk-the-taxpayers-big-time scam. (Would you buy a used curriculum from that family?) But I see the vacuous niece is grandstanding again with $30 grocery bags allegedly designed partly to raise money for what the simpering simian has dubbed “food insecurity” among children around the world. Why do I suspect it’s all a sneaky way of figuring out how to get school lunch subsidies here down to 30 cents a day, too?

All you need is a stockpot and a dream

May 2008

Of course, the Feds could just switch to Tastybaby. “Malibu moms” using every overworked buzzword from gluten-free to “printed with vegetable ink” dreamed it up to beat back Gerber’s, but you gotta wonder what the organic matter is with that brand name. Maybe it’s because I spent three years in the home base of a tasty baker, but I read it as Stem Cell Soylent Green.

Now “Shining” at Provence

May 2008

Whatever you do, do not click on any link breathlessly “reporting” on anything related to the Julia mashup being filmed by someone who really should feel bad about her dreck. You’re guaranteed to feel like a contestant on that new “Hurl” reality show. This gives new meaning to the term circle-jerk. Or the Barney theme song for old people. What most amazes me is that when I worked at the Paper of Highest Integrity, reporters were not even allowed to slap political bumper stickers on their cars for fear of being perceived as biased. Yet culture critics can just take roles — however ridiculous or small — in movies that will be covered in their sections. Breathlessly, I might add. And if you want to start taking bets on the suckability quotient of this project, just consider this: When in the history of tortillas has anyone gone shopping for salsa at the temple of elitism? You know all those earthquakes shaking Reno? It’s a 6-foot-tall icon thrashing in her grave.

Strawberry butter forever

May 2008

The biggest Epago on the Upper West Side has the funniest “contest” going to commemorate 20 years in a space that previously did in big stars from both California and Cajun country: Submit a favorite memory and get a whack at a gift certificate worth up to $500. (Insert your own W.C. Fields joke on the second prize here.) Most of my recollections involve waiting for the toilets in the grody basement, and I suspect those would be disqualified. I do remember dragging my brother from the Bay Area, his wife and his younger son there one long-ago summer, just because there were tables outside, and I think he has never taken me seriously on food since. If people actually celebrated wedding anniversaries in the joint, this neighborhood was in worse shape than Panchito knew. All that said, though, I heard an interesting story from a friend who just tried to eat at the hottest thing off the avenue (according to everyone but the Mighty Cuozzo) and was actually turned away from his 6:45 confirmed reservation by a maitre d’hostility who said someone had called to change it to 9:45. Where did he wind up? Epago’s upscale sister. I guess that’s why I have so little interest in the really swankola places opening up here. Assholery should require a train ride.