…fond farewell to the month of July

…and so another July is tossed into the dustbin.  Wet, cold, rainy, humid, a perfect month for writing and reading.

I read about a half dozen books and wrote about fifty pages this month in between naps and runs and walking the dog and tuning out.

Oh, and “Girls.”  A marathon watching of all six seasons.  Addicted to the extraordinary writing and wonderful acting and brave ideas as well as the shallow and narrow-mindedness.  Good riddance to the twenties, defined seemingly, so to speak, by sex and emotion, having little to show, no way of knowing limits.

The food jag has been chiefly Korean and Japanese this month: I learned how to make a very good version of cold sesame noodles and a very good version of cold spicy noodles, too.  Lately I’ve been grilling pork or chicken with a homemade Korean marinade.  I’m guessing this hunger for heat and soy and vinegar is related to time spent away from these flavors in the mountains.

August brings the eclipse.

Taking Stock

We stocked up on spices, and then got a hold of a few wooden spoons.  We brought sharp knives with us, and then, in about ten days’ time, bought a big, red manually operated citrus press, a manually operated coffee mill, a manually operated pressure cooker, and an electric food processor.

The new kitchen was all set.

The stove is electric, and the water safe to drink.

In the cellar, there are large, locked storage areas and along with the three other dwellers of, “Selbsanft,” we are putting down wines.  Heide, Humagne Rouge, and a white Merlot that a fellow named Guido, whom I met ages ago, is bottling.

The ingredients for cooking are extremely fresh, dated to show when they were produced, rather than dated to show when they expire.  Huge fresh garden lettuces, cherries, young cheeses, sole, and so on.

Meanwhile, on the home front, weeks later, new restaurants open.  Tech has come town, big money, so you now see beets as an appetizer for $15 or a plate of pasta with Bolognese sauce for $27.

On the former item, the joint throws in an ingredient no one has heard of, “panteleo,” (raw milk goat’s cheese) so that customers–oh, I mean, “guests,”–feel that the absurd price is somehow worth it.  With the pasta, it’s “traditional’ with “beef short ribs,” and there’s an account mark over the “u” in ragu.

Dinner for two at these places runs about $200, ballpark, so I went to EATALY and bought $200 worth of food, which will be enough for six dinners for two people.  Or: ten pizzas from Pepe’s.

 

 

 

Japan, Multifaceted

Japan is the focus, of course, sort of the flip side of the coin.  On one side is bombast, and on the other is silence.

The latest on Japan will be this, a 200 page book out on 6/23/17, about Japanese ryokan as well as a detailed history of aesthetics: https://www.dropbox.com/s/msuih10na0o88uz/R%26C_JapanBook_v12%20%28full%20hi-res%29_FINAL.pdf?dl=0

In addition, my new piece on Japanese environmental practices is out this month in University of California’s Gastronomica.  Then, too, there is this month my piece on Hoshino’s new urban ryokan in Tokyo: http://robbreport.com/travel/hotels/new-hotel-new-york-capetown-2715163/

Closer to home, it is page 155 in a long “project” inspired by the boy left in the mountains of Hokkaido last summer.

Sons & Daughters of Dunks

Everyone knows that New England is the home of Dunkin’ Donuts.  Well, not everyone, just many people, and especially those who can’t get enough fried dough with lots of sugar.

It all started in 1950, in Quincy, Massachusetts, when Bill Rosenberg opened the very first Dunkin’ Donuts.  Affectionately known among New Englanders as “Dunk’s,” this company has become an enormous franchise with shops all over the planet.

And for good reason.

Delicious doughnuts, great coffee, and a well-trained staff that pours and serves fast.  The coffee is fresh and delicious.  The doughnuts–my favorite is the, “Old Fashioned,” which is a plain doughnut–are always the same, and really satisfying.

The profit margins on doughnuts, by the way, are phenomenal.  Only pizza comes close.  Unlike protein, which has a food cost as high as 33% of the price, the cost to make a doughnut–even a Bavarian creme!–is about 2%.  After all, it’s flour, sugar, eggs, and sugar, and salt, and sugar, and food coloring, and sugar.

So it’s no surprise that the big boon in Boston and everywhere else in the U.S. are doughnut shops and bakeries.  Variety!  Reliability!  And sugar!

Wylie Dufresne, star chef of what was WD-40, a fancy place, just opened a doughnut shop in NYC.  In Boston, in addition to new local doughnut shops, there are numerous bakeries where you can buy a sandwich and a soft drink for  between $15-18.  Good stuff!

So good, in fact, that Panera recently bought Tatte bakery.

And guess who bought Panera?

Krispy Kreme doughnuts!

 

The Merry Month of May

Absconded, captivated, captured, whatever, it’s been nearly a month since making note of what is, was, and will be.

There’s an explanation, there always is, even if it’s that the parallel bars in the window block the view of the prison yard below.

In my case, it’s just been a flurry of effort on what has emerged as an unanticipated work inspired by the lost boy on Hokkaido last summer.  Left in the mountains above Hakodate as punishment for his disobedient act of throwing stones at cars, he survived about a week among bears.

I hadn’t intended to start and stay on this project, it has just taken over a lot of my life.  I love the idea of the boy not fitting in and what it implies about families, communities, schools, and even nations.

Then, too, my piece on the ideology of Japanese cuisine was published a couple of weeks ago in University of California Press’s Gastronomica.   See below.

More immediately, we’re talking naps, reading about the disparagement of Korean communities in Japan historically, the reasons for youth unemployment in Japan, and the regimentation of Japanese high schools.

Hmmm…that’s not quite immediate.

Oh, immediate.  Well, that would be thick spears of white asparagus oven roasted, agnolotti stuffed with cheese, and, for some reason, bowls of good if not pricey ramen at a couple of good joints in town.

GFC1702_01_Haas

RUKA, RUKA, RUKA

What, another great restaurant in Boston?  Huh?  What?  This one is RUKA, a Peruvian-Japanese place, and it’s inside the new Godfrey Hotel on Washington Street, which also houses a George Howell coffee salon.

(That salon sells coffee for $20 to $80 a pound.  Eighty dollars a pound, that’s right.  Howell was the owner of Coffee Connection, long ago, which he sold to Starbucks, long ago, and no one knows more about coffee than him.  The people selling cups of coffee seem to identify with his finesse as their movements and speech suggest that they are selling diamonds rather than coffee.)

So, RUKA.

Preston Miller is the executive chef at RUKA.  The food is a lot liker what’s served at NOBU, which makes sense since both are Peruvian-Japanese in many ways.  NOBU nods more to Japan and has much greater focus and specificity, while here there’s a menu that highlights the chef’s skills.  That makes sense since Miller was the executive chef at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s terrific place in NYC.

The food is terrific, from fresh noodles to toro to chicken thighs to scallops ceviche to sea bass.  Great textures, beautiful presentations, small plates meant for sharing.

A first-rate menu of sake and cocktails.

Beautiful room that looked a lot like David Rockwell.

It all cost about $90 per person, including everything, and it was well worth it.

Dining in April

The Automat, in Kendall Square, Cambridge, opened in November, but I’d never heard of it before looking for a place to eat on Saturday before going to see and hear Cécile McLorin Salvant at a jazz club in Boston.

The Automat is the perfect restaurant for this town, what with good bowls of chili, chicken wings, mussels in broth, slices of ham, and grilled, hot peppers.  Nothing memorable about it, but it is a refined diner and, bonus, the portions are small and well-priced, and you can share the food.

It’s a lot like another restaurant, Night Market, which is even better and is memorable.  This is the kind of low-key izakaya you find in Shinjuku or East Village.  Delicious, pan-Asian dishes, a really positive vibe, and good digs.  The one thing missing is beer on tap and cocktails, but liquor licenses in Boston are notoriously pricey and sparse, which is another reason why the dining scene in this town is so dismal.

But there’s hope, and these two places are an indication that while lunch around here is second to none, dinners might catch up, though it’s very doubtful.

NYC, Dining, April, 2017

The trend is that equity and higher rents are changing the type of restaurants opening up in town.

Stalwarts are closing.  Prices are going up.  Places are popping up and then closing months later.

You can go high end, lots of places where, for about $800-1200 a couple, you can dine with refinement and complain over dinner about Donald Trump.  Where else is context so removed from reality?

It’s time to stop patronizing these high-end places that collude with the investors who support the regime.  Either that, or quit the lip service, and support the regime.  Who do you think supports these joints?

(Same with low end, like Shake Shack, which is part of an enormous equity fund.  Burger and fries?  You’re paying for the top 1%.)

You can go low end, and for a buck a slice, have a delicious piece of pizza pie.  Great value for the pizzeria because the cost of that slice is about ten cents.

I’ve been going to favorites, and am never disappointed.

Service in Manhattan is especially good, which is refreshing compared to Boston where  front-of-the-house is uniformly dreadful or adequate.

But of course it’s the food where restaurants in NYC excel.

So this weekend it was Via Carota, Yopparai, Ivan Ramen, Cafe Altro Paradiso, Brandy Library, and Schiller’s.

In order: First rate rustic trattoria; delicious hole-in-the-wall sake bar and izakaya; terrific noodles; refined Italian; arguably the best whisky bar in the country; and, a nice, neighborhood American restaurant.

 

 

Ideology of Cuisine

“The Ideology of Japanese Cuisine,” my article on the cultural significance of food and agricultural methods, will be out in April in a publication by the University of California: Gastronomica.

It got me to thinking about food, in general.

It’s wearisome, isn’t it, to read about food without dwelling upon how it is grown, produced, and served.  Sort of like the Lily Allen lyric:

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

So little irony in American prose.

But let’s face facts: The great, celebrated food of Japan is a remarkably recent phenomenon, as late as the early 1980’s, which coincides with the betterment of food in the U.S. and U.K., and can be tied to excess capital flowing out of the hands of old money and into the hands of younger, private equity.

The private equity folks, unlike the old money people, wanted to show off their money, not hide it, and by having others see and envy their celebration, it felt more real to them.  So that foie gras and farm-to-table and seasonality?  It has significance.

It’s not about the food, never is.

 

 

 

 

Noodles, Pizza, & Bread

Profit margins in restaurants are notoriously slim, and the high-end joints, funded chiefly by private equity, are the exception.  In these establishments, breaking even is the (elusive) goal.  Basically, they are private clubs for the investors where they are treated to the hospitality associated with exclusivity.

For those who are upset about income disparities: Dining out at pricey joints while hammering away about the 1% is reminiscent of Alexander Cockburn, the wonderful Leftist writer, having a column in The Wall Street Journal.  You entertain those who you seek to oppose through your contradictions.

More on profit margins.

One reason why you see more burger joints across the U.S. is that ground beef is among the few cheap proteins that satisfy with fat, and have even more appeal with salt and by being fried, to create more profit for a restaurant.  Private equity knows this: McDonald’s is pretty much blue chip stock and shows up in many of our portfolios.  And Shake Shack is an asset of the Leonard Green Equity Fund.

There’s big money in burgers.

Even more money in three other menu items: Noodles, pizza, bread.

A pizza that costs the customer $14 has a food cost of about 90 cents.  Bread sold at bakeries for $4-6, depending on size and grains used, has comparable margins.

Best of all are noodles: For $18, you get a bowl of ramen noodles at places like Santouka.  Served in a salty, oily broth made from water and pork bones, the cost is about 60 cents per serving.

Meanwhile, establishments, with PR budgets that can employ dozens, convince food writers to celebrate both the high end and low end joints.

And private equity enjoys every bite.

The context for the food and descriptions of it are established by money, which is covert, and what is served and written about shows up within that hidden context.

More to the point would be food served that benefits those who produce it, the customers served, and their communities.  You see this approach in countries that do not have bottom line or profit margins dictate these matters.

In these countries, restaurants are seen as cultural experiences, fundamental to employees, customers, and communities, and to some degree they are subsidized by those with authority.

Prices are lower, time spent dining is longer, wages are sometimes higher.

But until contexts can be added to the rubric of private equity, you will see more high-end joints, burger joints, and noodle and bread and pizza erode communities by vacuuming away money.  Most of these places are not owned by people who live where they work, and the money ends up in private equity.

You deserve a break today.