My friend the aristocrat who has traded homelands after 20-some years says she feels “like I left a banana republic for a Feydeau play.” Even the cheese eaters, though, would never be so silly as to think food stamps should be left out of a “stimulus package” for an economy devastated by greed. After all, what is the one thing you can do with government coupons? Spend them. At the very least our own surrender monkeys could have added wine stamps for the middle class.
If I were the cynical type, I would wonder about the latest flavor of an overly packaged breath mint. In “Juno,” the thoroughly repugnant accidental sperm donor is addicted to the orange, and now the beneficiary of the product placement comes in “Cherry Passion.” This is all teenage virgins need when the only government-sanctioned birth control is denial. Next thing you know SunnyD will be advertising on Clearblue Easy.
Ray Sokolov in the WSJ had an admirably clear-headed take on the fight over which devious cook invented the concept of vegetables as WMDeception for kids. He actually tried the obviously crappy recipes, looked at the ridiculous proportion of desserts in the grifter’s book and came away speaking truth to sour grapes: They both suck. Now can they please just go away?
With no help needed, I can find infinite reasons to cringe at what has appeared under my byline in the last 24 years in this peculiar business. But I always rather like the lede I came up with for a little feature for Metropolitan Home eons ago: “Fondue is like Danish furniture — always on the verge of a comeback when it really never goes out of style.” But you know how kids are today. They think everything was consigned to the junk heap of food fads just so they could rediscover it. And so I was almost pleased to see great minds at both a sophisticated food section and a dumber-by-the-issue food magazine both running in the same gutter. At least the latter was aware that teak rules.
And, much as it pains me to admit this, the home of the Human Scratch N Match clearly knew that queso fondue is not “fundido” but “chile con.” The operative verb is dip, and the melted cheese should be a coating, not a filling. Somehow I suspect Velveeta would push a lot more buttons than a $20,000 coffee machine at the same time Starbucks has decided things are so dire in Chimpville that its surname is the way to go. But no, let ’em drink flowers in their Champagne.
I can’t say where I heard this, but the world’s most extreme example of Journalism Lite is apparently battening down the hatches against incoming assaults on his credibility from the restaurant world. I shouldn’t be mean, considering food was considered a totally trivial pursuit when I left the NYTimes the first time, in 1983, but you have to admit there is a difference between sustenance and Youth Dew — one keeps you alive, the other is only essential as a tomb deodorizer. The guy is pretty clearly guilty on all charges, but I got my laugh while Googling one, that “George” is not the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. The first non-sponsored hits all led not to Paris but Las Vegas. I also happened upon an interview with the new Jules Verne proprietor in which he joked that his next restaurant would open on Mars. Just as I suspected, the Mojave Desert is overpopulated.
I can’t imagine surimi is any better for you than the steak of the sea even with mercury in it. But I’m no expert, and the one Time magazine found said it best: Readers are done no favors by single-food scare stories. On a petty level, I did wonder why the store next door was, yet again, given a pass in the testing; it only is about the biggest seafood retailer in town. And it should not have taken a listen to Brian Lehrer to hear from a real authority how the dangerous stuff actually gets into the tuna to begin with. Phyllis Richman predicted many years ago that sushi would become the new hamburger. If we can swallow the reality of mad cow and E. coli, what’s a little industrial spillover? We do like to leave the lights on and the microwaves humming in this country. . . .
In other nutrition nuttiness, let the “consumer advocates” rail against NYC’s new rule requiring certain restaurants to post calorie counts. As I must have said a thousand times, I have not eaten a Mrs. Fields cookie since learning back in the last century that each one contains about 260 calories. And I was, back then, a scholar when it came to the back of Fritos bags. So all those defenders of the public’s right to be stupid, the ones who say anyone can easily discern the difference between a bucket of chicken wings and a salad, should be sentenced to Southwest-salad-with-crispy-chicken hell. With Big Gulp cholesterol drugs for the ride.
By contrast, I was happily surprised by the junk brochure from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia that my consort dropped off on my desk the other day. A promotion for a health web site, it included not just a notice of a “dark chocolate and red wine reception” but a photo of and recipe for a salad made with warm goat cheese in a panko crust. We’ve come a long way from the “pasta makes you fat” attitude toward healthful eating. I’m not sure, though, I would want a tour of the Mutter Museum after that reception. Elephantiasis is a terrible petit four.
Forget the poor. The misguided will always be with us. After warding off a barrage of attacks for criticizing truffles that wasted smoky blue cheese on chocolate, I am now hearing from defenders of Cheddar ice cream. It almost makes me glad milk prices are getting so out of hand that cheesemakers are having to rein in their creative urges. To be fair, I actually went out and bought those absurd-sounding truffles when I spotted them at Murray’s, a box of five for $10 or $12. I ate one, confirmed my literal gut instincts and left the rest for a consort who considers chocolate as easy to resist as air or water. The fifth foil-wrapped ball is still sitting in plain sight literally months later. So file this under “won’t get fooled again.” I’m not crazy about apple pie to begin with. But Cheddar a la mode is straight out of Applebee’s.
Of all the uncountable reasons to hope the tiara-whipped one is sent home from Florida with his shriveled balls sucked back into their cavity, one of the biggest is his insistence that he made New York livable. 9/11 did change everything, but no thanks to that tight end of the alimentary canal. My latest evidence came at the Sido on Amsterdam when I ran in for an O’Reilly sandwich on a time-crunched afternoon. The couple ahead of me had just presented a credit card for $13.96 worth of food when the counterman said it was cash only, and they panicked over where to find an ATM. He kept insisting, “Eat first, pay after,” until they agreed to sit down and enjoy their lunch. My first job out of restaurant school was just across the street in 1984, when it was so scary you took your vagina if not your life in your hands walking in at 6:30 in the morning, and whatever produced this sea change was not a petty tyrant. During the blackout I realized it was more likely to be a populace that understands anything that does not involve bodies hurtling out of windows and air not fit to breathe is really no biggie. The city got kinder and gentler almost in spite of its mayor, even before he balked at leaving. And I’m so glad to be living here rather than back in the relatively small town where I waitressed in college — 36 years later I still cannot believe a regular customer came in one morning, ordered steak and eggs, told me he was short of cash and would pay me the next day and then was never seen again. I can only hope he wound up marrying his cousin.
Wanna know why the Chimp will still be eating his toddler fare at a fancy table for the whole next year? The gutless wonders in Congress are busy aping Marie Antoinette instead of confronting the I word. Nancy Pelosi’s only accomplishment so far is getting the House cafeteria to upgrade the food, even as she sends the clear message that we peons should eat farm-subsidized Twinkies. It’s bad enough our employees have better health care. Now they get the green eggs while we get the salmonella.
Years ago there was a spittle-flecked crazy broad who would stand in front of Zabar’s with blowups of really gross porn and rail about women being exploited. I guess Ms. Introspective went off and cloned herself, because Fairway is now plagued by nutcases all wrought up and frothing about foie gras. At least they spare us the shots of splayed webs, but I always wonder why they give the store next door a pass. And now I know whose welfare they are truly worried about: On a 23-degree Sunday with winds whipping, not one of the livertarians was anywhere to be seen. Why do I have visions of Cheetos gavage in a warm living room?
I missed “Ratatouille” in the theater because of a deadline on a long-forgotten story, but I was lucky enough to get an Xmas DVD from a friend who loved it so much he saw it twice and wanted to play it forward. And of course it was as down-to-the-tiniest-detail brilliant as almost everyone had said, but what most struck me was what a honking allegory it was for immigration. Shades of the Big Homme wanting to hide his Mexicans from mainstream view! Americans — and Parisians — would always prefer not to know who exactly is flipping their omelets, and isn’t it depressing how the party of evil has been able to present hard workers as rats? The major dis of sell-out chefs was also worth the two hours in front of the teevee. (Was Skinner supposed to be Puck?) And I really liked that all the magazine covers on the walls in Gusteau’s office were American. Bon appetit, indeed.
With the economy in a low-flow toilet, it’s a little scary to realize advertising is the new housing. Everything seems to be premised on ad dollars anymore, but if there’s no money, who is going to buy what they’re selling? And what does this have to do with the price of food? Things have gotten so bad that twice in two days I spotted huge ads on the tops of pizza boxes — for H&R Block at Freddie & Pepper’s during an emergency refueling and for Tekserve on a delivery on its way up in our elevator. A real Madison Avenue genius would be coming up with apple ads, and not for the computer stuff but to be emblazoned on the fruit soon to be sold on every corner. . . .
Judging by a survey that turned up in my email one morning, Michael Pollan has his work cut out for him in trying to persuade Americans to eat primarily from the perimeter of supermarkets. Of the top 10 sales categories, only milk, bread and eggs are showcased in the healthful real estate. Cereal, cookies, canned soup, chocolate candy and potato chips were the other “foods” on the list, and I just read that and heard Fat Albert hey-hey-heying his way toward the deli. Why do I suspect cloned meat is the least of the threats to the food chain?
Just bitching as the BS backs up: Is there anything duller than someone else’s struggle to knock off the LBs? Am I cynical in thinking Southern is seductive but necrophilia is creepy? Could anyone really be shocked, shocked that ol’ Rach’ might not actually consume the crap she endorses? (I was happily surprised, however, to see some smart editors jumping off the SS Cretinous.) And if you’re not even a real critic, what is the point in writing about a neighborhood restaurant for millions of readers merely to trash it? If it sucked, why would you even go back? I can’t wait for the flat-out rave for the one-step-up-from-Olive-Garden headed for the mothership. . . .
Travel is wasted on the incurious, which is why it’s even more depressing to watch the Chimp parade around the Middle East with his usual dazed demeanor, security-blanketed by his monogrammed gift bibs. The only thing that makes it bearable is imagining a guy who eats like a 5-year-old having to take his 45-car motorcade into drive-throughs if he wants his Big Mac felafel and side of fries. Oh, the tantrums he must throw.