Celebrity Eater Interview: Andrew Sullivan

Tonight I had the inspired idea of e-mailing Andrew Sullivan—editor at the New Republic and perpetual blogger at www.andrewsullivan.com—a few food-related questions. Imagine my surprise when he quickly (and rather generously) replied. Here are his responses below. Thanks again Mr. Sullivan!

What are your favorite foods?

Yorkshire pudding; apple pie; Mcdonald’s fries.

What foods do you despise?

Anything pretentious.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

An amazing risotto once at restaurant Nora in Washington, DC.

The worst?

Anything at a church event.

What’s your favorite meal to cook?

I never cook.

Who’s the best cook you know?

One of my best friends when he was a drug addict.

Who’s better in the kitchen: Democrats or Republicans?

Independents.

New York Prime (Boca Raton, Florida)

“Don’t write anything bad about New York Prime,” my mother warns. “I’m serious, Adam. Don’t.”

New York Prime is my parents haunt; it is their Cheers, their Casablanca. We go there every time I come home and we are treated like royalty.

“Mrs. Roberts!”

“Dr. Roberts!”

The entire room shifts with excitement. New York Prime is a scene, and my parents are a vital part of the scenery.

Tonight, though, began in our house. Grandma and grandpa came over for drinks and to hear me play the piano.

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After a rousing rendition of “I, Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha” we piled into the car and journeyed to that eternal beacon of my parents’ gastronomical gratification: New York Prime.

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A young bombshell opened the door for us and eager hosts and hostesses led us to our table.

“Right this way, Mrs. Roberts.”

We stopped to chat with the regulars: a judge, a publisher, a supermarket baron.

Here is a look at the scene:

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Finally, we sat, and were treated with one of the many perks of being a regular: a plate of olives and orange slices.

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Mo–my parents’ regular waiter–came with their usual drinks. After several minutes of menu perusal, he returned to take our order.

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Several interesting things happened while we waited.

A lobster was wheeled around the restaurant in a wagon:

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A lounge singer sang a Neil Diamond medley:

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Grandma and I traded glasses:

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Soon, the appetizers arrived. I had baked shrimp with garlic, parmesan and breadcrumbs:

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Then, the entrees came. I had a petit filet:

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Grandpa had the sea bass:

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Dad had a stone crab claw:

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We all had sides of mashed sweet potatoes, creamed spinach and onion rings:

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After consuming enough calories for the next several years of my life, I made my way to the bathroom. I thought this sign on the inside door was worth taking a picture of:

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[For those who can’t read it, it says: “If you have any problems with our restaurant, ask for our customer service representative: Luca Brasi.”] [For those who don’t get it, that’s Godfather humor.]

Finally, for dessert, the table was treated to a surprise celebration for my grandparents’ anniversary. A gigantic chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and berries. Here’s Moe lighting the candles:

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And here’s the cake itself:

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And that’s it. Three gigantic meals consumed in 36 hours. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on a plane back to Atlanta, where normal calorie intake will resume. The weekend of gluttony is officially over.

Carpaccio (South Florida)

Today the Roberts Family decided to get fit, choosing sensible foods and exercise in lieu of heavy and rich concoctions.

We drove down to Bal Harbor in Miami—a scenic trip that provided the following views:

The back of my mom’s head:

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Pretty water:

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Once we got there it was exercise, exercise, exercise! We immediately stepped into Gucci for heavy pocketbook lifting:

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After working up a heavy sweat, we made our way over to Carpaccio for a light lunch.

Here’s the awning:

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Here’s the scene:

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The service at Carpaccio was outstanding. It reminded me of that SNL skit where Kirstie Alley goes to that Italian restaurant with her husband, and the waiters are so attentive they start making out with her. Well, it didn’t go quite that far, but it was nice to be doted on.

We told our waiter we were on a Roberts Family health kick and the waiter nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes, yes!” he said. “A light lunch for you all!’

The first course, a light and airy Insalade Inglese with mozarella, smoked salmon, tomatoes and olive oil:

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Then on to our reasonable, and incredibly healthy main courses.

My dad had a lobster pasta:

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Mom had a pasta vongole (with clams and shrimp):

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And I had Harry’s Bar pasta, which was noodles with sundried tomatoes, arugala, and olive oil:

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The noodles were actually a little undercooked but a fit person isn’t a complainer, so I ate what was on my plate.

Here’s the three of us at the table:

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Finally, like any good dieters, we accepted our waiter’s offer of dessert. How else can you lose those calories?

Here’s our Atkins’ friendly, carb-free Tiramasu:

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Boy, it really does feel great to make a positive change in your life. I suggest you all try the Roberts Family diet and lose a few pounds. As a reward, tonight we’re going out for steak. Photos and commentary to follow!

Cafe Maxx (South Florida)

Yes, I have arrived safely and soundly in South Florida; my plane touching ground at 2 pm, and my parents arriving at the airport slightly late, but–in their defense–the plane landed early.

One brief note about Airtran. For the money you save, Airtran is worth the small discrepancies: the shopworn flight attendants, the buslike wear-and-tear of the seats. My problem is with the terminal. Granted, airports are airports–transitional spaces of little consequence. Yet, whereas Terminal A (the Delta terminal) has a benign, inoffensive quality, Terminal C (the Airtran terminal) is like the bathroom in a McDonalds. The grease in the air–from the bustling Popeye’s in the terminal’s center–takes on a physical presence. I felt my nostrils saturate with cholesterol and my skin begin to crisp like chicken. As if that weren’t enough, there were two Airtran hawkers pushing some sort of promotion to unsuspecting, uninterested passersby. Their annoying routine–“Excuse me, ma’am, but you know you want to save money on your next round trip ticket”–created a circuslike, fleamarket atmosphere in what should have been a quiet place to sit calmly reading my Bon Apetit and talking on my cell phone. Mr. Hartsfield shall be hearing from me shortly.

But, I digress. You’re not here for airport talk. You’re here for food.

Tonight my parents took me to Cafe Maxx which I incorrectly (in my previous post) declared to be a West Palm Beach establishment. It is, in fact, in Pompano (just North of Ft. Lauderdale).

One thing about eating with my parents is that often my body isn’t ready for it. If my calorie intake in Atlanta is a 4 on a scale from 1 to 10, dining with my parents pushes my body to its outer reaches: 9, 10, 11 and counting. I feel so full right now that the prospect of describing my dinner fills me with an existential dread.

Yet, I must press on for you, my vicarious eaters.

I was surprised, when we reached the restaurant, to see that it was across the street from a ramshackle shopping center with a Walgreen’s and a discount fashion store. The whole area had a very average, Florida-ish beaten down quality to it. No place, in other words, for a glamorous restaurant. I shot a picture of the awning before we went inside:

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The space was somewhat inviting, with a nice vase of flowers in the front. My dad would later liken the interior to that of a Ruby Tuesday’s but my mom smacked his arm and said: “Oh, Brad, shut up.”

Our waitress was sunny but intelligent; she guided us through the menu, and only once tried to upsell us. (She tried to push another bottle of wine after we finished our entrees). In terms of wine, my parents chose a bottle of ZD Chardonnay.

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The Chardonnay was nice, properly cool and woodier than some sweeter ones I’ve had. Admittedly, my wine knowledge is usually limited to “it was white” “it was red” so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

We started with an appetizer of duck ravioli which sounds scarier than it was. In fact, it was really wonderful: a really interesting blend of flavors—notably a peppery olive oil, sundried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.

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Next, my mom and I split a lobster bisque:

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While my dad stared down his unusual caviar pie with toast tips:

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“What’s wrong Brad?” my mother beckoned.

“Nothing,” he said, scraping some caviar pie on to a toast tip.

“Here dad,” I said bravely, “I’ll trade with you.”

He agreed. The caviar pie was actually good. It was a layer of egg, a layer of onions, a layer of sour cream and a layer of caviar.

“Mmm,” I said to show how good deeds have good rewards.

My dad was too busy slurping soup.

Finally, our entrees arrived. I had the signature dish, an onion glazed snapper:

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My mother had lamb chops with a feta crust:

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And dad had a veal chop:

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We chomped away and soon we were done.

“I’m so full,” I moaned.

“Ah ah ah,” mom chided, “let’s not forget dessert.”

Dessert menus were brought. I ordered banana coconut crepes:

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I could barely touch them. They rolled me out of the restaurant, into the car, and carried me up to my desk where I write to you now. Only two more days of this and then my body will return to normal. I just hope my plane takes off.

Coming This Weekend: The Amateur Gourmet Goes To Florida!

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go. My Airtran Flight leaves tomorrow afternoon from Hartsfield to West Palm Beach. My parents will be waiting for me at the airport and our weekend of eating will begin. I plan to keep you updated continuously: minute by minute, bite by bite.

Here are some meals for you to look forward to:

– Dinner at Cafe Max in West Palm Beach. Apparently, my mother told the maitre’d that her son (moi) is an important food writer. That should be interesting.

– My parents favorite Boca haunt: New York Prime. A steakhouse that features sizzling steaks and eccentric clientele, including (but not limited to) Don King.

Those are the biggies. Check back here for updates on my weekend of gluttony.

The Thursday Night Dinner Song: “(Tonight We Dined At) Osteria”

As per my promise to serenade you each Thursday night with the contents of my meal, I present you now with a masterwork entitled “(Tonight We Dined At) Osteria” with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by yours truly. The attachment is in mp3 format and should, therefore, be accessible to all of you.

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And, as if that weren’t enough, I also took pictures of the food so as to create a multi-dimensional listening-viewing experience for you all. For maximum effect, view the pictures as their contents are mentioned in the song. This will create a “music video” effect, tricking your brain into thinking you’re watching MTV. If, however, you begin to see visions of Kelly Osbourne afterwards contact a therapist immediately.

1. Caesar Salad

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2. Pasta (with mussels)

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3. Pizza (with mushrooms and proscuttio)

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Lisa and Olives: Round Three

I would now like to take the opportunity to reply to Lisa G’s devastating round two victory in the Great Olive Campaign. I have spent these past few days training with an olive coach who has worked me back into shape, throwing kalamata olives at my head and squirting me with olive oil between practice bouts.

And so now, weighing approximately 3000 olives, comes The Amateur Gourmet for Round Three.

Ding Ding Ding!

(Went the trolley…ring ring ring went the bell…shit, I’ve been foiled by the great Judy Garland psyche out. Snap out of it AG!)

Phew.

Ok, Lisa, here is how you are wrong point by point, olive by olive:

– “I don’t hate olives for the sake of hating olives.” That’s like saying you don’t hate black people for the sake of hating black people. In other words, Lisa G., you are an olive racist. That is particularly inappropriate considering Monday was MLK Day. Do you think MLK hated olives? But seriously, you seem to suggest that your olive-hating is meritorious; that it is a noble pursuit, like Courtney Love hating. Clearly though, despite the 40,000 who “hate olives” on Google, there are plenty of olive lovers in this world. There must be something to it, no?

– “Face it Adam–they are legitimately disgusting….they taste like old socks.” This point is fair but can be likened to both coffee and cheese. With coffee, the taste is bitter at first and requires a cognitive leap from gross to daily ritual. Similarly, many cheeses are off-putting and I will acknowledge my own cheese-phobia, particularly my bleu cheese phobia, and concede that the terms “legitimately disgusting” and “old socks” often come to mind when encountered with a giant chunk of bleau cheese. Yet, the difference is, that I admit that this cheese-phobia is my problem, not a problem with cheese. I know deep in my heart that I am missing out and that slowly edging my way towards cheese acceptance will broaden my palate, increase my tolerance and expose me to many happy meals that I would have otherwise rejected.

– “They aren’t even good for you.¬† Eat too many and you’re sure to grow yourself a spare tire.” Yes, olives are fatty and in large quantities bad for you, but you can say that about many things that are naturally occurring and wonderful–peanuts, for example–and yet would you give up peanuts? What about Peanuts? Charles Schultz is dead, Lisa.

– “Why is it that you encourage their¬†invasion of my salads and pastas and martinis?” Once you have achieved acceptance of the olive–olive Nirvana, perhaps–you will see that their “invasion” is more like a “sacred presence” in salads, pastas, and martinis. Olive lovers grope for olives wherever they see them: plucking them out of other people’s drinks, stacking them on their fingers, and slurping them off like an anteater at an ant farm. Once you hit that point of olive awareness, you will suddenly realize that there’s this whole new element of flavor to enjoy in your daily meal ingestion. I think the nut analogy works well: sure a brownie without nuts tastes fine, but there’s something to be said for the extra component that nuts add to brownies. It’s like a different thing all together and that’s what you’re missing when you heartlessly reject olives.

– “[You] trained yourself to enjoy [olives] so you could be part of the cool (freak) crowd.” I gladly concede this point. I used to be an extreme olive hater; attending olive-hating rallies, participating in olive bashings and gluing a “No Olives” bumper sticker to my car. Then I read this quote in Jeffrey Steingarten’s “The Man Who Ate Everything”: “By design and by destiny, humans are omnivores. Our teeth and digestive systems are all-purpose and ready for anything. Our genes do not dictate what foods we should find tasty or repulsive.” I threw the book across the room, shouted “Eureka!” and ran to my local olive dealer where, after several intense hours, I developed a passion for the olive. It is one of the greatest things I ever did because I began to notice and enjoy olives everywhere. Olive tapenade! Olive paste! Olive deodorant! It was a whole new world.

In conclusion, your olive hatred is self-defeating, sort of like cutting off your nose to spite your face. There are many enjoyable things in life that one must work towards in order to appreciate them: James Joyce, David Lynch, Kelly Rippa. Clearly, your anti-olive campaign is a cop out, and the biggest loser will be yourself. Take this round, for example. Did you lose it? I think so. Who’s the winner? Yours truly, olive eater.

Ding ding ding, went the trolley!!!!

Comment Prompt #2: Favorite Fictional Meal

Ok so from now on comment prompts are purely voluntary, like blood drives, only without the free cookie.

Today I suffered through three hours of class (with two more scheduled from 6 to 8) daydreaming about comment prompts and the like. I found this one to be particularly delicious.

COMMENT PROMPT #2:

WHAT MEAL FROM A MOVIE, BOOK, PLAY, MUSICAL, OR OTHER SUCH FICTIONAL SOURCE WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO PARTAKE IN?

Here are ones that jump immediately to mind:

– The chocolate room in “Willy Wonka.” I always wanted to try that giant mushroom with whipped cream.

– The banquet that the girl has in Europepan Vacation when she’s on the plane and daydreaming and they keep bringing out course after course.

– Oooh, the dinner at the end of “Big Night.” That is such a good movie. And that giant Timpano thingie looks amazing.

Ok, your turn: type away!