Archive for January, 2010

Sour potatoes

January 2010

I think it was also at the onetime tyro’s warm-and-friendly anniversary party that someone asked me if I watched the silly dueling-chef shows. I only wish I could tune them out, but they’re everywhere, especially after the huge rippling exposé on the vegetables used in the White House episode. People were apparently shocked, shocked that they were ringers. You mean radishes won’t hold up indefinitely? Come on, fools: It’s a reality show. Nothing is real. I’m just amazed no one has done a remake of “Casablanca” with cleavers and Crocs.

But I know it was at the warm-and-friendly anniversary party (I need to get out more) that I had a conversation about why the relatively mainstream restaurant blogs are so deadly dull lately. The writer I was talking with mentioned they mostly post on real estate, rarely food, and it struck me: No one really has a budget to eat in these hip-happening joints. Plagiarism and speculation (to steal Jay McInerney’s immortal phrase) only take you so far. It’s safer to stick to the dry facts in a comment-crazed world. A lease has to be as good as tongue now.

Cava time

January 2010

The cultured really are different from you and me. The friend who treated me to a dazzling “Carmen” at the Met insisted we pick up some Maison du Chocolat “coffee beans” at half-time. And she was right: They worked. Fluffy white head directly in front of us was bobbing and sinking through the last two acts. But we had upscale NoDoz.

Grains of (HFC) syrup

January 2010

I have to admit I felt more than a pang of regret on seeing Francis Lam, over at his new gig, write a good takedown of NYC’s well-intentioned but misguided assault on salt. I should have been jumping to the defense, given that I learned from my dad that salt is best ingested from a mound off your palm, and my blood pressure is low enough to unnerve technicians. Unlike trans fats, the last bugaboo for our Daddy Mayor, salt is an essential ingredient; humans would die without it. I’d be all for regulating sodium content in processed crap if the WSJournal had not just reported that Big Food is already cutting back on it (I think it sees the nicotine rulings on the wall). But get the government out of restaurant kitchens — salt used early and judiciously does so much more for food than a shakerful at the table. Telling chefs, even chain chefs, how much they can use makes about as much sense as having David Chang dictate how to run a business magazine. Or a city.

First they came to bastardize the cappuccino

January 2010

I’m not going to blame Julia for this, only Julie for alerting Big Food to the new potential for old French standards since the crazy success of the movie. But thanks to my favorite part of the Sunday papers — the coupons — I see Jell-O is now marketing “chocolate” “mousse.” And it looks just as scary as you might imagine, sort of like Cool Whip crossed with what a  coal miner coughs up after a hard day in the pit. Still, it could be worse. For all the discontent right now, we’ve come a long way in this country. Not so long ago they would have had to have sold it as Freedom Flan.

One star for Compass

January 2010

And I guess I have to do my bashing of the section formerly known as DI/DO, so I’ll start by saying sometimes a cutlet is just a cutlet and a column cannot be inflated without collapsing (but I understand why a more significant topic got tucked inside like a cutlet in a bra — been there, edited that shit). Worse was that the genesis of the eating-kosher-cuz-it’s-better nonsense was plain to see. Fishing for sources to back up your thesis is like hunting for quail Cheney style. (How soon they forget the immensity of the Agriprocessors scandal. But I’ll never forget the friend in Lincoln, Nebraska, who once worked in a slaughterhouse and talked constantly of the rabbi overseeing the kosher beef. You don’t want details, but they involved bathroom, hands, No. 2.) And then there was the JGold Wannabe. Twice in one day the same rating was given, in almost the same words: Reads like writing-class exercises. RIP, Britchky. You are now certifiably inimitable.

4 & 20 hairs, baked

January 2010

Glitch of the week: My Biggest Fan was described somewhere as “a former heroine user.” Guess that means he’s treating superwomen more respectfully these days? And in other silliness, I had to go and notice part of the URL for the public editor at the hometown paper is “pubed.” Given how much they resent him, tell me that’s an accident. . .

In the baaath

January 2010

Gawker earned laugh of the week for noting, in its post on the auction of Johnny Rotten’s* wine collection, that his widow denied any link between his liquidity and his legendary expense account and then “winked so hard her eye fell out.” For all the fury directed at the banksters by journalists who missed the financial story of the decade, this last bellow of newspapering extravagance is a reminder of what really went wrong with the profession. Even the most influential reporter on my first big-city paper in 1976 did not have two fancy homes, let alone “a cottage in the Midlands.” And certainly it would have struck his overseers as unseemly if he palled around with the people he covered. By contrast, all the poor wage-and-stock slaves on the desk at the Times seemed proud that Betsey’s “big guy” had his own cost center. So much for “without fear or favor.”

*I’m sure I’ve told this before, but for those who need a decoder ring: He got his nickname the morning I came in to work during a political convention and mentioned I had seen Johnny Rotten was there. To which my boss responded: “Of course he is.” And then realized I was talking about the performer, not our copy editor-kicking colleague. . .

MLK w/a twist?

January 2010

Some poor flack got saddled with an impossible task: pitching cocktails pegged to Elvis’s favorite foods (way novel way to dance on the grave on the anniversary). Unfortunately, anyone with half a palate knows that if you mix flavored vodka plus a couple of kinds of super-sweet booze with a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich you’ll be heading straight for the toilet, and not to strain at stool. You’ll be talking to Ralph.

Till the food goes blue

January 2010

Anyone who was shocked by the report on filth in soda machines must not have dined in a movie theater recently. The one where we experienced “Avatar” on Imax for $17.50 plus online surcharge had the scariest concession stand I’ve ever seen, with so many empty cases and supplies thrown about in the near-dark that I imagined I could hear the scratching of little rats’ feet and the unclenching of little rats’ sphincters. But did that stop me from ordering a “medium” popcorn? Of course not. I always need hand-to-mouth distraction to get through the usual 25 minutes of ads and previews. The worst part is that the line was so long I had time to dwell on the calorie counts after my friend pointed out they were posted. I would have settled for a “small,” but the next larger size was allegedly only 662 calories. Divided by two, that would be nothing. Somehow, I suspect menu disclosures are going to have the same effect nutrition labeling has had on supermarket food. We’ll all be “Wall-E” size before long. The smart people pushing “nutrient density” over calorie counts truly have their work cut out for them. Figures may not lie, but liars will always figure.

Look for the union label

January 2010

I don’t know what was funnier, the cafeteria in the House of Hubris shutting down after an outbreak of food poisoning or the fact that a three-graf blog post about it needed two bylines. (Hey, buyout guys: You missed some!) I’m just surprised the old Cafe Regret escaped a similar fate — I can still hear the moaning after anyone ate the smoked tuna there, and I know the one day of work I ever missed because of physical illness was due to a wrap I stupidly ingested on a deadline day when I could not escape for lunch. Mostly it all made me remember the shitstorm after we let now-Mme Friend write a little piece about the onetime-House of Ruth’s shiny new cafeteria in which she referred to something like a “sad little cookie” on our 11th floor. The publisher was not amused: Next day the section editor had the equivalent of a horse’s head on her desk, a couple of, yes, wraps from the CR and a snide note from the GWB of newspapers on how they were proof positive of the quality fare on offer just a few flights away. How the mighty have tripped. So here’s a stylish hat tip to the Crocodile for his new corporate slogan: If the work won’t kill you, the food will.

Now in white: Merlot

January 2010

The WSJournal must think wine writers are like wine: Older is better. It finally dumps the Delicious Duo and doesn’t even seize the opportunity to try a new voice to generate more buzz? At least her regular joint knows what it’s doing, letting a certain chef pull a Britney Spears with salmon carpaccio. Who didn’t click over to see the rosé surrendered?

Early birds get the anti-iceberg

January 2010

Double-blind item of the week, courtesy of one of my far-flung correspondents: Which former restaurant critic just wrote a rave about restaurants in a certain city and then Tweeted to thank the promoter who led him around to said restaurants? Oh, and it gets better . . . (or worse, depending on your outrage meter).

Gloves in upright position

January 2010

And I have been trying relatively hard to avoid the whole swamp of the NYT’s denial on freebies, but it’s hard when a mere vegetable can be exchanged for a blatant shout-out. Sure, a root is worth pennies, but where do you draw the line, at Jamaica? Someone else thought a recipe promo/payoff for a winery was no biggie, either. Shoulders are also shrugging over high-proof dots that can be connected by googling byline + press trip. I have no problem with freelancers availing themselves of opportunities in this ridiculous cashless society the Bushwhackers left us, but the hypocrisy and pomposity flaunted by the paper are absurd. Don’t can one contributor and let another flout the 5,600-page ethics statement. Bidets have been gold-plated on technicalities for the decades. So just come clean and quit pretending the rules have never been and are not being bent. What the FTC thinks is good enough for bloggers should be good enough for the paper covering the FTC. I’d insert a joke here, but I’m still doing the math on 31 destinations on less than $0 a day.

Taiwan: Yes, we have no US mad-cow beef

January 2010

I guess I missed the most important class in fright school because I really do not understand the hysteria over a flame on a plane when no one else was hurt. If the Big O had ignored an explicit warning and 2,700-plus people were killed a little over a month later, I could see freaking out. But every day I wonder where the outrage is over the bigger threat. You are more likely to die from salmonella than terrorism. And a potential killer that was once only in eggs, then in cantaloupes, is now in half the crap in the supermarket. Too bad you can’t strip-search a scallion.

Shellfish cred for Sra. Manzana

January 2010

I see Panchito is going to be like the poor: always with us. And I wouldn’t have seen that if not for a kerfuffle online over sloppy editing that made one restaurant in Miami seem to be attached to another chef. Which made me notice the hed was a classic save-get: “In Miami, Chefs Are the New Stars.” Change the city and you could tack that sucker onto any restaurant feature. Worse, once I slogged through the piece to get to the offending phrasing, I could only pity the maids in whatever hotel/s he stayed in. That kind of bingeing had to lead to some serious purging.