Birthday cake with a guitar on top

The only good thing about watching the Chimp doing his dog-eating-its-own-vomit act, returning to the scene of the crime in New Orleans, was realizing it was the last time he would be sweating and smirking there. Now we just have to grit our teeth to get past one more jackass opportunity here on 9/11. Given how trendy goat has suddenly gotten, with features in New York and Time, maybe someone could roast a pet one just for him?

“No to smoking. Yes to dogs.”

The funniest no-shit clarification I’ve seen lately was the WSJournal’s, which noted helpfully that halibut cheeks are “taken from the fish’s head.” Of course they are. The butt is what you normally eat.

I also was taken with the restaurant ad I spotted in the Village Voice: “Free soda can for every $10 spent.” Talk about nickeling and nickeling. Eat there nine more times and you’ll collect enough to get a dollar back.

Then there were the signs I spotted on 14th Street: “Real burning wood” on a new fast food joint. (No Yule log on the teevee there.) And, at the door of a bar: “Everyone here brings happiness. Some by arriving. Some by leaving.” It’s Jamaican for “don’t let the door hit you in the ass.”


I assume someone is already at work on the script for the next big wine movie, after “Sideways” and “Bottle Shock.” This one will spin the story of the magazine that followed the Publishers Clearinghouse model: Send money, win big. What I found most fascinating is that Goliath was humbled by a non-MSM David. Mrs. Friend could have nailed this fraud to the international wall if she had been able to use the tools in the new-age arsenal, but it’s fascinating to contemplate why the truth that she couldn’t is both a good and a bad thing. It really isn’t very journalistic to report under false pretenses; there is no way the NYTimes could have or should have let her run a scam. At the same time, though, this insistence on ethics lets an awful lot of Wyle E. Beards get away. If I were the enterprising type, I’d be dreaming up a reality show with a fake restaurateur landing a gig at the Carnegie Hall for chefs. Wait. Isn’t that reality?

At least volleyballers have Hooters

If it weren’t for coverage of the Beijing air and the Chimp’s drunken buffoonery, I would have tuned the Olympics completely out. But ever since I spread the NYTimes double-truck ad honoring Michael Phelps under Banshee’s litter box, I’ve been thinking about what a strange career path competitive swimming is. Flipper yourself out, bring home more medals than the TSA might allow in your carry-on, and then what? Work your way up to coach? Struggle for a bottled-water deal like Mark Spitz? The best the guy can probably look forward to is a contract to promote some Sugar Crap cereal, because Americans have an insatiable appetite for self-delusion. General Foods should start a second line modeled on milk cartons: Missing — Olympic athletes.

Yahoo whopper

My pal whom I’m now going to call Formaggio Arrabbiato had great descriptions of both Molto Ego’s recent supermarket ad and the latest product bearing his name: He’s finally “nuked the fridge” in promoting something “as ordinary as factory cheese can be.” The former phrase certainly applies to Google now that it is reduced to drumming up press for a Krispy Kreme burger served in its cafeteria. What’s dispiriting about that is not the diabetes-inducing idiocy of it but the limits of the imagination involved. Eclair hot dog would have been a slightly better representation of the core business. Whatever happened to metatags?

And chocolate burns calories

I know my intolerance is showing whenever the subject of obesity comes up, but this latest wave of news reports insisting you can be fat and healthy really can’t go uncontested. If the only worry in life were heart disease, sure, the newest gainfully underwritten study would be the greatest development since the motorized scooter. But as I gimp around the city, I see untold hordes limping even worse merely because they are, in the immortal words of a letter-writer to USA Today a couple of years ago, carrying around Cadillac bodies on VW Bug frames. And every time I think about porking out, I remember the whale of a woman at PT who tried to climb onto an exercise bike and nearly pulled the thing over onto herself. The message that went out this week from even the vaunted NYTimes was very clear: Eat up. Probably no one detected the “get on the treadmill” second graf. For all the government intervention in Americans’ eating habits, it’s amazing no one has come up with the best deterrent to gluttony yet: Hang a set of crutches next to the Ben & Jerry’s case and make sure anyone who wants to buy a few pints of Chubby Hubby can first actually walk the length of the aisle on them. Now imagine trying to move fast enough to get out of the way of a speeding car (or a crazy gun guy in church) or through the door of a crashing airplane. There’s more than one way to die by fat. . . .

Looked good from the tire swing

The POW who would serve the Chimp’s third term seems to be having trouble staying on POW-of-the-people message. First he makes a foray to an Olive Garden in Florida, then he goes out for coffee in a cardboard cup in my old stomping grounds in Arizona. But he drops slightly more than the price of his shoes ($540) at the first stop and takes a nine-car motorcade to Starbucks on the second. My little brother, who still lives out there, was saying he hoped the entourage would buy a sandwich or two to help the local economy, but I kinda doubt this is what he had in mind. Given that McLame and his sugar mama shell out $270,000 a year on servants, you would think someone could fetch him a cappuccino at home. To his credit, he does seem to have documented that he cooks his own ribs. But why do I suspect grilling is just the brush-clearing of 2008?

Lost with no Clark Wolf to quote

I made my first trip to Washington in the mid-Seventies, when my older sister was working on Capitol Hill and I was naively ensconced in the Midwest, and I have to say it never seemed to change demonstrably until the early 2000s. Even under the Clinton boom, it was a mysteriously sleepy backwater with the same hotels and restaurants every time I would go down to meet my consort while he was navigating the Geographic shoals. Something happened after the first election by Supreme Court, though, and I never understood it even though DI/DO did a big piece in 2003 on a neighborhood that had become restaurant central for reasons never even hinted at. Only now, thanks to Thomas Frank’s “Wrecking Crew,” and the series of tubes, is it clear why the dark-booze-drinking city on the swamp is busting out all over with boutique hotels and trendy restaurants and Holy Foodses and gentrification. The Chimp crew would call it privatization. Cynics know it is raping and pillaging.

The money being raked in in a time of bogus war is obscene, to the point where the teevee shows a lobbyist in her mega-mansion wrapping gifts using sheets of dollar bills as paper. In a video, Frank drives around pointing out the huge sleek office buildings erected out in the suburbs for companies like KBR (formerly Halliburton, Go-Fuck-Yourself’s evil empire). Campaign ads this season will be rife with allusions to how the restaurant world has benefited (I still remember a New York restaurateur saying, just after opening his steakhouse there, that he would never disclose his party; “capitalist” would be the belief system to draw both sides). I don’t blame anyone, but I do buy into the theory that the Villagers have done the country a terrible disservice by their insularity. The frog in the pot slowly comes to a boil, and the rest of America never perceives how absolutely absolute profits can corrupt. In retrospect I wonder what the impact would have been from having an outlander fly into DC to look into it the way they do other corrupt capitals. Personally, I always find stories on New York restaurants more fascinating when they are written by wide-eyed reporters rather than our own Villagers. Even when you want to spoof them, the kernels are generally of truth.

Lobster ravioli, again?

Speaking of reality checks, I slogged all the way to the end of the Finger Lakes vacation write-off just because I still remember eating my way around the region for a story a couple of years ago and coming away convinced the big chef there is Senor Sysco. I’d bet even the magic chicken comes off the truck. But then I was working on a different kind of story, and wine does change everything.

Windows shopping

In a sane world, all food writers would skip the big “Fancy Food Show” at the Javits Center and just wait for the nice slick magazine showcasing all the edited highlights a couple of months later. From what I can tell, you don’t even need to taste the products. I kinda liked macaroni and cheese with lobster when I had a forkful among 30,000 other tastes at the show, so I was happy to see it get a belated shout-out after the helpfully organized magazine arrived in the mail. Similarly, I could see in context why a decadent packaging program for spices seized several awards: When you’re talking fancy, concept trumps practicality every time. I liked those dosage packets enough to write them up for my editors, but they apparently did the math and the geometry: A teaspoon priced like a quarter-bottle really is more than ridiculous, and 16 tins are way too many for the average kitchen.

Count the silverware

On a related topic, it was more than amusing to watch the blowback when one restaurant reporter had the nerve to complain another was playing unfair. The commenters seemed to be in a wild contest to out-ignorant each other. What’s funnier is remembering what a crybaby she used to be when new joints would give their “news” first to the weekly magazines because they ran photos, and in color. Considering the Momofuku frenzy set off by the blogs, I kinda think the days when the likes of Mr. Ko could be extorted are running out.

Sweet Georgia wine

As indicated over at the satellite operation, the Chimp was apparently on a mission to bring home the gold in the wastrel-son division of hammering. Maybe his dream is to finally succeed at something, like brand ambassador for Bud once the heiress and her Manchurian mate shuffle back to the Mississippi of the Southwest (I can say that — I’m from there). A better career choice would be to volunteer to be sent around to schools to provide stumbling proof of what a little brain looks like on booze. Unless the Skank Twins beat him to it.

Saving a 750-pound guy in Mexico

The French seem determined to prove they are all Americans now. What’s up with this whacked idea of taxing foods the government decides are fattening? This is a country that invented half of what is worth eating, or at least makes life worth living. What is the adjective before “fry,” for Sarkozy’s sake? My French is about as good as my Swahili, but I would say it’s a slope slippery. Do you tax the Epoisses and not the baguette? Eat enough of anything, foie gras or chicken feet, and you can make yourself into Mr. Creosote. Next they’ll be putting warning labels on their wine bottles. And electing dry drunks. (I know, I know.)

Nail salon? Duane Reade? Bank?

My favorite observation lately is Richard Price’s on how “real estate is violence.” And nothing makes the point sharper than seeing Oppenheimer closed. That time-warp shop on upper Broadway was one of the greatest things about my not-always-great neighborhood, and I can only surmise that it was forced out by the greed ignited by the invasion of a couple of butt-ugly, environmentally unsustainable high-rises just to the north. We’ve been up here 22 years now and have seen everything change while one real carriage-trade butcher survived, even after the wacky owner sold to a younger entrepreneur who had no fear of fins in the house of shanks. I remember going back one Black Friday to say the “fresh” turkey we had bought was actually frozen, slowing down our rush to the Calvados greatly, and Harry in his bolo tie being both mortified and conciliatory, offering anything in the shop as recompense. His successor was quirkier, but he ran a smart operation. When I was on crutches for all those months, I could not underestimate the value of having a source I could call for meat for recipes to test and be guaranteed that what arrived an hour or so later would be exactly what I would have picked out myself. Beyond all that, there was such a great feeling to being in a shop “established in 1964” and knowing it looked in 2008 pretty much as it did when I was in seventh grade on a whole other planet. Word on the smart blogs is that they’re looking for a new location, and I wish them well. But I hope all those buyers of $2 million-plus apartments in the hideously misplaced glass boxes know Holy Foods will be nothing like the real deal if indeed it ever opens.

Monetary jack

I am clearly a magnet for all things mistyped. I got one from a travel story on Mainz, Germany, that advised: “Stroll along the romantic Christmas market and soak up the scent of mulled wine and roast, sweet pastries and hot morons.” (Would that be a few Mr. Olives?) I got another from a frustrated editor: “One of the customers’ favorites, the New England roll, combines shrimp tempura and spicy tuna tempura flacks with crispy soft shell crap, plum sauce and eel sauce.” (Truth in typing — unhappy free meal, you think?) And I got a third allegedly from the NYTimes, although I was not about to trawl around the Drivelist to verify it: “Gently simmered in a rich garlic-flecked tomato sauce until soft and velvety but not the least mushy, I had seconds, then thirds. . . .” (First, you braise the writer.) At least they all understand the main rule of sloppy keyboarding: If you have to get it wrong, get it silly.