Language is hard, though. Especially in this age of victimhood. I haven’t checked recently, but the rate of food allergies has always been around 2 percent in this country, yet we’re allegedly in an epidemic of food issues. Which leaves those hoping to cater to the sensitive at a loss for precise words. I saw a place about to open in Philadelphia with a sign boasting it would serve “allergen-friendly” fare, which I guess means it would happily provide sustenance to peanuts. And now I see “Disney Parks Becoming More Allergy Friendly.” Take your sneezes to Orlando?
I have to admire the Pentagon for at least acknowledging what the troops are fed is not actually fit to eat. But hiring the ex-Mrs. Rushdie to fix it does not exactly instill confidence. She is not only not a chef; she doesn’t even play one on teevee. I guess it could have been worse, though. They could have contracted with Ms. Goop to squeeze blood — or at least lime juice — from $29 worth of stones.
Strange things happen when you find yourself in the real Restaurant Wasteland of Manhattan, the one that always gets a pass because the Big Homme has a coupla places there, which for some reason does not curve the grade over on the western side of the park. My consort and I were fried after hours wandering the aisles at AIPAD, marveling at how the 1 percent are so happy to pay out the nose for images of the poors, and so I acceded to his Yelped suggestion of Dos Toros for a dinnerette before a downtown screening of “A Faster Horse.” I’ve resisted ever since trying a mediocre quesadilla at the original outlet near Union Square, but he admitted he’d always been curious. And it had the most important allure with eating opportunities: Location, location, location — 78th and Lex. So off we wandered.
It was early and I wasn’t hungry, so I just ordered guacamole and chips, and neither was either special or awful. Bob had tacos, one with carne asada and the other with chicken, and I thought the cheese the assembler talked him into lining the tortillas with saved them. When we were all finished, though, he asked whether I thought DT or Chipotle was better. And we were both shocked to find we voted for the national chain. Which makes me think all the fuss over Hillary’s Iowa stop has missed something seismic. Candidates generally do not show up at chains. Their strategists search out the kinds of places that need searching out in an Interstate-blanderized country: mom-and-pops. Something’s happening here, and it might be a better food supply. Every day Chipotle admits it can’t serve carnitas might just be a sign of morning in America. Or maybe I just have mad cow.
Apparently the reason the big dogs can’t take home the gold from the Westminster of the food world has morphed. Having been present at the creation of the ban, I can say it was not about any notion of perception of a restaurant trade group. It was about whether taking awards from an organization compromised reporting on an organization that might be compromised. Whatever. The result is the same: A cost-conscious media outlet at least saves megabucks on entry fees every spring.
I’m not sure saying someone is “in good spirits” is so wise as a rehab update. // Poundcake is a P word, like potpie. As in, one word. // Is “butcher’s bone broth” made from a butcher’s femur? // Mock hollandaise mocks back. // I have to hand it to the toilet advertiser who approved the “after-dinner ware” hed. // “Grocerant” is language abuse. Unless you’re talking insects in the salad aisle. // More heds like this, pls: “Jail time in salmonella case.” // Time to drink the hemlock: They’re talking kale cocktails. // The Cruz Control I spotted on a Phila cocktail menu really should be made with rum, not tequila. // When you resort to “Say Cheese” as a hed, you’ve officially reached the limits of your imagination.
News you can use: Finds are often found on the food scout’s desk. With a hint of mint.
I always joke that I recognize more names lately in the paid death notices than in the socially vetted wedding announcements. One reason I scour them is to keep up as food legends fade away. The latest was our old neighborhood butcher, who was a real character who did things right back in the competitive days when every neighborhood had at least one butcher. His shop over on Broadway was very Old World, with gleaming tile and a sawdusted floor, and he was always behind the counter, wearing a bolo tie that looked doubly incongruous as soon as he started barking. The great Irene Sax summed him and his business up well in her still-invaluable “Cook’s Marketplace” in 1984: “Yes, he has prime beef, pale veal, game, does 50 percent of his business over the phone. But you don’t have to be rich to shop at his market. Specials are always posted, and his butchers are glad to sell an elderly woman a piece of Romanian tenderloin or some lamb breast. That’s why, Oppenheimer boasts, his shop is busy all summer, when other butchers go hungry because their customers are in Maine and the South of France.”
As his family said in paying to memorialize him, he was a butcher to the stars as well as to us earthbound cooks. Maybe if he had played bass on a one-hit wonder back in 1968 he would have merited a real obit.
Our most memorable encounter came the day after one Thanksgiving, when we went back to bitch that our “fresh” turkey had freezer burn. He just said, with his German brusqueness: “Take anything you want. I know you’re not trying to put one over on me.” He bought an awful lot of goodwill with a few veal cutlets. And don’t get me started on the butcher farther south who once sold us a turkey with a tumor and pretty much told us where to stuff it . . . .
Speaking of potential goldmines, airport chefs really need to invade Terminal One at JFK, as do a few of those trend trackers who rave about the food revolution beyond the get-there-crazy-early-so-we-don’t-all-die security. I was trapped for hours in the megastorm, waiting for Turkish Airlines to board, and the only crap on offer made the old days in the Cafe Regret look misty-colored. After trudging past all the same bleak offerings repeatedly, I finally settled for a $13 “smoked turkey” club with “Swiss” on “ciabatta.” And, once again, I realized why Americans are so fat. When nothing tastes like anything, you keep eating, and eating. Maybe there was bacon in that mess, but it was really just a salt strip. Someone, say at ORD, should be laughing. Of course, just a few hours in that overpriced food desert gulled me into thinking a guy in a chef’s hat greeting passengers on the plane might be a sign the food onboard might be above average. About five hours later (including two at the gate, one in de-icing and on the runway), dog dinner was served. Not dog’s. Dog.
I had to stop and take a snap after emerging from the stories-deep, gleaming-clean, efficient-and-cheap Metro and seeing this. To be fair, my lunch hostess the next day did say the place is wildly popular. She won’t go back, though, because “they’re too friendly — you walk in and eight people want to help you.” And that’s from someone who lives in a city where, when I couldn’t find a particular restaurant, I stopped in a graphic arts gallery to ask for directions and the mailman who happened to be dropping off letters insisted on walking me to the nearest corner to point to where it was.
Not fud except for the source, but: Traveling in the Obama era is always better than it was during the Reign of Error when we had to pretend to be Canadian or at least insist we were not Americano but New Yorkese. Still, it was illuminating to talk with a Northern Irishman in Turkey who responded to my lament that there’s a whole lot o’ racism and ignorance on display in this country lately. “No offense,” he said, “but hasn’t there always been?” And before returning to irregularly scheduled snark, I have to note that the consensus among the mostly youngish Turks I met was: “Fucking Erdogan is killing everything. But we need the economic stability.” Looking at the rampant destruction of the city for shopping malls and luxury housing, it did seem as if, as one young put it, “We’re losing our birthright.” Unlike Americans, though, they will at least credit their leader for the extra lira in their lives.
On the lighter side, the story about Erdogan installing a food lab in his megamansion to test for poison inspired some animated discussion over one lunch. One tablemate wondered why, if he’s so terrified someone is out to get him through the gut, he doesn’t just have his wife cook for him. My response: “Maybe he can’t trust her, either.”
I could spend another week mulling how to make any of this amusing, but I just need to type these revelations from various conversations while I can still decipher the chicken scratches in my notebooks.
–Thyroid cancer is apparently quite common in Turkey and “they think it’s because of Chernobyl.” I still remember the housewife in North Wales way back when who was worried about just that effect despite official denials and spat out: “They think we’re stupid.” And it’s a reality to harsh your caffeine mellow as Fukushima radiation in tea is now being detected in Japan.
–Twice I had extraordinary eggplant, smoky but buttery after it was roasted or grilled and then mashed with milk. But my lunch date one day was shocked when I mentioned it: “It’s not in season. You can find it in the supermarkets, but it has no flavor when you don’t see it in the markets.” There’s a concept!
–And when a great server at my last supper asked about Turkish food in New York and I said it was pretty lame, his response was: “The vegetables don’t have the heat. They put vegetables in the fridge and it kills them.” He also, finally, explained why Turkey is the only country where I have ever been able to not just tolerate lamb but actually enjoy it (and I ate tongue, cheeks and brain in one dish): “There’s no grass here. The lambs have to eat what they can find, herbs and weeds.” No wonder their severed, skinned heads appear to be smiling in all the markets.
Ideal implement for cracking Turkish pistachios? MOMA letter opener. // I’m enjoying imagining the Sysco truck traveling the back roads, searching in vain for a resto not supplied locally. // In Pierre Franey we can always trust. // Food photos should never look like an unscooped litter box. Unless you want to be video’d. // Pope sez he wishes he could go out and eat pizza. Fud world wishes it could trash him for doing it wrong. // Kinda shitty for a new Californian to say the magic ingredient in a pasta dish is water when the state has only a year’s supply left . . . // And NYC chefs really need to start smoking butter.
I read KKKrazy people, so I know there was a shitstorm over the Big Os’ dinner destination on New Year’s Eve. Somehow it’s beyond the pale (so to speak) when the most powerful man in the country if not the world chooses a $295 prix fixe. Personally, I’d rather have a president worthy of perks. Not a dry drunk choking on pretzels while sneaking O’Doul’s.
“Not the Onion” is the easiest joke in the lead-in book, but the news deemed fit to print on the new California cage law for laying hens really did need a disclaimer. The reporter (or editor) was working so hard to give what Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere” that the story nearly veered into parody. One Midwestern producer bitched that having to provide a few more inches of space for each bird would force him to install heaters “to replace the warmth provided by more closely packed chickens.” (Good thing the MTA never realized it could dispense with heat on the L train.) Then there was the faux concern that “low-income people who rely on eggs as a cheap source of protein” would be hurt the most. As the price goes up, on average, 27 cents a dozen — about 2 cents an egg. (Maybe the penny should not be phased out just yet.) But the real LOL was the whining from a lobbyist that “roomier pens” would “cause injuries” because “chickens are more likely to run, raising the risk of a broken leg or wing.” Cuz that’s how it works in nature, so teenagers must still be strapped into strollers. The view from somewhere is pretty clear: The losers in this six-year fight are full of manure.