I can't sleep. I tried for a while, but work today just left too much lactic acid in me. I dutifully lied there for like an hour, and then I started thinking about lying there, and anyone who's experienced even a single night of sleeplessness knows where this train goes. So I'm trudging to the bathroom, and opening the cabinet, and just as I'm reaching for a fistful of large-animal tranquilizers to boil down into a tasty reduction, I remember that someone gave me this assignment like weeks ago, and thought that working on it might, I don't know, make me sleepy or relaxed or something. The assignment was to list five foods that remind me of childhood, or of being a kid--and if you can find a difference between those, you've taken too many improv classes.So here goes. And I'm going to do this with a minimum of weepy explanation:1. Marrow bones.2. Welsh Rarebit on English muffins instead of bread.3. Chocolate cupcakes with lime frosting instead of birthday cake.4. Seckel pears from the tree in the yard.5. A carrot that I pulled straight from the ground and wiped off and ate without washing.Hmm. My left eye just twitched, but I'm still not tired. Let's do some more:6. Little ice cream cups with "sundae" topping that you lick off the paper pull-back lid to get it all, then you eat the ice cream with a flat wood spoon. I got these from the dairy at Cornell and later, after my parents got divorced, I was allowed to get Hostess fruit pies there, too. But not before. Yeah, you don't need me to figure that one out. 7. Salmon patties. I don't know what ethnicity these are. Think burgers, then make the burgers out of canned salmon. Way, way better than they have any right to be. My grandma would make a plate of them and before the plate hit the table, they'd all be gone, courtesy of my really big for a little kid teeth.8. Apple pan dowdy. Ask your oldest male relative.9. Crab legs. All I could eat. Now I know they were frozen. 10. This isn't really my usual funny shtick, is it? It's like my normal edgy-but-an-okay-guy-underneath thing has combined with my tiredness and work angst oh and plus this goddamned ridiculous idea of food from when you were a kid, thanks a lot, into something even I have to admit is a little melancholy, no matter how much I try to buoy it up with snide asides. 11. Then again, maybe it's just bittersweet to me, since I'm the one remembering my childhood, and not you/yours. You're just reading about a kid eating carrots. I know--cry me a fucking river.12. The skin on chocolate pudding.13. French fries at a diner with a friend of mine who put ketchup on them and when his mom said "maybe Dan doesn't like ketchup on his fries," responded without a pause "who doesn't like ketchup on their fries?" The truth was, I kind of didn't.14. I want to write about my first great oyster, but refuse.15. The cupcakes were my choice, by the way.16. Maine lobsters, in Maine. I think I was 2.That'll do. I actually am a little drowsy now, and that didn't even take that long. Plus, I won't feel like I'm walking through gauze all day tomorrow. At least if I fall asleep now.Or, okay, now.Dammit.
Mellowing In My Old Age
, it turns out I do regret an earlier post. Not for the reason I thought I might, but still--I am regretting. Here's the gist of the post: I told food and wine writers to strip down their writing. Okay, that's not exactly what I said. Exactly what I said was...wait...Go back and read, slacker. Man. You give an inch...But in any case, I was kind of overworked about overuse of certain words in food writing, and I vented, and my concern is that I overstated my case. My concern, such as it is, arose the other night, when I opened three bottles of red wine for a dinner party. I won't dither about the where-from and when of them, but they all had similar, yet slightly variant descriptions. Yes, dear reader(s), I based my buys on the ad copy. Well, you can't blame me--I bought at Bristol Farms, where, when I asked the oen guy for some help, he walked directly to the Super-Tuscans and said "How does $70 sound?" Needless to say, he didn't want to help me anymore when I told him how it sounded. And so I was stuck with what I knew and the labels. And all the labels read something like:"Ripe, jammy red fruit with hints of smoke, leather and a touch of oak."Not all the labels in Bristol Farms read like that--just the 3 bottles' that I bought. We were serving lamb racks, and that seemed the ticket to me. And they were all from the same year and similar environs, just to head off that line of later questions.Well, you guessed it--the 3 bottles could not have been more different. One was like my Uncle Lou, who, after every Passover dinner, would open the top button on his pants and say something like "Oyyy, if I ate another bite, I woulda explotet." This was a wine that you smelled the second you opened it--no need to swirl and inhale--it just leached right out of the bottle and into your nose. A wine forthright, soft and ingratiating, but one that will slap you on the back of your head when you're walking to the kitchen. The fruits I got were dark, not red, and the smoke was totally absent, in favor of earth. And people agreed with me, so don't try the "everyone's palate is different" shit with me.Number two of the red, jammy fruit with Marlboro-Man-like qualities. Oh, and before I go on, yes, I tried each of these at similar points in the meal, too, so please let's not talk about what food and chemistry can do in a mouth. Number two was like eating a steak itself. Bloody, metallic, austere, silky smooth and haunting. If wine were guys, this wine and Uncle Lou would not get along at all. This wine would not bowl. This wine would not sit down at polite gatherings, preferring to stand and make everyone nervous. And every chick at the party would want to fuck this wine. I went to high school with this wine, and its name was Keith Wa. I'm serious: this guy I went to high school with was like the rawest, tattooedest, head-shav-ed-est badass I've ever seen--like this guy is definitely dead now--but he just drew women to him. That was this wine. The fruit? THERE WAS NO FRUIT IN THIS WINE. This entire wine was, I swear to god, mashed from live animals. If there had to be a fruit in there, let's make it, oh, I don't know, quail. "Ripe, jammy red fruit?" Sure, sure. Well, it made me buy the bottle anyway. Moving on to number three. Number three. Man, speaking of high school, if I kicked number three's ass once while waiting for the bus to take us skiing, I kicked it a hundred times. Number three was Wayne LaPointe. Number three was this loud-mouthed little snot of a wine that just bleats at you until you put it in a headlock and pummel it. Okay, it was junior high. This wine has jammy red fruit all right. It has so much of it that you want to kick its goddamn ass. It's like it comes up to you on the first sip and yells at you like Gilbert Gottfried "I'VEGOTJAMMYREDFRUITI'VEGOTJAMMYREDFRUITI'VEGOTJAMMYREDFRUITI'VE--" and then down it goes when you sock it in the gut. Annoying wine in the extreme. Wayne, if you're reading this, I live in L.A., and will totally fight you behind my office anytime, just not on Sunday because I have a private yoga session at 11:30 and that cuts the day in half for me.My point is that you wine label guys have to get re-acquainted with your words. I know I screeded about overused words. I know, and I'm sorry. It must have made you really skittish and now I'm the one paying for it (not $70 a bottle, but still). So use your words. Learn to communicate what you're experiencing--really--to your reader with just a little 1-1/2 X 3 inch label to do it. You know you wanted to be an artist when you were younger; well, here's your chance. Tell me what your wine is like. Tell me what it's really like. And feel free to use any of the forbidden words. Just use them well. I'm watching.
Echigo: You Gots ta Chill.
So my new office is on the Westside. Westside-er, I guess, but still--I have to figure out where to eat lunches now, and last week kind of became Japanese week: Monday was Sasabune, Tuesday was Terried Sake House, and Wednesday was Echigo. I've heard Westsiders raving about Echigo for the past g-d-knows-how-long, so I figured better late than never, and checked it out.Ok, so here's at least one reason for Echigo's semi-wild popularity--the $10 sushi lunch special (now $11). Here's what's in it, if you can't guess for yourself: tuna, salmon, blah blah blah and a roll of some sort. Cheap, yes; boring, ditto. It's like if I were stranded on a desert island for long enough--wait, desert islands would have way more interesting raw options than that--ok, if I were stranded in KANSAS for long enough, I might be stoked about this selection, but I haven't been, so I didn't bother with it, although all my fellow salarymen sure seemed happy to, since the sushi bar was empty and all I kept hearing was "hachi special," "ni special" "special special" and so forth. Not content with the Iowan special, I opt for omakase, which the waitress tells me will be between 25 and 30 ducks. Fine. Good way to suss out the place, and still pretty cheap. So there's me at the bar. The chef is positioned diagonally as far away from me as possible, and makes no effort to notice me--his assistant makes and delivers every one of my courses. Been to Sasabune? Then you pretty much know what fish is coming at Echigo, except that at Sasabune, they tell you what each fish is. I know--I should know. I should be able to tell the difference between a bonito and a skipjack by asking each one a question over the phone, but when you soak the things in ponzu sauce (what is it with these Westsiders and their ponzu?), the reception gets a bit crackly. So the assistant hands me a plate with a single piece of fish on it, says nothing, neither he nor the chef answers me most times when I ask about it, and before I know it, I'm being treated to my single piece of contact with the chef himself--he hands me a blue crab roll and tells me what it is. Dude, I've seen more blue crab rolls in my life than George Burns saw cigars, okay? Answer me when I ask what you topped the halibut with, but spare me this useless tidbit--just give the friggin' standard omakase dessert roll to your beleaguered assistant and keep your aloof-record intact. Oh, and here's something else: if you're an Angeleno sushi-eater, you've probably gotten used to Sasabune's warm-rice/cold-fish dealie. You may love it, you may not, but you're used to it. It doesn't rankle you like it might have the first time that all your rice fell into your soy sauce and splattered all over your $700 big-E Levis. (What? You didn't know that you're supposed to dip the fishside and not the rice in your soy? Yeah, neither did I, and I still do it the wrong way.) So you're okay with warm rice under your sushi. Well, get ready to not be all over again, because Echigo's rice is hot. I mean, it is HOT. Like steaming hot. Like steam is coming from underneath my slice of bonito-skipjack hot. If I waited long enough, I suppose every course would involve something seared. This is too much. I strenuously object. All this adds up to what I guess is Echigo's theme, at least at lunch: they need to chill. Chill out from being too busy cranking out 11-dollar 10-dollar specials and answer a single freakin' question about the 30-dollar lunch this guy's having. Hell, imagine he's 3 guys, each having a lunch special, and linger for 2 seconds when he demonstrates an interest in what you're serving. Chill out your goddamn rice, too, while you're at it. Warm-and-cold may or may not have something to recommend it. It's a choice. Hot rice just confuses everything. I'm sure there's some ultra-deep explanation for why it works, but it doesn't work, so save it.How was the fish itself? Pretty good, in fact. Good halibut with something green on top that I really would love to be able to identify for you but can't for obvious reasons; ama ebi in something tangy and quite good and not ponzu for a change, but which I also can't tell you what it was (inexplicably, the shrimp's head never made an appearance--frying the 2-inch thing must just take too long during the lunch rush); nice clean, super-fresh scallop over boiling hot rice--probably the worst example of the temperature contrast...and some other stuff. Oh, and the blue crab roll, which I barely notice anymore when I get them, but I imagine Echigo-san (what, you think he told me his name?) is seriously proud of, since he presented it with such a flourish that I thought they'd changed chefs while my head was down. Nijiya Market serves a spicy octopus handroll for $2.50 that I vastly prefer to any omakase-peddler's blue crab roll--time to get a new end-of-the-line marker, sensei.Everyone should feel free to write me about this one. Let me know if I totally missed the mark, or that hot rice is the best thing since warm rice, or that I need to lighten up because don't I know that lunch isn't dinner (one of the best sushi meals I've ever had was an impromptu lunch at Asanebo), or that Echigo used to be the new Nozawa but now it's the old...um...Nozawa.Hey, at least it was cheap. Ish.(Echigo, in some Westside mini-mall with weird parking, mezzanine level.)
A Blow to New York
O.K. As anyone who knows me knows, I've been on vacation for the past month. When you start a vacation, you're always like "I'm going to blog Every Day, and practice my Japanese, and read that Delillo book that's been propping open my office door for the past 3 years, and..." And, and, and. And what ends up happening is (e) none of the above. O.K., so I'm pressing through the novel (and frankly it's kind of dated already, even though it's only from like the mid-late 90's, and I'm disappointed in this writer so indulging his clevernesses but then again who am I to throw those particular stones?) but none of the other things have happened. I went to New York for five days and I absolutely cannot get it up to write about the trip or the food and maybe it was/is the stifling heat and maybe it's that for whatever good food I ate there none of it even comes close to my welcome-home tacos at guess where and you better believe I didn't even start unpacking before I had 7 of them on the table with a giant Corona stuffed with lime and sure it was before noon but like my friend says, the sun was over the yardarm somewhere and I suppose in an indirect way I'm writing about the trip right now, well, let's just get it over with:No fewer than 4 trips to Gray's Papaya for Recession Specials.My first meal there was at Sake Bar Decibel, one of my all-time favorite spots, and my version of comfort food--where maybe someone else you know would screw directly to McDonald's, I go for a masu box of Mu and two servings of cold baby octopus in wasabi broth just like my mom used to make. Oh, wait--that was your mom. Anyway. (Sake Bar Decibel, 9th St. b/t 2nd & 3rd Aves., below street-level)A Bob's Plate at Eva's health food grocery/restaurant. This was a place where I used to go when I was eating 10,000+ calories a day (story for another day) and get this Bob's plate thing that's brown rice drenched with lentil soup and topped with tart lemon chicken. You pour tahini over it, and it's supergood and quite probably the healthiest thing I've ever loved eating. (Eva's, 8th St. b/t 5th & 6th Aves.)Pickled tongue sando at Blue Ribbon Bakery. A damned good sandwich. I waited tables there for about 3 weeks, back in like 1998. I was, probably, the worst waiter the place ever saw. Three guys I worked with still work there, and none of them even came close to remembering me, which worked in my favor viz-a-viz not having my food altered for the bad before it was brought out to me. I was such a bad waiter that my co-workers disliked me on that basis because I made their jobs harder. (Blue Ribbon Bakery, corner of I think Downing & Bedford Sts.)Sushi and swanky Japanese apps at Matsuri, this cavernous downtempo-emporium/multiple-barred/Is That Lindsey Lohan-type darkness of a super-expensive new restaurant beneath what used to be Covenant House and apparently is now like a super-swanky hotel. O.K., so I drank a whole lot of sake here and have no recollection of the food, although I remember being not totally wowed. I went with one of my great friends who when we go to sushi he like orders the entire freakin menu and I think that's terrific, so maybe I shouldn't have had so much to drink so I'd have more to say than this, but my feet really hurt from walking like 5 miles in boots the day before and, well, sake helped a lot, so I just couldn't help myself. I do remember that there was a tile mosaic in the bathroom that depicted lesbianism, so I guess I recommend this place. (Matsuri, 16th St., just east of 9th Ave.)Dinner at Blue Ribbon Restaurant. I am not a shill for those brothers who own this 3-spot bunch of restaurants. Waited for an hour for a table, but by "waited," I mean that my friend and I went next door to the Red Bench for drinks, then resumed waiting in the restaurant with a bottle of Sancerre, which was really good in the heat. It seriously never dropped below 80 the whole time I was in New York, even at night, and I won't say the thing everyone feels compelled to say about the humidity, but it's true. Dinner: oysters, squab. One of the oysters (Fanny Bay? Blue Point? Malpeque? Wonka Bar? Damn you, Sancerre!) was one of those uber-oysters that remind you that sometime you have to have a dinner of nothing by 30 raw oysters. The other two were fine. Oh, if anyone can tell me the name of the now-gone Italian sandwich shop that used to be on the same block as Blue Ribbon, I'd appreciate it--I used to go there at least once a week and now I can't remember what it was called. (Blue Ribbon Restaurant, 97 Sullivan St.)Last meal was at Landmarc, the blurby New Yorker review of which I posted a link to a couple of months ago. Man, this place was good, and the thing about the below-retail-priced wines is true, and is so unbelievable when you're used to getting soaked by restaurant markups that even though I knew about and expected it, it was still totally shocking. Like being promised a real unicorn for your birthday and getting one, only this one you can drink for really cheap and it's delicious and gets you and your friends drunk. The boudin noir app was decent, although I prefer blood sausages of the firmer variety (shut up, Beavis) and this one was kind of the runnier kind, like they serve at Red Lion Tavern in Silverlake but it was still pretty good. And the sweetbreads were fine, too, but the green beans were a little too garlicky, and I like my sweetbreads a little crispier like pressed under a heavy skillet to finish them like they used to do at Biba in Boston, but all the same, I got to eat a lot of offal at this meal and drink wine at wholesale prices and I saw friends I haven't seen in quite a while. I liked Landmarc a lot and recommend it. (Landmarc, W. Broadway at Leonard St.)Now that I notice, it's pretty hot back here in L.A., too. So hot that I can't think of a pithy closer for this post. It's good to be home, or as my Grandfather would say, "If jenja doubja, domenahlebja." Those with Yiddish can feel free to correct my spelling.
The Misanthrope, or "I'll have what he's not having."
It's not about dick-measuring--and the only reason I bring that up at all is that it's pretty much the first question people ask someone who is willing to eat things most people won't. Something along the lines of "Do you do it so you can say you did?" No. It's really not about bragging rights. It's about trust. I don't trust most people to tell me what in this world is good. Think about this: at least according to the official story, there are a few million Americans who, as of last November, voted for our current president. While my chances of sitting next to one in California are admittedly slimmer than elsewhere, it could happen. Now am I going to listen to that person when it comes to matters of taste? To put it in less inflammatory terms, America's favorite vegetable is, and has been for decades, iceberg lettuce. Now, regardless of political affilation, you see what I mean. (If only the dems had run iceberg lettuce on the ticket...oh, I guess they sort of did.) Basically, if a food item is something I don't see on many menus, I have to assume it's something that doesn't sell much in the mainstream, which means it's not iceberg lettuce, which means it stands a better-than-average chance of being good. Similarly, if something is only found on ethnic menus--each ethnic minority by definition making up less of this country than white folks--I will give it similar odds, which is to say it's more likely than not worth my eating it. So when someone at the next table turns his nose up at the evening's sweetbread-and-kidney special, you can pretty much guess that I'm going to order it. Double the odds if the waiter tries to warn me away for any reason other than that it's not fresh or is ill-prepared, and triple them if he comes out and says "Americans tend not to like it--too spicy/fatty/whatever." Baby, sign me up, and bring me an order to go, so I can see what it's like with all that spicy fat congealed on the bottom.And, okay, I do take a little satisfaction in watching a dining companion's face wrinkle up when I order something out of the ordinary, but that's still not why I do it. The proof of that is that I order the same way when I eat alone, too, and if it were really just about saying I'd eaten something weird, I could pretty easily just lie about that, couldn't I? I mean enough people lie about their dicks, and that's way easier to verify. Isn't it too bad we can't seem to verify votes? If we could, and it turned out more people voted the right way, well...maybe I'd start letting you order for me.