Thursday, November 03, 2011

Messed-Up Priorities

I was watching an interview of one of my favorite chefs/authors Gabrielle Hamilton (if you have not read Blood, Bones & Butter, get it now), and she described foodies as having "messed-up priorities." Even though I am completely food-obsessed, I do not consider myself a "foodie," which in my mind conjures up the image of someone pretentious and obnoxious who refuses to eat anywhere without a Michelin rating or collects name-brand restaurants like expensive purses or cars or whatever. Blecch.

But if I am absolutely honest with myself, I have to admit that other people might consider me a "foodie," under some variation of that term, if not my exact definition. When I taste good food, it makes me happy. Depending on how good it was, I can be in a good mood for days (which is saying a lot because I am generally a very grouchy individual). When I am looking forward to going to a restaurant that I love, such as KOMI, Saison, Manresa, or 15 East, I am can float in an anticipatory good mood for weeks.

Conversely, when I spend money and time (and calories, as I get older, this actually seems to matter) on a bad meal, I get extremely cranky. I completely understand Chef Hamilton's description of wanting "salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry," and bad food (e.g., overwrought food, anything adorned with truffle oil, anything "frozen" with liquid nitrogen) puts me in a bad mood.

I plan vacations around where and what I want to eat.

@#$%! I do have messed-up priorities, but I still refuse to consider myself a foodie. Those people are ignorant snobs that I do not want to eat with. They suck all of the enjoyment out of good food.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Texting in Restaurants

This post appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about texting in restuarants. While I understand and appreciate the general sentiment in theory, I have to say that because of my job, I would never be able to go to any restaurant or bar that bans texting. I completely understand that using cell phones at the table, camera flashes popping at every course, or even too loud conversations at a nearby table may disrupt the ambiance, but is it really offensive to simply see someone in the dining room texting? What about single diners reading a book or magazine? Is that offensive too?

My Blackberry is often the only thing that allows me to leave the chain of my office and computer because I can respond to emails and deal with work issues without having to physically be there all night. If texting were banned, I might as well stay at the office and eat styrofoam takeout for every meal and force my family and friends to join me there because I will not be able to join them at the restaurant or bar of their choosing if texting is not permitted.

I try my best to limit time spent looking at or typing into my Blackberry, and I would dearly love it if I could completely ignore my clients and my colleagues at work until it is convenient for me to respond, but my job does not work that way. So between declining to go out at all or going out with my Blackberry, I am sorry but I am toting my Blackberry so that I can dine out and not get fired.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Words I Can't Resist on a Menu

Certain menu items and descriptions just bore me to tears (modern, local, fresh, seared, grilled, breast, loin, chop), but after Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle blogged about menu descriptions that appeal to him, I started to think about some of my own trigger words. Here are the ingredients/adjectives that hook me almost every time:

sepia/squid ink
egg (deviled/slow-cooked/poached/runny/soft-boiled)
bottarga/roe
sea urchin
abalone
ankimo
razor clam
oyster
spot prawn
pork belly
lardo
sardine/boquerones/anchovy/mackerel
farro
brodo/consomme
salted
raw
charred
crispy skin (chicken/duck/pork)
fatty
bone-in
whole

No wonder my clothes don't fit ...

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Frank You Did Me So Wrong

O Ya
9 East Street
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 654-9900
Chef Tim Cushman
Dinner only Tuesday through Saturday

I adored Frank Bruni's sarcasm and writing style as much as I admired his taste in food-- until now. Whatever points he gained by recommending 15 East (one of my must-eat places whenever I am in New York), he lost it all with his crazy recommendation of O Ya. This place could only be described as the evil spawn of Nobu and Morimoto.

The three Asian sushi chefs behind the counter are trying to remain motivated among diners who would prefer to eat a deep fried spicy tuna hand roll with tempura flakes coated in truffle oil mayonnaise, as opposed to an actual fresh piece of fish. I saw a couple of regulars steal the tiny wooden spoons that Japanese restaurant provide for dishes like chawan mushi-- seriously people, go to a freakin kitchen store and BUY SOME!! In any event, I digress. My only point is when the dining audience is stupid, I guess one should not be surprised at the scariness coming out of the kitchen.

There is so much overmanipulation of every dish that any original flavor that any of the seafood might have had is extinguished to oblivion, leaving behind ill-conceived sauces and combinations that are too hideous to imagine. There is not enough toothpaste or Pepto in the world for me to be able to forget this meal quickly.

Especially since the sushi counter is a prominent (albeit mostly ignored by diners) part of the restaurant, I was flabbergasted to see my hamachi with julienned apples and jalapeno sauce (yes, it tasted exactly as good as good as it sounds-- shudder-- but it gets better) sit on the counter after the sushi chef had prepared it, have a server whisk it away, in the opposite direction from me into the HOT kitchen, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. And watched my server walk around the dining room (he wasn't slacking; he was quite busy), then go back to the kitchen, pick up my raw fish, which has been sitting in the warm kitchen this whole time, in all of its sauced glory, for a solid five minutes before it was returned to me, sitting at the counter. What kind of idiocy is that?

Even knowing that it is not the server's fault and that it is likely some management policy, I could not help but yell at him for how the restaurant was treating that poor fish. If there was a remote possibility of that original preparation tasting good, it was killed by the extra time sitting on the plate in the warm kitchen until the dish came back out and was presented to me at the counter, sitting six inches away from the chef who prepared it.

But even the rest of the fish that did not necessarily take a journey around the restaurant before being served were mostly mealy and awful, not to mention hideously overseasoned with things like spicy banana pepper mousse, something they call osetra caviar but tasted like oversalted paddlefish roe way past its prime, ceviche vinaigrette, cumin aioli, and sake sea urchin jus.

I had ordered the grand omakase and had to stop the bleeding two-thirds of the way into the meal. It was too painful. No ingredient or cook should be made to suffer like that. At least I could do something about it and walk out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shag or Die

This is the food version of that English game, "Shag or Die," meaning that you must pick one at the exclusion of the other (with my personal pick in parentheses, meaning that I have forego the other forever):

Sugar or Butter? (Butter)
Salt or Soy Sauce?  (Salt)
Eggs or Cheese?  (Eggs)
Fish or Steak?  (Fish)
Bread or Potato?  (Potato)
Rice or Pasta?  (Rice)
Fruit or Vegetables?  (Vegetables)
Coffee or Wine?  (Wine)
Red Wine or White Wine (White Wine:  Riesling, White Burgundy, Champagne, Sauternes...)
Beer or Soda?  (Soda)
Fried Chicken or Barbecue?  (Fried Chicken)
Hamburger or Pizza?  (Pizza)
Chinese or Mexican?  (Chinese)
Olive Oil or Vinegar (Vinegar)
Ice Cream or Bacon (Bacon)
Chocolate or Caramel (Caramel)
Nuts or Popcorn (Nuts)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Defense of the Amuse Bouche

One of my favorite parts of a fine dining experience is the amuse bouche, that little surprise gift from the kitchen to start the meal. In fact, I am quite greedy when it comes to these little preludes.

I first fell in love with Manresa after receiving not one but six mind-blowingly delicious little bites, and they are one of many reasons I keep going back six years later. The mezzethakia at KOMI is the stuff that dreams are made of, seven year after my first taste. I would sell my soul for an extra stomach just so I can keep tasting Johnny Monis' miniature creations.

Why are people coming down on amuses all of a sudden? Gordon Ramsay, on the BBC's Best Restaurants program, critized a French restaurant for giving guests more than one amuse. I could not disagree more. One of my pet peeves is being late for a restaurant reservation, but I had one of the most incredible amuse experiences at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas when my guest was late in meeting me for dinner. While I was sitting alone at the table waiting, the kitchen kept sending me a series of little snacks, including a beautiful briny oyster enrobed in creme fraiche gelee, a tiny little triple decker foie gras sandwich, a miniature burger the size of a macaroon, etc. I would never do that again on purpose-- well maybe-- but I almost wished that my guest took longer to arrive.

Note: My love of multiple amuses does not extend to a platter containing multiple amuses at once. Not to look a gift dish in the mouth, but amuses are generally not at their best when presented buffet style. Their beauty is in the fleeting tease of the palate, not working my way around a plate.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Worst of 2010 (and Beyond)

1. Butternut squash soup

Make it stop. I can't take another spoonful, even if it is well prepared and not the typical gloppy sort.

2. Liquid nitrogen

Seriously what is wrong with using the freezer. Because that crumbling plasterboard texture is so appetizing?

3. Truffle oil

Reminds me of drugstore knockoff of expensive perfume. I would rather ingest the perfume than the oil.

4. Vanilla in anything savory

I don't care if you are Guy Savoy. Please keep it away from my seafood.

5. Chocolate in everything sweet

Have some creativity (and I don't mean the tired use of bacon, which I otherwise still love).

6. Servers who crouch down and/or touch me

I don't know who decided this increases tips, but this is just plain weird.

7. Wine lists limited to domestic wines

I like local almost as much as any politically correct diner, but I like things that taste good more. I have one word for this kind of wine list: corkage.

8. Wine lists limited to bottles over $100

Corkage.

9. Wine lists that offer only Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon, and Krug NV for sparkling wine options

I must be in Vegas.

10. Mixology

I have yet to taste anything to rival the classic martini, and I would rather get full on food, not cocktails.

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...