Bistro California

For all my carping about fast food chains engulfing and devouring the world, I have to give them credit for design. If the goal is to move the sheep in and out at the speediest clip, they do it with minutes to spare. Contrast your average Taco Bell expedition with my last two experiences with home-grown wannabes, both of which must have been conceived by bastard bureaucrats from a liaison between the IRS and the post office. At ‘Wichcraft, there’s no overhead menu; only late in the game do you realize you need to pick up a menu in the front and puzzle over it before stepping into the order line, which is more an order clot of confused customers puzzling over menus. If you get your pricey sandwich to stay, you’re guaranteed the runner will make at least three laps around the room in search of your hungry face. The comment card on offer should have been the first indicator that this is not a chute but a maze; that device is the last refuge of flawed enterprises (sorta like sex: places that get it right never have to ask).

Pinch Pizza by the Inch, at least the one on Columbus, was even more of a Bermuda Triangle. Mensa should give credit just for finding the entrance. But the menu is like the agate on the back of your MasterCard bill. Not only do you have you decide what combination of the infinite variations you want. Then you have to do the math — two inches plus jalapenos times what? My head almost exploded, and I spent only a little more than a straight olive-and-pepperoni slice would have cost up the block. I have no idea how they can make it work with a runner, flags with order numbers, utensils required etc. But the staff was astonishingly pleasant. I would go postal in the first hour if I had to listen to two rooms full of squalling human larva while facing down a molasses-like stream of guidebook-carrying, Esperanto-speaking patrons studying the menu for longer than it takes to learn Latin. Plus the occasional childless New Yorker. Because special orders do upset us.

First they came for the crappy coffee

What’s left to say about the Ping-Pong ball shot straight into the CEO’s office at Dunkin Do Nots? I guess “foie gras.” How’s that Chicago crackdown going? Oh. Right. So well that the original Saucier’s Apprentice jetted straight off to wallow in the resurgence there now that Prohibition has nearly ended. It almost restores your faith in America. Idiots may pull ads when lunatics insist. But banning an indulgence just ramps up the demand. (Or, take away gin, birth a mob.) I’ve only wrangled the raw Hitchens-esque livers once in my cooking life, but even I was ready to run to my nearest dealer to get a couple of lobes to poach in duck stock after reading the Journal. Imagine the stampede if they outlawed felafel in a keffiyeh-print napkin under an anchor baby’s butt.

Poached yesterday

Thanks to the new nest with all the upturned beaks looking to be fed constantly, I just came across a train wreck north of the border. Here was a reviewer setting out to round up and trash a bunch of memoirs without knowing it’s Hazan with an A, let alone that James preceded Julia on the flickering gray screen by at least a decade. As Yogi would say, if he were being quoted today: “You could Wiki it up.”

If Bloomberg knew Flying Pigs

Even before the latest crane fell toppled as I was heading over to the Greenmarket on 97th Street, I was thinking how unfair it is that Holy Foods is invading my neighborhood with a soulless behemoth just steps from the best food-shopping opportunity in town (at least as long as Union Square is Pure Hell during renovation). And I certainly eyed that scary crane up around 100th with total dread on a 9/11-level severe-clear morning. As skeptical as I have been about how commerce can edge out quality, I did have qualms about the hardy souls who turn up Friday after Friday within limping distance. But I came home with Ronnybrook milk and Kernan strawberries (and Sweet Williams) and a booster shot of vicarious seasonality even though I would not be cooking while home alone. And a postcard announcing that Keith the Garlic Guy is back downtown for the season had almost the same restorative effect. It was a reproduction of a woodcut of a “walk-behind seeder.” It looked to be more authentically hand-signed than any condolence note Go-Fuck-Yourself has had mailed to the nearly 5,000 families of Iraq war dead on our side. And even the stamp was chosen to fit, a new-rate pink one depicting a watermelon. Imagine one single slaughterhouse owner taking a fiftieth of that care with the product itself. I hear the wolf out on the horizon but can’t imagine giving up food by hand even when the beast turns up at the door.

Duck hot dogs

High-five to New York magazine for the profile that made pastis-clear why Panchito missed the Florent boat. “What we thought” is never as good a story as “who I am.” And the French guy comes off as anything but a sentimental fool. Which should not be surprising. How would an idjit who mistook a smirking dry drunk for a serious candidate understand that? With luck, there are restaurants in hell.