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I'm back and a whole lot of good stuff was written while I was gone
Tim Carman at the Washington Post wrote about the quandaries restaurant critics face in the #metoo era. Rumors, accusations, and outright criminal cases swirl around the industry. How do critics deal with them? Helen Rosner at the New Yorker tackles the same question. With *another* new set of allegations (these against Austin celebrity chef Paul Qui), I can see why she waited a bit longer to write (Carman’s story is from Feb 2, Rosner’s from Feb 15). You should read both stories as Rosner follows up with a lot of the original folks referenced in Carman’s story.
Some outlets, including Eater, have decided to completely ban/ignore restaurants where credible accusations have been made. I find this line particularly compelling: “ If you find yourself writing soul-searching paragraphs or essays about why you’re reviewing a place before you even get into the amuse, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t be writing it.” But I wonder how far that goes. Do you hold smaller restaurants or treasured institutions to the same metric? Using New York as an example, do you leave Katz’s off a list if something happens there?
Both Carmen and Rosner mention a recent J. Gold review where he discusses these issues. He reviewed Hearth & Hound, a new place from April Bloomfield (who business partner resigned amid some pretty horrific allegations). I think his review is stronger for it, and maybe it’s a good thing if you have that paragraph. These issues need to be brought up and discussed.
I am still trying to figure out where I stand in this, but I think a lot needs to come down to the individual critic. Part of a good review is putting the thing being discussed in a cultural context. Critics have been rating quite a bit more than just the food for a long time -- ethical work and behavior should become part of that. We all agreed en masse that farm-to-table is inherently good, and that frequently has more to do with values than with taste. It’s sort of embarrassing that it took this moment for the food media to care as much about people as they do about chickens. Another part of a good review is choosing what is worth consideration. Maybe sometimes a restaurant reviewer will decide they don’t want to write about a place because there are issues with the ownership or staff, but maybe sometimes they’ll decide a place has enough culinary and cultural importance that they should write about it anyway. If they do, they should be expected to write about why.
One thing I don’t agree with is Gold’s closing thought. Saying, “it’s up to women to decide” strikes me as exceptionally mealy-mouthed unless that’s followed by, “Which is why I’m resigning to give my job to a woman.” Men caused this problem, and it’s incumbent on men to do some hard work grappling with these questions in public.
Ok, phew. Let’s have a palate cleanser. How about a bunch of famous food writers admitting which food words they can’t spell?
This article, from ESPN Magazine, is extremely my shit. It documents the growing wine connoisseurship among NBA players. It also turned me on to a wine diary app that doesn’t seem terrible. If it’s good enough for D. Wade, it’s good enough for me.
This is a really delicate and complicated story from Rachel Sugar at TASTE. She writes about Soviet food, which is sort of taking off. It’s distinct from Russian food, and comes with immense amounts of cultural baggage, which is why it’s taken a generation or two to be looked at again. The article features the line, “It was all codified in the Book of Tasty and Healthy Food—or as von Bremzen calls it, ‘the totalitarian Joy of Cooking’”, so I love it. Also, I went to Prague about five years ago, where there is a small chain of Soviet-themed restaurants where nostalgic hipsters drink beer and eat dumplings. It was weird.
An interesting look at why there are so few black-owned grocery stores. I don’t think this story places enough blame on consolidation and national chains.
Ligaya Mishan, writing for the New York Times Magazine, looks at vegetables. Specifically, she’s writing about how high-end and ultra-aggressive raw vegetable plates are appearing on menus nationwide. It might be a reaction to the meat-centric meals of the 00s or a trickle-down of New Nordic. Either way, it’s crudites’ time to shine.
GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF CONTENT ALERT: Meet the illustrator behind the drawings on the Great British Bake Off.
The New Yorker, in an attempt to bring all of my favorite writers under one roof, has Gustavo Arellano writing about immigrant foods. He profiles bouza, a specialty Syrian ice cream that’s followed refugees to Southern California. I MUST HAVE IT. Plus, an ode to flour tortillas.
It’s been out for a while, but allow me to add my voice to those plugging the Netflix documentary series Rotten. It can be rough, but it’s really important that everyone who likes food to try and understand the global interconnected commodities market. I’m only barely starting to.
David Chang is FLOODING THE ZONE. He’s part of NBC’s Olympic team, doing a bunch of stuff about Korean food and culture, plus preparing to launch a new Netflix show. Considering the promo clips involve a super-cliched bit of shitting on Yelp, I’m skeptical.
The AP published a more detailed look at the food in the Olympics. Come for the staggering amount of food required to feed the athletes, stay to roll your eyes at a British fan who refuses to try Korean food!
Casey Johnson, professional swole woman, dives into Muscle Milk. It’s a really great look at something that is everywhere even though I don’t know anyone who drinks it. She also makes some really great points about how and why protein has taken over America.
While I was on sabbatical moving, I missed the grand goodby to The Awl. I wasn’t cool enough (and was slightly too young) to be really into it, but I will say that two of my favorite things in the world are from that site: The McRib as Arbitrage was the first time I realized the massive forces of commerce behind food, and Negroni Season is still the funniest fucking thing in the world.
Classic French is pretty much a full-bore trend now, but I will continue to insist that it’s just a thing that me and my sister like. Example: we went through a quenelle phase about 3 years ago. Anyway, this story about the traditional French fish ball-thing will help give more context to Hope’s essay last week. Quenelles are great and also the act of making a quenelle is called "quenelling".
Interesting look from the New Yorker on how delivery apps are killing restaurants. The percentage taken by middlemen like Grubhub or Caviar can be up to 40%, which means that some restaurants are delivering at a loss. What interested me the most is how many of these companies ALSO operate a loss. Who is making money here?
This is a really neat story by the Washington Post that is, for some reason, published on Medium (please clap). Two academics compared historical agricultural prices and crime data and are positing that a 19th-century spike in Sicilian lemon prices led to the creation of the Mafia. The article makes a pretty sensible point: any time you have a hyper valuable agricultural commodity and a shitty government, you’ll end up with organized crime.
I have never been roasted more on Twitter than when I waded into the Twitter debate on Wheat Thins vs. Triscuits. If I hadn’t literally been driving a moving truck all day that day, I would have FOR SURE Tweeted through it because the world needs to realize that Wheat Thins are garbage. Also Combos are a trash snack. Come at me.
The weird quasi-terrorist winemakee groups in France are my ENDLESS fascination. Who wants to pay me and my sister to go live among them and write a long profile?
Lots of stories in this week’s newsletter are a bit delayed since I first saw them almost a month ago. This one, about a DREAMER who serves food at the United State Senate Cafeteria, is from May 2017 and still feels as relevant as ever.
A special edition vodka bottle worth $1.3 million stolen from a Copenhagen bar was recovered, empty and dented, nearby. I love this story so much I want to build it a small cottage in Western Massachusetts and take it to opening night at Tanglewood.
I’ve been watching a lot of old Julia Child episodes, and have been struck at how much she argues against margarine. I dimly remember a tiny amount of it in the fridge when I was little (Country Crock), but we mostly used butter and I thought that was normal. This story on the history of the butter substitute made me realize that maybe we were the exception rather than the rule.
You have, of course, been following Lokokitchen, the Instagram account that just posts pictures of elaborate and geometrically complicated pies. MUNCHIES caught up with her for a quick interview, and what it’s like to become Instagram famous after only 35 posts.
Emily Cassel dives into a question that vexes historians and Big Ten students alike: Why do Bloody Marys in the Great Lakes region come with tiny glasses of beer? This taught me that they are sometimes called a snit, which is a corruption of a German word for a five-ounce glass. She has a hard time finding the answer, but I promise that once you have had this you’ll never want to have Bloody Marys the same way again.
Interested in tiny regional barbecue specialities? How about chipped mutton, the flavorful speciality of Western Kentucky.
The longest-serving astronaut in US history died this month at the age of 87. He’s also the man who smuggled a corned beef sandwich into space. Maybe there is something to that Greatest Generation thing.
Fascinating blog post from Discover Magazine on how history is repeating itself with the world’s banana supply. An over-reliance on a single strain grown in monoculture has resulted in a super-fungus that is on its way to wipe out whole crops. It feels like the answer is to get way into artisanal, single-origin bananas.
My friend Alex, in an effort to find a new project beside raising her 8-month-old, has vowed to start cooking more. Alex is a journalist, bioethicist, and maker, so this is really an effort to get outside her own head again. She’s writing down how it’s going in weekly blog posts. My favorite part of this is that she’s vowed to source the recipes entirely from inside her own library. As someone with a huge stack of cookbooks who still thinks, “What the heck am I going to cook tonight” I really like this idea. Give her a follow on Medium.
I’m not here to kink-shame anyone but this is weird as hell. *Immediately tries it and probably makes it part of his morning routine*
The Boston Black Restaurant Challenge is an embarrassingly good idea. It challenges diners to honor Black History Month by eating at four black-owned restaurants around the city. I’m going to try and do this even though I’m (sad face) not in Boston anymore.
On the heels of the announcement that long-time South End restaurants Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel are closing came the bombshell that they will be replaced by a new place from Tim Maslow. Maslow is a rock star, but after making Ribelle into the best restaurant in Boston he sorta freaked out and closed it. It will be interesting to see if this goes better.
When the IRS took down the New Bedford Fishing magnate nicknamed “The Codfather” for tax evasion, money laundering, and illegal fishing, they also crippled the largest port in Massachusetts. Jess Bidgood at the New York Times looks at all of the regular people who are struggling after a corrupt businessman’s empire has been shut down.
I am angrier about this than if it closed. Chips and pickles ARE food.
This story, by Deirdre Fernandes at the Boston Globe, is really important. At colleges across Boston (and America) a significant number of students are going hungry. Scholarships handle tuition, but the cost of room and board is frequently out of reach for the kind of smart and ambitious students colleges hope those scholarships can help. Hopefully, as schools wake up to this, they’ll start to provide more resources.
Sweet Cheeks breakfast sandwiches. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Worcester, which has a rapidly expanding food and drink scene, is poised for a monster 2018. MassLive has a rundown of what you can expect. This is turning into a great city for beer lovers.
Lovers of Central Chinese dishes and Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe who live south of Boston will be excited to read in The Weekly Dig that there’s a great new option in Wollaston.
There a not enough articles written about the joy of Indian takeout nor about the specific upper-middle-class Boston suburb in which I grew up. This is a nice corrective to that.
Devra First drops a full review of Pammy’s, the Cambridge Trattoria that opened without much fanfare has been killing it. She gives it three stars, highlighting how balanced each individual dish and the overall restaurant it. Seems magical, and I regret not making time to go here before I moved.
Chowhound looks at the changing face of New York City’s Chinatown. Increasingly, the neighborhood is no longer the hub for traditional Chinese immigrants (and food) that it once was. Chowhound looks at three newer restaurants that are trying to preserve Chinatown culture at a slightly higher price point.
PunchDrunk assess at the state of the New York steakhouse martini. The cocktail revolution is here, but it’s pretty much skipped steakhouses across the City. Author Robert Simonson visits six institutions to see how the classic drink is being prepared. Spoiler: It’s not pretty. However, I still want to go to Keen’s so, so badly.
This profile of Barbetta, the second-oldest family-run restaurant in New York, has everything you want out of this kind of story. Loveable but controversial family squabbles over the history of the place, loyal bartenders, and a batshit insane Frank Sinatra story.
Mark Cuban invested in an all-avocado restaurant in Brooklyn, so I guess I’m not the only one willing to spend a shitload of money to have a presence here this week.
Steve Cuozzo at the New York Post reviews Tender Greens, the LA salad chain expanding to the City for the first time. Finally, says Cuozzo, a lunch salad that doesn’t suck. Welcome to the party, pal.
Pete Wells visits Hwa Yuan Szechuan, a restaurant bringing a new generation of Chinese cuisine to Midtown. This restaurant was opened by the son of the chef at Hwa Yuan Szechuan Inn, a long-time Manhattan institution that invented (or at least popularized) cold sesame noodles, changing Chinese takeout forever. Wells finds some standouts here, along with some flops. Overall he gives it an enthusiastic two stars.
Saveur has former Tribune writer Kevin Pang do a long story on Chicago barbecue. In an age where regional barbecue is thriving, Chicago’s signature styles are dying out. The reasons why are largely tied up with the city’s racial and segregationist past. This is a great read with gorgeous photos; I learned a lot. In particular, I learned that my next trip to Chicago will involve a road trip around the South Side to eat as much barbecue as possible.
“What wines pair with Chinese takeout?” is the kind of service journalism I appreciate.
Phil Vettel visits Booth One, the new restaurant in the historic Pump Room space. This is a *long* review, covering the menu (Flawlessly execute fine dining classics), the history (long), and the space itself (iconic, and largely unchanged). Ten years ago this place might have been hopelessly out of touch, but it seems perfectly places to ride the current retro trend. Plus, they serve something called “twinkie croutons” on the Caesar salad which sound amazing.
Mike Sula visits a small take-out spot run by a relentlessly cheerful woman serving Dominican classics. Morena's Kitchen is built around breakfast, but serves fresh and filling food all day. I had no idea there was Dominican dish based on kibbeh.
Lupe Fiasco dropped a new track last week. Harold's is a tribute to the South Side fried chicken chain. The Chicago Reader looks back at the relationship between the Chicago rap scene and the restaurant chain.
Jack Ruby reviews George Trois. He gives it four stars, though his meal is a special tasting menu that makes it hard to judge the place overall. Still, Ruby hits on something important about the new generation of fine-dining restaurants: a lot of them are much better than the classic places used to be. I love formal dining, but I’ve worn a blazer to a lot of disappointing meals. The new generation is combining a dedication to fresh and innovative food with an older and more formal style of hospitality.
Tom Sietsema really enjoys his time at AhSo, an elevated New American spot from a breakout young chef. The twist is that this restaurant is about an hour from D.C. in a planned community in Loudoun County.
A new court decision has made carrying a concealed handgun a lot easier in D.C. A number of restaurateurs are proactively taking steps to tell customers that guns aren’t welcome in their establishments. The law says that posting a sign is enough to make it illegal to carry them into a space, so maybe just put up some billboards outside town?
Laura Hayes takes a *comprehensive* look at new Mexican restaurants opening in D.C. This should help the district get more authentic Mexican food, but this article is so dense with names it’s pretty much only worth looking at to find the closest ones to you.
Selling artisanal ice by the cube is real District 1 Rome burns end of empire shit. Good stuff.
The Rose bowl was almost two months ago, but I’m not going to miss a chance to highlight one of my favorite Southern California New Years traditions: The Lawry’s Beef Bowl. A few days before the game, both teams and local dignitaries meet at the Beverly Hills restaurant for a massive Prime Rib dinner. This year, the Georgia Bulldogs won on and off the field. Over 500lbs of beef were eaten in total.
The Los Angeles Times has put together a massive interactive guide to Koreatown. This has everything you could need to spend a day or a lifetime in one of my favorite LA neighborhoods. The guide is almost as big and overwhelming as Koreatown itself.
Bill Addison, writing for Eater Los Angeles, does some counterprogramming. He writes up a long guide to the best Oaxacan food in the city. Weirdly, the most famous Oaxacan restaurant in Los Angeles is in Koreatown.
J. Gold spent most of the month on the Korean guide, so his last review is from early February. It's of The Exchange downtown. He clearly loves this sorta-Israeli restaurant. The Israeli food trend has its own issues, but Gold frame the liberal borrowing in a more familiar way, “Tel Aviv, like Los Angeles, is a place where cultures smash together: European, African, every conceivable flavor of Middle Eastern, and more than a splash of East Asian technique.” This is one of those reviews where you need to Google every other word.
Edwin Goei at the OC Weekly reviews Cambalache, a newish Argentinian restaurant in Fountain Valley. Goei waxes poetic over the joy of a perfectly cooked steak with perfectly cooked fried potatoes.
Out of context J. Gold quote of the week
Is amba aioli the new Thousand Island dressing? We should only be so lucky.