So I contributed a little something to a significant something but somehow did not get my links up. So here you go:
Time flies when you’re DAOTI — I click on a few favorite sites when I wake up, and the next thing I know it’s time to make dinner. So I’m not the best judge of longevity these days. But has anything really sped past faster than the Butter Guzzler’s heavily covered “comeback”? Talk about the proverbial flash in the bedpan.
Not sure when I will ever learn two parties in one night will always be three too many — remorse all around after the Brasserie/A Voce back-to-back. But the former was worth trekking to for several reasons, starting with the junkyard dog’s stink-eye (must be nice to know they keep you on because “she’s cheap”) and ending with ease of exit, after the Schnorrer did his spiel (which I wondered about until I saw another oldster is doing similar promo work). I haven’t had a kir royale in donkey’s years, but this one was so syrupy I may not again for millennia. As for the retro apps, I missed all the cold ones but succumbed to a foie gras beignet (no one says beggar’s purse anymore), miniature croque monsieur and escargot nestled in puff pastry, all effective as alcohol sponges. Over in the dread TWC, the wine was more wine-like by far and the energy level was far higher. As was the noise level, of course. The most memorable apps were uni crostini. And the most unforgettable image was of the special wine room for the rich boys. Your health insurance premiums at work. . .
Is it my imagination, or has the closing of Florent gone on longer than the Iraq War? And been covered more diligently? You would think the guy was, to quote Cheryl Wheeler, Gandhi or Buddha or someone like that, someone who saved lives by the hundreds everywhere he went. Get a grip. Sometimes a diner is just a diner.
I might get excited about chocolate if it and I were the last things on earth, but mostly I can look at it and move on to the cheese course. My consort, of course, would mainline the stuff if he could. So when I got an invitation to a preview of a seemingly swanky chocolate buffet way the hell downtown, I RSVP’d for two to split the ennui with the bliss. Big glasses of Champagne waiting at the door looked promising, but then we started sampling. I’m an old ho, so I know you take a bite and move on rather than expect the lame to soar on a second taste. But poor Bob was struggling to do justice to the pastry chef’s prolific handiwork. Finally, even he crapped out and said: “Why am I thinking of Pepperidge Farm?” Well, let’s count the ways, beginning with “chocolate peanut butter cup apricot sauce,” moving on through “chocolate apricot Jell-O” and continuing through “chocolate rice crispy treat.” “Fluff ball” is also a term you never expect to encounter on a menu outside of Applebee’s. What finished it for me was the “chocolate covered apricot pate de fruit.” French Chuckles should be so spectacular they need no Hershey’s. What was most mystifying was who the target audience might be at a time when chocolate connoisseurship is out of control. For this mediocrity they charge $75 (including the Champagne), but it is also packaged in weekend getaways that go up to $40,000 (for the Can’t But Me Love, the release said). The organizers describe the selection as sinful. It’s the right word, wrong meaning.
Jonathan Waxman gave the best book party since Cesare’s, and the Californian may even have done the Tuscan five better. That was about how many media types I recognized at uncrowded Barbuto, where the wine was copious and the food generous (bacon pizza, lobster tacos, good beef on skewers). I reveled long enough to try it all and also hear the rumor that Panchito is ready to bail once his memoir is published (although a parody of “Ambling Through Idiocy” would be more likely as a best-selling exit strategy), as well as speculation that all publishers need to read anymore is a couple of trend stories to buy a cookbook proposal (anyone say steak twice?) and disappointment that Saveur has sold its soul to GE Profile kitchens in order to morph into Bon Gourmet & Wine (“It’s as if Bentley was advised to start making Fords because everyone else is”). What the party organizers should hear is that culling the herd would be a great new trend in authorial fetes.
A typically artful Ann Telnaes cartoon has a woman baking special gingerbread men and her daughter cheerily biting the head off a little Darth Cheney. Not sure even I could bring myself to do that, which makes me wonder about this trend toward passing out cookies with people’s photos imprinted on them. I didn’t even break the cellophane on the Martha Stewart with horns, but the Daniel at Versailles from the “Last Supper” party was harder to resist, despite the fact that the actual chef was surprisingly warm to me as I left. A cookie from Bouchon is a cookie from Bouchon, after all. So the thing sat on a kitchen counter for a couple of days, nibbled on by my consort and me until only a little tiny Frenchman on an ort remained. It was the longest-lasting cookie in our history. Maybe a Chimp face should be plastered on every Whopper bun. The obesity rate would drop overnight.
Sorta sad to see a prodigiously talented young thing go from zero to Mariani so quickly. I can’t tell if “intern” is code for “unpaid,” but anyone who needs help in attending parties is getting too many invitations. Food is a first-hand experience.
Sending an emissary to the starchefs.com book party at Barfry, for instance, would mean missing out on a physics lesson, some great banter, a little bitching and a surprising admission. Not to mention the most effete slider ever: foie gras. I learned that a little bottle of Champagne will bubble over wildly unless you remove the straw, which funnels the effervescence straight up and out. I heard that a bright young chef with a great resume is already anticipating trouble in bringing a venerable but tired Village restaurant up to critic speed (can you say FOH?) And while everyone was wondering why the Frialator was off, I was impressed by the steady flow of raw tuna creations from the kitchen. Only as I left did I find the table with the big pile of brochures promoting “Superfrozen tuna — ‘fresher than fresh.’” But those are just my impressions. I wonder what an untrained kiddle would think.
The fat-with-details book the party was promoting was also worth the journey. I would say it’s intended for Trotter wannabes, but for some reason Charlie is not among the 500-some “Chefs to Know.” And while I wondered why a web site would need to produce hard copy, I can already see how handy it is to have all that information to flip through while my overburdened Mac is wheezing. The birth years alone are fascinating. Until a certain Mexican starchef showed up, I was easily the oldest person in the room at the affair, and I rode home flipping pages and taking comfort in how many chefs are actually my age or older in a young guys’ game. And the interview questions could come in handy for those already bailing on what a friend called couture food-writing. . . .
Nothing says GU to me like an invitation to a restaurant party that includes an offer of transportation. If I can’t get there by foot or subway (or some combination) it’s not worth the journey. So I feel for the place over in Queens that deemed itself so inaccessible it sent a hired coach into Manhattan for media types. What did that cost a startup? Probably much more than one line of type on the fancy invite listing the closest R stop. Or even a page or two of content on its web site for CrackBerrians to peruse on the long slog in traffic, maybe? At another event last week I got caught up in an animated discussion of how restaurants not quite ready for prime coverage fake their situation by allowing a closeup of a dish rather than a photo of the whole room. I guess if you can’t get the URL location fully locked and loaded, shoot the bus.
Speaking of airborne gravy trains, the WSJournal tried to stop the presses by reporting that restaurant bloggers take freebies. Wait till they hear how much gushing travel coverage in mainstream media comes from something more insidious than an opening party. Consider the advice I just turned up on the google — one warning read: “. . . word travels fast if you take free trips and don’t publish. Your free travel will end very abruptly if you don’t follow through on your end of the bargain.” Serious money is involved now that junket is spelled FAM. Beyond friends in convenient places, even Portland was not discovered by accident. Next hot spot: Colombia. There’s apparently a gastronomic fair there to die for.
Another party, at a new restaurant, left an indelible image. They were serving whole roasted (and stuffed) suckling pigs, sliced to order in the center of the dining room. Given that the chef is French and a tete is just a tete, the head of each little guy was displayed right on the carving board under the heat lamps, complete with either grin or grimace, depending on how each had gone off to curse its maker. And the second one I saw whacked off was so fresh from the oven its ears were literally steaming. It reminded me of those brains my consort once ordered in France, the ones that, when the waiter whisked off the silver dome, were actually quivering. Even Bob hesitated to slice into them as he said, “They’re still thinking.”
What really complicated my re-entry was succumbing to a lunch promoting the rip-off of “Mostly Martha.” I had to go back and grab a glass of wine from the bar on arriving and seeing a crowd best described as motley. All but two of the myriad hosts were graciousness personified, though, and my table was modesty central, with Jacques Pepin introducing himself as “a cook” and Phil Suarez informing the woman between us that he is “partners with someone you might have heard of, a guy named Jean-Georges.” The gazpacho with avocado and the foie gras ravioli were blowaway, but what will linger in my brain were the sight of a thong under a clingy St. John knit that looked unfortunately similar to a Kotex belt and the whispered confidence that one guest had been comped by the venue. Twenty-two times, in fact. And the funniest moment came when the director got up to pontificate and one of my tablemates reached for the book with the movie poster cover that had been placed on each of our chairs. First he said: “I want to see what else he has done.” Then: “Oh. It’s a Michelin.”
Maybe you can judge contents by cover, though, because I invested in a new red Guide to France, and it is twice the weight of my last one, and half as useful. What was once the most brilliantly designed compendium on the planet now has many more words than symbols, which is a bizarre step backward in an age of communication through texting and emoticons. The energy that went into spelling out details — repeatedly — could have been directed toward downsizing for the iPhone. Instead they produced the Michelin for Herniated Dummies.