And now that I’m admitting I care again, I was pretty disheartened to see the new ad campaign shilling the sexiest elements in the kitchen periodic table as mere antioxidants. One of the reasons Indian food is so great and great for you is its heavy use of spices — what struck me in India was how neither sweat nor shit stank the way you might expect in a country where women wash clothes in mud puddles on the side of the highway. There’s a one-word reason why Venice ruled the world at one point, why the Spice Route shaped civilization, why no one ever talks about a North Dakota cuisine. All through millennia spices have been equal parts flavor and nutrition. To turn magic into mere medicine at this point is reverse alchemy. And putting the adjective Super in front of anything, from Foods to Tuscan, just diminishes it. Imagine where prunes would be today if they had not been promoted primarily as turd releases.
Saveur is very smart on one level to crowd-source its “top 100.” My gripe with all “best of” lists put out by people in New York is always that we do tend to be a bit parochial here in the center of the universe. Call me cynical, though, but why do I envision a million flacks sitting at their computers calculating how to game the system? Shill, baby, shill.
In a similar vein, who needs propagandists when newspapers will regurgitate whatever they’re handed without doing the math? Newsday ran a piece on a 2 percent tax on fast food in Nassau County with display type scare-mongering that it would raise the price of a $5.39 Burger King item to $5.85. I didn’t even know the chain sold anything that pricey, but something does not compute. More insidiously, the lede referred to taxing “your” Big Mac. Sorry, we the non-indulgers have nothing to fear. But I could definitely get behind a tax on Big Food-biased reporting.
My cranky cheesemonger friend forwarded me the release touting Costco’s caving to the foie gras nutcases and I laughed it off as ridiculous grandstanding — how many 50-lobe packs of the stuff could the chain possibly be selling? More important, foie gras really is not a food that ever belonged in big box stores; if it did, Smithfield would be on it like stink on hog shit. But my beleaguered friend has made me see the error of my thinking. Once the most powerful outlets give in to the crazies, the crazies will come after the weaker ones. And this is like the proverbial fight between two elephants — the grass getting stomped is the producer. So far, fattening livers is still perfectly legal. But this is a country where they shoot abortionists, don’t they?
You know you’re old when you open up an elaborately packaged package to find a vial of scented salt and can only conjure Dick Morris sucking hooker toes. Is there enough lavender to blow that guy off the national stage and let a new chef reclaim the restaurant’s reputation? Half a pound of butter at a time?
I keep thinking ads are the weakest link in the media meltdown — what is a commercial but a middleman in a world where No. 1 people aren’t buying and No. 2 we don’t need no stinking hired minds to tell us what to buy if we were; we have the Internets for that [insert question mark somewhere here]. But then I’ll wind up on Menupages and see ads at their most effective. Call up a menu and get a Tyson Foods “is it stew or is it Fido fare?” banner and you’re certain to proceed straight to either restaurant or takeout. Even better, call up a menu and get Weight Watchers and you are going to order twice as much. Long may they run.
And speaking of the wielder of that perceived-as-so-powerful spoon, she managed a rather generously obvious payback. My BS detector went off when I noticed one recipe was from a big-name winery, so I slogged through enough of the text to see the itinerary sounded awfully similar to one followed by a friend who had sent photos from several of those very same stops. Apparently three groups were treated to this largess recently. Once upon a time she would have covered her tracks (how many times did a copy editor sorrowfully inform me I was wrong, her “rich husband” was paying the freight?), but I guess hard times have come down hard on a newspaper previously so contemptuous of anyone who ever took a press trip. As for the allegedly tasty little tipoff? “Totally unremarkable, unlike so many others” is how my friend remembers them.
Just as ridiculous was something I spotted about “NoZa,” someone’s idiotic coinage for the area above the anti-Eli’s. Not only have I never heard that term uttered out loud. But earth to hip blogs: You can get coffee up this way. We have dueling cappuccini right over on Amsterdam, and the cafe con leche at Malecon is exceptional. Actually, if it weren’t for Granddaisy, the real wasteland would be “SoFa.”
One of the many good things about being an old crank in a neophyte’s world is rolling with silliness that seems so outrageous but is really just the same as it ever was. Tavern on the Green as top-grossing restaurant? Next you’ll be telling me people flock to McDonald’s. Crappy cookbooks taking top honors at a big gathering of the food coven? Friends don’t let friends lose silly contests. Deviled eggs as Easter cliché? Come down off that cross; we could use the wood. Look away before you notice the definition of eternity is two Marys and a ham. July is coming and the grills are getting hot.
I guess the road to hell is actually paved with really shitty pork. In the photo in a new campaign by one of the “don’t ask, don’t retch” bacon producers, a coupla rashers are presented as the highway between Hash Brown Hill and French Toast Mesa, which is disturbing enough. But the text beneath just makes me conjure a copywriter with absinthe in hand and loaded revolver next to keyboard. He/she clearly had to work very, very hard not to mention the essential ingredient in great bacon to craft “carefully selected, hand-trimmed and naturally hardwood smoked for hours.” It’s sorta like a bogus jeweler omitting mention of how its gorgeous “diamonds” are actually polished from charcoal turds. No wonder satirists are fantasizing about bacon-fed pigs.
I’m wondering about this depression we’re in since I was out again two days later for a 25th-anniversary soiree that I assumed was just your average gangbang. I didn’t even check my coat, just ducked in for a glass of whatever and a taste of whatever else and a little chefspotting, only to be informed that it was a relatively small sit-down dinner. Five courses, in fact. (Seven, actually.) It suddenly seemed like a hostage situation, and I said so, but I felt better when other people agreed: We’d had no idea we were RSVPing for a feast. And it was quite a feast, apparently inspired by Mae West with her “too much of a good thing is wonderful.” Memory Lane was paved with tuna tartare, lobster pasta, steak, and chocolate cake, while the Future Freeway was represented by sea urchin ice cream, fennel soup topped with an Adria-esque beet emulsion and “peas and carrots” consisting of the former in a mold and the latter as an oozing puree. (You had to be there.) All around our three freeloading tables, the place was packed. Only a cynic would wonder if that was a reassuring set-up in the realm of $25 apps, $44 entrees.
Also to be filed under “WTF were they thinking?” was the City piece about the good times rolling on at brunch at a couple of Euro trash heaps. I confess I couldn’t slog through the whole reeking morass, but I see some smart bloggers are extracting the damning quotes by the new welfare princes, Wall Street guys whose bankster employers now have taxpayer money to burn. I walk around this city every day and see more for-rent signs in every block, more blocks torn apart for construction that cannot possibly be completed, more bums, more poop unscooped. And the biggest story in all boroughs was let ’em swill Champagne? Heckuva job, KB and your phony Sunshine Band. Then again, I spotted baked apples at Eli’s for $6.95. Apiece. And frozen crab potpies, box of four, for $75 at Dean & Deluca. Those Madoff millions must be around here somewhere. . . .
Consider this a case of ads imitating bad art. One of the scarier food companies is running a campaign to promote its sliced “meats” to restaurants with a testimonial straight out of “The Wrestler.” In the middle of lunch hour, chain gangster says: “It was like a horror movie. There was an accident with the slicer, and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. It was very upsetting for everyone.” Now he’s using the processed crap. At least there’s no blood on the bread. And any accidents are just where Americans want them: out of sight in the crap factories.
Opinioneater tipped me off to the timeliest ice cream flavor since the “You Shit in My Mouth and Called It a Sundae” that was allegedly entered in the contest to name one for the Chimp. It’s Peanut Panic, and the whole country is buying it. (This really is the home of the chicken.) Peanut producers, meanwhile, are fighting back, but they’re shooting empty shells. I dropped by a promising-sounding cluster fuck with chefs demonstrating dishes and drinks made from the now-terrifying legumes, and I think there were more promoters and servers than press. A bartender wearing a protective glove didn’t help the message much, either. The best bite was a peanut salsa, but I wouldn’t kick peanut chaat or peanut beef salad or peanut pilaf out of my kitchen. (Don’t ask about peanut butter macaroni and cheese.) As I was leaving, I asked one of the more officious-looking promoter types if there were recipes to be had. And he reacted just like the startled chipmunk on Youtube — his neck almost snapped on realizing they had not thought about the most obvious need with an event like this. Website also came up empty. I’d hate to think the group doesn’t even believe its own PR.
I remain fixated on how easily the media continues to take the Spam bait. At the Food Shitty near me, the cheapest little supermarket I know, London broil was going for $3.99 a pound. Hormel’s pride was $5.23 a pound, the shelf sticker said. This is not your grandfather’s Depression. Things went way off the meat track thanks to Earl Butz, and now there’s a chicken even in every can of cat food (check the labels). But I guess it says it all that you could get four good servings out of a pound of London broil while a typical little can o’ Spam, according to the label, serves 6. Shit apparently goes down easier in small bites.