Dining Out

I often get calls from friends and acquaintances asking about where to eat. I don’t have ready answers for Boston, which makes me uneasy, but when it comes to New York, I find it hard to choose from among so many places, high and low, where dining out beats dining in.

I have a few favorites for relatively inexpensive and informed eating that’s not fussy: Barney Greengrass, Second Avenue Deli, Lombardi’s, Grimaldi’s, Wu Liang Ye (the 39th Street location), P.J. Clarke’s, and Yakitori Totto come to mind.

And for high-end dining, there are the usual suspects: Daniel, Per Se, Le Bernadin, and Jean Georges.

What’s really exciting, too, are the places that are great, but won’t break the bank: A Voce, Gotham Bar & Grill, Esca, Babbo, Momo, and The Tasting Room, to name a few. They are not cheap, but the value is terrific.

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Food for Thought

At what point did food–chefs, restaurants, producers–become a subject of conversation on par with sports, war, the weather, and the family?  Nowadays cognoscenti justifiably associate NYC with the best of gastronomy, but I can remember when Asian food was by and large limited to Cantonese mess halls in Chinatown; Italian meant Little Italy where you ate delicious, Italian-American stuff that emphasized thick tomato sauce; and, French was almost uniformly high-end, butter and cream driven dishes served in hushed rooms where The Snoot Factor was key to the dining experience.  More to the point, it’s easier to discuss viniculture and taste and refinement than so many other concerns shaping our core identities.  What happened? I honestly don’t understand how food became a synonym for culture.  

Recession Dining

In the years ahead, it is going to be increasingly difficult to eat out (or in) with a budget.  With the exceptions of pizza and Chinese food, the value of dining out is going to be less clear than it has been in a long time: Why spend over $100 to eat a dinner for two when that can get you, if you’re lucky, a week’s worth of groceries?   Two glasses of wine?  About 12-14 dollars–that’s two bottles of the same wine at home.  Brunch for two?  $30.  That same $30 will buy you 60 eggs, three gallons of o.j., two pounds of bacon, and a pound of coffee.  I know we need to eat out, but I bet we all do less of it…

Sous Vide

Sous Vide” is a term meant to describe a method of cooking food that involves a very slow poaching of the product in sealed plastic. Most of the very best restaurants use the method as it cuts down on costs (as less product is lost in the cooking), deepens flavors, and makes the product very consistent in texture and taste. Sous Vide is also used for mass production: one of the biggest clients is the military.

What’s fascinating about the methodology is how its application ensures uniform viscosity in texture and how, without it, franchises, high-end restaurant empires, and military supply lines would be diminished in terms of both efficiency and quality.

What’s lost, of course, is terroir or a sense of place or origin that comes about when something is cooked in a region and without a firm sense of exactitude. The displacement that is implicit from eating something that tastes exactly the same no matter where you are in the world means a shift in allegiances, an opening of possibility, and a strange liberation from what is familiar.

Bars of Baghdad

According to an article that appeared in Salon magazine, recreation inside the so-called Green Zone, which functions sort of like the First Circle, party-going peaks for soldiers, journalists, and non-governmental workers. The two hottest spots are The OGA Bar–OGA means Other Governmental Agency and implies CIA–and The Green Zone Cafe. The article does not make note of snacks, but I imagine they are provided perhaps during a Happy Hour.

What Did You Do During the War, Daddy?

For some odd reason, I confused the title of that John Lennon chestnut, “How I Won the War,” with, “What Did You Do During the War, Daddy?”  But never mind.  The point is this:  Twenty years from now when our children and grandchildren ask us what we did during the Iraq war what will those us not in the military be able to say to them?  

It’s taking the time to savor the taste of different salts.  Salt is fascinating in many ways. For one thing, it was during its era used as a commodity and became the foundation of many great fortunes.  And now: its taste is based on texture and shape rather than specific flavor.  There is a stigma associated with salt: high blood pressure and heart disease.  But what’s fact and what’s fiction?

Cheese and 9/11

So much has changed since the fall of the twin towers and the war of and on terrorism commenced more openly and with greater vigor than at any time since the anarchist movement described wonderfully by Joseph Conrad in “The Secret Agent.” And the ways we live our lives have of course changed, too. Why, I can still remember that before the attacks how I had no more of an inkling about the delicious and varied tastes of cheese. 

But now, seeing the world we live in, I recognize, it’s fair to say, the value of a good Roquefort better. It’s not just the Roquefort. Living near one of the country’s best cheese shops, I have the opportunity to taste and peruse cheeses from all over the world. And recently, nibbling a rare, cave-aged Gruyere from the cellar of Rolf Beeler, I was able if not to forget the dangers and risks of war then at least to dim my awareness of them. Isn’t that a gift only cheese can bestow?

Support Our Soups

There are so many things we can all be doing to bring about peace. Recently, I saw that a “National Franchise” is gearing up to start its campaign: Support Our Soups. I think personally that this is one terrific idea. You go in, buy a soup. Each one is made with organic, seasonal vegetables, according to Fair Trade guidelines, and for every dollar you spend, they send five cents to a different cause.

This month it’s helping kids with webbed feet who need surgery, who knows what next month will bring? What I love about the program is the way in which the better things in life are well-integrated: Kids, Soup, Farmers. There are simply not enough links between eating well and helping those less fortunate, those pitiable souls who cannot afford to shop for organic food. But if as consumers we urge companies to act responsibly then for sure a movement is going to be afoot.

What are each one of us doing to help bring about global harmony? Every four years, people get galvanized about the Presidential elections, but on a day to day basis wouldn’t you agree that there’s so much more we can do? I’m going to buy more soup. But what are you doing? What food items are you putting in your reusable, environmentally low-impact bag that further the causes of peace?