A particularly bad, ridiculously overpriced Mexican restaurant in Manhattan appears to have hired the Chimp’s dream pollsters. The comment card that arrives with the check gives exactly three choices to check off: Happy. Very happy. Extremely happy. I guess that’s one way to forestall “worst experience ever.”
Call me gullible, but every word in the NYT tale of the power people in Washington suddenly shopping at Costco struck me as a lie, including “and” and “Quinn.” Certainly Richard (WMD) Perle has proven his scummy self is a source to be totally trusted. Even if the nonsense were gospel, though, it is impossible to believe anyone so dependent on the public trough and so insulated from the miseries descending on the rest of the country actually feels any pain. The more likely explanation for any trawling for bargains is the one from which said miseries all spring: greed. With luck the cheap salmon and mystery meat will do them all in.
As scornful as I’ve been toward food porn in all the glossies, with their impossibly perfect whole roast turkeys and forbiddingly gorgeous cakes, I find the new trend even worse. Showing a slab of beef carved up, or a turkey being taken apart, just leaves way too little to the imagination. Blood congealing, greasy fingers in the flesh — it’s Hustler when Playboy would do.
Speaking of not-so-hidden meanings in food photography, it’s just too bad there isn’t a bagnewsnotes for this world. The guy would have an ethanol field day with the former Mme. Rushdie’s new book. She’s using her mouth on the cover, in the first shot inside and of course on an ice cream cone and later a drumstick, while another full-page picture shows her with a bowl positioned over stylistically parted legs and still another has her holding a shrimp as familiarly as a Weinstein’s. Unfortunately, all this model cookery makes too many of the straight-on food photos look like Technicolor yawns backstage at Bryant Park. Reality is not the only bitch.
The elves at Sur La Table must be getting into the eggnog — the celebrity gift sets put together this year to separate fools from money are as mismatched as rum and tonic. Ina’s includes a brownie mix and a mixer to beat the hell out of the batter, while Molto’s actually packages restrained Francaise salt and olive oil with his blustery Italiano cookbook. Yummo’s comes with a crappy knife rather than the can opener “her” approach would require, but I guess the recipient could always use it to kill him/herself on opening this autographed lump of coal.
Eberhard Muller has had my vote ever since the summer day I trekked out to the family farm with a bunch of chefs and saw the “village in Texas missing an idiot” bumper sticker on his truck. But his and his wife Paulette Satur’s beat-back against Immigration overreaching makes him look even more like a true American patriot in a country unwilling to feed itself through its natural-born labor. With Halliburton busily building private prisons, this German emigre clearly knows that first they come for the farmhands. . . . The NYT played the story well enough that you could almost forgive them for giving the Jodiator front-page real estate on one of the hoarier campaign “stories,” rife with cones and corn dogs. But then they had to go and screw it up in the slide show by referring to one of the action hero’s “popular” clients as Union Street Cafe.
The same day I noticed my bottle of Heinz white vinegar carried a sell-by date (preservatives go bad?), I opened a jar of popcorn and a big bug flew out. It got away before I could see what it was, but it left plenty of company: one teeny red crawly critter and a swarm of slightly bigger black creepy things. Almost every kernel had gone all “Alien” in the couple of weeks since I had filled that clean jar with stuff bought in bulk at the health food store around the corner. I’m used to strange creatures hatching wildly in my flour and pasta and dried chilies. I just never knew the national snack was also alive with unadvertised protein, and from a vegetarian oasis at that. Of course the whole experience was not as unsettling as the rumor I recently heard that the most overexposed, least interesting voice in food is being considered for radio. If you think Bonnie Wolf is vapid, smarmy and annoying, you haven’t heard the half of it. The wonder is that NPR isn’t chasing after onefatass.com. But then she’s back, and sequels do happen.
Almost everything I cook I have shopped for myself, so maybe I’m more than normally sensitive to how prices are edging up scarily fast these days. I can never have exact change ready when a lemon poppy seed muffin at the corner shop is suddenly a dime more, or stay calm when anything from Eutopia is 30 percent higher, let alone be prepared when the potholders I have always bought for $4.25 are now tagged $4.99 in the same store. But even I was surprised, on buying four movie tickets at Lincoln Square the other day, to be asked for $47 cash (of course the credit card machine was not working). Last time I looked, I don’t think a ticket was $11.75, yet I have not read a peep about it anywhere. I couldn’t even imagine what would account for the increase in this strong economy, but it did put me off my popcorn. Which turned out to be a good thing, because the same theater determinedly gouging at the box office had exactly three attendants at the concession stand while a good 40 people were lined up with money in hand. All I have ever read since the hysterical days of nutrition nuttiness and movie-popcorn-is-a-heart-attack-in-a-box has been that theaters make all their profit on food and soda. And here was one staffed like FEMA.
Thanks to my party pal What I Ate, I see coworkers of the human Scratch N Match are wondering why their food pages don’t get no respect. Can you say one step above advertorial? A feature on where to eat while shopping was lifted entirely from that bastion of critical judgment, the Maroon Guide. Weeks of Thanksgiving features brazenly showcased recipes and photos from Williams-Sonoma cookbooks, for Islamochrist’s sake. Every Sunday brings another few pages of color glitz from books or magazines, with not an iota of original content. Worse, when they do rouse themselves to type, do they even test the promo pieces? Does a soup meant to serve four really need three quarts of stock? My math is lousy, but I think that averages out to Big Gulp portioning. At least if 7-Eleven ever does a cookbook, you’ll know where to read it first.
If chimps could fly, maybe something really would be done about air traffic chaos. But you have to trust his pulled-from-a-monkey’s-ass promises more than a celebrity chef’s vow to bail on a gig with an airline if his creations do not live up to their promise at 30,000 feet. How could a mega-caterer possibly screw up Nutella, grape jelly and brown banana on cardboard ciabatta any worse than its developer did in dreaming it up? It’s just lucky they don’t charge for airsickness bags yet.
Cheese has been one of the last food groups to retain its dignity despite the unstoppable epidemic of Food Network-spread Tiger Beat silliness. Or so I thought until I wandered past the Murray’s in Grand Central and spotted a new Cheddar from the great Rogue Creamery in Oregon labeled Morimoto Soba Ale. Having invested in a quarter of the $14.99 pound, I can only say they really need to rechristen the show “Insipid Chef.” This stuff makes Monterey Jack look strong.
On my way to Chola in the rain the other day, I noticed Ada was suddenly closed despite its elegance and two old stars from Biff. No Health Department notices were on view, but what may have hurt it worse certainly was. With tourists allegedly staying clear of NYC during the Broadway stagehand strike, why would any restaurant continue to post a huge photo of Ghouliani shaking hands with its owner? New Yorkers only tolerate vermin we suspect are on premises. Actually see them and we stay away.
Panchito certainly did his part in paying down the Taj Sulzberger mortgage with his peculiar assault on the flea circus in the Sherry-Netherland. I’m sure the page views went multi-stories high; otherwise, what was the point in carpet-bombing a single cockroach? You got a mom-son act? Lump them together in a dismissive snarkfest. Got a serious chef opening his most ambitious restaurant? Kiss him off in a couple of snide grafs. But a “restaurant” no one gives a flying Wallenda about? Bring on the dedicated trash talk. It all reminds me of the most famous quote from Frieda of kiwi fame, one echoed by the foie gras producer currently under siege by animal rights terrorists: There is no such thing as bad publicity. One day when the theaters are all bright with lights again, some idiot tourists will be wandering the East Side and think: “Hey, there’s Cipriani; I’ve heard of that,” before bumbling right in. And some weird mission will have been accomplished.
All the cyber-guffawing over Food & Wine’s baroque Thanksgiving menus happened to coincide with an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I just signed up for a year’s subscription at the cheaper-than-Conde Nast-monopoly price of $12. I had given up the magazine eons ago when I realized it was a sand trap at $36, automatically renewed on my Amex account, but I would pay a pittance without credit card indenture. So of course what arrives in the mail right after my check clears but an offer to “extend my subscription at the same money-saving NEW SUBSCRIBER RATE of $19.95.” Jeebus B. Child. That publisher could be selling subprime mortgages for all its transparency.
I don’t know what the actual restaurant count is in New York City anymore, but 15,000 has always been a pretty good ballpark. Which only makes me wonder why a certain pricey little Village cafe inevitably turns up on Grub Street at least once a month whenever the reservation game is played. And also why it is now savvy enough to consistently claim it is “fully booked” to appear hot even when empty. Admittedly, it once was fabulous. But Elvis left the wine bar a long time ago. . . .