Rest in Peace, Anthony Bourdain

I met Tony Bourdain ages ago, over dinner at Da Silvano, in 1999, and his shyness was the most striking thing about him that night.  He handed his menu to his publicist and said, “Please order for me, maybe a steak.”

He was soft spoken throughout the evening, more interested in listening than talking, which is the hallmark of a great storyteller, ironically, which he was then and remained throughout his very remarkable life.

He was adept at getting out of the way of a story, and despite all the bombastic, eye-catching comments, his ability and willingness to accept and celebrate vulnerability were a stunning counterbalance.

Like A.J. Liebling, his writing about food was attentive, muscular, and alert to what bounty and deprivation, taste and sensuality, providers and consumers are about.

His generosity is also a big part of who he was.

When I interviewed him for a story I did for The Boston Globe, many years back, about the awfulness of restaurants in Boston, he said, thoughtfully and with an eye toward making things better: “I think they’re charging high prices because they can – serving food to people who are grateful to have what they consider big city food.  I think what’s going on in Boston is a classic example of chefs working in a place that’s not yet a national restaurant city, not by a stretch. It’s a period of insecurity. And I can really understand why the chefs are charging so much: If prices come down, they lose their mystique as chefs. They’re reluctant to abandon their pomposity, expense, and pretense.”

His honesty and presence are missed, and it’s only been less than a day.

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Psychology of Travel

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been on a jag of reading short European fiction in translation.  It started after reading a review in the TLS of, “The Time of the Doves,” Then I read a review of, “Neapolitan Chronicles.”

After reading that book, in which the author mentioned in one essay some other writers she admires, I turned to a couple of Italian novelists from the 1950’s.  Wound up with, “Conversations in Sicily,” by Elio Vittorini.

These are good “walls’ in which to work between while writing.

The current publication is: https://thepointsguy.com/news/how-nonverbal-cues-can-break-down-language-barriers-according-to-a-travel-psychologist/

It’s part of a series, and this is the second installment.

All this is made possible by basically staying at home.  And watching basketball or going to games: Center Court, Row 6.

Just eat at home.

 

My New Book about Japan

What?  A new book?  About Japan?  Well, yeah, but first I have to write it.  Sold the proposal yesterday to Da Capo, major publisher, division of Hachette.  All about the culture, day to day life, and habits of Japanese that lead to acceptance, a degree of conformity, and satisfaction.

Did you know that Japanese spend a lot less on medical care and have better outcomes than here in the land of plenty?

And that observation, silence, and communication through anticipation are central to social organization there?

So much to learn.

I have a year and change to write the book, which will be out in late Spring, 2020, just in time for Summer Olympics Tokyo.

Restaurants in NYC

The more time I spend in town, the more and less I find to eat.  Please allow me to explain.

I went to Il Buco Alimentari three times this week.  It just keeps getting better and better.  Deep flavors, restraint, lots of vegetables, really great ingredients of which there are the right amount.

I went to Tori Shin twice, too.  Yes, I know, yakitori in Japan at a great place will cost about half and be a little better, maybe because of the coals, maybe because of the chickens.  But I don’t live in Japan, and for NYC, this place is first-rate.

Kyo-ya, first visit, on 7th in East Village, probably wins the prize for best meal of many.  Hard to find, down steps, no sign, stunning food that’s deeply seasonal served by a staff with a sense of humor.

Le CouCou, second visit, affirmed that this is for sure the best French in the city.

Sushi Yasuda, Batard, Russ & Daughters, Nakamura, Superiority Burger, Zucker’s, Rubirosa, Pig and Khao, Annieka, Ssam Bar.  All really wonderful.

And that, for now, is the more.  What I find remarkable is the many restaurants all over that just aren’t very good.

But then this roster shows just how good it can be.

Best Laid Plans

OK, so Batard was traded for Alimentari in order to be closer to a place where we could watch the 4th Quarter, which was a disastrous quarter, a blowout, but we could not have known that beforehand, of course.

The schnitzel at Batard, off the menu, was delicious as usual.

Oh, and the pizza at Rubirosa remains the best in Manhattan, bar none.

Saturday was a return to Le CouCou, maybe the worse name for a restaurant I can think of, except for the old Yellowfingers on the Upper East Side, but with some of the best, most refined French food anywhere.

Shin Tori later on.  Great, as usual.

Professor Thom’s for the Sunday game–not a blowout, but still…Anyway, at least the vibe was great, the wings flavorful and spicy, and the beer tasty.

Meeting up with G at Pig and Khao later that night was splendid.  Noisy place with shouts across the table and lots of pork, and the noodles were first-rate.

Sushi Yasuda mid-day today and then we’ll see if it’s possible to get into I Sodi.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight,” between meals, and more edits of my new column for TPG, and then more revisions of the story of the boy lost in Hokkaido.

 

 

ONE OF BOSTON’S BEST RESTAURANTS

I went to one of Boston’s best restaurants last night.  A family favorite, never disappointing, not after all these years, and whether it’s from the back or in the main room, Santarpio’s always has the city’s best pizza.

Not just the pizza, of course, but the general vibe of staff and customers having a great time at great value.  In the main room, it starts with the server asking, “Youse need menus?”  In the back, it’s the chubby guy in checkered pants shouting your name after you tell him who you are so he can get your order.

The pizzas are baked in huge ovens that look like Blodgett, and the bottoms have cornmeal.  Toppings are hidden beneath mozzarella and tomato sauce that’s scooped from an old tin.

$45 for three to eat two pies, a half carafe of wine, and a bottle of beer in the dining room, including tax and tip.  (That’s about $40 less for the same items in most Boston restaurants where the food is about 40% as good.)  $30 for two pies to take home.

The 1/2 sausage and 1/2 anchovy are a favorite, and the pepperoni or

mushroom wonderful, too.

This is the kind of food Boston excels at it.  Though might as well be in Jersey, and that’s the highest compliment.

Cash only.

March Hare

Knausgaard recommended in an interview, “Voices from Chernobyl,” and I read sixty pages before sending it back to Amazon and getting a refund.  Sixty words would have done the same trick.  Page after page of repetitive despair, I’m not knocking it, nothing like someone else’s misery to make your own insignificant.

So now reading Judd Apatow’s book of interviews with stand-up comics.  Each page offers something new.

In between these accounts of pain and laughter, two pieces I wrote were published last week, one about a luxury spa in Flims and another about how to travel in Switzerland as a Swiss.  What other country does so well with other people’s money?

On the broader front, my book proposal on Japanese cognition ought to go out today, and my book about lost children in Japan still seeks a home, which is kind of ironic.

Day to day, I stock up on food for the upcoming apocalypse.  I gave up eating dinners out in Boston awhile back, with one or two exceptions, but I know that the night will come when I crave a $17 cocktail, burgers, fries, poutine, Chinese meals with protein from commercial farms, pizza, and pork.  Then I’ll step out my door and head into town.

 

In the Swiss stations

At the airport, the COOP supermarket is stocked with shelves of food, and the breads, chocolate, chickens, fruits, and vegetables turned out to be delicious.

At the next station, Eduard Hitzberger, whose restaurant Paradies in Ftan I’d been thrilled by ages ago, opened a first-rate coffee shop with wonderful baked goods and freshly prepared foods.  Chef Hitzberger is tuned into environmental concerns and among his sandwiches is: “Insekten Sandwich,” made up of mealworms.

On the top of the mountain, which we reached just before noon by funicular, paths and the one narrow “street” in the village were clear though icy in parts.  The valleys are clear, up here the snow is four or five feet high.

Dinner was Irish smoked salmon on dark bread with Swiss mustard and dried marjoram, curried lentil soup with red onions and a touch of ginger, and fried chicken with an array of cauliflower florets.  Good white Ticinese Merlot from a guy named Guido whom I met years ago, and a decent Pinot Noir from Graubunden.  Good thing I shopped for food at the station as the local restaurants are often crowded and not so restrained as the customers are hungry from a full day of skiing.  The wines were already here.

A late night of the Super Bowl, thanks to German TV.  US internet providers and stations blocked the signal to carriers outside the States.  Germany has regulations about access, and no commercials were aired during the game.

Game over at 415 AM, slept ’til noon.  The Dorfladen is closed on the lunch break.  We might go to the cafe, or wait until the Laden opens.

 

Winter Recluse

I went into a bookstore the other day, the first time I’d been in one in several years, looking for some titles by a few authors.  Why is it that the aisles are so often filled with gaseous patrons wearing flannel?  Of the three authors I was looking for, all of whom are famous, there was one book by each of them, but none were what I was looking for.  So I went home and ordered what I wanted from Amazon.  Which is what I usually do when it comes to books, music, movies, household supplies, etc.

As it turns out, there’s little need in my life for most things retail.  I love the Armenian market down the street, the Jewish market over the bridge, the Caribbean and African market in Dudley Square, and EATALY downtown, but when it comes to things I can’t buy to cook things to eat, staying home is the best option.

I haven’t any tickets for local theatre nor any musical acts coming to town, the next time I’m eating dinner out locally is at the end of March.

If it wasn’t for the gym, work, local food markets, and one or two or three bakeries, I might as well be on Mars.