A taco's a taco, but they call it "Le Taco"
Food & Wine publishes a long-overdue list of the best restaurants to work for. It’s a great look at the various strategies restaurants across the country use to empower and take care of their workers. Some restaurants are doing things you would expect, like no tipping or paid time off. Others are offering no-interest loans, on-staff therapists, or open book management to help employees better learn the industry. Author Tracie McMillan clearly took this seriously, as she published a separate article on her methodology (I found this as interesting as the list itself).
The Guardian profiles the French taco. This weird mix of wrap and kebab is taking over France, and preparing to spread internationally. There’s a LOT of loaded cultural meaning in this simple junk food, which is spreading outward from France’s banlieues (essentially immigrant ghettos). This article needs to be about 3x as long. Also, does anyone else but me remember the O’Tacos in Crown Heights? It was totally there.
LONG READ: Peter Wilson, writing in the Economist, chronicles the rise and fall of the calorie. Calories are something that have been around so long you sorta assume they always have been, but I had no idea they were the product of a weird Wesleyan scientist locking students in bunkers and burning their poop. Newest science is debunking their use as a health metric. The best news in this article is that leftover carbs kept in a fridge and then reheated actually have almost half the calories of fresh carbs. *EATS ENTIRE COLD PIZZA*.
Hillary Dixler Canavan interviews Washington D.C. chef Kwame Onwuachi in advance of his new memoir, Notes from a Young Black Chef. Onwuachi succeeded early, launching his dream restaurant Shaw Bijou, which didn’t live up to the sky-high expectations placed around it and quickly crashed. There was an ugly undercurrent to the gleefulness with which certain corners of the dining world enjoyed his downfall. The restaurant wasn’t up to snuff, but we all seemed to fixated on a young black chef being knocked down a peg or two. It sounds like Onwuachi’s book grapples with that. The interview also talks a lot about how “paying your dues” seems to disproportionately affect women and people of color.
Allison Robicelli writes about a dish she calls “Soupy Leek Rice”. This is really wonderful recipe and essay about how most of us actually cook and about the kinds of recipes that real people can use.
I love love love plastic take-out containers. Kelsey McKinney writes an ode to the humble plastic cylinders, which are the bedrock of many professional kitchens. I will send this to my girlfriend, who doesn’t like them. Mysteriously, mine have slowly vanished since we moved in together.
CORRECTIONS: Last issue I erroneously said that the excellent TASTE coffee collection was their first ever special issue. This was super wrong! They have done collections on, among other things, Israel, Cans, Emilia-Romagna, and India. Apparently the next one is coming up and will be a doozie.
Amazing Buzzfeed article about a data scientist who created a fake influencer account to scam free meals from New York restaurants. He wrote a bunch of scripts to automate mass following, scraping and posting images (with credit!) from other accounts, and DM’ing restaurants asking for free meals. It seems like no one involved is exactly mad at it (though some of this violates the Instagram Terms of Service). I think it’s really telling that he’s given up and is considering starting his own account. The allure of being an “influencer” probably isn’t the free stuff, it’s fame.
Meghan McCarron documents the burger wars. Climate change and a weird right-wing obsession with AOC has led to a sudden politicization of ground beef. There’s a lot of good in this essay, but her most important point is that personal lifestyle choices won’t really help us. We need systematic change at industrial levels to deal with the climate crisis. Policies around meat production are part of that.
Max Falkowitz, writing for Plate (new to me), dives into the carbs of South America. If you, like me, feel pretty smug for sorta knowing the difference between a pupusa and an arepa, the sheer density and variety will knock you back. It struck me reading this that for how recent “gluten-intolerant” seems, gluten itself wasn’t a major part of anyone’s diet in most of the world until like 500 years ago.
Great New York Times story by Kim Severson on the challenges faced by larger or overweight diners when they go out to eat. It deals a lot with the logistics like the size and mobility of chairs. However, it’s clear that what people value most is being treated as a human being.
Kara Baskin, writing in the Boston Globe, dives into the combination of taste, nostalgia, and identity that cause people to be loyal to particular food brands. Ultimately brands and brand stories are powerful, but taste really matters. Also Hydrox fucking rule.
I would like portable versions of these to follow me wherever I go. Especially to the Yangtze River lunch buffet in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Friend of the cart Daniela Galarza writes about the joy of crumbles for TASTE. Often overlooked in the show-y world of home pastry cooking, a crumble is a great way to use up fruit you might have lying around while quickly and easily creating a satisfying dessert.
Naomi Tomky, writing in VICE, complains about the *other* chair that is in every restaurant (and also was in my old back yard). It’s vaguely stylish, durable, and cheap. However, it’s also cold, hard, and uncomfortable. I wonder if we’re seeing a bit of a revolt from diners willing to trade hipness for comfort or if we are all just getting old.
Josephine Livingstone, writing in the New Republic, makes a long survey of the current state of the food world. This is a touch over-written (it is the New Republic) but once I got into it I enjoyed it. There is nothing really new here for a dedicated Snack Cart reader, but it's great to read about a world you know through the eyes of a smart outsider. Plus, I learned where the word “foodie” came from!
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Pete Well serves up what feels like his best J. Gold impression in his review of Albanian restaurant Cka Ka Qellu. He talks about the history of the neighborhood, details the streetscape beautiful ways, drops in random hypothetical questions, explains the intricacies of a cuisine, and even has a laugh-out-loud funny line: “A good portion of the menu could be described as things in a creamy white sauce. Another, entirely different portion could be described as creamy white sauce with things in it.” I love, love, love, love, love this review.
Robert Sietsema reviews the new Manhattan outpost of Au Cheval. Sietsema pans most of the dishes, but ultimately likes the place. I think that might just be his general positivity. In a restaurant dedicated to excess, you really need to nail it in order to avoid just being a college kid’s stoner dream. Also, if the burger isn’t worth it at Au FRIGGIN Cheval, then what’s the point?
Starting next year, New York City schools will institute meatless Mondays. This is partly an environmental effort and partly to help improve student health.
This is a thoroughly bizarre list of “places to take a third tier friend”. It’s really just a list of restaurants that are good for meeting up with people, but with some smug bitterness thrown in for reasons that defy understanding.
Cute feature from The Daily Beast that does a quick ten question interview with Eryn Reece, the head bartender at Banzarbar.
Dine to boroughs, a restaurant week designed to get you to go to the Bronx, is a neat idea.
Marian Bull also writes a lovely review of Pilar Cuban Bakery in Bed Stuy. It starts with a discourse on the perils of gimmicky sandwiches, and transitions into the joys of a Miami-style Cuban bakery.
Ligaya Mishan is far out in Flushing at Doraon 1.5 Dak Galbi. She explains dak galbi cuisine, a kind of Korean barbecue where an improbably large pile of vegetables, rice sticks, and chicken thighs are piled up on a table-side grill and bathed in a chili sauce. It sounds overwhelming and delicious. Mishan also talks about the well-executed side dishes, but considering the main feeds more than two times the number of people it says it does you are probably fine skipping them.
All I want anyone to talk to me about are the giant orange dinosaur holding a donut on Route 1 or the haunted Market Basket. Thank you.
Kara Baskin does a sorta-review of Aries Noodle & Dumpling. The Waltham center restaurant sounds great, but why not just do a full review? The Globe appears to have mostly given up on restaurant reviews, which is a shame. This story rests on the idea that finding authentic Szechuan food in Boston is hard, which just isn’t true anymore?
Improper Bostonian shows them how it is done. MC Slim JB uses his review of Cambridge’s 5 Spices House to talk about how there are more options for Szechuan food in the area. It also does a nice job demystifying some parts of the experience, like the still-kind-of-intimidating-to-me ordering of dry pot.
Weintraub’s, Worcester last Jewish Deli, is closing. It’s a bit sad, but the article makes it sound like it wasn’t really that good anymore. It’s going to be replaced by a Creperie, which made me roll my eyes until the quote from one of the remaining Weintraub’s. He says that he likes that his family’s business will be replaced by another immigrant with a dream. That’s just lovely.
Colin Kingsbury, writing in Boston Magazine, reviews Nahita, a new temple of decadence in the Back Bay. This reminds me of my favorite Boston food fact: the inexplicable number of nikkei restaurants downtown. Kingsbury does a pretty good job balancing the snark with serious reviewing, though honestly with prices this high it should have been an out-and-out pan.
Laura Hayes highlights the struggle some D.C. non-alcoholic beverage entrepreneurs are facing as they try to scale up. There’s a gap in facilities for makers who have outgrown producing at home (or in commercial kitchens) but aren’t yet big enough for industrial facilities. Many are producing out of New York, which has a more mature pipeline and spaces tailored for companies of that size. It’s a really interesting look at how self-made businesses or startups frequently rely on an infrastructure pipeline to succeed.
Washington City Paper profiles John Snedden, the founder of Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company. It’s a cute profile of the kind of local business that every city should have.
Ann Limpert reviews El Sapo Cuban Social Club in Silver Spring. As with the previous review of this place in the Post, Limpert focuses on chef/owner Raynold Mendizábal. He’s a force of nature inside and out of the kitchen, and the restaurant sounds like an absurd party every night (in the best way). I would like to go here.
Tim Carmen visits the third floor of the Tysons Galleria, where the fight between chef Mike Isabella and his director of operations Chloe Caras began the unravelling of Isabella’s culinary empire. The backlash closed Isabella’s restaurant/food hall here, which the owners hastily replaced with a small collection of separate vendors. The food sounds good, and Carmen meditates on how the food world doesn’t have a lot of time to meditate on previous owners.
As much fun as it is to get a table at the newest hip place or to pan an overpriced-but-disappointing meal, I think every critic just wants to be surprised. Nothing makes them happier than an unassuming place that knocks their socks off. So it seems with Tom Sietsema’s review of Rooster & Owl. It’s the most positive review of his I’ve ever read. He raves about the inventive cooking and seems almost mystified as he describes the husband and wife team behind the place. The food, fusion in the best and most organic way, sounds precise and inventive. He awards it three stars, and openly muses about if he should have given it his highest mark (four stars, which he's never given in a first review befoew). It’s probably already too late to get a reservation, but you should try!
Sietsema also publishes a plea to restaurants to start serving smaller portions. He says that with obesity on the rise and massive amounts of food being wasted, restaurants seem to be answering by heaping more onto plates. I’d be interested more if he had explored why this happens. I bet the answer is economics. Food is actually one of the cheaper restaurant expenses. Restaurants need to charge more for everything else, so they give customers a mountain of pasta so they don’t feel ripped off. He is right that more places should offer discounted half portions, though.
I didn’t know Time Out Chicago had a dedicated food critic. Maggie Hennessy does an excellent job reviewing Logan Square’s Young American. This place seems trendy to the point of parody, with Instagram-centric dishes and alcohol-free CBD cocktails. Hennessy calls out the things to enjoy, and tears things to shreds with a single adverb.
Mike Sula reviews what is about to become my friend Jeff’s new favorite restaurant. Bungalow, the restaurant inside the Middle Brow Beer Company in Logan Square, has fermentation deeply in its blood. The chef, a veteran of the San Francisco baking scene, is making sourdough pizzas with seasonal ingredients. There’s lots of bread. Sula get’s poetic on the karmic perfection of pizza and beer. Then he uses the word mouthole.
Nick Kindelsperger gets to write a rare full review. He raves about Carnitas Uruapan in Pilsen, and talks about how a long-time storefront with 1.5 hour lines decided to open a new location. The second one is in Gage Park, and Kindelsperger says the space would be impressive anywhere. The carnitas at both places are the best in the city.
Michael Gerbert does a long feature on 19 new places to eat in Chinatown. Chicago’s Chinatown has gotten some criticism lately, but Gerbert makes the case that there’s a lot going on there. He says it’s starting to reflect the diversity of Chicago’s Chinese population. There are a lot of new places to sample cuisine from different corners of the country. I like Gerbert’s lists. They are always personal and approachable.
Chicago Magazine profiles the surprisingly literary descriptions and tasting notes at Independent Spirits, Inc in Edgewater. The owners puts a lot of effort into them, cramming information, poetry, and humor into the short notes. The few mentioned in the story are excellent. What a show off.
Helen Rosner profiles n/Naka and Japanese-American chef Niki Nakayama. It’s a great introduction to kaiseki cooking, which might actually be the most influential culinary style in the world (Read Rosner's piece to understand why). Nakayama is the best (and for a while he was the only) kaiseki chef in America. Rosner seems like she is trying to understand what makes someone dedicate themselves to a form of cooking where the chef is intentionally subservient to the seasonality of the food.
Bill Addison reviews Tea Habitat in Alhambra. Well, sorta reviews. It’s hard to review a rare tea wholesaler. This is more a personal essay where Bill explains his growing passion for tea, and talks about how ritual tea ceremonies at Tea Habitat became a steadying presence for him in his years on the road. This struck me as a beautiful way for Addison to write about how becoming a regular at a place can make a strange new city feel like home.
L.A. Taco reviews Azulé Taqueria. It’s a *lot*, complete with a fake beach scene for Instagramming yourself. However, the tacos are pretty good, and good food on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade is a rarity. There are better tacos in Los Angeles, but we should be happy that a place that didn’t have any good tacos now has some decent ones.
The extremely rare “place I’ve been to” review! Patricia Escárcega reviews Tsubaki in Echo Park. I’m fairly certain I went last year with some friends, and it was as great as she says. If you can get a seat in the tiny space, you’ll learn a lot about sake and enjoy slightly elevated izakaya food.
Escárcega also reviews Los Balcones in Studio City. It’s a modern Peruvian place with strong flavors that expands a bit from what one might call traditional Peruvian. Escárcega makes it sound like a blast.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
Cameron orders ‘roo for the table, cooked medium, with fried eggplany and a roasted red pepper sauce. The ‘roo is quite good. - link