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Cooking Timpano with Stanley Tucci
Plus the future of fine dining, Ryan Sutton twists the knife in Eleven Madison Park, and fake meat in California.
For the past few weeks, there’s been a food media fight in New York about the future of fine dining.
It started when Adam Platt in New York Magazine wondered if fine dining is dead. Even before the pandemic, the shine was coming off the haute cuisine experience. However, it still dominated the dining conversation. After the pandemic, the unending parade of headlines about bad behavior in top tier kitchens, and increased focus on the environment, splurgy, decadent meals of Kobe beef and caviar feel even grosser than they did before? Even worse, going to a truly fancy restaurant doesn’t feel that cool anymore. Anyone with enough money can drop a credit card and go to Eleven Madison Park. The true mark of status is posting an IG shot from a one-night Vietnamese/Cambodian hybrid pop-up in the back of a brewery with Allison Roman’s head blurrily in the background. We’ve transitioned from exclusivity of cash to exclusivity of… expertise? Connectedness? God… authenticity? This may still be the attitude of a particular breed of elite food enthusiests, but anyone who has seen The Devil Wears Prada knows that trends among professionals have a way of trickling down.
Steve Cuozzo, the New York Post’s food reactionary, disagreed. He says plenty of people still want traditional dining experiences. He’s got a point (I don’t just say that because I love wearing a blazer to dinner). While the cool kids may be moving on, New York’s fine dining restaurants are as packed as ever. A comfortable chair, impeccable service, and the ability to hear your companions is a magical experience, even if it’s no longer a trendy one. Fois gras and imported truffles are decadent and bad for the environment, but fuck they are delicious. However, the easiest thing in the world is for something to be popular and be very uncool. I thought a lot while reading this about “FoodGod”, the Instagram celebrity and Kardashian-adjacent mini-star. I’ve read he’s this massive food influencer, but most of his actual food posts appear to come from utterly generic Miami or New York white tablecloth spots. Not even the famous ones! Fancy? Sure. Cool? Not really.
I think the connection between haute cuisine and fanatical ramen pop-ups lies in a line from Jonathan Nunn’s essay about Salt Bae’s new London restaurant. He writes mockingly about critics reviewing Oslo Court, a classic London temple of fine dining:
Oslo Court is maybe London’s most reviewed restaurant (pretty much every critic has done it once) because it allows the writer to meditate on the meaning of the restaurant, and the nature of this unchanging institution in a city that does nothing but change. “Why do people come here?” they wonder, tasting the mediocre food, before noting that restaurants are actually not about food at all, but about fantasy, to be taken somewhere else for an evening where things are precisely as you remember them, where steak diane is on the menu, when Neil is recommending the best dessert on his trolley which he’s saved just for you.
The thing is, every restaurant is a fantasy, and the fantasies the food public wants are changing. In a place like Per Se, the fantasy is obvious. You are part of an upper class elite, with loyal servants thrilled to cater to your every whim. The finest ingredients from around the world are yours to enjoy. At the amazing ramen spot you saw on Instagram, the fantasy is that you are smart enough and connected enough to know that THIS bowl made by THIS master is that much better than ones you’ve eaten 100 times before. It has to be, you waited an hour. Jonathan Gold wrote about it, for God’s sake! Both fantasies are fake, but a great restaurant makes you believe the fantasty for a few trancendant hours.
A few months back, Pete Wells wrote that high end sushi restaurants seemed to be recovering faster than any other kind (he even implied that they never really emptied out). It’s been clear to me for a while that ultra-high end sushi is becoming the dominant haute cuisine of our time.
This makes sense. Sushi is the confluence of the two fantasies. For a price, you can have one of the 14 available nightly seats and a once-in-a-lifetime seasonal meal that will never be repeated (possibly for sustainability reasons). You can wear jeans while still being hand-served by a master craftsman. And it costs $600. There are legitimate sushi experts, but it’s instant street cred readily available to anyone with a Black Card. You don’t even have to know what to order.
So yes, high-end sushi is going to take over the ultra-fine dining world. Keep an eye on that as you read your next review of an out-of-the-way but amazing omakase. Also, keep in mind the question that bothers me whenever I read a review of places like that: how many fucking disciples can Jiro Ono possibly have had?
While this blog is focused on Boston, the question is universal: Where did the PuPu platter originate? This is a long walk to get to “probably Trade Vic’s”, but if you love Chinese-American food as much as I do it’s a nice one.
This Jay Raynor article on cooking with Stanley Tucci is as delightful as you imagine. But the big takeaway is that THE TIMPANO FROM THE BIG NIGHT IS ACTUALLY A MOTHERFUCKING TUCCI FAMILY RECIPE. That asshole has layers of being charming and delightful the rest of us can only dream of.
“While we have agreed that carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes are all wholesome ingredients, we have yet to set forth official guidance on which of these root vegetables will make the most robust, nourishing soup for Americans this fall.”
READER FEEDBACK: Eagle-eyed reader, noted Italian-American, and the owner of my favorite Twitter bio Roberto Scalese called me out about last week’s story calling Moka pots overrated. Roberto said that it did a disservice to the Moka pot and that “I hate this thing you like” takes are reductive and lame. Hes right, but he also agreed that they they are fun to write and to read, and (as Roberto wrote too) a great excuse for us to catch up. Berto explained that the moka pot is both a technological marvel and a major democratizing force in Italy that brought coffee out of the coffee shop and into the home. He shared two articles, from Atlas Obscura and Serious Eats, that outline the history of the moka pot. These are my favorite things I read this week, if only for the photo of the Moka pot creator being buried in a giant Moka pot. Thanks, Berto.
Belcampo, a massive purveyor of sustainable meat, earlier this year admitted to a mislabeling scandal. Now, they’ve shut down all their retail locations. I wonder if this will become more common as boutique perveyors of sustainable goods find themselves overwhelmed with demands.
Welcome here to downstairs bathroom carpet restaurant for special occasions! Is it Mother’s Day? We are here for special occasions.
Bon Appétit’s dinner party issue has a lot of great stuff, but the best thing was their regular feature on dream dinner parties. They interviewed Issa Rae about her dream dinner party (Prince is there).
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If you read a particular writer regularly, you start to be able to see between the lines. At least, I felt that way reading Ryan Sutton’s review of Aldama. A few weeks after he neatly eviscerated Eleven Madison Park’s vegetarian menu, Sutton writes 300 words rhapsodizing about the vegan mole. But Aldama has more than just veganism going for it, Sutton calls out that it’s hitting on all cylinders. This is the kind of review that makes you want to rush out and get a reservation as soon as possible.
Pete Wells is at his J. Goldiest reviewing Mariscos El Submarino in Queens. “Roosevelt Ave” is a phrase that makes any New York food obsessive perk up, and this is no exception. Submarino specializes in fresh and massively spicy aguachiles, which Wells describes with a combination of affection and wariness I usually reserve for specific ex-girlfriends. This is a lot of fun to read and I must go here.
I really enjoyed this Robert Sietsema essay on long-time Greenwich village stop Tea & Sympathy. He writes that the influence of English food on New York has waned, but this is a great place to find the classics. I wonder if it’s really waned that much. There are fewer restuarants that market themselves as “English”, but reading this review its hard not to see how English food has influenced American sports bar food, which my father once described as “the dominant style of American cooking in our time.”
Devra First’s review of Northern Spy is a touch older, but I was looking on the Globe site for new content and clicked on it because I hated the headline. I love highlighting out-of-the-way places, but if it’s framed as intentionally slumming, that kinda ruins it. This isn’t that. First reviews a restaurant from the team behind Loyal 9 in terms both glowing and intensely inviting.
“It’s a great story. We moved from Vegas, and the real estate lady showed us a place in Milton. She said, knowing I had two daughters, 12 and 14, ‘You’ll love this. It’s a dry town.’ I’m like, ‘What’s a dry town?’ So we moved to Braintree,” - I laughed very loudly at this quote from the former CEO of Smith & Wolensky talking about moving to Massachusetts and opening a restaurant at Legacy Place.
[Snack Cart waiting room}
Me: [Chanting] hard cider, hard cider-
Other patients: hard cider, HARD CIDER
Secretary: [pounding her clipboard] HARD CIDER, HARD CIDER, HARD CIDER!
The Chicago Tribune follows up on Portillo’s IPO with a lot more details. Shares are trading at about $30 per, and the chain thinks they can expand worldwide in the coming decades. The Tribune interviews a number of local fans of the chain who bought shares primarily because they love the food.
Mike Sula previews the next restaurant in The Chicago Reader’s Monday Night Foodbal. Limón y Sal has been popping up all over town, serving specialities of Jalisco. This coming Monday, it’s pozole season.
Again beautiful photos but not enough everything else in this Chicago Magazine blurb about Uptown’s DeNang Kitchen (seriously though, the photo of those cakes made me very hungry).
Josh Noel at the Chicago Tribune writes a long story about how Lagers have started to dominate the Chicago craft beer scene. While craft beers are usually associated with IPAs, most of the beer sold in the world is lager. He strings together a lot of interesting theories about why things in Chicago in particular are changing. This is a good read if you like beer.
This week’s Los Angeles Times special section focuses on the future of meat. If you didn’t have the energy to read the VERY long piece from last week’s Snack Cart on lab-grown meat, this feature by Corie Brown is a more entry-level discussion.
Brown also looks at why California seems to be the center of the fake meat movement. A confluence of culture and money, mostly.
In a world of taco sprawl, founder Brittney Valles is keeping the menu at her new place Gogo’s Tacos simple and classic. The big draw is the story. Twenty cents of every dollar goes to Valles’ charity, the Juan Carlos Cantoni Foundation, which provides resources for young adults aging out of foster care and other social services. Valles opens up to L.A. Taco about the personal tragedy that moved her to set this up.
Phil Rosenthal is the latest to proclaim that Los Angeles has surpassed New York as the best food city in America. At this point that’s kind of cliché, but Phil is great because he finally breaks down why everyone is obsessed with Courage bagels. I finally believe they might live up to the hype.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
You will like the suffering. You will drink a bottle of Mexican Squirt. You will work your way through all the other shapes — the sopes, the gorditas, the quesadillas — that Antojitos Carmen has to sell. - link