So this week was a bit scattered. We had news coming in from all quarters of the restaurants business and the wider world of food, but while, in some weeks, a kind of theme naturally emerges (like barbecue or take-out food or terrible things being done to tater tots), this was not one of those weeks.
This dude is never going to win this staring contest...
Instead, we had everything from monkey prostitutes to backyard chicken ranching--a bunch of really great stories which I think are best summed up by the art that accompanied them. So just to make sure you didn't miss anything good, here's the best of what we did this week, in simple pictographic form.
On Monday, we began with...
"An early-morning power breakfast in a hallowed downtown restaurant is Michael Douglas with slicked-back hair and a cell phone the size of a dust buster glued to his ear, barking out orders to a floor trader about when to pull the trigger on pork futures in between puffs of a cigarette and bites of poached egg. It's Melanie Griffith in a pantsuit telling the Dukes that she can run their company better than Eddie Murphy or Dan Aykroyd, because that's how women are these days. It's Alec Baldwin toweling off his nuts in the bathroom after successfully bullying Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin at a sales meeting. It's Richard Gere feeding strawberries and mimosas to Julia Roberts after he decides to build companies instead of dismantle them after a hostile takeover.
That's power incarnate, with lox and capers. Or at least it was in the '80s."
From the Bottomfeeder review of Merchant's Cafe.
"When a bag of purple beans showed up in our CSA box the other week, I'll admit I was skeptical. They looked so dark, inky black almost, that I had a hard time imagining them blending nicely into any dish. Also, recalling a traumatic incident from childhood when I made turkey macaroni soup with Thanksgiving leftovers and purple cabbage, I feared these beans would also bleed color and render my food strange and inedible-looking."
"I've been out here eight and a half years. We've been building something out here. It was frustrating when I was younger and didn't really understand the big picture. You know, you'd see chefs who had operations where they're only open Tuesday through Saturday and they're only open for dinner and they're getting James Beard nominations and all these different things and you're like God! While we're open breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Now, I'm a little more mature. I don't do it for the recognition. I do it for the people in front of me. The people who have been coming in from the beginning. Those other things come with time. If they don't, you have to be happy with what you're doing and I am."
From this week's Grillaxin' interview with the Barking Frog's Bobby Moore
"Turn on the Smoking Gun and light the wood chips. Smoke the entire bowl into the bag, retaining as much smoke as possible. Holding the open end of the bag up, submerge the bag into the ice bath for a few seconds to condense the remaining smoke. Seal the open end in the vacuum sealer. Cook the salmon in the water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and serve."
"The Narnia books always struck me as a sneaky way to make kids gobble up Christianity, sort of like hiding vitamins in a spoonful of ice cream. (If you read them after age 8 or so, the big friendly lion-as-Christ metaphor is like getting smacked in the face with a crucifix.) So it's no surprise that the most memorable food in the series also misrepresents itself. When the evil White Witch recruits young Edmund by bribing him with Turkish delight, it sounds like the most awesome food ever: so delicious it can turn you to the dark side. But C.S. Lewis never really explains what Turkish delight is beyond saying it's "sweet and light to the very center." Turns out it's jelly cubes sprinkled with powdered sugar, sort of like Aplets & Cotlets. And I'm sorry, but only grandmas eat Aplets & Cotlets. They're right up there with cod liver oil and prunes."
From "Top Five Foods From Childrens Literature," a list for all you kids at heart.
"I hate it when people ask for a huge, meaty red like a California Cabernet or a Southern Rhone to go with something delicate like fish; it just kills any chance that they have of enjoying either component of their meal. Totally depressing. But the thing that annoys me the most is when customers ask for my advice or guidance and then the first thing they do is start setting up all these rules, like: 'We only like wine from California' or 'I hate sweet wine.' If you already have all these ideas, what the hell do you need my help for? As a sommelier, I want to be able to enhance your meal and open your mind to new wines the same way a chef hopes to open your mind to new food. It's very hard to do when people are unwilling to go out of their comfort zones."
From "7 Reasons Why Your Sommelier Hates You". For the record, that was reason #6.
"No post about speculative science would be complete without delving, albeit briefly, into the world of evil science, and one of the long-standing complaints I've had with this crappy thing everybody calls "reality" is that it just doesn't have enough super-villains. I mean, really. When's the last time you flipped on the news and saw the anchor talking in worried tones about Dr. Megalopolis and his new Death Ray aimed at the Empire State Building? Never, right? And that just sucks.
So all I'm saying is, with these daily, dull and painfully real food recalls that keep happening over poison eggs and tainted spinach and lunchmeats infected with the plague or whatever, wouldn't it be a pleasant change to wake up one morning and hear about some mad scientist with a laboratory hidden inside a hollowed-out volcano who, using atomic energy and uranium and a bunch of those sparking electricity things that mad scientists always have, has managed to create super foods that really are super? Like a 400-foot-tall sentient carrot, or a cow with the powers of flight and revenge on his mind.
And as a side benefit, I would guess that while a few hundred million nasty eggs or a few thousand pounds of tainted meat aren't going to affect any sort of change at all in the way our government looks at food safety, a 200-ton stalk of angry broccoli that can shoot lasers advancing on the White House would probably get a conversation started right quick."
From "Seven Food Technologies I Wish Existed Right Now," a not-completely-exhaustive list of things I wish scientists would invent before I get too old to enjoy them.
"Piquillo peppers ($9) also seemed too expensive. The small red peppers were stuffed with a fibrous fishy wad of salt cod. Outside, the peppers were too tangy. Inside, too salty. And the textures didn't match up. What gives? That's like if a monkey was raised in a lab where they made him breast feed off of one of those wire mesh "adopted" monkey mom statues. Then the monkey grows up thinking that the wireframe monkey is how all female monkeys should look. When he gets older, he takes one of those wire mesh monkeys to the monkey prom at the Dr. Zaius Monkey Prep Academy, but everyone laughs at him because the monkey is furry but his date is wiry. Later, when he gets even older, he picks up wireframe monkey prostitutes. This is tragic. The textures don't match up. In conclusion, I didn't like the stuffed piquillo peppers that much."
From the Surly Gourmand's review of Cichetti this week. No, seriously. For reals.
"From the start, I was foursquare against this. Mostly because every time I went there I would see crowds of gently weaving beautiful people holding martini glasses like they were born with them in their hands, approaching the large, bolted door in the middle of the small main dining room, picking up the olde-timey phone on the wall and asking some unseen presence for permission to ascend the stairs into an upstairs room that I was just sure held all manner of bizarre earthly delights. Strongmen juggling midgets. Platters of sizzling, fried ortolan being consumed by expatriate royalty. Naked women doing terrible things with bar garnishes. That sort of thing.
Most of the time, the beautiful people were granted entrance, slipped through the door and shut it behind them, never to be seen again. Some of the time, though, they would be refused and would have to make the Walk of Shame back to their tables, knowing that some flaw in their character, dress or carriage had caused them to be denied. Now under normal circumstances, I'm a fairly confident guy. I can handle rejection, shame, and regularly embarrass myself in public just for the sick thrill of doing so. But something about that door and that telephone intimidated me so, during my review meals, during return visits to score fried chicken, potatoes and cocktails constructed from ingredients I could barely pronounce, I always avoided it--wondering what was happening on the other side of that locked door, sure, but never really willing to try and find out for myself until a couple days ago when, well-lubricated by drink and surrounded by enough friends to spread the potential shame of rejection around, we all collectively decided to give it a shot."
From "Behind the Black Door," a peek upstairs at Tavern Law's speakeasy, Needle and Thread.
"Like this afternoon. I'm driving into the office and, like the good, soft and pasty liberal that I am, I'm listening to NPR on the radio--some fascinating discussion of melting ice caps or female genital mutilation or ethnic folk dancing or something. And all of a sudden, what does the talking head switch to? Egg recall news. There are now 2000 sick people. The FDA is in a tizzy, trying to explain to everyone that they do not have the power to demand the recall of a cell phone from the Taco Hut lost-and-found, let alone half a billion eggs. No, all they can do is suggest that a voluntary recall might be, you know... a really fucking good idea what with 2000 egg-eating American citizens screaming at their boots and crapping themselves volcanically. The NPR folks are outraged. Or at least as outraged as NPR commentators ever get. Which is not very much.
So I switch stations. More news talk. More egg recall. And I don't want to switch over to one of the music stations because anyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely convinced that music's greatness peaked with the recording of "Mexican Radio" by Wall of Voodoo in 1983 and that everything that came after that was just a downhill slide into absolute crap."
From "The Inescapable Egg Recall"
"Subtle isn't really a word that should be used within 500 feet of any mention of Piranha 3D, but the movie winks at the audience constantly. This wry meta-humor is helped along in no small part to its numerous cameos, including fellow gore enthusiast Eli Roth playing a sleazy spring break emcee who is introduced mere moments before his brutal decapitation-by-flying-boat. Christopher Lloyd also makes a brief appearance as a prehistoric fish expert who chews so much scenery he makes Doc Brown look downright comatose. The movie even begins with Richard Dreyfus drinking "Amity Beer" only seconds before becoming the vicious fish swarm's first meal."
From Dinner & A Movie's review of Piranha 3D and Mr. Lu's Seafood and Burgers. And screw the subtlety, I just want to see Jerry O'Connell get eaten by piranha.
Wait, what do you mean it isn't a documentary? Dammit...
"You could usually find Mary Alyce Miller working the candy counter at Husky Deli, the West Seattle store she called home for more than 70 years. Her nephew Jack Miller credits her for keeping the store running during wartime while other family members were fighting on the front lines.
I never met Mary Alyce, but we had a lot in common, including our birthday (November 15), our West Seattle neighborhood, and our love of black licorice. I found out today that Mary Alyce's favorite was the Licorice Katz, which stick to your teeth like glue. Jack gave me a couple to sample. They were hard as rocks, but I loved them because I knew Mary Alyce loved them. I feel a sort of kinship with this woman, even though I never met her."
From "In Memory Of A Woman I Never Met"--a Sweet Freak remembrance of Mary Alyce Miller.