Four-star debt

Don’t ask who smuggled me in, but I finally got to eat as the DI/DOers do in the towering monument to a depleted gene pool. Of course I walked in predisposed to bitch, especially after seeing everything was upgraded but the phat phucks at the security desk — no wonder the stock I bought in the high $30s is worth about what a Papaya King feast is these days. But it was all rather excessive, very “Brazil,” as the home for a business that once was scrappy and anti-establishment and gray-collar (between blue and white). The first two big-city newspapers I worked at were lucky to have vending machines, not in-house dining. The third had a pretty basic buffet line, even in a city undergoing a restaurant renaissance. By the time I wound up on 43d Street the first time, I knew enough to corral the other young copy editors on the national desk to go out and drink our dinners. When I came back, from 1998 to 2002, I dubbed the joint the Cafe Regret. No matter what I ordered, it expanded in my stomach, making me think how much processed crap I had ingested even while ordering carefully and avoiding the bacteria bar frequented by the healthful eating expert. 

So I was equal parts dazzled and dismayed on entering the new incarnation of CR. It had everything in a light and airy environment: a “carvery,” a hot food table (none dare call it steam), two salad bars, a sandwich station, a sushi station, desserts, a wall of waters and other pricey drinks. I have no idea what came over me, but I succumbed to the special pastrami sandwich with fries at the carvery, a choice that would never have been possible back in the day of the passive-aggressive grill jockey who took his sour time with anything cooked to order, knowing it would dissuade the hungry from ordering and making him actually work. My consort, astonishingly, braved sushi, which everyone at our table insisted was the best bet, and he finished it all. While I slowly gnawed away at my sad sandwich and grease sticks, hoping for a hint of satisfaction, only to have it all balloon internally in all-too-familiar fashion. 

The whole experience would have been less absurd if the cafeteria had been miles from nowhere, but there are a Dean & Deluca and two restaurants (so far) on the ground floor and untold cafes and delis within minutes’ walking distance. Captive audiences do not make enterprising journalists, I would say. No wonder $50 dinner parties don’t include wine, only industrial pork. 

Well, if the CIA doesn’t work out, there’s always celebrity

Oddly enough, a nasty crack at the dinner about a chef shilling for an absurdly overpriced wine led me to a video of him railing that the big problem for restaurants in America was finding enough chefs, now that even Cleveland has respectable kitchens. The segment was undated, but I didn’t need it to make me wonder WTF on opening my hometown paper and seeing a piece on the allegedly horrific crisis confronting NYC chefs. If things are that effen dire, you don’t illustrate with a photo of Colicchio wannabes auditioning for a teevee show. To believe, I needed to see a line of real applicants around the block, like the one I still remember that stretched from Third to Lex when the Village Voice ran an ad for waiters at Between the Bread in 1983 when I left the NYT the first time, to go to restaurant school, and was looking to make some fast cash. But having put pork parts through the grinder and into the casings myself, I can see how this silliness happened. Some editor who commutes by DeCamp decides it’s time for a recession check and says jump and the underlings just ask: How low? This was as idiotic as presuming the fashion industry is going to hell because a few hundred aspiring Padmas trampled each other. When your lede is a restaurant that’s opening, show me the countless closed ones. Or at least hold off on the caviar lounge “news.”

I’ll take the olive fork in silver

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. . . . 

They don’t shoot nags, do they?

Risotto would actually have been a good concept for poor, tired The Mice Ate My Tampax to include in a very depressing guide to cooking in the Bush Depression. But I guess it’s been invented since her advice was first written back in the Fifties or Sixties. I mean, really: Was there a single fresh idea in that thing? She almost made cube steak sound as tantalizing as “breakfast runs.” And isn’t that what happens after the coffee kicks in?

What is the sound of one notebook dumping?

I could, however, go on and on about the other DI/DO idiocy. (Has Mr. McGee never considered how much drained pasta water saves in Botox costs for the cook leaning over the colander? WTF is Saint Danny thinking, sending out an Indian to bat Mexican? W[here]TF was the lede in the bone-ola?) But that would be confessing to having scanned more than I should have while wondering who/what is still advertising in these weird times. The main photo “won raves” in this house of image, though, so I suppose I shouldn’t chime in with the ridicule over the readouts deemed so worthy of so many credits. Sometimes a pickle is just a pickle.

For Technicolor yawn, just add chutney

Times must not be as tight as all the headlines are hollering. First we’re treated to a celebration of a canteen for the obscenely rich; for some reason it has not failed to thrive, and I only hope all the lucky duckies who are struggling felt much better after inferring all you need to succeed: location, location, Italian arrogance. Worse, apparently there was some kind of circle jerk going on down in Miami, where all manner of reincarnations of Marie Antoinette were running around as the Ponzi State collapses. It says it all that a post about being too strapped to tip the coat check “girl” in Manhattan was followed by one from Miami essentially sniffing, Let ’em eat 13 burgers. What would a WPA writer make of it all?

Smoked

Now that the greatest cat ever has joined the choir invisible, I can’t decide who deserves more blame for jinxing him, the crazy-optimistic vet or my biggest fan. Whatever. It kicked the snark out of me. I could barely rouse myself to wonder what the hell an achiote pepper might be. (Can you say annato makes the cheese go orange?) Or why someone for whom English is obviously a second language is allowed to digest DI/DO with no intervention by a copy desk. (Can you say kill the fucking index and give A-section stories room to run?) And did an albino really take a dump all over the magazine? Talk about acid redux. . . .

Mad cow and squirrel brains

I will eat a raw egg in ice cream or eggnog or Caesar dressing, but a barely cooked one turns my stomach. Turns out just reading about it will almost bring up my breakfast. Yolks “gushing all over” flounder sounds right out of “Eraserhead.” At least we were spared the Drivelist’s pickles and ice cream combo. But I did enjoy the contradiction of having that upchucker run in the same section with a chestnut lede saying there are no super-fresh ingredients to be had in wintertime. Get your bogus ass out to the Greenmarket, Little Sir Echo Pollan. Sickening ideas obviously await.

Mothers, shut your pie holes

The chef who was lucky to have been canned rather than mowed down by Mrs. Chimp deserves a second medal on his whites, for lashing out twice at all the wannabe food advisers to the Big O for their “presumptions” about how the White House kitchen is stocked. I had wondered how a huge story could be printed with no effort made to actually, you know, ask about what goes on there now. Obviously, you don’t get organics without manure.

Debunking loaves and fishes

More cynical characters than I read recipes and see Marcella lurking. I just question how radical a revamping it is when you cut the butter back to the level a traditionalist recommends. And then double the cheese. Then again, all that was not as mystifying as the idea of shadowboxing urban legends without challenging Olympian appetites. But I confess I’m criticizing secondhand: My consort slogged through with no prodding only to pronounce:  “It’s badly written.” I guess he didn’t recognize the rhythm from the crude message that once popped up on his laptop in my in-box in Middle Earth.

Grafs with no nuts

I have to admit that watching (and watching and watching) one heartsick and furious Iraqi do what the whole world has dreamed of for eight years did get my mind entirely off the inanity of the food world. Leave it to the Silly section, then, to bring me right back to reality TV. What in the name of Allen Funt were they thinking devoting an entire page to the Sarah Palin of chefs, only a week after doing the Chicken Little rap on Depression dining? To quote another train wreck, the whole thing was ragged, fallen and fraying around the edges. But I guess it wasn’t a total waste. I learned you could pick his chopped onions right out of the mirepoix — there’s a talent. Funny that I was laughing at a flackmail with a subject line on “local flare,” and now I hope that’s what we just saw burning out at last.

Can’t you buy booze by mail?

Sorta interesting to see the new mouth of sustainability showcasing asparagus in December. It would be one thing if the Greenmarkets were barren, but Bialas in my neighborhood had great greenery (and orangery) two days later. (No eggplant, though.) At least Dr. Pollan/Mr. Ray didn’t tout a commercial version of his own recipe just to get the goddamn thing into print one more year, though — and at the top of the chart of the Republican boondoggle-with-veal to boot. Retire that baby already. (Why was I reading this stuff? Mostly because I was looking for the Oo La La, but wasn’t the rest just ads? And that wouldn’t bother me if the selling-out had done anything for my sad stock.) The meanness toward the budding children’s book author continues, too — the peculiar correction on her predating UPI was like a spoof, of “Things Older Than John McCain.”

Mitchell, get the token Milk

Hard to top the Gurgling Cod on another cover story, as badly timed as a feature on creamed spinach at the height of the E. coli outbreak with “Shit on a Shingle” as a headline. Personally, I didn’t even get that it was all about making the villains of America into role models in the middle of history’s most bungled bailout. Rubin relied on Post-Its rather than an iPhone? No wonder Citigroup’s in the crapper. Give that woman a health beat and let Johnny Rotten rest in peace.

Solomon cleaves the black T

One of the great guests who was around our own turkey happens to work down at the Taj Sulzberger and had a pretty funny tale to tell, how the sleek new elevators always smell like fresh farts. He didn’t say how long this has been going on, but I hope it wasn’t just during the runup to the type kiss for “A Walker’s Guide to American Cheese.” I would love to have been a fart in the elevator, however, on the day the decision was made on which walkee would get to blow the job of logrolling it. Two BFFs and one story possibility equals trouble with a capital truffle.

But it’s that way in “Gypsy”

And speaking of the most hubristic name in print journalism, the only thing that gets me through my WTF mornings perusing the paper is imagining Al’s head exploding somewhere in Retirementland. The misspellings, the subject-verb disagreements, the general and pervasive sloppiness make the mind reel. A webcam in the kitchen would have been very valuable the day “Momma” should have been circled and greened.