Reviews aren't the right platform for prattling on about myself, but since blogs are the official medium of narcissism, I figure this is the proper spot for a story about Golden Beetle and my personal culinary history.
Golden Beetle, which I reviewed this week, serves dishes from across the Mediterranean. The dinner menu includes couscous and kibbeh and--much to my excitement--bourekas (although chef Maria Hines uses an alternate spelling for the layered snack of spinach and phyllo dough).
A great deal of contemporary food writing is so thoroughly soaked in nostalgia that when I wrote a piece about bamboo pickles for the Southern Foodways Alliance's quarterly publication, I was explicitly instructed not to use the phrase "maw maw." If reading aloud was still a popular activity, I suspect a decent drinking game could be built around Saveur and relatives' names: Almost every contributor to the magazine cites a father, mother, grandmother, or grandfather who introduced them to some edible wonder that nobody else remembers.
I don't have any of those stories to tell. My parents and grandparents cooked because nobody else was going to cook for them: Our meals didn't signify anything more than sustenance for another workday. For most of my childhood, my parents stuck to a fairly standard weekly menu. We ate spaghetti with jarred tomato sauce; Creamette elbow noodles with cubed cheddar cheese, heated in a stockpot until the cheese turned greasy; a dish of stew meat and untrimmed green beans that we unceremoniously referred to as "meat and string beans," and a "taco salad," made with iceberg lettuce, canned black olives that fit on my fingertips, leftover hamburger meat, and--after 1986--Cool Ranch Doritos.
As my mother proves with her matzo-ball soup every Passover and Rosh Hashanah, she's not a bad cook. Nor is she disinterested in food: Hotel brunches and Chinese-restaurant dinners were a hugely important part of my edible education. But she never fetishized time spent in the kitchen: As she repeatedly reminded me when I was registering for wedding gifts, she considers the food processor one of the most important technological advances of the 20th century. When I was young, my mother didn't cook for fun.
My grandparents had an equally pragmatic attitude toward food. They made dinners of scrambled eggs and congealed chickens. But my paternal grandmother's repertoire included a number of dishes drawn from her Turkish-born father's traditions. I remember her making avicas, the white-bean and beef dish that probably gave rise to my family's meat and string beans, and bourekas. Until her arthritis became too crippling for her to stand over a table folding phyllo dough, she made bourekas with my father every time she visited from Arizona.
My grandmother is too sick to travel now, and it's been years since I ate her bourekas. So I was thrilled when I found them on Hines' menu, giving me the rare chance to reminisce about a dish my grandma used to make. While there's much wrong with Golden Beetle, the bourekas are terrific. I think Matilda Miller would approve.
Interestingly, it appears Golden Beetle's changed the name of its bourekas: The restaurant's online menu now lists them as spanakopita, which typically refers to a heavier, more complicated version of the dish. In the interest of nostalgia, here's hoping the preparation hasn't changed too.