When a chimichanga story is datelined Phoenix, you know you’ll have to read it with a gimlet eye. Make that a double. The chimichanga was essentially the city sandwich of Tucson when I briefly went to college there. But to cawcaw the other silliness: In the age of Chipotle, no one needs to have a burrito defined as a “tortilla wrap.” Burritos are actually king-size versions of the burros I grew up eating, not the other way around. “Fried corn tostada” is redundant, and whatever the hell Taco Bell serves is not a chalupa. And I assume there was a reason the perpetrator of the lobster chimichanga was not identified? As always, I wish the copy desk cutbacks had some benefit for my stock — did no one notice the caption contradicts the text? Mostly, though, you know things are bad when the Schnorrer has done more research. “His” dictionary of American food notes that Diana Kennedy describes chivichangas (cq) in Sonora in one of her early cookbooks. Plus I really kinda doubt anyone’s riled about a deep-fried burro “immigrating,” or thinking naming a state food will help more than recalling a Kkkrazy just did. Poke around on the series of tubes, though, and you’ll be left with the biggest question. When did two restaurants that less than a month ago were united in pushing for state recognition for the chimichanga start fighting over who invented it?
As everyone addicted to it knows, Twitter is the wrong room for an altercation. But as everyone addicted it to it also knows, it is very hard to resist low-hanging baited fruit. So I should have clicked faster when I saw a big name in food wondering if anyone in my part of this little island had actually eaten at a restaurant most of us in these parts had never even heard of. But my point — who but a Brooklynite looking for fodder would bother? — got lost. I guess I came off the dummy for not having succumbed to acknowledging a place that, if it survives, will only do so for a few years because of the old location, location maxim. Having lived up in these parts for going on 30 years, though, I’m not too worried. With a plethora of restaurants opening as canteens for the priciest co-op in the city, the mediocrities that traditionally survived thanks to proximity to Lincoln Center curtains may have to try a little harder. As in: Make the natives restless. Or at least aware.
Apparently I’m one of the few unexcited about the new iPhone app that will translate menus, although I could use its utility on some overwritten ones around town if indeed I had a real mobile. The best part of travel, beyond the memories you bank in your mental 401K, is learning. And deciphering a menu is the gateway to language in most countries where you would pack a pricey toy, at least in the West. The rituals of dinner are actually primitive lessons: You absorb the courtesy basics and the essentials (water, wine, check). But the bigger argument against instant understanding is that you lose the magic in the translation. Whenever we’re handed English menus in Italy or France, I ask for the real one; otherwise the most seductive dish sounds like “spaghetti with mushroom sauce” or “beef stew.” One of our most enjoyable moments at table came in a very elegant restaurant in Milan where no one spoke English and the waiter brought the chef out to explain what a beef dish was — he translated by showing us where it came from on his own body (the shoulder), which was a sight for my retirement fund. Anything like that is worth the risk of accidentally ordering cavallo or cervelle.
Something must have been lost in translation in the hometown paper’s piece on how the French are receiving the “Julie & Julia” juggernaut. Personally, I am unaware of the “cliché of beef, baguette and canard farci,” although I would love to see a Willy Ronis shot of a Parisian kid rushing home with duck in hand. I have no idea how shellfish oil could replace mayonnaise in a crab cake. And WTF is “Julia Child with real fish”? Don’t even get me started on the description of Guy Savoy as merely “owner of the restaurant that bears his name in Paris.” Earth to Eighth Avenue: He’s now as American as Las Vegas.