The best things to read about Mario Batali
Eater rocked the food world Monday with an extensive expose on sexual harassment allegations against Mario Batali. This is worth a read, as it explores the complicated feelings of his victims. The Washington Post, who clearly was working on the same story but got beat, published their own litany of accusations against the famous chef and TV personality.
There were responses from other male chefs, but I found them a bit thin considering considering they all indicate they’ve known or guessed this for a while. Jaya Saxena, writing in GQ, talks about how Batali’s apology, and the entire food industry, has conflated sexual harassment and physical indulgence. She cites some very good examples of how we even use the language sexual indulgence to describe food. Helen Roser, writing in the New Yorker, dives deeper into the same point. She writes about how this has been a known part of Batali’s brand for years, and that when we conflate sexual harassment with indulgence, we are reenforcing the view of women as objects. Late addition to this story but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
Well, that was a lot. How about a palate cleanser by Marian Bull? She talks about the best thing to bring to a holiday party: “If you, too, love receiving attention and making a scene, a magnum might be for you.” This might be the single best wine article I have ever read.
It’s here, it’s here! A holiday tradition unlike any other: Drew Magary has published his “Hater’s Guide to the To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog”. Every year, Magary mocks this ode to conspicuous consumption. This year he includes their latke starter, a $400 fondue set, and a $1500 box that sits on your counter and dispenses wine.
Not included is the ultimate gift for someone you want to drive to homicide.
Who among us has not gotten a little turned around looking for takeout in the Hamptons.
*Agitates for more international cooperation and slams BREXIT*
*Sees this article about the EU maybe banning doner kebabs*
*Buys “America kebab first” hat*
If you have a subscription, this story from The Wall Street Journal about how people in Hong Kong are dealing with the massive portions at the country's first Cheesecake Factory is sublime.
Khushbu Shah, writing for Thrillist, is in the tiny town of Pawhuska, OK. Pawhuska, which a few years ago was basically a ghost town, has been saved by Food Network star Ree Drummond. Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman, has opened a restaurant / cafe / general store which has turned into a somewhat major tourist destination. Lines are regularly 2-3 hours long. Shah meets fellow diners, some of whom drove up to 12 hours to be there, as well as what the store is doing to the town. It’s easy to be cynical of Drummond, whose down-home image doesn’t quite square with her pre-fame wealth. Not to mention the tangle of worms that is praise for her “real food” from her fans. Still, after reading so much about Batali this week, it was lovely to read about her and her husband, who both seem very nice, pay more than minimum wage, and give out free water bottles to people in line.
The Outline writes a story about what it means to be a food writer outside of a big city. They interview a few writers, and in general the thesis seems to be that since there are fewer stories to tell, you can do a better job telling those stories and connecting with real people. Ironically, I don’t really think the writer of this piece did that super well. This needed to be about twice as long.
Garrett Graff writes a god-damned-delightful story for Eater about disaster preparedness biscuits. During the Cold War, federal and state governments prepared for a potential nuclear attack in a number of creative and insane ways. One way was partnering with industry to make billions of bulgur wheat crackers. The crackers were designed to keep people alive in shelters after a nuclear attack. Even as fears of nuclear annihilation have receded, the crackers are still found all over the country.
^ Saw several tweets about this. ^
Well, that’s depressing (If you haven’t been following, LA Weekly was bought by new ownership that laid everyone off, killing one of the best food sections in the city). If anyone has suggestions of other good food or restaurant outlets to read, send them my way. Both LA Weekly and OC Weekly have basically ended in the past few months, so I’m looking for new things to read.
J. Gold has his own Christmas tradition. Every year, the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic wanders the Mexican neighborhoods of the city, rating the varieties of tamales that you might want to pick up for your traditional Mexican Christmas dinner. This year’s essay reads like a poem written half in Spanish (with some Chinese thrown in for good measure). It’s a great read to understand just how diverse a simple dish like this can be.
Forget the taco. The true food of Los Angeles is the Doughnut. It’s resisted colonization by larger chains, and most individual shops or small chains are run by Cambodian immigrants (which is a great story in and of itself). Jenn Harris at the Los Angeles Times sets out to do the impossible and rank doughnut shops. This is a good list, with a mix of hipster places and classics. To this day, I can instantly recall the taste of a buttermilk bar.
The New York Times dropped their own food industry blockbuster. Ken Friedman, power restaurateur and owner of The Spotted Pig and the Breslin, has been accused of abuse and sexual harassment by a number of current and former female employees. This story highlights the power dichotomy spurring lots of these food stories. Friedman ran bastions of exclusive privilege, where sexual harassment of the employees was done in full public view. The rich and famous who ate there seem to have not even noticed, or gleefully joined in.
Someone else who comes out terribly in the Times story is Friedman’s partner and chef at The Spotted Pig: April Bloomfield.
Definitely read this sad-yet-inspiring obituary of Lowell Hawthorne. Hawthorne moved to New York from from Jamaica and eventually went on to found the Golden Crust Bakery, which grew into a Jamaican patty empire. Hawthorne started with nothing and grew into a major philanthropist and community leader. He also tragically took his own life earlier this year.
They are cliche, but I greatly enjoy best-of lists. They are a chance to look back on the year and take stock. Even if that year was 2017 and you would rather not. Ryan Sutton at Eater says 2017 was a bit of snooze, with most of the openings focusing on playgrounds for the ultra-rich.
Pete Wells admits that he’s baffled by his own list. He calls out the arbitrariness of making a list like this, as well as the arbitrariness of being a restaurant critic. He’s tortured by making a comprehensive list when he knows he hasn’t even been to every place worth mentioning. Freaking out trying to pick out trends and seeing only chaos when you want to see patterns? Sounds like 2017 to me.
Ligaya Mishan’s list touches on some of her favorite reviews. Her unequivocal favorite is the Queen’s Night Market, which seems to me like it can’t possibly exist in real life. She reflects on how each of these restaurants represents a community and how each made her, an outsider trying to mess it all up, welcome.
Mishan also released her final review of the year. She visits a place Sutton called a “best of”: Uncle Boon’s Sister in Nolita. In a year Thai food seemed to explode across the City, this place is doing funky yet homey versions of Thai classics. Mishan says that some dishes are more interesting than successful, but Hainanese Chicken Rice done with rotisserie chicken seems like a fever dream I once had.
Bistro 489, a new restaurant owned by Medford Vocational Technical High School, opens this winter. The restaurant will be staffed and run by students at the school, and is currently being built by students in the construction, electrical, and plumbing programs. No word on what the menu will be, but it will be open for breakfast and lunch. This is rad as hell.
Food & Wine profiles Brian Moy, the chef innovating in Chinatown with places like Shojo, Ruckus, and BLR. I didn’t know that he grew up in the neighborhood, and that his family owns a bunch of other Chinatown mainstays. Chinatown is changing a lot, but this made me feel a bit better about it.
The Boston Globe has the story of five Latina kitchen workers who are suing the the national seafood chain McCormick & Schmick’s, alleging multiple counts of sexual harassment. The stories are horrible. Still, this weirdly makes me more hopeful than the Batali stuff. These women and their harassers aren’t mega-celebrities. This culture will change for regular people when the major companies providing most of our food realize tolerating it hurts the bottom line (or when government regulators step in). That maybe be a bit cynical, but I have yet to see something to convince me otherwise. These women are brave, and I wish them luck.
MC Slim JB visits, and really likes, Momi Nonmi. The Inman Square Japanese spot is a bit more upscale than it should be to call itself an izakaya, but it sounds great. There’s a long list of sakes and whiskies rather than cheap beer, and the menu focuses on raw seafood rather than skewers. This seems like a great place to learn a bunch about sake and then order the lomo burger.
It’s too beautiful. Don’t look directly at it.
Albert Stumm is on the Mediterranean island of Menorcan. He’s telling the story of how mayonnaise, one of the most popular condiments in the world, was invented on the island. Generations of warring between Spain and France saw armies landing on the island, loving the sauce, and bringing it back to their home country. This is not a story I expected to read in the Boston Globe, but it’s great!
Nice article by Kara Baskin about Home Taste in Watertown Square. It’s a standard Chinese takeout place that’s also serving fantastic hand-pulled noodles and cumin-laced lamb sandwiches. I wouldn’t have minded a BIT more context here, but this is good.
Maybe it’s because I’m writing from a freezing-cold coffee shop, but Phil Vettel’s review of Heritage has me very excited to visit the place. The Chicago Tribune critic notes the place’s focus on caviar, but also gives the rest of the menu its due. Heritage’s mains tend towards earthy and filling Eastern European standards, which are balanced out by light and acidic white wines from many of the same Eastern European countries.
The Tribune website is so horrible, I regularly find entirely new writers / verticals every 3 months or so when they randomly appear in the “dining” section for what seems like the first time. So Ina Pinkney’s breakfast column in the Tribune is a regular feature but new to me. She publishes her year end best-of, saying, “I don’t write critical reviews about the food, I just want you to know what it feels like to have breakfast with me at a place I really liked.” That’s just wonderful, and these do sound like 29 great breakfasts.
Mike Sula reviews Marisol for the Chicago Reader. To open a restaurant on the ground floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the MCA turned to chef Jason Hammel, one of the first chefs to open in Logan Square and to champion farm-to-table cuisine in Chicago. Shula likes it, saying that the restaurant is ambitious and adventurous enough to stand up to the art in the museum. He also has a line about hotel restaurants that made me laugh out loud: “By their nature hotel restaurants encourage visitors to stay in their bubble and avoid exploring the thousands of other cheffy cheeseburgers the city has to offer”
Jack Ruby of Chicago Magazine has two reviews The first of Marisol (double review) and the second of City Mouse in Fulton Market. I was a bit confused as to why, but they are very similar places. Each is the second location from the team behind an iconic first restaurant. Each has a large audience that doesn’t care if the food is that good. Each is much, much better than it has to be.
Michael Gebert is at Tempesta Market, a brand new Italian meat and sandwich shop on Grand Avenue. He profiles the friends and longtime Chicagoans behind the shop. NSFW because of the graphic shots of ‘Nduja.
I know the Washington Post is trying to become a national outlet because they published ultimate “national story designed to get those clickzzzz”: ranking chain restaurants. Critic Tom Sietsema visited ten chains and deemed Cracker Barrel the best in the country. It’s worth reading his full breakdown. It has Denny’s a lot higher than I would have expected and introduces a place called Texas Roadhouse, which I am pretty sure isn’t real.
Sietsema also drops a normal review, visiting Bresca on 14th Street NW. As if to make up for spending most of the last month reviewing chains, this review is a lot longer than most of Sietsema’s regular ones. He really likes young chef Ryan Ratino, who is doing approachable versions of modern American food. It’s local, seasonal, and satisfying food with touches of molecular gastronomy mixed in.
The Washington City Paper interviews chefs who have left D.C. about what they think of the District now that they are gone. Many, who have gone on to bigger and better markets, say they now realize the D.C. food scene stacks up against more serious cities like San Francisco. Others said they don’t miss how difficult it is to open in the city.
Laura Hayes at the City Paper writes about Archipelago. The U Street tiki bar is slowly but surely adding Sichuan bar bites to their menu, with dishes ranging from $5 to $14. Hayes writes a bit about the historic pairing of tiki and Chinese food in America, but Archipelago is the first I’ve seen focusing on Sichuan. I think it’s a great idea. I also love the idea of experimenting with cheap bar bites as a way to test dishes and iterate on your menu.
DC’s first WaWa is here. For some of you that means nothing, and for others it’s the most exciting news of the year.
Out of context J. Gold quote of the week
And they sell whole roasted lambs’ heads on weekends, which if nothing else indicates a seriousness of purpose.