The Cape Cod Experience

As long as you’re not snotty, you can enjoy dining on the Cape.  I’m down there at least once a month, sometimes twice, baling hay and picking cotton, and sometimes a man needs what to eat.  No rental, no house, no stove leads to dining out.

In Hyannis, The Egg and I, has a pleasant staff and is true to its name.  Dunk’s has two outposts in town, at least, and, barristas be damned, this is good, strong, fresh coffee.

More to the point are:

The Wicked Oyster, in Wellfleet, is by far the best lunch place around.  Terrific salads, eponymous dishes, juicy burgers, etc.  Kind of a stodgy crowd that seems full of itself–Can you blame ‘em?  They did invent the wheel, right?–but the food compensates for the suffocating atmosphere.  A good bet is to eat at the bar where locals, who look like contractors with their molls, dine well after having jacked up prices on that must-do renovation.

Terra Luna, in Truro, has a very pleasant staff serving decent plates of local stuff like oysters and cod.  Why, for $140, you can enjoy a dinner of two app’s, two entrees, and two glasses of wine.  One entree was penne with some kind of cockamamie vodka tomato sauce that arrived to the table this side of room temperature.

In Provincetown, one finds Joe’s, which is a great bakery, with a lively clientele and a pierced, artfully decorated, skin-wise, staff whose aw-shucks demeanor contrasts well with their appearances.  We’re talkin’ great croissants.

One also has in P-town the latest branch of Ten Tables: Delicious food, first-rate, served haphazardly in a lovely, old house.  This is a good kitchen.

Pop-up: At Adrian’s, inside a funky motel, you’ve got Will Gilson helming. Folks, this is the best restaurant in the region.  Chef is from Garden in the Cellar, out of Cambridge, MA, and finesse is evident in the halibut, plating, and restraint.  Too bad it’s just a summer fling.

 

Imported Foods & the F.D.A.

You might think that the best or most interesting stories about food can be found in the Food sections of media outlets, but I say it’s all in the Business sections.

Take the NY Times Business pages today and yesterday (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/business/21recall.html?_r=1&ref=business and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/health/policy/21food.html):

Reports there reveal that when food reaches U.S. shores it goes from airport or dock straight to the consumer.  This is not just about the fancy-schmancy cheeses:

The articles note: “Nearly two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables and three-quarters of all seafood consumed in the United States now come from outside the country.”  In terms of numbers, “A decade ago, the F.D.A. was responsible for policing six million shipments annually coming through 300 ports. This year, the number of shipments is expected to grow to 24 million.”

Well, calculate the odds.  You’ve got 24 million shipments coming in, with about 65% of all fruits and vegetables and 75% of all fish and seafood arriving from all over the planet.  Think that food borne illnesses will spike?

They already have.  The pieces note: “The products included cantaloupes from Honduras contaminated with salmonella, frozen mussel meat from New Zealand infected with listeria and frozen fish from Korea that contained the bacterium that causes botulism.”

OK, say you are one of these backyard or balcony farmers without interest in foreign food.  You raise carp and kill chickens.

The issue isn’t just food.  As noted in the pieces:  “The situation with drugs and medical devices is even more daunting. More than 80 percent of the active ingredients for drugs sold in the United States are made abroad — mostly in plants in China and India that are rarely inspected by the F.D.A. Half of all medical devices sold in the United States are made abroad. Many kinds of antibiotics,steroidscancer medicines and even aspirin are no longer produced in the United States, or in many cases anywhere in the Western world.”

Why is this news coming out now?  Simply this, as noted in the pieces: “The F.D.A. won new powers to police foreign foods in legislation signed by President Obama in January, but with those new powers came new responsibilities. The law directed the agency to inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities within a year, then increase that number every year afterward. But instead of increasing the agency’s budget to perform those inspections, House Republicans voted last week to cut it.”

Daunting, isn’t it?

Why Food Prices Are Increasing

Front page news in The Boston Globe today: Food prices going up, and why is that?  The author lists natural disasters, greater demand, and fuel costs spiraling, but what’s the real story?

Speculation.  The Guardian notes:  “Financial speculators have come under renewed fire from anti-poverty campaigners for their bets on food prices, blamed for raising the costs of goods such as coffee and chocolate and threatening the livelihoods of farmers in developing countries.  The World Development Movement (WDM) will issue a damning report today on the growing role of hedge funds and banks in the commoditiesmarkets in recent years, during which time cocoa prices have more than doubled, energy prices have soared and coffee has fluctuated dramatically.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/jul/19/speculators-commodities-food-price-rises

Anecdotal reporting with farmers and consumers makes a good story, but it doesn’t get us any closer to identifying the causes of the problem.  Hedge funds and commodity traders operate with specious regulation.

Don’t You Love Group On?

I do.  It gets me places I’d never try.  Take “The Maharajah,” a new restaurant in Harvard Square.  In the space that housed “The Bombay Club,” the restaurant is the pan-Indian sort of place that’s fun to enjoy with a crowd or on Date Night.

The room has the darkness and music one hears in India in restaurants just like it.  The tables have glass tops in which there are wood carvings resembling haveli architecture.

The staff appear to have been culled from local universities and have a pleasant, efficient, somewhat welcome ironic style.

The food: We ordered a chicken vindaloo, a dal, and a saag paneer.  Look, this isn’t high-end dining and for sure the food isn’t as focused as Tamarind Bay across the street.  Instead, it’s simple Indian restaurant food: Neither memorable nor original, but, as noted, the Group On and The Date Night made for the perfect storm: $51.25 on a $50 Group On that cost $25.

The restaurant as yet has no license to sell alcoholic drinks, which accounts for the low tab, and I reckon that it won’t be around long so get it now.  Why won’t it be around long?  Two reasons: #1.  No license to sell wine, beer, or cocktails.  Unless they own the space, there won’t be enough $ to meet expenses.  Wait, maybe they do own the space.  Which brings us to #2.  The food is OK, but certainly not worth the price without the Group On.  I mean, honestly, would you spend $51.25 for a chicken entree, a bowl of lentils, and a plate of cheese and spinach?

Which is why I love Group On.

Eat Organic and Die

Um, all the time and money spent on organic branding?  It’s nice, it’s OK, it may even be good for, um, the, um planet.  But healthier?  I don’t think so and neither does Germany at this moment:

As reported in the BBC moments ago:  “New data released in Germany strongly suggests that locally produced bean sprouts were, as suspected, the source of the deadly E. coli outbreak.’It’s the bean sprouts,’ said Reinhard Burger, head of Germany’s centre for disease control.”  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13725953)

29 people died in Germany within the past two weeks from E. coli bacteria now traced to the bean sprouts from an organic farm.  The thing is saying something is organic is no guarantee: Not of health, taste, wages paid workers, or effect on the soil.  The UK won’t allowed organic producers to make health claims for their products, saying there’s no evidence to support this.

The Strange Rise in Food Prices

Don’t you love the BBC?  I do.  The news outlet is concise and informative.  In the Business section of the BBC website this afternoon, news on the strange rise in food prices that will worsen next year.

The story: “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) twice yearly Food Outlook analysis says rising demand will absorb most of the higher output.  It says its index of food prices in May was at 232, only six points below February’s record high of 237.  The FAO says higher food prices could mean poor countries will see food import costs rise by up to 30%.  That would mean them spending 18% of their total import bills on food this year, compared with the world average of 7%.”

This is pretty shocking news, folks.

Look at this: “The FAO’s May index – which measures price changes in a range of essential foodstuffs, including cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar – was 37% higher than a year ago.”  Are wages 37% higher?

Who knows what effect the unavailability of food, due to inadequate funds, will do to poor folks, but wouldn’t you guess there’ll be a rise in civil unrest, as was seen in Tunisia in part due to price increases in food there?  A rise in diseases?  A rise in people fleeing their homes for urban centers?  A rise in crime?

One nation under arugula, indeed.

The strange part of the story is that many of the nations that will soon be hit hard by price increases are, in fact, sources of the products that are then sent away to be refined.  We’re talking cocoa, coffee, and wheat, for example.

Speaking of cocoa, a new book on the subject, Chocolate Nations, lays out what’s what.  From a review in The New Agriculturalist: “Despite its origin in Latin America and early production in the Caribbean, two thirds of chocolate now comes from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The expansion of the crop from its introduction in the late 19thcentury was unprecedented, growing from 77,000 metric tonnes in 1895 to 500,000 tonnes in 1925. Yet, although cocoa accounted for 68 per cent of exports from Ghana in 1955, the price paid to farmers was reduced by Kwame Nkrumah to fund grandiose projects costing millions. Even in 1977, farmers were receiving only £347 per tonne at a time when world prices were over £3,000 per tonne. Under Houphouet Boigny, Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa producers fared far better but Boigny’s encouragement of immigrants to settle in the cocoa lands and expand production sowed the seeds of the country’s present crisis. With chapters covering fair-trade, child labour and the processing of cocoa from bean to bar,Chocolate nations presents the tragic and shocking detail behind the world’s favourite confection. Whether chocolate continues to tempt consumers’ sweet teeth will depend on the price and justice offered to growers in the future. Chocolate nations is a unique case history of one crop and two countries but touches on much that demands reordering in agricultural production, marketing and exports globally.”

Nubar: New Cambridge Restaurant

For years and years and years, I’ve been telling people that the restaurant space at the Sheraton Commander overlooking the Cambridge Common would be an ideal spot for a new restaurant.  Why, I even proposed to a certain Chinese chef, now in Wellesley, that we might open a place there together.  That was long ago.

Nubar opened inside this terrific, cavernous, well lit space only about four weeks ago.  It’s a goofy name, granted, doesn’t roll off the tongue, sounds like a Mars bar, but the place is really good and deserves your respect and attention.  (The name is derived from Edward Nubar Guleserian; he owns the hotel.  What, Eddie’s didn’t work?)

The waitress told us her entire life story.  Labile, attentive, and clearly passionate about life, she brought us through the ups and downs of her career outside the restaurant (stage), her romance, and even aspects of her childhood.  I wouldn’t say it had much to do with dining, and if I was the GM of the place we’d have a long talk, but I really liked her.

The food?  The food was wonderful.  Really, no kidding.  The working chef came from Icarus and Ashmont Grill.  The guy above him?  Corporate.  Anyhow, my appetizer was sort of off the menu: Spring vegetables and morels; I asked for it without the lobster.  $5, amazing: Fresh morels, fava beans, peas, and asparagus tips.  Simple and delicious.  Very nice salads.  Entrees of roasted duck, soft shell crab sandwiches, and pork shoulder Bolognese with house-made tagliatelle were delicious.

One can only hope this restaurant succeeds.  It’s a little tricky: Limited signage and no PR I can find.  Still, let’s hope the food packs ‘em in.

My chief criticism was the lack of focus on the menu, which is what often happens in hotel restaurants at this level.  Too bad.  Let’s see if a narrowing can create intensity…!

The Nutrition Plate

Big news in the world of healthy eating: The feds as of today released THE NUTRITION PLATE.  It replaces THE FOOD PYRAMID.

The short version of the long story?  No more Snickers unless you’re wearing a costume.  Meat only if you have killed the animal yourself.  Smaller portions.  Make half the plate fruits and vegetables.

This is really a good thing.  Good for healthy living, good for flavor, good for farmers, good for the beasts being eaten in droves.

Marion Nestle, famous nutrition expert whose wisdom is enormously valuable, had this to say about it:

From the article in today’s New York Times: “‘It’s better than the pyramid, but that’s not saying a lot,’ said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University.  She praised the plate for being generally easy to understand, but she said that labeling a large section of the plate ‘protein’ was confusing and unnecessary, because grains and dairy also are important sources of protein and most Americans get far more protein than they need.  But she said the emphasis on fruits and vegetables was a significant step. ‘Americans aren’t used to eating this way, so this is a big change,’ Ms. Nestle said.

On a related issue, Will Self, writing in The London Review of Books in late April, mocked sustainability as a capitalist marketing tool.  I couldn’t agree more with Brother Will.

The Plate looks like this: