As for my losing my food festival virginity, I wound up schlepping way the hell over to the Hudson after succumbing to curiosity about NoMad, a place I had avoided like $79 chicken but figured was worth a try if a car company was picking up the tab for a bunch o’ bloggers in a private room. My consort and I had to sit through a slideshow on the new models, none of which was honey-colored to fit this year’s food theme, but we were rewarded with tickets to the foodstraganza that weekend. Since he was traveling, I was going to toss them, but I went online and saw what they were worth and felt obligated to do my research. So I recruited a friend and we ate and drank our way through what I expected to be a gangbang but was actually rather civil compared with many “best new chef” awards parties. Regular peeps who paid were much more restrained than the professional locusts.
Julie, who has more of a track record with feeding frenzies, insisted we pick up the swag bags as we went in, and here’s what was jettisoned at the outset:
Here’s what I expected to see everywhere but what turned out to be, luckily, in the minority:
Here is the elixir someone actually thought people would want to drink in a cavern lined with wines good and bad (well, it was an event where people were lining up for “free” Chipotle just steps from Blue Smoke’s pulled pork):
And this is an image that only needed the Delta pedicabs outside to make more of a mockery of all the Tweets later on about what skinflints that airline’s operator are. Drinks up front, pretzels back by the toilet. . .
Finally, I didn’t snap no photo, but I did find it rather revealing to see the NYT booth flogging subscriptions with its fud issue of the magazine on that particular weekend. You’d almost think they planned it. . . .
I didn’t get around to posting much more about a relatively recent free lunch, but it was one that, as always, made me wonder why more hosts don’t plant mics under tables. As I learned at this very obviously seriously underwritten soiree: “The food’s not good here.” All that was missing: “And the portions are too small.”
I can’t adequately express how happy I was to have the food show moved down to where the money and dolts are this year. My feet thank the organizers, and my gut is even more grateful, because I am one of those 25+-year veterans who knows the only way to tackle those miles of aisles is to plunge in, start tasting and just keep a list of what went down the gullet (and, more important, what could not be swallowed without spitting up). There are no trend stories with credibility to be nailed. It’s a trade show, one that attracts the scary side of America, the rolling thunder thighs in their mobility carts (painfully, I know from wheelchairs — what you see at the show are different; they’re what you need when you’re too grotesque to walk). I always go partly to see people in the business I like, but also for what I disguise as “research reasons.” You never know what you might turn up as you indulge in once-a-year borderline-bulimia. But even from afar, I remained convinced of one thing: If you have time to Tweet on that gorge march, you’re doing it wrong.
And my brain is still fried, so I’ll step out temporarily by reTweeting myself, with new resonance after being asked in Parma why I was not invited on the helicopter gangbang: Leonardo would have died from exhaustion trying to paint the last suppers at elBulli. How many are there going to be, for Christ’s sake?
I Tweeted a version of this but still think it’s worth repeating: A new cookbook from an old Appalachian restaurant includes a top 10 set of business rules, and one is one I hope the Seconda Tenuta guys do not read: “If you consistently have lines of people waiting to get in, your prices are too low.” Scammin’. You’re doing it wrong.
I go to media events for many reasons, but learning more about the product/place is rarely among them. Take the Irish orgy with dairy. I’ve had the butter, know some of the cheeses. But I figured the combination of the NYC chef and venue would yield something useful. And so I was thrilled to see an infant onboard when I walked in just after noon on the big day. A baby. At a clusterfuck. Fodder jackpot: The world really is going to hell in a Moses Basket. So of course it turns out the human larva belonged there, given that Mom was the star chef on offer. When she stood up to speak, the hired photographer should have switched to a video camera — he could make a fortune selling demos of what to do when the whimpering starts. Dad instantly bent down and swooped up the whiner to whisk her well out of earshot. Was that so difficult? Why the fuck do parents wait until the howling reaches crescendo level and diners all around them are clutching steak knives with bloody fantasies? Funny how appropriate behavior makes you realize we accept aberrance way too easily. Which is why a mom friend and I got a pretty good laugh a couple of nights later while passing a hip newish wine bar in the neighborhood and seeing what was waiting on the sidewalk. If you want to drive away the young and the unmarried, sure, go ahead and stack your highchairs outside.
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.
Heading out to a promotional event a friend with a cookbook on the line enticed me to attend, I rode the elevator down with my next-door neighbor who was regaling her friend with the tale of how the two of us had each broken ourselves right around the same time in freaky falls in Eutopia, she in Paris, I in Piedmont. I don’t know about her, but I remember mine every morning when the pain wakes me before the alarm can. Talking about how instantly your life can change put me in a strange frame of mind, so maybe I made too much of what the unexpected flack at the door said as he handed me my name tag: “Just don’t get drunk and get hit by a car.” I laughed it off by responding, “Don’t trust me not to do either.” But the longer I thought about it the more I wondered why a guy with social Tourette’s would choose to make a career of ass-kissing. And I really wondered whether T’dum advised another invitee, one of his pals: “Just don’t get greedy and fuck over your partner.” Except that is how that ugliness actually unfolded.
The CorridorCo might want to take a lesson from Jean-Georges, whose fete promoting his latest cookbook was easily the Qualcomm Stadium of food parties. It was downstairs at Spice Market, and civilized would be an understatement. Seriously good beef/pork/lobster apps were dispensed at a fair clip, servers were constantly materializing with trays of drinks and the vibe was the friendliest I’ve experienced in many a party — to the point that just as I was hearing that one old pal now despises me for something I wrote (and can’t remember) a current nemesis was nodding cordially to me. Usually when you have to pass dueling clipboards at the door the gang-bang is not going to be pleasant. But this was good enough to bring me back for more. It didn’t even look so Pier One-ish anymore, although that could be the Trimbach talking.
Amid all the rending of garments lately over bloggers taking freebies, I should be hesitant to do a shout-out to a friend. But then years and years ago I tagged along to one of her parties with another friend, and I will always remember how well a virtual stranger was treated in a crowd that included luminaries from Geoffrey Beene to David Byrne. So I will say, once again, Zarela do throw one hell of a fiesta. The food was the cosa. I’d had the plantain chips with peanut salsa before, and the picadas, little masa saucers filled with tomatillo and avocado salsa, but not the potato crisps to be dunked into a sauce she later said was made with tomatillos, chile pasilla and worm. Because we had to leave early because my consort was leaving next day for a workshop in Kentucky, we wriggled our way too soon into the salivating line for the buffet and snared the full monte, of which I was most enamored of the huitlacoche casserole. This particular fete was at her home, and while I heard at least 125 people were invited, they seemed to have checked their egos at the door — media guests I expected to piss all over me were cordial to warm. The celebs were even mellower. Call this the restaurateur who mistook her clientele for real human beings.
Despite my best intentions after Loudon Wainwright, I found I could not set out for distant downtown late at night for the Fergus fete at Peter Hoffman’s new outpost, which means I missed probably the party of the week. So my nominee has to be the one at Grayz, which really has succeeded in vanquishing any vestiges of Aquavit. The crowd was not the usual food mafia, which was good, and the alcohol was flowing like at a speakeasy, which was better. But only when the latter wore off, around 5 in the morning, did I start to wonder why all the little tastes at the buffet stations were ladled onto one tiny plate. Was it really the intent to bury the vegetable ragout in both baked beans and brisket with sauce? Or the sauerkraut and sausage under beef stew? I mean, it all tasted amazingly complementary. But it reminded me of happy hours in the kind of bars I used to frequent when I did my main eating at happy hour. My date, however, said the raw oyster she cadged off the ice on the main bar was the best she had had in eons, and the worst thing either of us could say about the superb smoked salmon was that it was too big a bite on one fork. Clearly, this is a destination for its time, now that 1 percent of the population now takes home 21 percent of the wealth in America. Can you say Roaring Aughts?
Remind me never to play matchmaker with anything more volatile than avocado and cilantro. The disengaged sideline is the best place to enjoy a party like Zarela’s 20th — I only had to concentrate on keeping my consort upright despite the high-octane margaritas. She does know how to marinate the guests. The bar was like a boozy A train, but we wisely listened when she insisted we move upstairs and then had to take all the crazy sightings secondhand — as someone said, “Where else can you see Gael Greene and Dr. Ruth at the same table?” A rhinestone cowgirl was also there but not throwing her usual “I’m a movie star” pissy fit, at least as much as I heard. My most in-focus memory is of Zarela’s consort helping to ferry the star of the show, a sacahuil, like a washtub-sized tamal made with fresh masa steamed in banana leaves. To this Arizona refugee it was like time travel into the landscape of memory over reality, but it probably went over or under most of the guests who still believe Mexican means fajitas. I skipped the chicken and pork in solidarity with the First World arrogants and had to wonder why the creamy rice with poblanos and corn is always better at the restaurant than when I make it from the cookbook. What was most fascinating was realizing that I remembered being in that space’s previous incarnation, back in another cycle when wine bars were the great white-and-red hope. It’s just too bad the inimitable Seymour Britchky’s last book was in 1991, when there was no Mexican category, only “Latin American.” It would be fascinating to see what has lasted two decades. Will the annoying newish wine bars on Columbus one day revert to real restaurants reflecting the real city?
Many years ago I went down to the old Conde Nast offices to drop off a manuscript at Allure and got on the elevator with an employee who was greeted by two other women who gushed, “Great dress!” She stepped off a few floors later and the Heathers started in: “Can you believe what she was wearing? She looked like her grandmother.” I think of that exchange whenever I go to an especially lavish food party: There’s a whole lot of social prevaricating going on. Not being so good at that stuff, I have my share of awkward moments, but at least I’m spared any “bearhugs” from Molto. And I can always tell when the creme de la creme is feeling a little too insular because the BFs will actually come around, whether out of ennui or just to trash me behind my back afterward. That’s how I knew the better party must have been over on the piers, where all the women chefs were strutting their stuff. But I still had a superb time, as did my consort, and I learned a few things. Like the fact that a $700 hotel in the meat district does not have the “services” of a Hampton Inn (coffee in the room). Or why the Liberace of food emcees is at every damned event — he can read the lamest script off a teleprompter and make it sound ad-libbed. And that a strip steak with no fibrous aspect is a bizarre thing to consume. (They didn’t slip us tongue, did they?) But bacon in the streusel with the apple tart? Bring it on.