Not that I think hysteria should reign, but it is a little odd that radiation is seeping crazily in Japan and we’re all mellow-yellow. Maybe if the anti-beef was getting nuked instead of sushi (and the planet) we’d be reading the usual “attack of the killer tomatoes/spinach/scallions” headlines?
I was so excited about spring garlic at our neighborhood Greenmarket on Friday that I jumped on the 6 train to Union Square on Saturday, after many weeks, only to find the usual March Brownmarket. So I was up for distraction when I passed a woman strutting down Fifth with a stack of Eataly pizzas and headed straight there, and straight in. Where I spotted fresh morels for $75 a pound, easily the most I have ever seen them in 20-plus years of tracking them, and also asparagus that was described as “US” on the chalkboard but tagged with “produce of Mexico” on each bunch. I Tweeted about both, which clearly struck an “emperor’s new food” chord, which made me go back and Tweet that any asparagus this time of year should be labeled NA — not for “not applicable” but for North American. I personally don’t want imported asparagus, but it’s an artificial border in springtime for those with no patience for Jersey green. Still, this validates country-of-origin labeling. I doubt 99 percent of Americans give a flying spear where their food comes from. But what’s the harm in telling them?
Also on the Twitter, I got caught up in the lament over the Google skewing results in its new recipe search. Of course there are ways to game the gamers (refine searches by blogs and videos, for starters). But smarter observers than I soon began noting how ironic it was that a site built on users creating content for free, for the profits of others, was up in digital arms over overreach. And that’s why the herd instinct will always pay. Anyone can publish a cookbook today. Or start a successful blog. But it’s more seductive to call it a contest and label it Pillsbury by the Numbers.
The WSJournal just took out a hit on NYC’s Green Cart program, framing the issue through the sad tale of a Korean grocer in Brooklyn whose business is way down but waiting until the penultimate graf to note that both the Bushwhacked economy and construction near her store were contributing as much to her Fail as the competitive price of bananas. A liberal neighbor took up the cause on Facebook, where I had to point out that these carts are going into neighborhoods where bananas are overpriced if they’re available at all, not like the carts of hustlers who commandeer so many corners in our little corner of privileged Manhattan (the one opposite Whole Foods is particularly tenacious, putting the lie to the notion that “no-overhead” vendors have the edge on bricks and mortars). Jay Gould must be reincarnated, because this whole country is proving what he said more than 100 years ago: “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” While the “little people” never notice if Monsanto is paying any taxes at all. . .
Not to pick on the WSJ, because its Off Duty really is best in show these days, almost enough to compensate for the slovenly copy-editing in other sections of the paper and the batshit insanity in its opinion pages. But, really, how could such a savvy section fall for the Chatty Cathy string-pulled salad spinner? Sure, it seems like a good idea in a quick test on a weekly deadline. Use the sucker for a few months, though, and you’ll see why old fucks prefer the OXO with its pump. What’s saddest is that I feel as if I’ve been watching this argument get lost for easily a decade (I was overruled at the NYT when I pointed out the obvious — that string goes flaccid faster than Newt’s patriotic organ). A seltzer maker is a wondrous thing on its first shot, too. Not so much when you try it without a fresh cartridge.
Sometimes you just need to pull back the curtain and dispense with colorful obfuscation for everyone’s sake, and this is a case in point: I got invited to both a showing of the Danny Meyer documentary at MOMA and the reception beforehand. And I can happily report the latter was exceptional, with a well-edited guest list and demanding host and plenty of good food and drink (both sparkling and the Morgroni, a Meyer dad twist on the Negroni that, his son admitted, should have been served colder). But the film. Oy. Footage from 1998 supplemented with a few contemporary interviews does not an Errol Morris make. No wonder it went straight to DVD. But I was really glad I saw it because it took me back to those glory days of 1998, which was the year I went back to the NYTimes and the future looked so bright we had to take 401Ks. Danny says he was chagrined to be shot in an Armani overcoat with shoulders stretching from the East River to the Hudson, but it’s the right plumage for the time, an era when he complains onscreen about not being able to hire enough competent waiters or keep enough skilled craftsmen on the job to get both Eleven Madison and Tabla up and running within a month of each other. Watching those scenes in a roomful of old and rich people just brought home the answer to a question I constantly offer my enlightened friends: Are we doomed? Or are we fucked? No restaurateur today could even envision opening what Danny did in 1998 — what bank/investor would commit to a project that insanely ambitious? But what resonated most with me is how he saw the future and beat it. Only after a seriously good chef was kicked to the curb and a star magnet was installed did Eleven Madison finally take off, with food to match its glorious setting. Now it’s a restaurant reflecting its time, in a country where 400 people control most of the wealth. I ate there under Heffernan more times than I can count but suspect I will go to the crematorium without ever experiencing even its bar again. The literal bar is set too high. But he deserves the honorific of Saint when you consider his genius in starting the Shake Shacks. No one can be too annoyed at him for getting shut out of his temple of cuisine if there’s a “let ’em eat burgers” option so close by. . .
Kinda funny to watch people who were so complacent about the Chertoff-enriching cancer boxes at the airports now freaking out about radiation in food thanks to the Japan meltdown. Hope no one tells them most spices are already irradiated, and a whole a lot o’ ground beef is, too. Even so, it’s kinda sad to see Popeye’s magic green bullet reduced to a wimp in the aftermath of Japan’s megadisasters. What is it about spinach that leaves it so vulnerable first to E. coli and then salmonella and now radiation? You’d almost think it was chicken.
While everyone’s still hating on “foodie,” I’m really not sure “drinkery” needed to be coined. Although my “once a copy editor, always a nuisance” side does note that it makes more sense than eatery, given that a winery is where the grape is converted while no one churns out diners anywhere.
I’m not going to say where or who, but I was at an event where the star chef didn’t show and the organizers wrote it off to a presumed rush of business in the wake of a rave review. But he did arrive, very late, to sprinkle his stardust over the room. By coincidence, we rode down in the elevator together, along with one of those cellphone natterers who was all “oh, there must be a party on 20 yappity-yappity.” Clearly wanting to be recognized, he shoved a copy of the publication of the evening into her hand, but she didn’t seem awed, so I said: “Good job. Glad you were able to make it.” And he responded: “The subway. The subway is the key.” Which dazzled me into thinking: “What a man of the people.” Then we stepped off the elevator and he went barreling out of the building . . . and into a waiting Town Car. Either he’d summoned it on the elevator ride up. Or it was his own private A train.
This is no reason to defund NPR, but the interview with the memoirist of the moment over the weekend was more Peoplesque than New Yorkerish. I can see why everyone’s going for the mother and husband nasty bits. But why record a “celebrity chef” in her noisy restaurant without asking anything about her food?
File under Out of the Mouths of Consorts: We were at AIPAD, the photo show at the Armory, and I stopped to gawk at an old Herbert Ponting news shot of the start of the doomed 1911 Scott expedition to the South Pole. It showed about 30 sled dogs on the deck of a ship loaded with supplies, and it looked so upbeat — unwitting animals being ferried on a noble human exploration of parts unknown. While I was “wow”ing and mulling and romanticizing, Bob just said: “Yeah. They wound up eating those dogs.” Please never tell me what happens in “Delicatessen.”
I’m pondering starting a contest for best e-release, and it will only cost $1,000 to enter. Given that I cleaned 761 unread ones out of my writeme inbox over the weekend, I could award my way right out of penury.
A Waikiki resort is now offering “GMO-free cuisine.” Which will make the birthers go even nuttier — could there be better proof Hawaii is really not America?
The food world is gearing up for its annual orgy of self-congratulation, but I guess I’m about as likely to find a Peeps shelter as refuge from the endless dithering about restaurants/books/chefs whose names don’t even ring a dinner bell for me. So I’ll volunteer that changing the location of the announcement of your nominees makes about as much sense as dancing about charcuterie. And that another list of nominees should never have gone out with so many misspellings at a time when copy editors and proofreaders and better are in huger supply than busboys. Coleman? Daries? McMeel? Randon House? Pilgramage? All that spewed, though, I will admit that the idea of a People’s Choice award is smart. It would save the stupid Oscars. And it could be a baby step toward Dancing With the Chefs’ Ghostwriters.
This was not a great week for reviewer/book match-ups down at the hometown powerhouse. The Forelock prolly shoulda walked away from the competition, for any number of reasons, and his assigning editor shoulda brought in the G that starts with D. Plus Panchito was clearly sulking after reading the “inevitable memoir” after seeing it, by all accounts, reviewed so much better than his own. I didn’t think I could get one more laugh out of his lack of self-awareness, but I have to say reading a guy who was criticized for TMI now bitching about another memoirist not laying out TMI was pretty fucking rich. So, Ms. Prune: Two fingers or three?