I missed the Chimp hosting “Fear Factor” on the teevee while I was off at some amazing friends’ very glamorous birthday party (terrace, jazz band, great caterer, winking waiters), but I do hope the myriad manufacturers of antacids seized the opportunity to run commercials for antidotes to the fresh yellowcake. Given that his stooges are rolling over yet again, I can’t wait for the dinner skit where he goes laughingly looking for those weapons of financial destruction he managed to sell. If only an infamous pretzel had been one small chocolate mint. . . .
This has to be one of the lamest full-page ads ever: A big nut company swallows a smaller snack food company and takes the opportunity to tout its “culinary nuts.” That adjective drives me batshit insane to begin with, but can you not eat walnuts straight from the bag, too? Must they only be used for cooking? And wouldn’t it be better to be promoting those unsalted, un-glopped-up nuts as a healthful snack anyway? What the world needs now is culinary potatoes. Or, even better, culinary corn.
Long ago I decided my last meal should be in France, but I never imagined it might precede euthanasia. Or that it might flash before my eyes before my cappuccino. Could the salvation of the cuisine have been made any more soporific? A good writer meets a great topic and readers nod right off. It was still better, though, than the latest installment of Butt Boy for Eli. When the kicker turns out to be “never mind,” you wonder why the damn thing even ran, except to provide just what he intended, a promo for a store where prices are already so absurd I have often calculated it would be cheaper for shoppers to take a cab across town to the real Zabar’s. But the guy, to his credit, does pony up for an awful lot of advertising, especially starting right about now. High holy days, indeed.
Speaking of whom, I dragged myself off as I do every year to a certain state tourism event solely to see how badly my birthplace is getting dragged through environmental hell with fountains and spas. This year was even more unsettling than usual because the organizers had decided to downsize the venue, which is, admittedly, a very good way of making a McSame-worthy crowd look like an Obaman mob. I managed to get in and out without uttering the words “state rape,” but it was tough when I saw photos of the hideous hotel that has been installed in what really is a natural cathedral, Monument Valley. Even the salsa trail the same promoter was touting as a way of drumming up interest in a dead zone to the southeast was not redemption enough. Depressing as it all was, I did spot a stealable idea: the incredible shrinking hors d’oeuvre. Waiters were passing out crab cakes and risotto bites the size of nickels. And I mean minuscule. If the pros can get away with that, I’m going with quarters at my next party.
I’m revising one of my favorite sayings again, the one about how there are no new stories, only new reporters. Now it’s going to be: “There are no new restaurants, only newly hired flacks.” How else to explain why a place I Trailed last April — after hearing about it from a neighbor last winter — suddenly turns up not just in DI/DO but also on a sober blog? Both used some variation on “recently opened” to describe it, too. I guess compared to Cafe Luxembourg it is. And free is a very good price for dinner.
Every morning, as my consort and I loll in bed and listen to the bloviating on anything but issues that is NPR’s political coverage these days, it seems as if we hear the same commercial (let’s call it what it is). And every morning I realize I am starting my day wondering what is so bad about tomato paste in pasta sauce. What am I missing here? But now I’ve seen the print version of the ad (let’s call it what it is). And it references earthquakes and tsunamis etc. to promote the stupid stuff even as real hurricanes are smashing into real cities. A hundred chimps typing buzzword clouds could have come up with better names for the various variations, too: roasted garlic balsamico, vodka elegante and the geographically challenged Tuscan marinara with “subtle taste of northern Italy.” Twenty-five years in this business, and I now learn the most simplistic distinction between the cuisines of the north and south has been wiped out by one copywriter. Then again, this is red sauce made without tomato paste, not without cream and butter. If I ever start a revolutionary, wildly successful catering company, remind me never to sell it to cretins once I have built the brand.
Say one thing for Hungry Girl and her cult of lemmings: At least she knows her place is in the supermarket, not a heartbeat away from the nukular button. As freaked as I am over the female version of Go-Fuck-Yourself, I am only happy she is not talking about food at all. Otherwise women who don’t know their Manolos from their Naughty Monkeys would be not just drinking the diet Kool-Aid but eating the processed crap.
Everybody’s into frugality these days, but this has to be the most ridiculous suggestion yet: Rather than “sacrificing the rich experience of a gourmet restaurant dinner” (I kid you not), put on a four-course affair at home. With a different $50 tequila paired with each dish. Max out the credit cards on booze? This must have been dreamed up at one of the many McCain mansions. After way too many shots. I’ll have whatever they’re having at that PR agency.
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.
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.
As this campaign threatens to turn into a feces-flinging extravaganza to rival the early days of eRectum, it’s too bad more reporters are not highlighting the main ingredient in a recipe for certain disaster: a private fishing hole. The Chimp has always had his own lake stocked with bass for him at his “ranch,” and now the Old Wannabe also turns out to have a shooting barrel at his ranchette, which is on a creek that actually had fish in it when I was a kid. Guys who want the game rigged should not be the boss of us. When it comes to elitism, worrying about the price of arugula pales in comparison.
Apparently McLame is not the only cyber-ignoramus. MoDo should have done a quick spin through the series of tubes before regurgitating the food flimflammery the Wall Street Post ran on a candidate deemed too fit to be president. (Yes, you read that right. Apparently Monica Goodling has infiltrated the Murdoch ranks to oversee the hiring of only the party faithful in the newsroom, too.) I am still puzzling, though, over the comparison of the Great Black Hope to an Alice Waters-worthy organic chicken: “sleek, elegant . . . too cool.” A fascinating thing about food is that the shit so often looks like the Shinola. Fry a supermarket chicken and it will be indistinguishable from the high-priced bird. Or would that be playing the watermelon card?
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.
I’ve known MoDo was full of Rove fertilizer ever since the day her urgent message went through the Style department desperately seeking a food metaphor on deadline, but lately I’m almost feeling sorry for ol’ Howell’s golden girl. Every time she bares her teeth you want to toss cosmo-soaked Clinton kibble to her. Obama is “in danger of being too prissy about food,” she snipes? When the elitest of the elite throw polished stones, you gotta wonder if old McLame might not be our next president. He sweats. He stumbles. He is a Manly Man out of the Chimp’s mold. Someone please buy this woman a cucumber.
One of the hoariest of chestnuts in the food writers’ patented Cliche Collection is staff meal, a k a family meal. I’ve experienced it, in restaurant school, and I’ve succumbed to it, for my infamous feature on Mexicans in high-end restaurants. But whether you call restaurant employees staff or family, they always — always — eat much better when a reporter is in the vicinity. In short, eight courses is the new loaves and fishes, the new water into wine. I’ve alway known there are no new stories, only new reporters. Who could have anticipated the internets would be just as gullible? Or that Keyser Soze is really a chef downtown?