We just had the misfortune of eating Mama’s Too’s reliably awesome pizza next to a table of apparent “influencers” performing for their phones — not sure what was grosser, their narcissism or the bro at our table talking about his sister hurling in an Uber on the way to the Hamptons (“and the driver didn’t even charge her extra”). One realization was that it really should be spelled “influenzers.” Another was that they eat as if they’re in Barbieland: Not one bite actually ingested.
And on the way home from that dinner, we watched a well-dressed, well-spoken panhandler on the A train who responded to a young Japanese woman pulling out a plastic takeout container of food to offer him: “That’s sushi? I don’t do sushi. It’s raw fish, right?” New York: Where beggars can be choosers.
A larger-than-vida chef friend was astonished that the head of Enron on 12th Street did not know who she was. It didn’t surprise me one whit. The job is not about familiarizing yourself with the players. It’s about rigging the game.
Then a cookbook editor friend was looking glum about the business, but that didn’t surprise me, either. When Tony Danza actually gets published, you know it’s grim in Recipeland. Rather than sharing his meatballs, shouldn’t he be dancing with the stars?
This was a good week for flacks with Upper West Side food emporiums to sell. Zabar’s got both the broadsheet and the tab (maybe more?) to take the same bait. (Q&A ruled.) And the propaganda catapulter for the book coming soon from my favorite grocer gets mega-points for deftest dodging in describing Bedlam on Broadway. “Memorable” and “incredibly unique experience” would certainly apply to my last expedition — within three minutes of walking in, I had steered an older man in a suit with a shopping list in his hand and wife-fear on his face first to the romaine, then to the arugula, and then I was muscling my way to the portobellos when I heard “move your fucking cart!” and turned to see a Sydney Pollack look-alike in ridiculous shorts waving his fist at a black church lady slowly picking through the onions. Her howling response: “You son of a bitch!” Yep, like no other market.
My new word for what I’m looking for at press events is blodder: Anything to feed the series of tubes. And so I found myself at the kids’ table at a very lavishly underwritten event where two of my seatmates were genuinely mystified at how a relatively high-profile columnist of sorts for a holier-than-thou outlet can live on what are now described as “food media trips,” those little skid-greasers that old-timers like us would call junkets. Sinking stocks must drag down all standards. As always, though, it was a lot of gavage for a little gossip. My payoff came afterward, when I swung by Union Square for milk, eggs and asparagus and saw a bunch of half-nekkid, very buff guys in cowboy hats holding up signs promoting whatever that silly show is about marrying a farmer. Coincidentally, a pouter pigeon from the soiree passed by and I overheard him saying with great outrage: “Those are so not farmers.” Takes a Village Person to know one, I guess.
As I’ve often complained, the Upper West Side has the terrible reputation for restaurants, but its eastern equivalent is the real wasteland. Once again after PT I found myself adrift at lunchtime between 56th and 96th on the wrong side of the park, gimping from posted menu to posted menu trying to find the elusive combination of interesting and affordable. I wound up at the bar at Payard, having retained some distant memory that it was running an anniversary special, and of course was immediately put very firmly in my place for crashing a private party. Luckily the duck terrine was calling my name and I could be glad I had not settled for the $19.97 deal when the bartender went off on a rant to the regulars on how “they come in for it, but they never come back.” That led to a bitch session about Restaurant Week and how someone at San Domenico has the same complaint about one-time bargain hunters. I suspect I know why the “cheapskates” are never seen twice. Shit on them once and they won’t get fooled again. But it turns out the rich are no different. The old guy next to me started chortling that he had gone to Cafe Boulud “by accident” during Restaurant Week “and they were serving mackerel — can you imagine?” Yeah. It keeps the ignorant away.
I was at Union Square the other sweltering day, paying for yet another bag of hope over experience (the peaches this summer seem to rot before they ripen), when I overheard the most astounding request. The guy taking my dollars told another worker under the tent to go for lunch while things were slow and “get me a roast beef sandwich.” That was it. No mention of type of bread, mayonnaise or mustard, lettuce and tomato, cheese — nothing. The guy wanted a roast beef sandwich. Now I realize I have lived here too long. Nothing is that simple. A cup of coffee needs more qualifiers than your average Halliburton contract. This is the world capital of crazy-that-comes-from-too-much-choice. If someone asked me for a roast beef sandwich I would have an easier time making toast for Jack Nicholson. At least I would know what to do with the chicken salad.