Strange things happen when you find yourself in the real Restaurant Wasteland of Manhattan, the one that always gets a pass because the Big Homme has a coupla places there, which for some reason does not curve the grade over on the western side of the park. My consort and I were fried after hours wandering the aisles at AIPAD, marveling at how the 1 percent are so happy to pay out the nose for images of the poors, and so I acceded to his Yelped suggestion of Dos Toros for a dinnerette before a downtown screening of “A Faster Horse.” I’ve resisted ever since trying a mediocre quesadilla at the original outlet near Union Square, but he admitted he’d always been curious. And it had the most important allure with eating opportunities: Location, location, location — 78th and Lex. So off we wandered.
It was early and I wasn’t hungry, so I just ordered guacamole and chips, and neither was either special or awful. Bob had tacos, one with carne asada and the other with chicken, and I thought the cheese the assembler talked him into lining the tortillas with saved them. When we were all finished, though, he asked whether I thought DT or Chipotle was better. And we were both shocked to find we voted for the national chain. Which makes me think all the fuss over Hillary’s Iowa stop has missed something seismic. Candidates generally do not show up at chains. Their strategists search out the kinds of places that need searching out in an Interstate-blanderized country: mom-and-pops. Something’s happening here, and it might be a better food supply. Every day Chipotle admits it can’t serve carnitas might just be a sign of morning in America. Or maybe I just have mad cow.
Too bad our uppity mayor is too short and too non-Mormon to ever fly as pres. Despite some restaurateurs’ laments, he has been good for food. The latest move is allowing city agencies to buy local. Given that NYC is the second-largest institutional buyer in the country, after the military, that could be very, very good for upstate farmers. And even for Brooklyn/Queens artisans who are thinking out of the crate. Sixteen-ounce mayonnaise? Bring it on.
My consort and I did not go down the heritage path this year for a number of reasons, but we did buy local from our regular guy, which turned out to be a trip. We got to our neighborhood Greenmarket early to pick up our order and were told no 20- to 22-pound bird was available because “they screwed up on the farm.” Apparently the order book had gone missing, so the vendor had only dainty fowl to dispense. But he did have a couple on their way up from Union Square. And so I guess we have to atone a little because our carbon footprint was slightly larger than we’d hoped. Only in New York do you get turkey in a cab. Which sounds like a song.
So I guess I have to acknowledge the big issue, that the hometown paper’s Sunday magazine finally decided to emulate the New Yorker and devote nearly every page to fud. I tried to slog through it, but even for me it was just too much, too close to fetishizing rather than enlightening. Apparently all artisans are young hipsters too constipated to crack a grin. Every CSA experience has to reflect the same arc, from scorn to worship. (I read backward, obviously.) Self-promotion is now acceptable if you include your boss. Etc. Etc. What was most fascinating was that this should have been the fattest issue of all time. Even back when I contributed to the Food column, in those halcyon days when it was more recipes than plodding prose, I knew the only reason it existed in such a “serious” publication was to lure advertisers. This month I think skinny Relish sucked in more. Still, one commercial appeal worked: By the end, I was ready for a shot of Patron.
Too bad the backyard chicken craze was debunked before it really even took off, because I was all primed to pitch a piece railing about it, having grown up with birds so foul my dad and I would eat hot dogs before consuming one freshly whacked. Now I see people are starting to natter about raising your own bacon, which is even more insane. It’s been 32 years, but I can still smell the hog farms I had to cover as a reporter in Iowa. And the tales friends have come home with from Third World shoots would turn you off pork on the hoof, big time. (They involve latrines and snouts, if you must ask.) But if three upper-income Americans do invest in walking tenderloins, I’m sure we’ll be reading about the “trend.” The prosperous are struggling so hard to keep food on their families in this Bushwhacked economy, you know.
I gotta start saving my best lines for my real life here rather than squandering them on Twitter. But I can’t say often enough that if I had to drink only Long Island wines I would have to stop drinking. Not that they’re bad — judging by the sauvignon blancs and rosés I tried at the latest tasting, they are vastly improved from the sweet old days of only chardonnay and merlot out on that spit o’ rich land. But they just are, and have to be, too expensive for what they are. I was glad I trekked to give them another try, though, if only because I saw two things vaut the voyage: A freelance wine writer asking for a wine editor’s autograph (subtle, huh?), and a Japanese taster picking up tasty tidbits provided as palate cleansers and putting them back down again as if swine flu were no problema. Thank the wine allahs for truffle oil. I hope it was strong enough to ward off any germs.
I’ve been cheerleading for eating locally since way before ’vore was a common suffix. But even I suspect maybe the trend is cutting a little too close to the bone when a promotional 100-mile dinner starts serving lamb cheeks. Those pointy little heads cannot possibly have enough meat on them to be worth braising in overpriced New York State merlot. Chefs should be moving from head to tail. And given the trend toward macho gavage, wouldn’t “Bear Mountain oysters” be a more enticing treat?