Scariest story of the week was the NYT’s on mid-level chain restaurants cutting menu prices in this Bushwhacked economy. If they’re selling crap for even less, you know they’re investing in even cheaper crap to begin with. And so the race to the bottom accelerates. Maybe we should feel blessed to have cookie dough as hemlock.
Archive for June, 2009
And I know some chefs were a bit freaked that Donatella would be so frank in the WSJ on how to approach restaurants in this Bushwhacked economy, too. But where the pros read her advice — order less, tip less, fill up before heading out — as a death knell, regular readers came away with a more positive message: Go out, go out, go out. One app might lead to another glass of wine.
When editors are away, all kinds of shit gets put into play. My consort could not even find a certain section of the paper on its big day because the design was so easily confused with an advertorial. Then, moving over to the dust on the unicorn horn, the Imperial I was in particularly absurd overdrive. And don’t even get me started on the flat-out idiocy of “loose lasagna.” WTF? But the most inexcusable sin was letting Panchito go lick up dried vomit. Reminding sentient readers of the unsavory circumstances in which he found himself the Chimp of restaurant reviewers might not have been the wisest move. No amount of stars could get it right at this point. And somewhere I hear Yogi Berra saying nobody goes there anymore. . . .
Occasionally I hear some editor is mortally wounded by some snide thing I’ve typed and I’m always amazed. It’s not personal. Peccadillos are for pecking, aren’t they? And I’m resigned to what a friend noted eons ago when I first started freelancing: No one said you have to die solvent. But I sometimes still have to stop and wonder why cranks get ostracized and crazies stay on good terms. Which most recently came to mind when I saw the judges for a certain contest and remembered the wild story I heard about a press trip in France: Booze in prodigious quantities, underwear out the window, chocolate up the wazoo. And this is your ambassador? Sticks and stones are messy. Words must really hurt.
I was too fried from my gastric bout last week to natter about this contemporaneously, but the WSJ story on the fall of the town of Viking was fascinating on many levels, and not just because the first reader response was “Thank you, Obama.” As if a guy in office all of five months had anything to do with a meltdown that started, as the piece clearly stated, nearly two years ago. My favorite details included why the company even began, which was to come up with a stove for a woman longing for those great old Fifties ranges — you know, the ones now worth more than some of us paid for them fully restored nearly 20 years ago. But as you read the sorry tale, on how a whole tourist attraction was built around one factory producing one appliance only a few could afford, you can see how the house of credit cards had to come crashing down once homes could no longer be used as ATMs. We always knew the pricier the kitchen, the more likely the owners were to be ordering Chinese in.
Having recently been shut out of one soiree for RSVPing too late (“Maybe you can come back in 10 years”), I was quite looking forward to another and was not disappointed. The booze was free-flowing, and the food just kept coming. No matter that only one tidbit I snared was warm; it was hard to complain while being constantly offered foie gras, caviar, smoked salmon and caviar, crab cakes, grilled vegetables on mini-skewers, etc. etc. etc. But I expected the party to be back in a private room while it actually butted up against the half-full bar. And I found it rather depressing to walk out at 8:07 through a deserted reception area, past doorguys just shooting the breeze and oblivious to departing guests. I would have laid it all down to how the rich are just like us these days, hoarding their pennies. But then I walked to the subway past La Grenouille, where town cars were pulling up and unloading no end of white-hairs to crowd into a jammed and lively room. Maybe I won’t be coming back in 10 years. . . .
The only good thing about being wiped out for days by all the symptoms of cookie dough poisoning with none of the cookie dough: Nonsense about “dangerous” lead contamination of the White House garden had time to be debunked. Even I was almost suckered in, although I turned up very little in recent news about the findings two seemingly respectable sites had used to build their sludge case. I did detect a whiff of organic character assassination when the Clintons were blamed for the “clean poo” spread by the Reagan EPA. And I should have been convinced when the onetime advocate of all things natural got caught carrying dirty water for Monsanto. Pretty scary when the most powerful couple in the country are undermined at every turn in trying to do the right thing with food. I take it all back about Bobby Flay. Bring him on.
In a similar vein, who needs propagandists when newspapers will regurgitate whatever they’re handed without doing the math? Newsday ran a piece on a 2 percent tax on fast food in Nassau County with display type scare-mongering that it would raise the price of a $5.39 Burger King item to $5.85. I didn’t even know the chain sold anything that pricey, but something does not compute. More insidiously, the lede referred to taxing “your” Big Mac. Sorry, we the non-indulgers have nothing to fear. But I could definitely get behind a tax on Big Food-biased reporting.
Count me apparently among the very few not shocked that Nestlé’s cookie dough contains shit under a technical name. The only surprise is that salmonella is not the culprit. But why would a product labeled with a warning against eating it raw be immune from contamination like just about everything your friendly supermarket sells anymore? I would ask what kind of parent would feed the stuff to a kid, but I know the answer: the same ones who think 99-cent cheeseburgers are essential to an American childhood. And how’s that working out so far?
Distillation is not good for intellectual flyweights. Panchito comes off as even more of a mental gnat when summarized in The Week I just caught up to, a reprise of his mockery of the Big O for not choosing a more manly, more gutsy restaurant for date night. Is it really incomprehensible to a guy who has had years of on-the-job eating that Blue Hill serves food that is not just cerebral? That’s as unintentionally revealing as a theater critic admitting he thought no one could possibly enjoy August Wilson. He really is the Chimp of restaurant reviewers, and thank Claiborne’s ghost he can soon stick a pretzel in it and be done.
Everyone had a pretty good laugh recently at Domino’s for offering pasta bowls: starchy pasta loaded into starchy bread. Didn’t seem so funny when my consort brought home a newspaper food section from Virginia. In an awkward combination of Father’s Day fare and Depression dining, it showcased three AP features on pizza every which way teamed with one headlined “Don’t Forget the Breadsticks.” And with my stomach still recovering, I’m sorry I looked at it closer. It suggested making a sweet version and dipping them in “microwaved purchased vanilla frosting.” Yes, make the breadsticks from scratch and cheat on the frosting. I guess you can’t get that at “the Hut.” At least not without an “insulin not included” warning.
My thank-you card to Charlie Palmer for his excellent Gourmet soiree was returned by the post office as undeliverable to the new Aureole address, I guess because the place has not officially opened yet. So I’ll just say here that the move west seems to have gone smoothly, although the successor apparently took a run through the witness protection program. It is seriously sleek and different. Hors d’ and copious wine earned an A, too. But high point of the evening might have been listening to Adam T explain the wine windowbox/bucket while handler clearly knew there were far bigger fish he could have been frying. Aureole has location on its side now for sure. But in the aftermath I’ve mostly been thinking about how far we’ve all come from my first assignment for fledgling Allure, when I was sent off to eat at the top of the food chain in both New York and LA for a piece on how restaurants can make women look more attractive (or not). For all our sakes, let’s just fucking hope the magazine business bounces back big time.
All my good thoughts get burned through first over on Twitter, but even my consort can’t keep up with my Tweets and Retweets. In case you missed: Why was a woman last read bragging about her mega-kitchen renovation and 30 boxes of equipment on the radio nattering about cooking in a kitchen so small you can have no food on hand? (Our last one was half the size of our current foyer, and we did not stock up every day.) File that under friends get friends gigs. Then there was the irony of the Greenmarket opening an outpost in the Port Authority, right across the street from the scene of the amity, only a week after it was revealed that editors are too poor to buy from farmers. And my favorite comparison was between the supremely fresh local blackfish Blue Moon was selling at Union Square and the “previously frozen” basa from Mexico at Garden of Eden. Each was $8.95 a pound. Whatever would Dexter’s dad do?
You cannot make Wagyu out of tofu, so I’m puzzled yet again. I understand how writers can look dumber in print. Happens to me all the fucking time. But how does someone who I know has all the depth of a Cathy cartoon get packaged as the new Pollan?
I am anything but soft-headed when it comes to foie gras, but I have to admit Bob Herbert’s column on the exploitation of the farmworkers who make it possible was disturbing. I can never understand why animal rights activists neglect the human kind. Even more mystifying is why fools who don’t know people are apparently dying from force-feeding at Guantanamo are all worked up about . . . dead fish. I guess salmon need their dignity even in piscine heaven, because there’s some brouhaha over Pike Place Market stuntmen throwing them at a veterinarians’ convention. Message to idiots: Stick a cod in your pie hole and be done with it.