The Anonymous Gourmet: Woof!

Even a letter to the editor has a name attached to it.  The wonder is: Why do sites like CHOWHOUND allow anonymous critics to post their gripes and raves?  Many of the ravers and gripers are shills, publicists, industry folks, etc.  Many are not. Knowing names would clarify matters.

Makes me think of throwing snowballs at cars and running into the woods.

Or, on a positive note: Praising your friend’s latest book without letting on about the relationship.

It would take no effort for sites like Chowhound to require participants to leave cowardice behind and enter the fray with names emblazoned after their comments.

So who benefits from the anonymity?  I suppose it’s the industry.  Certainly not the audience.

The anonymous folks?  Many have a dog in this fight.



Wednesday Food Sections: Huh-Wah Cuisine

Spring is on its way: Somewhere, not here, but it is on its way, which in an aloof, voyeuristic sense, is comforting.  Cold comfort.

In the news today:

A review of Canary Square in The Boston Globe: Yet another bar that serves food.  Does it really make sense to run out and try this place’s cheeseburgers, Cheddar cheese fries, chicken wings, salt cod fritters, and deep fried Twinkies?  Why bother?  The reviewer gives them two out of four stars.  How much lower could the bar be placed?  OK, fine, let’s say the wings are really, really good.  So what?  They are wings and nothing will change that sad fact.

On top of that, Canary Square is in Jamaica Plain: Home to one of the city’s largest, most vibrant Spanish-speaking communities.  Is it too much to ask an investor to try to develop a top drawer restaurant that reflects a cuisine from one or more of the regions of origin?  But no, we have instead chicken wings and Twinkies.

“I got the next round.”

In our sister city of NYC, we find Melissa Clark craving pigs’ feet.  Recipe provided.  Reading this, I felt like Harry Belafonte in the Park Avenue scene of, “The World, the Flesh, and The Devil.”  He sees a city emptied.  Reason is gone.

Doing the Math

Back in the day, when dinosaurs walked the earth, the percentage of money spent on food apparently was greater than it is today.  This contributed to unease, uncertainty, and anxiety.

I was doing the math on this awhile back with a friend.  We compared grandparents.  It seems as if about 35% of their money went to food.  This was due to transportation costs, limited infrastructure, a time when retail was less competitive, no discount stores, no access to wholesale goods, no government subsidies to keep prices low on basic supplies (rice, potatoes, milk, corn, etc.), etc.

On a side note: Many are calling now for an end to federal subsidies to corn producers, but there’s a reason why that started.

Any-hoo, as ma would say: I calculated how much most Americans above the poverty line spend of net income on food brought home and it came out to about 4%.  That is pretty amazing.

Comparatively, across the board socio-economically, generations since about 1975, in the industrialized West spend far less on food than previous generations.

This will change, perhaps, in the Fall, or sooner, with soaring global prices on food commodities.

Disparities!  Anxieties!

Lard that pantry.

The Cambridge Riots

Inspired by the havoc and unrest in Cairo this past week, I have occupied the family kitchen and am not leaving until demands are met:

1.  All the fancy cheese shops have to stop peddling their high fat and high sodium preserved meats and cheeses.  Folks, this is processed food for the rich.  I’m not being dogmatic.  There’s a chunk of Gruyere and a small hard salami in my fridge, but I also cook.  Last night: Yangnyeom Dak and two separate sides: Stir fried turnip top greens.  Vinegary enoki.

2.  If I see the word “natural” on one more food product or menu item, I will take to the streets and set up barricades.  Fair warning: I am taking names and after the revolution, cabbage heads will roll.

3.  Bolt of lightning hit me on Saturday: Back in the day, about 15 years ago, before I had the time and money to eat meals in cities other than Boston, I’d compare restaurants in Boston to Boston.  Now I compare them to restaurants. Just restaurants.  And let me tell you something: By and large, the value in town for memorable dining falls short.    Where is the true Indian place?  The izakaya?  The simple, eight seat sushi place in an alley?  The true Neapolitan place?  The refiined Italian American restaurant?  Oh, never mind.

And this revolution, unlike the one that inspired it: Will not be televised.

Which is another thing that really confuses me.  Didn’t Gil Scott-Heron say that the revolution will not be televised?  So…if that’s true, and I think it is, then what’s happening in Cairo is not a true revolution.

What is it?

Uh oh…sorry to wake you up, dad.

The Sumo Diet

While taking breaks between reading Bellow’s letters–I’m up to 1960–and writing about the psychology of being a chef, I had time to write about sumo:


These guys?  These big guys.  All around the stadium, by the way, are sumo restaurants.  Sit on a tatami mat, a waitress shows up with a little burner and a pot of water.  Water boils, meat and vegetables and udon noodles are added.  You drink beer, you eat the stew.  It is so delicious.  And then, slowly, you picture yourself in the ring, big, ready to honor the Shinto gods with a smackdown.

While We Were Eating

Now that the weekend of fecundity  is over, I can return to matters less visceral.

The news all week has been about Egypt.  In the Huffington Post today, a piece by Marie Brill on the issue of food prices is noted as a chief cause of the unrest: Worth reading.

The article notes: “The impact of rising commodity prices — already being felt across the globe — will soon be felt at home in the form of higher grocery and gas bills for Americans.”

Meanwhile, faraway, the impact is felt in the overthrow of governments.  Ah, big world.  Big, big world.  Organic, local, sustainable…I tell ya, some people have everything and others?  They got nothing.

Locanda Verde & Ko

On Sunday, I swore off food, but broke vows: Russ & Daughters, LES.  I’d walked by the place many times.  Can you believe I’d never been in?  Well, that’s gonna change now that I’m staying downtown these days.  Beautiful Nova, belly, sturgeon.  Frankly, it makes Zabar’s look second rate.  The staff @ R & D are brusque, surgical in their mien and skill, too.  Made me think of the Woody Allen joke when he has Gene Wilder, fired as a doctor, working as a waiter in a deli: “I’m a doctor, not a waiter!”  Anyhow, the fish here is amazing.

Later, the same day: Locanda Verde.  My favorite place to enjoy delicious Italian and Italian-American food.  Rigatoni with lamb Bolognese.  Now we’re talking.

That night, the finale: Scored a reservation at Ko.  David Chang’s ode to madness.  “Greeted” at the door by two guys in tees.  Shaved heads, tats, lumberjack beards.  “Met” is more like it rather than “greeted.”  “Allowed in” is even more apt.  Anyhow, the food was a revelation: Certainly the best food I have had since that first visit at The French Laundry and the meal at Robuchon in Vegas.  Umami City, folks.  If I break down what the food was, it won’t match the experience.  Basically, the flavors had depth, texture, varying heat, colors, etc.  The “etc” here is key.  Open kitchen, laconic cooks.  Service?  To paraphrase the banditos in “The Treasure of Sierra Madre”: “Service?  We don’t need no stinking service!”  I can’t wait to return: Skate wing, frozen foie, duck breast, and so on.

Mini-Reviews, Part II: Eataly, Esca, & Kajitsu+++

On Day Two of an effort to discover all that’s fit to eat, I went back to Eataly, an emporium which is the culinary equivalent of Plato’s Retreat.  As usual, as would have been true for me at Plato’s had I been old enough at that time, I did not eat anything.  Folks, just like Chauncey Gardenir, I like to look.  The sheer volume here is utterly overwhelming.  Everything looks delicious.   And probably is.  One day I will find out.  Or not.

For lunch, it’s often back to Esca where our favorite waiter, who looks as if he was separated at birth from Philip Seymour Hoffman, brought over raw oysters, bottarga, grilled sardines, roasted anchovies, mixed and fried fish, and whole wheat pasta with walnuts, fennel, dill, and sardines.  This has to be the best Italian fish and seafood restaurant on the planet.

A brief interlude: Papaya King in the West Village.

And, finally, Kajitsu in the East Village: An epiphany.  The menu changes monthly.  Can’t wait to return:



(Sake Pairing $36)

Braised Bamboo Shoots with Grated Celery Root

Arugula, Mitsuba, Phyllo Dough, Butterbur Puree, Edamame Shoots, Baby Celery Root, Wasabi

立春野菜 淡雪根セロリ掛け

Clear Soup with Yomogi-Fu and Soft Braised Kabu Turnip

Lotus Root, Yuzu Zest


Grilled Soy Beans and Steamed Spinach with Sake-Kasu Tofu Sauce

Carrot, Burdock Root, Baby Breakfast Radish, Sesame Paste

Stuffed Polenta with Mochi and Corn Miso

Yellow Bell Pepper

Dried Persimmon with Balsamic Vinegar and Grilled Walnut

すみつかれ ポレンタ共皮包み 干し柿のバルサミコ醬油漬け 胡桃添え

House-Made Houtou Noodles and Stewed Winter Vegetables in Miso Broth

Nappa Cabbage, Taro, Shimeji, Enoki, Kabocha, Carrot, Snow pea, Shiratama-Fu, Shichimi


Chilled Naga-Imo with Mozuku Seaweed

Ginger, Yuzu Vinegar


Steamed Rice with Fried Tofu and Tea Infused Soy Sauce

Grated Daikon, Scallion

House-Made Pickles

初午お揚げ丼 京番茶醬油かけ 自家製漬物

Steamed Manju

White Bean Paste, Japanese Sweet Potato


Matcha Tea with Candies by Shioyoshiken


Mini-Reviews: Del Posto & DBGB or Too Busy Eating

I have been too busy eating to attend to other affairs.  Let’s recap, one day at a time.


Following Sam Sifton’s lead, it was lunch at Del Posto.  I’d been twice before and was happy then.  Happier now.  Located on 10th and probably 14th Street, the cavernous rooms, under a bridge, by the Hudson, next to the West Side Highway, the restaurant has for certain the best Italian food in the city, and that is saying a lot.  Initially, the reserve of the staff was off putting–I guess being frosty might gain that second Michelin star back–but when they saw that we didn’t put our feet on the furniture, they warmed up some.  Let’s talk about the food.

The amuse bouche were fried and good.  Oozing, textured, what have you.  The cotechino on lentils also played on the tongue and was just delicious.  Same with the cute winter salad.  Main courses of spinach garganelli with Bolognese and striped sea bass were spectacular.  Desserts were good.  For $29 a person for three courses?  Man, what a deal!

That night: DBGB.  Really flavorful franks, trotters, beer.  A happy room full of commotion.  Found the party.

Grilling Season

The deep drifts of snow inspire me to wade in, pour charcoal into the belly of the huge grill and cook outdoors.  It’s a pleasant delusion and distraction: Flames leap up, neighbors run to their windows to see if my house is on fire, and the snow melts around the black grill.

The other night it was Curry Wurst served with bowls of thick pea soup.  Both items were no-brainers: Split green peas covered in water, a red, unpeeled onion, and salt to taste.  Cook forever over a low flame, peel the onion, blend, adjust salt.  The wurst: Roll in curry and grill.  Serve both with walnut bread and a bottle of Alsatian Riesling.

Last night?  Grilled swordfish, ESCA style: Roll the swordfish in olive oil, then into bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste, grill 7 minutes on each side. Remove.  Correct salt and pepper.  Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the fish.  Serve with lemon wedges and a Cloudy Bay S.B.

You want to eat out?  Go ahead.