Archive for September, 2008

Far star apartment house, too

September 2008

Speaking of flacks, the one who sent out the e-release touting the “Union City Greenmarket” might want to offer a refund for her/his services. Sounds more like a John Sayles title than the biggest farmers’ market in the country’s biggest city. And I can only assume he/she is moonlighting for whoever decided to start a magazine and name it after Crisco’s poor relation. Spry? I guess it’s the perfect title for lardasses.

State food? Buttermilk ranch dressing mix

September 2008

And now I’m just being uncharacteristically mean, but if you go all the way back to your stamping grounds and have to call out a flack for your first corroborating quote, do you really expect readers to jump? Back to your Crisco. Johnny Rotten insists.

Irritable intolerance

September 2008

No Coen Brothers movie is ever a waste, but I have to say the food references helped redeem the lame latest. You gotta love a character who complains first about being “lactose reflux” and later about being allergic to “shellfood.” It’s almost as if the screenwriters did time at a women’s magazine.

You rate it, you buy it

September 2008

When I started writing for my very first newspaper, the Mingus Spirit in high school in a ghost town in Arizona, the idea of journalists ever going into the wine business would have seemed far less likely than aliens landing. And not just because wine back then meant Gallo, and Gallo was not a good name back then. So I was glad I was sitting down (at my computer) when I got the e-release on the WSJournal’s new enterprise. In some ways the Evil Ozzie has improved the paper, but this is a crossover into treacherous territory. If I had a larcenous soul, I’d be applying for a copy-editing job there, just for the inside information on the wine recommendations. Maybe it’s going to be a completely clean operation, but it’s one thing to have a lame wine column and another entirely to stock the shelves. Next, the health writers open an online drugstore.

Apple and oranges

September 2008

Scoop of the week has to be that Molto is a bit closer to Minimo. Having seen the sidewalk surveillance video, though, I doubted it, of course. Then I spotted the promos for the road show and reconsidered. He is smaller. Or is he just using one of the oldest tricks in the before-and-after diet-photography book? Stand next to a twig and even a pine tree looks like a sequoia.

Just say no to stem cells

September 2008

I posted too hurriedly elsewhere on this, but the news that the FDA is going to speed up the process for getting genetically modified meat and fish to market should make us all very, very nervous. If there is one way to sum up this administration, it would be to say it has the merde touch. And if it wants to let Big Food pump scary stuff into supermarkets, you know who is going to benefit. Not you, the buyer at the bottom of the food chain. It’s all about profit, not about accountability. It would be one thing if the world needed more cheap meat, with tacos going for two for 99 cents in a chain that spends more money on advertising than ingredients. But this is about ramming things through with unvetted meat when no one can safely say GMO crops are not without their hazards. This at a time when the same regulators are not allowing beef producers to test for mad cow disease because that would give them a competitive advantage with consumers who will stretch to pay more for food fit to eat. Wall Street may finally be buying into the notion that government is here to help. But until we all have health care guaranteed during E. coli and salmonella and worse breakouts, I will retain my queasy doubts.

Slap. Slap. Slap.

September 2008

One of the things that drove me bitter in my second gig at the Greatest Newspaper on the Planet at Least in Its Own Estimation was the frustration of, metaphorically, trying to make stellar soup out of wilted carrots. At best we could get the turkeys off the ground. It was impossible to make them fly. So I especially enjoyed a fellow refugee’s recent  instigation of a debate on which is more important: spectacular ingredients or mad-wise  kitchen skills. Obviously, you can guess my answer. Even Thomas Keller could not turn Perdue chicken into L’Ami Louis’ juicy roast. Or rancid buckwheat into shining gold leaf.

“Refining his classical sensibilities”

September 2008

On a similar topic, consider the case of the celebrity chef from a beleaguered city who signed on to promote hometown products at a strange event up north. E-cynics may denigrate him, but hey, he is the biggest name going, and he lured me out. What a letdown to experience his alleged magic touch. The redfish was overcooked in bland liquid, redeemed only by chunks of the kind of crab you so rarely come across here. And the “boudin balls” were made with andouille rather than the real deal; the funky flavor came from chicken liver. It was a very long way from Eunice. But at least I learned why the touted product line is turning up even in my neighborhood Food Shitty: The company sold out to Big Food. And the star sold out for a boxed mix. I never understand how chefs can undervalue their reputations for deals like this, even when their beleaguered city benefits, but I guess that’s because I don’t have four restaurants to support me.

But the Hanoi Hilton had no Food Network!

September 2008

I guess the wingnuts are right. We are now living in a world where up is down and recession is prosperity. How else to explain the realities that the Thai prime minister was ordered to resign for having a cooking show and one candidate for the leader of the Land of the Free is appearing on a cooking show? Maybe he realizes his soulmate is going to fire the White House chef and he’ll need some yummo recipes. The ones his junkie wife passed off as her own. Shouldn’t a wannabe war president have bigger ribs to grill?

Did someone say Cipriani?

September 2008

Once again, I sorely missed Mamma Leone’s on a Wednesday. If it were still around, Panchito could have ambled over, wasted the beleaguered boss’s credit and trashed the hell out of it, to exactly no one’s surprise. What was he smoking, informing the world that a publishing canteen sucks? I can’t wait for him to discover Elaine’s. And somehow I don’t think we’ll be reading about sagging underpants. Seymour B must be resting in total peace, knowing how good he looks with every new embarrassment.

And then there is Brokeback Kitchen

September 2008

Maybe I am too aware of teh internet traditions, but I really wonder about the wisdom of titling a cookbook “Two Dudes, One Pan.” It sounds awfully close to a couple of girls and a single cup, and I’m not talking chocolate mousse recipes. But I guess Goatsee must have been trademarked.

How do you say tarnish in Italian?

September 2008

Every morning, as my consort and I loll in bed and listen to the bloviating on anything but issues that is NPR’s political coverage these days, it seems as if we hear the same commercial (let’s call it what it is). And every morning I realize I am starting my day wondering what is so bad about tomato paste in pasta sauce. What am I missing here? But now I’ve seen the print version of the ad (let’s call it what it is). And it references earthquakes and tsunamis etc. to promote the stupid stuff even as real hurricanes are smashing into real cities. A hundred chimps typing buzzword clouds could have come up with better names for the various variations, too: roasted garlic balsamico, vodka elegante and the geographically challenged Tuscan marinara with “subtle taste of northern Italy.” Twenty-five years in this business, and I now learn the most simplistic distinction between the cuisines of the north and south has been wiped out by one copywriter. Then again, this is red sauce made without tomato paste, not without cream and butter. If I ever start a revolutionary, wildly successful catering company, remind me never to sell it to cretins once I have built the brand.

But I saw backpacks and notebooks

September 2008

Thanks to my NRN pal, I now know I am somebody. But I disagree on the imperative of obeying the Big Homme: I saw a number of tables sitting empty on at least one side of the room at that amazing lunch. I’ve only been to the place a few times in the 10 years that have just certifiably flown by, but the food this round really was outstanding. As intended, it made me want to head straight for Vancouver that very evening. As for the redesign, the room will always look to me like the swimming pool at San Simeon. But the graciousness on display more than made up for it. Which is why I stayed on my best behavior, even though I did freak a little when the last of my tablemates to be open-seated turned out to be the head of what I heedlessly refer to as Enron on 12th Street. Luckily, she heard only the word “freelance” when she asked what I do and pretty much paid me no mind the rest of the lunch. Nobody is sometimes a very good thing to be.

Virtual choice of pens

September 2008

I did have to chortle when one of the trained-like-Rockettes waiters rushed over to furnish the unlikely reformer with a little chair for her bag. As I said to my erstwhile colleague (I love using that word, knowing whom exactly it drives crazy over at the Taj), didn’t Alain Ducasse get no end of shit for providing just that ostentatious amenity when he blew into town?

And it still is less than a Quarter-Pounder

September 2008

The best part of making time for the lunch on a day when I did not have the time to make was having my faith restored in really high-end cooking. Just a few days before I had wasted the better part of a morning trying to find a suitable mid-range destination for friends in from Portland, O., and rejecting old favorites and new possibilities alike for the usual reasons of eardrum-shattering noise levels, impossibility of reservations, cramped conditions, predictable flavor combinations and, most offensive, ridiculous prices. (Finding a doctor who takes my crappy insurance would have been quicker and easier.) My days of reveling in $30-plus entrees I could make at home are definitely over. And they will be for the next year at least, but I realize there is pricey and there is thoughtful. I’m not sure I would be able to tolerate the futziness of a real meal at the made-over grand temple of New York cuisine, let alone the crowd that can unthinkingly spring for it, but I realize afresh why those who can, do. The funny thing is that I used to ponder writing a piece about the 20 pounds that crept up on me before I had my eating habits changed the hard way: It would have been called “I didn’t get fat eating at the high end.” With brilliant food, I can just taste and stop. Mediocrity makes me keep forking through it, hoping for satisfaction. Today that would not be true. To get the full effect of a typical entree arrayed in three stops over a wide plate, you have to clean your plate.