Reading about the Great Black Hope’s celebratory martini after his Berlin speech only brought home yet again how derelict Panchito and his ilk were in the selling of the Chimp in 2000. A failed oilman one drink away from starting a war was passed off as a good ol’ boy who gave up booze for an imaginary friend. I’m only amazed the media drumbeat hasn’t started to portray vodka as elitist. Real candidates drink Belgian Bud.
Speaking of Panchito, maybe I’ve read too much really bad porn in my life, but his Sichuan lede sounded straight out of a trite plot involving Mother Superior rubbing Spanish fly all over a virgin while an abbot and a novice stand ready to put parts into places. And I’m not talking haggis. If there was ever a week when the Bruni Digest needed to be resuscitated . . .
And speaking of the Bud heiress’s old man, you almost had to feel sorry for him as he bungled his way through food photo op after food photo op; he almost would have been better off touting offshore drilling alongside that oil spill in the Mississippi. The last candidate who looked so disoriented in a supermarket was the Chimp’s dad, and even he didn’t have to read the price of milk off a cue card or send applesauce jars tumbling. Far more humiliating was the appearance at a “fudge haus.” I can’t even imagine what the Berliners made of that bastardization of their cuisine. If he only knew how to get online, he might have realized he did not have to look so pathetically out of touch. Columbus has some pretty cool restaurants; there was no need to go for the wurst. (Sorry.) Judging by the cult following for Jeni’s ice cream, say, he could almost have drawn 200,000 to North Market. But maybe he can redeem himself with a tour of the Iowa State Fair next month. I’ve certainly never seen anyone in a flak jacket eat a corn dog out of both sides of his mouth.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but how much could you skim if you rounded up every bar tab a few cents over the course of a very busy night? I had time to kill before Laurie Anderson’s underwhelming “Homeland” in the dread TWC and could not face the dreary little standup bar outside the theater, so I trekked to one of the fine dining establishments thoughtfully provided by the mall’s developer. The place was packed, and it ain’t cheap (two Americas, did someone say?) But I snagged a barstool, ordered an $11 prosecco and asked for the check right away so I could bolt at will. This was one of those bars that charge tax, and I was amused to see that brought the tab to $11.92 but the total to $12 even. And I could see why that would be better for everyone: looped patrons don’t have to grope for pennies; bartender minimizes the risk of undertipping by the types who like to round up in case Amex can’t do the math. But looking around at how jammed just the bar was, I started adding things up myself. An extra $8 an hour could pay for a cab home.
But I’m not complaining because the place delivered what you would expect every enterprise in the “hospitality industry” should. The hosts were beyond welcoming, the bartender was both efficient and engaging, even the busboys and waiter I passed on the way to the bathroom all helpfully pointed the way. Contrast that with the jerk at the door of PicNic latish on Saturday afternoon when a friend and I wanted to have a caffeinated beverage at one of the sidewalk tables, of which exactly three were occupied at that latish hour, all under a dark and depressing scaffolding. This guy said we could only sit at the noisy bar because “we’re saving tables outside for brunch.” I admit I was rude, blurting, “Looks like you’re doing a fine business with that.” We went three blocks south to Regional, where the hostess immediately showed us to a table, we got our caffeinated beverages (plus a basket of brunch breads we tried to decline) and they got a 50 percent tip. But I will never understand why restaurants would rather wait for potential customers than cater to the people standing right in front of them, money virtually in hand. If they were perusing the personals, they’d die old maids.
The front-page news on New Orleans was encouraging, and I enjoyed the dig at the Scourge if not the sloppy copy-editing (poor boys? lower-case Creole?) But it still made me a little squeamish. You wouldn’t know from reading, but more than 1,800 people died from Katrina (actually, maybe many more). That seems a rather steep price to pay for a “culinary correction.”
As scornful as I am of fast food, I still think Los Angeles is one taco over the line in proposing a ban on it. A Big Mac is no different from foie gras: Someone wants to eat it, this is a free country. And once they come for the chicken nuggets, where would it end? Cupcakes can make you fat, too, with or without trans fats. Not to mention the fact that driving is not exactly good for anyone’s health. I see Sinclair Lewis quoted everywhere lately, saying fascism will come to America wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. But he might be wrong about the outfit. I predict a nutrition lab coat.
The Human Scratch N Match continues to shrink in the job. Building a review around a notoriously flighty chef who has already flown the coop was dumb enough. But someone really should take her aside and show her how a wine label conveys more information than grape and vintage, which are meaningless without the producer, or at the very least the country. For good measure, maybe she could be taught how to do a Google on the Italian for “priest strangler.” I could, of course, stop reading. But then I would miss sly touches like the Dolly Parton link someone at the paper thoughtfully provided to put her assets in perspective.
Other funny things I’ve seen in “legitimate” media: “Homemade honey” served at a B&B. A $15 sauvignon blanc presented as a great value (and it’s not even imported). And the recipe prizewinner in Taste of Home’s “Mangia!” issue: an Italian quiche (not a frittata, but in a crust, with pepperoni). When they do the “Viola!” edition, I’m going to be looking for the French lasagne.
Apparently it’s not just the middle class that has been wiped out in America. Mid-range booze is on the endangered list now, if the WSJournal story on the owners of a once-dominant vodka is any indication. The stuff has a Goldilocks problem: Not too cheap, not too expensive. Only the top and bottom sell anymore, and the more flavors a distiller adds to its line, the less space bars are willing to allot for a single brand. So maybe something good will come from all the whining Americans are doing these days: an end to 80-proof pop.
I have to admit I felt a pang when I saw that fans of my pal the Not So Tyro thought I was dissing him for his innocence of old crap in the food world. Things are spinning by so fast no one can keep up anymore; another young friend was marveling at lunch the other day that her even younger brother has no conception of Al Gore as inventor of the internet; he only knows the guy who made “An Inconvenient Truth.” (Oh, to be so ignorant of the evil the Villagers can do.) But I really felt a pang when the kid decided to educate himself by way of Craig Claiborne. Even the old pharts in the food world have not quite gotten over that particular memoir. My advice: Do not Google Frugal Gourmet.
In a week that started with depositors panicking outside a failed bank, you would think the Chimp could show just a hint of sensitivity at the table. But that would be misunderestimating his soullessness. Dinner for 245 after his silly ballgame was a full five courses, including crab salad and rib-eye steak, when for once hot dogs would have been more appropriate. But here’s a “fun fact” from the White House web site: Parties during the Hoover reign were big events, too, with 4,000 invitations routinely delivered around town. And how’d that work out again?
The base camp is getting even harder to maintain now that I have been swept into the E-ZPass of the internets, a blog that needs links more than words. But it can be trouble, too. After skimming part of the Drivelist’s latest “and then I did this and then I did that” when the wheel was already invented, I set off to Youtube in search of a postable “toddler makes first doody.” Yikes. If I had any money to invest, I’d be sinking it into pharmaceuticals big time. A whole generation is going to regret that youthful exuberance in a cellphone/video world. But even so, a close-up of a floating first turd in a toilet bowl cannot be as embarrassing as, “Look, world: I made snail butter.”
Will the last copy editor at the Home of the Human Scratch N Match please turn off her laptop on the way out? I got sucked into reading her latest excrescence and learned that Verbena was an Italian restaurant, the new joint apparently uses the leaves and not the flowers of hibiscus, and the “Torrontes 2006” was just scrumpy. If you can’t decipher a simple wine label, at least do a Google.
I also felt slightly queasy reading the Journal — apparently the last American newspaper with an absurd travel budget — on where the two candidates eat out when they eat out. I guess it made more sense than comparing arugula and orange juice, but it had a decided taint of stalking to it. (Or maybe I’m just worried some restaurateur will give up the goods on my second glass of wine at lunch.) Overall, the Great Black Hope comes off as the more sophisticated diner, even if he does — as the father of two young kids — succumb to a funky pizza place way too often. The Old Guy at least knows his Arizona-Mex even if the critic didn’t (I would kill for those enchiladas), but I was floored by his driving all the way to Jerome from Cornville for a BLT. The millionaires’ cuisine, after all, is right there in Sedona. Note to this campaign’s Panchito: Check the ZIP Code on the BBQ’d ribs you love so much.
Almost the best novel I have read since the last Richard Price is “Lush Life,” which I just barreled through in two middle-of-the-nights when dread was lurking right outside the bedroom door. Nobody is as cinematic in drawing characters with dialogue alone. It helped that I was such an aficionada of Schiller’s (and its uneasy neighborhood) way back when, but even a reader who could not conjure the place from memory would be transported by the descriptions of its subterranean side, and of the quotidian realities of running a restaurant in a city where waiter is so rarely a valued profession. Mostly, though, the book made the frenzy over the closing of Florent seem even more ridiculously hysterical. All that weeping and gnashing and rending of garments when the city is changing everywhere in every way by the second, constantly and relentlessly. Not to throw out a spoiler or anything, but I hear the Borgata is looking for a transvestites’ diner. . . .