Only New Yorkers would feel cheated when a hurricane did not flood every Starbucks and kill neighbors (in that order). It’s all “and I filled my bathtub for nothing!” After the lessons of 9/11 and the blackout, though, I was surprised so many people needed to pour into stores to stock up. But maybe they take the expiration date on the Poland Spring seriously.
One great thing about the stop-time, eerily silent weekend in Manhattan was that we woke up on Sunday morning to neither of our usual hometown papers on our doormat. No deliveries were getting through; even Famous Famiglia was closed for the first time I’ve ever noticed. Which meant I was spared having to see whatever blithering Panchito engaged in and could instead just watch him get eviscerated all over Twitter and the blogs all day. Happiest part: Finally, after nearly 10 years of me getting ragged on for using that nickname, people have caught on to the idiot who was responsible for bestowing it. Next hurricane, though, should start on Friday so we’re spared 6,000 ways to eat your lobster. How does that fit with sustainable/local/who-will-feed-the-poors?
Speaking of which, did Big Bird barf all over the food page the week before? (Yes, I know I’m way behind, but I was being the good in-law equivalent one weekend and then the good guest the week after.) Someone has apparently never been to Piemonte, and the giveaway was not just that history was ignored (um, why is the tuna always conserved?) But also that vitello tonnato there is not just an art form but a two-part indulgence that can be taken apart — we have a friend who makes only the sauce, fuck the vitello. Garnishes are for Jersey, of course. But it was just sad to see how far that Colavita-seducing page has come over the decades. Say what you will about Marcella and Giuliano, but they knew from real Italian. And once would have been consulted before any restaurateur yapping on his cellphone. (Also, too: Veal — It’s what’s for cucina povera dinner!)
And I guess I have to wade into the melted butter even though my biggest fan (not in the Loudon sense) has defended himself well, and one of the best food bloggers out there crafted a verbal-Astaire response as well. I’ll just say what I did all those years ago when a guy whose strongest credential was having eaten at the McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps was first anointed to pass judgment on an art form that probably means more to the city’s bottom line than even theater: WTF were the bosses thinking? Eric Alterman had a good warning that the worst Chimp enabler ever should “stay the heck away from politics,” but letting him back anywhere near food has just been proven equally embarrassing. What the AA is selling is not cuisine for the noble heartlanders. It’s processed crap, tarted up. (Whored down?) I got an email within hours from a friend in Philadelphia who is not even in the food world saying he spotted at least four egregious overstatements, and of course anyone sentient is still waiting for the correction on whether Les Halles is a very busy bestselling writer/television star’s restaurant 10 years on. Mostly, though, the drivel illustrated how far removed your average op-ed writer is from the red states they all claim to celebrate. The rubes aren’t rubes eating from Applebee’s salad bars. They must understand Liberace is not Fannie Farmer.
But why do all silly roads lead back to Panchito these days, I ask facetiously? How could readers have survived all those years of his droning about the cliché that is tuna tartare only to be informed that you can put pickles up yourself? Jeebus. Maybe out in “flyover country” — or in the birthplace of Ste Alice’s 40-year-old — they don’t know from crudo. But come on. This is New York. We have sushi in Duane Reades. And the cure for it one aisle over.
Too much time has elapsed for me to rant much about all the things that seemed pertinent before I took a couple of weekends off, and it’s not worth slogging back through Twitter, so let that be a lesson to me to either move my pub day or go back to claiming Sunday as my day. I do realize arguing over whether deep-fried butter is less ridiculous than deep-fried Crisco was pointless; most people don’t seem to understand either would just be an Iowa slop dumpling — really, butter is a vehicle; it needs another ingredient in the driver’s seat or you might as well fritterize corn oil and get the taxpayers to subsidize. And I only wished the tainted turkey had been discovered in China; those guys don’t fuck around with food fraudsters these days (at least if they’re caught). Also, too, the term food writer is getting seriously abused. If the silliest profiler ever merits it after one stupid stunt, I should start bulking up my bio as an Irving Penn.
I had to get a bit agitated over on my Trails page about one of my two crazy experiences with airport “security,” which I’m apparently doomed to suffer into perpetuity (in this country at least) because no one would suspect I’m packing a titanium hip. But mostly I came home from the Food Wonderland on the Great Lake saddened by all we’ve given up to keep a shoe or underwear bomb out of 36C. My consort succumbed to two really good bottles of Freedom Run (how’s that for an ironic name?) at the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers’ Market, and of course we couldn’t finish both in one night with the in-law equivalents watching. So $40 went wasted because USAir charges $25 for each checked bag so we only had carry-ons. Just as depressing, we had to leave one of the $5 jars of as-good-as-Swiss yogurt behind in the I-L E’s refrigerator. The other we spooned up while waiting in a lounge to hear if our flight would be canceled, Bob being smart enough to advise postponing security hell. And he’s more cautious since he had even peanut butter confiscated by a uniformed goon this summer. Too bad we don’t have kids. We could torment them with tales of how we once traveled all over the world and brought home oils and sauces and rums with no hands up our groins.
Speaking of which, I could not believe NPR’s report on how food stamp demand is way up in the US of We’re-No.-1 A. I listened to it thinking yet another hack from a Kochsucker think tank was hammering home talking points, only to learn it was a staffer whose salary is underwritten thanks to liberals (step away from the “sources,” reporters). My desperately poor, over-kidded parents were too proud to take “government handouts” and would trade with the Mexican neighbors to get commodity peanut butter and mystery meat, so I can sort of understand the wingnuts who think this is an every-cook-for-herself country. But really. We can afford $75 billion on “homeland security” but $68 billion on something that returns nearly double that to the economy is going to break us? Most disgusting was the “some say” assertion that food stamps discourage recipients from growing their own happy meals. You can’t buy a hot roast chicken with food stamps. But you can damn sure invest in bean plants.
Lastly, I’m quite happy I had some time to let the Bitterman saga stew and then cool, because I might have been intemperate in my first reaction — and any good cook knows how revenge should be served. So: No jerk who emails lying insults should be offended when he gets digitally slapped on the ass. The only mystery is why he spread his alleged injury so far and so wide. Personally, I don’t want to know.
Just back from Turkey, I can’t begin to describe what luxury it was to be able to tune out the kkkraziness for 10 days. Unfortunately, some huge news from the homeland was inescapable. Apparently the Big O had burgers for his birthday lunch. This should settle it, though. What kind of muslin wants fries with Ramadan?
And speaking of American stupidity, not much can top the zaftig young blonde in sausage jeans and designer sunglasses on the ferry back from Kadikoy in Istanbul who succumbed to a vendor’s tout for packages of what looked to me like rice paper rounds. She handed him a Turkish lira, tore open the plastic and pulled out what could have been a styrofoam waffle. And, after two bites, took it over to the trash can. When the vendor came by again, she stopped him and started railing: “That was not pita!” He just looked at her and kept walking, so she continued ranting to the women in headscarves on the opposite bench: “That was not pita.” Yeah, and you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Beyond that, my little expedition to Kadikoy was definitely vaut le voyage. It took me a while to find the market away from the Atlantic City-bleak ferry terminal, but I had an excellent afternoon exploring produce stands and cheese shops and fish stalls and meze vendors. One store sold only pickled vegetables, and when I stepped inside and signaled my appreciation of the vinegar-infused air, the owner insisted on my trying a cucumber, then gave me a glass of his good lemonade to wash it down. I asked to take his photo out front, and a vendor from across the street ran over to hug and mug, too. Which made it all the more surprising when I stopped into a bakery and spotted macarons in the case and the salesclerk vehemently declined my mimed request to take a snapshot of such an un-Turkish phenomenon. I just left laughing. Hate to tell you, lady, but you may think you have something unique. But if they’re lying there next to the baklava far from Paris, they are so over. Contemplated cupcakes yet?
Among the many changes in Beyoglu, count the reopening of the gorgeously restored Pera Palace in the top five. Last year this hotel, where Agatha Christie famously wrote “Murder on the Orient Express,” was just a shell with more guards than workmen hanging around. This July it was, I heard, attracting the likes of Ben Affleck to the terrace bar. Where the menu, I’m sorry to say, was heavy on quesadillas and burgers rather than the wonders that Istanbul kitchens can produce. I guess even the best hotels will always be hotels, pandering to travelers craving safety over adventure, serving food everywhere that you could get anywhere. My new name for it is stateless cuisine.
I tried to tune out all the flackery while I was away and only noticed the shilling for yet another a name chef signing up to do airline food because it struck me as more ridiculous than usual after I’d flown Turkish Air, which was like a flight from before Saint Ronnie turned travel into midnight in America. Even in steerage, the attendants passed out menus (along with amenity kits) to build anticipation, then served drinks with toasted hazelnuts, then dispensed dinner and finally took their sweet time clearing trays. By the time everyone was fed and fine, the plane was so serene you could sleep straight through till a full breakfast (eggs with roasted mushrooms etc.) My pasta with eggplant, tomato and cheese on the way over was so good I’ll get an Epi post out of it, and the whole grains and vegetables with the beef on the way home were easily among the best tastes I’ve ever experienced above clouds. No celebrities were involved, though, just good cooks using respectable ingredients. Interestingly, though, on each leg a chef in toque-to-clog regalia was positioned at the door to say buh-bye. Turkish Air must know walking the walk costs a lot less lira than talking celebs.
I was a little more restrained this trip, but I still made a serious effort to try as many Turkish rosés as possible, even though too many places seemed to be pushing Italian for much more (and as I’ve noted, the Italians do great whites and reds, but nothing decent in between). That meant stopping by Sensus again, near the Galata Tower, where I tried a good one made from very particular Turkish grapes from a very particular region, as the woman who poured it explained. You would think it would take off anywhere wine snoots congregate. But on the way out, I noticed it was simply labeled “blush.” Why not just sell it as pink chardonnay?