Spatchcocked? Again?

I quit reading the Sunday Arts & Leisure section literally decades ago after a couple of theater people I met at a dinner party pointed out the obvious: It is nothing but promo copy to fill up the spaces around, and justify, the theater/movie/gallery ads. The food pages of course have no ads, so there really is no excuse for a huge feature that amounted to a press trip for which subscribers paid by kicking in to pay “journalist” salaries. I mean, really? Signing on to shill for a teevee show as a way to explore a story you could find literally in the backyard with all the cheap-and-shitty Thai restos on Ninth?

Then again, on one of my increasingly regular trips to the consort’s hometown, I happened upon a laudatory story in the hometown paper on how all the local taxpayer dollars were paying off in high-profile coverage of a city that has been, for at least 10 years, a food scene happening in plain sight. Lede: “America’s favorite city. One of the top places to see in 2016. A top 10 food city in America. These are the accolades that Travel & Leisure, CNN and National Geographic, respectively, have showered on Buffalo recently. Over the past few years, writers from USA Today, The New York Times, popular travel media and newspapers nationwide have visited the Queen City and shared their intrigue and, ultimately, their love . . . Last year, we were able to influence well over 230 stories, and some of them, of course, went viral in other ways. They had a media value of $4.1 million.” How much was in “clean” coverage? And how did we get to this so-called president, anyway? On Kerala wings?

Tripe on weck could be a thing

Mick Jagger gets around. One day he’s popping up on the Acela, the next he’s prancing into a Buffalo restaurant. I enjoyed the former, laughed at the latter — of course he would blend right in there. It’s where we went for my in-law equivalent’s most recent birthday. Her 86th.

Escort to the bathroom

What took us back to the consort’s boyhood home was a supposedly fun thing I’m not entirely sure I’d do again. I was lured up to be a judge for the local variation on Tin Chefs, and it was far more stressful than I’d anticipated. It’s one thing to sit in my little office and fire off digital darts. It’s quite another to have to contemplate shooting a dog in the head in front of a crowd. Luckily, the food was, overall, so impressive I didn’t have to either lie or be a total bitch. The closest I came was in saying Mae West might have been wrong in thinking too much of a good thing is never enough. And of course I only made it worse by saying one Course II would sell very well in Buffalo, where there seems to be a rule no diner is ever allowed to leave less than stuffed. As the chef who won pointed out, there’s no way he could produce a dish like that and make money (duck egg raviolo with sauce Choron and, and, and, and etc.)

Afterward I also pissed off the chef who didn’t win by saying he could open a restaurant serving what he had just cooked up for us judges. He contended he already does, but I strongly suspect his very good gastropub would have a tough time selling a savvy reinvention of floating islands, while a fresh start in the Wright/museum location would find huge demand for that retro dessert tweaked. His other dishes were also exceptional in showcasing the “secret ingredient,” which was duck eggs from Painted Meadow Farms: Course I featured a perfect deviled egg, a Scotch egg and a pickled egg paired with a little Bloody Mary. His II delivered the eggs baked over duck confit and shiitake mushrooms, teamed with toasts spread with chicken liver paté. (Try dunking those on camera, let alone slipping a bite to your consort in the audience.) Overall, Escoffier would have been proud.

But the chef who won seemed hellbent on dazzling, and he did, at least first and last. He, too, served up three twists to start: the yolk breaded and fried and laid over asparagus tips with tarragon vinaigrette to evoke sauce bearnaise when the fork broke the yolk and it spilled out, plus a little pig’s trotter brodo served in an eggshell to pour over the yolks to make a sort of egg-drop soup, and a Ramos gin fizz using the white. (These are, of course, Cliffsnotes — many adjectives and nouns have been omitted because flavors/details flew by in a blur.) His main may have been a letdown, but he came out swinging with his dessert: What arrived looking like a fried egg alongside a strip of bacon turned out to be a nice schmear of coconut meringue topped with a “yolk” of pineapple curd and accompanied by a chocolate biscotto. It really seemed and tasted like something you’d experience in France or London or, with luck, NYC. A near-skirmish broke out when I passed a taste over to Bob; some guy in the audience actually grabbed it to share.

But at least that was not as uncivil, apparently, as a previous competition at which one attendee reportedly got so hammered he staggered downstairs and puked in an office. And that made me wonder something the next night, when we were in Toronto watching the premiere of “Top Chef Canada” and amazed at how many repeated takes of the food were repeatedly shown. Come on, fools — shoot the audience.

Altar bearnaise

Among the many reasons why I never (or rarely) bitch about going back to see the in-law equivalent is that the consort’s hometown has so many Olmsted-boulevard-side attractions. Like the Albright-Knox Gallery, home to one of my favorite paintings, one particularly apropos for this trip. We went to visit it, and to buy cards reproduced from it, and happened upon something even more stunning: a Chinese artist’s installation of an urban landscape constructed entirely of cookware, complete with waterways and skyscrapers. I was too shy to ask if I could take a photo, but I now see it really doesn’t communicate anyway. Only while walking around it does the message come clear: You can take the people out of the countryside, but you still need to feed ’em.

Dust in the chrusciki

I also insisted we spin by the Broadway Market immediately after detraining in Buffalo, thinking it would be fairly lively, what with Easter coming and the butter lambs getting fat. But jeebus, it was sad. Usually around food holidays this last vestige of Polish dominance downtown is a bustling center of Old World exuberance and edibles. Apparently we were a couple of weeks early, though, because we couldn’t even find a chocolate Jesus (only a $2 Last Supper, sold by earnest men from one of the dying cathedrals nearby). Otherwise, it was gimmicks and grimness. Except, surprisingly, for the butcher counters on the back side, two of which were two and three deep with customers packed in to load up on smoked turkey and pork parts and a cornucopia of sausages and honking huge slabs of beef. The third counter, the one with lots o’ little-and-big butter lambs, was deserted, with two young countermen basically twiddling their unbloody thumbs. And Bob put his finger on why: Their half-empty case was stocked with what the long-gone would buy — the ovine butter, un-housemade sausages, pork, chicken etc. — while the competition was stocked not just for Poles coming in for old time’s sake but for the people who actually live around there. On the way back to the car in the free garage, we looked out from on high to try to figure out where the Polish restaurant we once ate in might have been, 20-some years ago. And we talked about how downtown is increasingly becoming urban farms rather than inner-city blight. If ever a covered market was in the right place at the right time. . .