Archive for September, 2009

Calling Robbie Robertson

September 2009

Out of the mouths of guests: Someone at our table last weekend asked a funny question — was the champagne glass modeled on Queen Victoria’s tit? Afflicted with CRS, I couldn’t remember it was actually Marie Antoinette’s and just mumbled something about a famous woman. To which she responded: “Did she have an udder?” And once again I realized what a gap has opened up in just the last 10 or 15 years. A new generation has no idea what a coupe is. Of course danglers would need a flute.

Brigadoon in a natural casing

September 2009

Another friend braved the crappy 9/11 weather for a couple of days in the city that never freaks and showed up at our place with a camera full of food from San Gennaro. Which weirdly brought back too many memories of my very first foray to NYC, when my next-older sister and I took the train up from DC and hooked up with the daughter of one of my mom’s brothers. I may be redoing an “I remember . . .” but four recollections linger from that night: Her teeny apartment in Queens, where her wedding dress still hanging on a closet door was the only decoration. The scary cab ride to Little Italy and her handing the driver $5 for a $4 fare and snarling when he pocketed it, “Gimme fiddy cents back.” The scary-smelly food on Mulberry Street and crowds so tight I would have worried about being trampled if I had known what a scrum was way back when. And the disgusting brown french fries I made my sister go out to find me for my anorectic dinner from our room in the Statler Hilton. Someday I should dig up the photo button we had made of the three of us at the festival that one time we were together, if only to marvel that this dissipate is the one still standing (cousin died of AIDS, sister of breast cancer). When Don posted his gallery on Facebook, though, I saw something so much more happy-making. As accustomed as I am to the disconnect between street food and real food in this town, I was still amazed at the insanity of what is served on the streets where Neapolitan/Sicilian travesties reign. Deep-fried Oreos? Colombian cat on a stretcher? Cannoli any way but in a shell? I guess if New Yorkers can’t make it to the state fair, the state fair had to come to us. But surely we can do better. Are we going to let Orange County get away with deep-fried avocado and deep-fried White Castle burgers and deep-fried Spam? Can’t anyone around here deep-fry a slice? Or a rat?

Skate? Medium-rare, please

September 2009

I interviewed a couple of guys recently who noted that a busy restaurant is not necessarily a successful restaurant. So I’m surprised anyone is surprised at Tavern on the Green going whale-belly-up. Getting the asses in the seats is the easy part with an establishment never known for food. Keeping the mega-lights on is the hard part — those bills do pile up, especially if you are not in the habit of running a business like a business. The only mystery is how a restaurant with no real local fan base has survived so long. Cafe des Artistes, of course, had the opposite problem — New Yorkers embraced it like the subway. Good friends got married there. I went to a birthday lunch there with nonagenarian neighbors who were wetting themselves (I hope not literally) over the romance of it all. I had drinks there with an aging Holly Golightly where we both turned Chardonnay-blinded eyes to the filth on the floor below the bar. But the food? My old idol Britchky nailed it back in 1991: The place had “functions that are quite apart from ingestion.” And he also praised the staff as civilized and competent. It would be sad if part of the reason for the shutdown really had to do with union pay for these pros.

Digging out my first Britchky, from 1981, I also wonder if the problem is not that a restaurant virtually in the shadow of the most expensive new apartment building in the city since the Depression just didn’t evolve. He noted that its appeal was then a combination of playful mood and serious money, in an era when dropping the mega-bucks generally involved absurd formality. Once those customers have tried a sidewalk table at Bar Boulud, how are you going to keep them down under the musty murals?

Just don’t call ’em “everyday crumbs”

September 2009

As much as I admire and appreciate The Crusader Whose Name Sounds Like Bee Fodder, to the point that he spoke and I obeyed on Holy Foods, I’m not quite convinced of his new crusade to throw a diet saddle onto the health reform horse. I’m gimping evidence of the reality that you can eat well and exercise and in a heartbeat still wind up causing expensive damage to your only body. All the fast food reforms in the world would not have precluded that happening. And so I hear calls for taxes on soda and stop cold: Diet soda is no better than the fructosy crap; in fact, it may be worse. I agree that Americans are eating horribly and Big Food + Big Pharma is making it worse; Harper’s years ago pointed out that a bad diet that turned the whole country diabetic could be very lucrative for both industries. But now that Holy Foods has moved into my neighborhood, I’m starting to realize you really do catch more flies with organic sugar than even the most esoteric vinegar. I’ve only been inside a couple of times, but I am always struck by how wide-eyed other shoppers are in a neighborhood so starved of serious food; they look, I imagine, the way medieval peasants did on setting foot into the cathedral at Chartres. But this glory is accessible in the here and now. Make vegetables sexy, put the processed crap farther away, and yes, they will come. In a battle of Dunkin’ Subway v Holy F, I’m afraid I’m on the side of sanctimonious.

Milk, milk and more milk

September 2009

I’m running out of steam or would update my Goods page with some of the great stuff I discovered at The New Amsterdam Market at the South Street Seaport: Brooklyn Brine pickles, The Redhead’s bacon peanut brittles, Maple Hill yogurt, Porchetta’s porchetta, etc. etc. I know I don’t get out enough these days, but I was pretty encouraged by how much energy is obviously being channeled into artisanal foods as the country goes down the toilet. This may sound as if I’m repeating myself, but food really is the new religion. Now, though, the cathedrals come to the peasants. And Gutenberg meets Google.

Gardening in good shoes

September 2009

I can’t believe I’m longing for the good old days when the wingnuts could work themselves into an idiotic lather over mustard on a burger rather than whether schoolkids should listen to a black president. Might be time for another date night at a  culinarily correct restaurant to distract the mad dogs with fresh meat. Or maybe Mrs. O should show up in a school cafeteria and tell the little impressionables she doesn’t like to cook. Pinheads would explode.

Vinaigrette no longer

September 2009

Speaking of “I can’t believe I share a country with such cretins,” I don’t often link, but this take on a new “French dip” is pretty priceless. We really have gone from Freedom Fries and Best Cellars touting alternatives to French wines to a junk chain shilling its latest “heated meatish matter” with French “maids” on tour. Hope it reminds people that the French health-care system kicks the ass of ours (No. 37). But it’s funny to see all the French connections when the damn thing was inspired by a sandwich that originated in Los Angeles. Philippe Burger might have sounded too . . . Kerryish?

Smart Choices? Not apples

September 2009

And speaking of mustard and faux French, Grey Poupon accidentally turned up in my kitchen (I am not going to point any fingers here) and it will never be seen there again. Why in the name of Maille is there sugar in mustard? No wonder everyone in this country is either obese or diabetic or both. What’s odd is that the consort who is not going to be blamed picked it up at Holy Foods, where a clerk in the wine shop told us they do not carry liquor because it’s not good for you (despite the latest study on benefits, the one indicating moderate drinking may cut the risk of Alzheimer’s). And processed crap is? Then again, I noticed the new logo for Heinz ketchup is a bright red tomato on the label paired with “grown, not made.” Yeah, the high-fructose corn syrup and regular corn syrup that are third and fourth on the ingredients list were freshly harvested right out in the Back 40. It’s as if they see “Food, Inc.” as a model, not a warning.

And it’s still spelled Palette

September 2009

The hometown paper must have realized it blew the Lukins obit big time, complete with the most ludicrous hed in recent history, but the Week in Review followup only made the crime more indefensible. I guess Sheila should be flattered she got the Cronkite treatment at least, with errors of both fact and omission in her life story. But the cluelessness on who she was and the extent of her impact — on everything from food to publishing — was jaw-dropping. A sportswriter could do a better job finishing off Jancis Robinson. And then they had to go on to run that beyond ridiculous piece on home entertaining. Who’s this “we” of which you speak? If the same paper and “Good Times” were running pasta primavera recipes in 1985, I kinda doubt it was over by the time people were enthralled with chicken Marbella. Calling pasta with pesto “as dated as shoulder pads” was also laughable — what was on the menu at the last party I went to, and on ours last night?  At least she didn’t quote the usual quote whore, who managed to insult the dead (“got no respect”? WTF?) And she got Rosso’s name right, unlike a certain expert I heard on radio who was also, like the obit writer, nowhere near informed enough for prime time. But even our dining room table wonders on what planet the perpetrator spends most of her time.

Smoke that paprika

September 2009

In other insults to intelligence at the pompous powerhouse, the Drivelist had to be trifling with the truth. It’s the whisk that makes the mother sauce tricky, not the labor-saving device. Unless you’re an idiot. And an alert reader tipped me off to the contretemps the Egotist set off with the equivalent of making spaetzle and calling it macaroni. Amusing to see so many bitching he had made something minimal so very complicated. And it’s pretty bad when more than one commenter tells you to go watch Bobby Flay to get something right. . . .

Cook the crap out of it

September 2009

New media really is turning out to be just as formulaic as old, though. Usually the old “terror lurks in your cutting board” runs earlier in the summer, along with the beef-on-the-barbecue cliché. And I’m convinced that chestnut has conditioned Americans to just roll with the reality than a mind-blowing 80 percent of supermarket chickens are filthy. Then, rather than demand a cleaner food supply, they dutifully troop out (or click over) and buy a new cutting board. I guess I’m only surprised there wasn’t an ad tucked into the copy.

Sushi or salmon mousse?

September 2009

The most unintentionally LOL story of the week had to be the WSJournal’s headlined “Coach Food Goes to New Heights.” The airlines could probably actually turn a profit if they spent less money hyping their shitty fare and just made it better — either they’re hiring celebrity chefs with huge hoopla (and no perceptible improvements in the crap) or they’re sending out releases boasting of worthless new tactics that the average passenger suffering in steerage would trade for just one plain bag of peanuts. This dutiful roundup had it all: Todd English is whipping up almond-butter-and-grape-jelly sandwiches (the Onion couldn’t have done better); American is selling Boston Market sandwiches and salads to “give passengers assurance of the quality of the food” (ditto on the Onion). Not only is it processed chain crap, but it’s now processed chain crap “prepared by the catering companies that supply American’s food.” You know, the ones who made those old chicken-or-beef mystery meals that were once endless butts of jokes and now seem like fine dining. The great improvements are all junk: chicken gyros and smoothes and Ben & Jerry’s. The most telling quote came from a passenger who said she had brought a Subway sandwich on board because it had to be better than what they were selling. When you can’t beat that faux food, no amount of propaganda can save you.