Not sure which is more surprising (as in disheartening): That Craigslist has a flack. Or that so many smart outlets would take the bait. Naive me, I always assumed items about bizarre cooking jobs or ingredients for sale were discovered by reporters curious enough to go digging. Nope. It’s just more Eleni’s cookies, delivered to digital desks.
This was also my first trip overseas with my MacBook, so I could Tweet from afar. And one of the first noted that I had seen no cupcakes in Italy, but that the muffin tops were fucking everywhere. Shortly after hitting send on that, I passed a bakery with a line out the door for its frosted belly bombs. Milan may be, as my friend there noted, as much Italy as New York is America. But Saint Danny could clean up with Shake Shacks there.
Sometimes you just need to pull back the curtain and dispense with colorful obfuscation for everyone’s sake, and this is a case in point: I got invited to both a showing of the Danny Meyer documentary at MOMA and the reception beforehand. And I can happily report the latter was exceptional, with a well-edited guest list and demanding host and plenty of good food and drink (both sparkling and the Morgroni, a Meyer dad twist on the Negroni that, his son admitted, should have been served colder). But the film. Oy. Footage from 1998 supplemented with a few contemporary interviews does not an Errol Morris make. No wonder it went straight to DVD. But I was really glad I saw it because it took me back to those glory days of 1998, which was the year I went back to the NYTimes and the future looked so bright we had to take 401Ks. Danny says he was chagrined to be shot in an Armani overcoat with shoulders stretching from the East River to the Hudson, but it’s the right plumage for the time, an era when he complains onscreen about not being able to hire enough competent waiters or keep enough skilled craftsmen on the job to get both Eleven Madison and Tabla up and running within a month of each other. Watching those scenes in a roomful of old and rich people just brought home the answer to a question I constantly offer my enlightened friends: Are we doomed? Or are we fucked? No restaurateur today could even envision opening what Danny did in 1998 — what bank/investor would commit to a project that insanely ambitious? But what resonated most with me is how he saw the future and beat it. Only after a seriously good chef was kicked to the curb and a star magnet was installed did Eleven Madison finally take off, with food to match its glorious setting. Now it’s a restaurant reflecting its time, in a country where 400 people control most of the wealth. I ate there under Heffernan more times than I can count but suspect I will go to the crematorium without ever experiencing even its bar again. The literal bar is set too high. But he deserves the honorific of Saint when you consider his genius in starting the Shake Shacks. No one can be too annoyed at him for getting shut out of his temple of cuisine if there’s a “let ’em eat burgers” option so close by. . .
Sometimes people read what I typed and not what I wrote, so I should clear up one thing before proceeding here: Saint Danny got his moniker not because he pretends to be the East Coast Alice but because the press here kisses his hem so slobberingly. He is a nice guy. His restaurants would be the nicest in St. Louis. He’s done both well and good in this town. But he’s no Jesus H. So why in the name of the Maroons does he get so much constant coverage in one particular paper? That museum-trough story actually had a billboard directing leaders to “past coverage” of him, and I didn’t dare click for fear I would not get out before 5,000 stories in the last year alone. Even working there I never quite understood the way he was treated, how one negative review in particular caused ripples of weirdness toward the top. I’d wonder if he’s the McD’s of high-end restaurants, but he doesn’t advertise (unlike the place across from KK’s that gets a review for every chef). So I’ll just move on to a peripheral point: My consort and I were eating chorizo-chickpea soup at one new venue and a friend and I were splitting a broccoli-sausage flatbread at another and we all talked about how Great Performances was upgrading culture fodder all over town. So what company got touted in the Ode to Meyer? Can you say the one catering to the cult?
The JGold Wannabe tried out yet another new voice in mystifying readers like my consort, who braved a few grafs and could not understand why the rave added up to only three stars. Poor Britchky’s fingers must have been twitching in his grave. I’m so naive I believe even a Poor would not have hurt a restaurant that does what it does so well, and has for so long — I will not soon forget walking out of the deserted Four Seasons last summer and seeing the floral Frog jammed; if you’re going somewhere for a scene and not cuisine, flowers are a fixed face’s best friend (I ate there for my long-ago Allure story on how restaurants make women look good or bad). What was most surprising is that no attempt was made to connect the news dots between that review and the profoundly depressing information that the chef on whom Ruth once lyrically bestowed four stars is now slaving at a Midtown East joint one step up from Tout Va Bien. Of course I’m so old I got addicted to quenelles before I ever had to face down gefilte fish. But I do know that there’s a whole food truck devoted to schnitzel and that people make special expeditions to Cafe Sabarsky for the strudel alone. I just can’t tell the Egotist from the Drivelist sometimes. Or understand how “blackened fruitcake” saw print. Sloppy is as sloppy ledes.