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Snack Cart: A strip club feud for the ages
The most amazing thing you will read this week / ever is this oral history of a feud between a vegan strip club and a steak house strip club. It’s in (where else) Portland, Oregon. I’d actually heard of both of these places during a bachelor party years ago (every bachelor party you go on has, by law, a guy who is a Portland strip club aficionado). Like all great feuds, the owners are more similar than they are different: in this case stubborn assholes with a love of food who couldn’t make a pure restaurant work. Warning: Portland has some super loose stripping laws and there are some graphic-ish descriptions.
The James Beard awards happened this week. Dubbed “the Oscars of Food”, they award excellent for both restaurants and the food media. Much like Beard himself, the awards are a bit corrupt and sometimes controversial. The media awards were pretty straightforward (The New Yorker does good food writing, you say?), though a few people this newsletter really likes won: Kevin Alexander at Thrillist, Hidden Kitchens from the Kitchen Sisters (My favorite episode is about George Foreman), and Hanna Raskin at the South Carolina Post and Courier for her story about feeding the prison system. Plus Francis Lam! We love him.
I haven’t been writing this newsletter long enough to have strong opinions about the restaurants who won, though Topolobampo in Chicago winning for best restaurant (even if it is a surprise) seems to indicate that high-end Mexican is coming to your town soon. As a New Englander, I can’t believe that Eventide hadn’t won already. God, that place is good. As a former Angeleno, I’m shocked that LA didn’t win anything.
I didn’t realize that this Helen Rosner tweetstorm was prompted by a Bloomberg article about why food is taking over our lives. Silvia Killingsworth writes a long piece about how she’s sick of food, or more specifically of other people being into food. The Bloomberg article is silly, and Helen and Silvia make good points, but I do think it is worth asking why has food risen to the forefront now. There’s a lot of reasons food is very easy to obsess over, but why are we doing it now? Why aren’t we all just eating brown rice, doing drugs, and attending awesome concerts (like my parents did)?
David Farley in Afar Magazine profiles Baiersbronn, a tiny town on the edge of Germany’s black forest. The town has 8 Michelin stars (two 3-star and one 2-star places) and in many ways can be considered one of the cornerstones of modern Germany gastronomy, about which I know bupkis. This is a great, great read. Farley does a wonderful job of also going through the history of German fine dining, which is only just beginning to be rediscovered after years of being self-repressed as an expression of nationalism.
Two great recipes for pancakes from two important women: one from Queen Elizabeth (in Extra Crispy) and one from Rosa Parks (an episode of the Sporkful). Read, listen, and reflect on the ways we dehumanize powerful women.
McDonald’s has invented a fork made out of french fries. The only thing I could imagine eating with it is a Wendy’s frosty. Still, GIMMIE DAT FRENCH FRY FORK.
The next hip indigenous grain you might be eating a bowl of is Amaranth. NPR profiles several nonprofits in Oaxaca trying to revive cultivation and consumption of this ancient pre-Spanish grain.
Did you know that Youtube is basically a giant repository of promotional videos for farm equipment? It’s great. I could watch this video of an optical potato sorter all day. The good stuff starts around 1:23, and you won’t see a more dramatic plotline than the fate of that one potato that gets kinda stuck around the 2:04.
Kenji at Serious Eats talk about how to make the perfect weeknight risotto. All it takes is a little advanced planning. If you, like me, love restaurant hacks, definitely check this out.
This is too, too real.
Bombay Sapphire is exchanging bottles of gin they sold that accidentally contained twice the amount of alcohol they usually do. I mean, I’d probably try it, but it would be gross, right?
JOB ALERT: Michelin is hiring new inspectors in North America. It’s a daunting position, considering the travel, expertise required, and commitment to anonymity. They prefer chefs or restaurateurs with at least 10 years of experience. Surely, half a year of a writing a food newsletter is good enough.
A phenomenal essay by Bonnie Tsui explores the idea of the Asian salad. She asks how a Chinese woman is supposed to feel when she is constantly presented with a parody an idea of her culture. This is a nuanced look and very much worth your time. I had no idea the term predates Wolfgang Puck.
As I’ve mentioned before, multiple cities in Southeast Asia are cracking down on street food vendors. It’s a delicate balance, and I’m more sympathetic to local governments than most food people probably will be, but it’s still shitty. Also, what Indonesia is doing seems more like racketeering than governing.
You may have read that there was a devastating frost in Bordeaux, France’s premier wine region. I reached out to our chief wine correspondent, my sister Hope, who lives in Bordeaux:
Two weeks ago, Northern France was hit by a bad frost. I thought, “Well, that's sad, but such are the perils of a northern cold climate.” Then, last Wednesday, Bordeaux froze.
It was an early spring in Bordeaux. That means nearly all the vines had already sprouted translucent green leaves, shoots, and tiny buds that will flower and turn to grapes. The frost crystals are like daggers in the delicate green buds, shredding them. When the sun comes out the next day, the crystals act as magnifying glasses, literally burning the leaves before the ice melts.
To fight the frost, wine makers burned fires across the plots (Editor’s note: the photos are stunning). Some hired helicopters to spend the night circling the vineyards, with the goal of moving the air to avoid pockets of freezing. Others coat the vines in water to freeze them solid, keeping the plants themselves above freezing (like orange farmers do in Florida). But all of this is expensive—especially helicopters—and not everyone can afford it. Vineyard workers haven’t been sleeping much the past few weeks.
About 70% of all vineyards in Bordeaux were affected. According to the president of the trade bureau (the CIVB), 20% of winemakers lost between 90% and 100% of their potential 2017 crop. This was the worst frost since 1991. My co-worker’s family has a winery, and she lost her entire harvest.
Now, we wait and see. Some plants might put out new shoots, meaning that they'd re-flower and create fruit (though less than if it hadn't froze). Others may just shrivel and die for the year, putting out new shoots for 2018. Others may be so damaged that it will take 2 or 3 years to return to normal.
The big chateaux will be OK. The harvest will be bad and they won’t make as much wine, but they’ve got cash reserves to survive. They still have to make a certain volume, so they’ll be less selective when sorting grapes. That means the wine won’t be as good as it could be, making the overall value less than, say, 2016 (a year in which the weather was excellent). Some may decide to try and mask the lessor flavors, maybe by adding more oak or otherwise changing their usual process. Don’t get me wrong-- the wine won’t be bad, it just won’t be at it’s full potential.
For a small winery owner who took out a loan to buy a new tractor, or to purchase new land, the results of one night could be disastrous, even career ending. Well over 2/3 of Bordeaux is made up of small famers like this. My co-worker isn’t sure what she will have to do.
Everyone in the city is affected. My job is selling Bordeaux wines to customers around the world. Our customers are watching the same thing unfold that we are, so they know this will be a bad year. We’re likely to sell a lot less wine next year. That means there probably won’t be bonuses, profit-sharing, and we might not hire that third person on my team. And down the chain. One out of five people in Bordeaux work in the wine industry.
I’ve been here for almost 2 years, but this is the week it struck me that I work in a really, really big farm town.
If you loved Hot Doug’s the sausage shop, then you’ll also love Hot Doug’s the movie. The film, put together by two brothers (one an Emmy-winning director), tells the story of the place, its final days, and why it was such a sensation.
Now we know the Tribune left Mi Tocaya off last week’s list of essential Mexican restaurants. The Logan Square joint, the first wholly owned and operated by gifted young chef Diana Davila, gets a full review from Phil Vettel. This review unpacks the food a bit more, helping to explain the inspiration behind some of the dishes. I still couldn’t have kept up with the menu if I hadn’t been to Mexico City.
Chicago Magazine goes backstage at the Beards, and it looks like a lot of fun on what ended up being a huge hometown night.
Mike Sula at the Chicago Reader gives a meh review to Texican on Larrabee St near the Groupon HQ. He likes the food, but derides Tex-Mex cuisine overall. I get that Chicago is awash with unreal Mexican food at the moment, but if you are going to be a snob about it you should correctly identify the home of Taco Bell.
Scahller’s Pump, the oldest bar in Chicago, has closed after 136 years. It’s a shame there are no other bars in Chicago at all.
The Los Angeles Times has been doing their food bowl, the first of an annual celebration of the LA food scene. They publish what may have been a speech J. Gold gave. Speech or essay, it’s solid, fantastic Gold-siness. He asks what it means to be a chef in Los Angeles in 2017. Is it making artisanal bowls topped with avocado? Is it swigging from a bottle of mezcal as you throw meat you killed yourself on the grill? Cooking out of a taco truck? Some mixture of all of them? This is a great read on how Los Angeles democratized it's food scene, and how it's doing it to the rest of the world.
Jonathan Kaiman, on assignment in Pyongyang, reviews North Korean snack food. In recent years the government has turned a slightly blind eye to snack stands popping up around the nation’s capital. He says the snacks are surprisingly good, though they all seem terrible based on his description. I honestly have so many questions. Snacks like this pretty much have to be mass produced. Does this mean there’s a state-run off-brand Coke factory somewhere? Slave labor designing weird and bright packaging?
I remember being disappointed by Los Angeles’ dim sum offerings when I moved there. The reason, like most things in LA, was because I didn't know where to look. Katherine Spiers at LA Weekly runs down a list of the top spots.
LA Weekly is doing their annual People issue, so instead of too many food stories we have profiles of some of the most influential folks in Los Angeles’ food scene. They do a great job making the list diverse, and include people like Maria Garcia of République, one of the few female sommeliers in the world. A new name to me was Andrew Guerrero, the godfather of Los Angeles Filipino food.
THE NEW POLAR SUMMER FLAVORS ARE HERE. They are probably already sold out, tbh.
I usually skip Boston Magazine, mostly because I never remember when their reviews come out. I’ll try to do that less. Jolyon Helterman is a new name to me, and she wrote a great review of Oak+Rowan last week. Able to take a step back, she reviews it while being upfront about the reputation the restaurant has gained. What most people call “suburban” she says is more a sense of otherness, as if it has been imported from the Berenstein Bears mirror universe. She says it’s a bit weird and a bit out of date, but it’s a pleasure regardless and gives it two stars. Several times she suggests specific additions to dishes. I did not like this.
Chau Chow City, one of Boston’s two major late night Chinatown destinations, has closed after 32 years. It was announced and then closed in about 5-6 days. I lived above the place in a flophouse for about 3 months during a political campaign, and probably ate there every other day. It wasn’t really that great, but it was legendary, and the thought that I won’t drunkenly order noodles there at 2 am some day soon makes me sad. Also remember the time a guy was eating there and a gun dropped out of his pocket in front of a bunch of cops? (that may have never actually happened but I choose to believe it did)
Nicole Fleming at the Globe writes an absolutely beautiful story of the last day of Lawrence’s Italian Kitchen. The Sicilian-American couple that runs it is getting on in years, so they’ve shut it down. The Kitchen had been open for 60 years serving just two dishes: arancini and a fried savory pastry known as a crispelli. The second is new to me. So often restaurant closing are occasions for anger or sadness. This one is suffused with pure joy.
Catherine Smart reviews bb.q CHICKEN, a weirdly named Korean fried chicken spot that has taken over the old Soulfire space in Allston. This is a great review if your knowledge of Korean fried chicken doesn’t extend much beyond bonchon.
Smart also interviews Misty Kalkofen, one of Boston’s best bartenders who has moved into distributing and promoting Mezcal. I saw Misty moderate a panel on Mezcal at Thirst Boston last weekend, and while this Globe interview doesn’t have much new for Mezcal fans, Misty debuted a new bottle of Del Maguey so good it made me want to punch something.
Andrew Sassa at the Globe profiles Michael Lombardi and Kevin O’Donnell at SRV. The two chefs grew up in New England, but didn’t meet until they were each working at the same kitchen in Italy. I irrationally hated SRV when it opened (I had my reasons, they didn’t make sense, though I still think house-milled flour is silly), but I went there the other day and damn if it isn’t one of the best restaurants in Boston without even trying.
Tom Sietsema at the Washington Post drops his spring restaurant guide. This is new to me, but apparently he revisits restaurants he’s already reviewed for a bunch of mini reviews. Call it a “State of the City” -- everyone should do this. “Obsessed with the new” is a frequent and accurate criticism of food writing and this is a great way to check back in on places we have been ignoring. This was a huge year for openings in D.C., so he’s also added a list of his ten best new places.
One thing that jumped out at me is Sietsema calling Mirabelle the best new restaurant of the year. It’s not yet officially reviewed, but this makes me suspect he will probably do so soon, and he will say it’s the best restaurant in the city. Make your reservations now.
What also jumped out was his brutal snapshot of the food at the National Museum of the American Indian. The cafeteria, which was the model for “food as an exhibit in the museum”, lost its head chef Jerome Grant to Sweet Home Cafe in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It sounds like in his absence it’s being run as well as your average college cafeteria.
A new food hall? A new food hall! #anewfoodhall
Jessica Sidman at Washingtonian sounds a clarion call against all of the “build your own bowl” fast casual trends. She asks, what if instead of drowning us in choice by creating the next “Chipotle but for…” we took a cue from a smaller breed of fast casual places and focused on serving a few things but rotating every day? Sign me up for this backlash, Jessica. I’m here for it.
Washington City Paper’s website isn’t working. Let this be KARMIC RETRIBUTION for tricking me on fake April Fool’s day (Posting a fake article on March 31 should be punishable by death).
New York City
Baja Mexico wine country has been on the top of my travel list for a while. In the Times travel section, Robert Draper makes it sound like heaven on earth. Maybe next year. Also, I really should start riding horses again. Or just be a cowboy. That’s a job, right? Cowboy winemaker? Maybe also dispensing frontier justice.
Someday I will meet Ligaya Mishan, and I will ask her, “How the hell do you find these places?” She writes poetically about La Esquina de Camaron Mexicano in Jackson Heights. The place, located in the back of bodega, specializes in a cocktail that sort of gives it its name (I think it doesn’t actually have an official name and the editors made it up). The cocktail is a mix of cooked seafood and vegetables, served in a giant glass of tomato sauce/broth. Sort of a ceviche crossed with a bloody mary. The photos by Stephen Speranza are amazing.
“We didn’t set out to create a pizza event,” *TEN THOUSAND EYE ROLL EMOJIS*
There was a lot of criticism on food twitter about this profile of Thomas Keller. Both writer Kim Severson and the subject came under attack. It’s certainly a bit pointless and Keller definitely needs to go on his woke journey, but I have a hard time getting that mad at it.
Pete Wells is oddly nostalgic in his review of Loring Place. The new vegetable-forward restaurant from Dan Kluger. Wells reminisces about ABC Kitchen, which he says was a turning point for how New Yorkers eat, helping usher in the current era of vegetables. He also references past reviews of his own and directly links off to the Lost City blog. The place sounds small but great, and Wells recommends the grandma-style pizza. Two stars.
Wells also pens a follow-up essay to his three-star review of Union Square Cafe. An Instagram commenter chided him for describing himself as a “customer” rather than a “guest” of the restaurant. This leads to a neat meditation from Wells. He digresses on how Union Square Hospitality Group, more than anyone, has changed the ethos of dining out in New York from something to be conquered into something to be savored. He marvels again at how a fancy place like a Danny Meyer restaurant doesn’t want to impress you, but wants to make you happy. However, at the end of the day, no matter how nice they are they still want your credit card at the end of the meal. You’re a customer.
Out of context J. Gold quote of the week
"She has met the woman who dove for the sea urchin, the family that raised the pork, and at least three of the kids who helped grow the lettuces as part of a high school project."