2004 is come to an end. Less important media outlets cover things like “The Year in News” or “The Year in Movies.” This media outlet encourages you to stick your fingers in a socket as we take a quick look at: THE YEAR IN FOOD: (aka, Food’s Greatest Moments, 2004)
[Warning: This list is composed entirely off the top of my head moments before I leave for a New Year’s party.]
I had a cup of water ready and was prepared for the worst. But this time it actually tasted good. Maybe it needed a few days to find its inner chi. Whatever it found, I enjoyed this cookie today. My friend Alex is coming to visit tonight, and maybe she will try one and declare a verdict.
We now return to your regularly scheduled program.
Let’s start with the ending. The ending looks like this:
This is Nancy Silverton’s “Not Nutter Butter.” It is supposed to resemble a Nutter Butter but taste better. As you can see, it looks nothing like a Nutter Butter. And as for taste, I think Liz said it best when she said: “I think I’m going to throw up.” Lisa refused to eat one. And Kevan, who came over to try a cookie, took a bite and put it down and politely asked for water.
I contend that eating this cookie without a glass of water nearby would kill you. The title of this post is “paste and sand” and that’s being nice. Just looking at these cookies on my counter makes me choke. How did something that looked so delicious on the page come out so terrible?
I mean look—it begins with the toasting of rolled oats with a stick of butter and a vanilla bean:
How does a recipe that starts with such promise turn out so bad?
The answer may lie in the remaining ingredients, or lack thereof. It’s more butter, peanut butter, sugar, brown sugar and flour. Notice anything missing? Anything like eggs or melted butter or any form of liquid? That’s because there is none. And then you add the toasted oats. And the mixture is a huge mass of crumbles. Nancy says it’s supposed to work itself into a ball, but it never did. We made little crumbly balls and put them on the cookie sheet and baked them and they came out like this:
And they were so dry, but the dryness was tasty, but still very dry.
Then Lisa and Liz made the peanut butter filling. It consisted of peanut butter, powdered sugar and salt. They spread them on the cookies and made little Not Nutter Butter sandwiches:
They look happy and excited but those expressions mask their inner Aristotelian feelings of pity and fear. Putting peanut butter icing on a dry cookie is like picking a scab or, to quote Billy Crystal in the Princess Bride: “Giving yourself a paper cut and pouring lemon juice on it.”
These cookies were awful. Don’t make them.
[PS: Why do I keep making Nancy Silverton recipes if they keep coming out so badly? I must stop. Those books must be retired. She’s dead to me now… do you hear me? Dead!]
Lisa, long ago, told me a tale of her mother and her going to lunch near her office. Her mother wanted to go somewhere with a waiter, so they stumbled into an Asian restaurant that served an $18 salad.
“An $18 salad!” declared Lisa. “That is outrageous!”
But her mother persisted. They both ordered one. Lisa was nervous.
Afterwards, Lisa contacted me and told me it was “the best salad ever.” Or something on that order. She loved that salad. She worshipped that salad. She spent nights quivering with sorrow and sadness that she’d never eat that salad again.
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But she did speak very highly of that salad. And yesterday, I decided to meet Lisa for lunch near her office.
“Well,” she said, “we can go to this sandwich place or go to this salad place. They’re not fancy but they’re warm and they have seating.”
I processed this information and responded thusly: “What about that salad place you went to with your mom?”
“ADAM!” screamed Lisa. “THOSE SALADS COST $18!!!”
There was a pause.
“Well, I know,” I said. “That is very expensive. But I run an internationally renowned food website called The Amateur Gourmet and I’m sure my readers would love to hear about this $18 salad. Plus, grandma gave me Hannukah money and I can treat.”
She processed this information.
“Well,” she said, but appeared nervous. What if I take him there and he doesn’t like the salad, her thoughts seemed to read.
But there we went. It was called Soba Nippon. Here’s a picture:
In we went and got our menus. There, smack in the middle on the left side, was the $18 salad. There was $18 salad with tofu and $18 salad with chicken. Lisa ordered the former and I ordered the latter.
The waitress brought us “free” Miso soup. (Well, “free” except that the salad cost $18, so it evened out.)
Here is Lisa enjoying her soup:
I enjoyed the soup too, it being -8000 degrees yesterday. And the bowl was deceptive—it looked like it held just a little soup, but there was lots and lots of soup in it.
“Save room for your $18 salad,” warned Lisa. (Ok, she didn’t really say that—but I’m building dramatic tension.)
Then a large cymbal crash and our bowls were taken away and a gong sounded and our $18 salads were placed down before us.
Looks terrific, no? But worth $18?
I tasted. It was terrific. The dressing had a gingery mustardy kick. The balance of flavors was awesome: carrots, lettuce, chicken, some black dried substance and then beneath it all soba noodles. The soba noodles are made in-house and are what Soba Nippon is famous for.
“So? So?” begged Lisa.
“Well,” I said, “I am really enjoying this salad.”
I was really enjoying this salad.
I kept eating and eating as the time wiled away. So did she.
“You have to finish it,” she pushed. “It’s an $18 salad.”
So I kept eating untnil it was gone. Then the check came. Both salads cost–GASP!–$18.
“Lisa,” I said confidentially, “you and I are friends, right?”
“Yes,” she said nervously.
“So I can be honest with you?”
“Yes,” she said, thoughtfully. “Yes you can.”
“I really enjyoed that salad–” I started.
“But it’s not worth $18,” she finished.
“No, I don’t think it is.”
A pause for reflection.
“Are you sad you came here?” she sniffled.
“No, no!” I said, “I am really glad I came here! I mean I really enjoyed my salad and this whole experience. I’ll never forget it. I just don’t think I’ll come here again.”
Lisa nodded. “I agree, Adam,” she said. “No salad is worth $18.”
And that sentiment, my friends, concludes our narrative.
I went on a date the other night (yes, a date–woohoo!) and we went to Diner 22 (I think that’s what it’s called—I’m trying to google it, but nothing’s coming up. Maybe it wasn’t called that. I think it’s owned by Jean-Georges and I know it’s on 8th Ave.) Anyway, this place has diner food made with surprising gourmet flair. For example my meatloaf is made of duck legs:
“Duck legs? Eww,” said my date.
My date is very judgmental when it comes to duck legs in your meatloaf.
But the duck leg meatloaf was delicious*, if a bit too rich. I ate 3/4s of it and felt full. We went on to see “The Phantom of the Opera” which was outrageously bad, but in a fun way. And please, if you know what’s good for you, read Anthony Lane’s review of it in The New Yorker. It’s hysterical.
* I need to stop using the word delicious. It’s too easy—and doesn’t really tell you anything. FROM THIS DAY FORTH I SHALL NEVER USE THE WORD DELICIOUS AGAIN. Except where appropriate. Like in reviewing meatloaf.
Andrea wants to know. She wants to give your Secret Santa book provider person a little nudge. So come here and vent: did you expect a book and not get one? Hmmm. (I haven’t heard yet from my secret santa person as to whether or not she got the books (YES I SENT MORE THAN ONE) yet.) Anyway, let us know!
And then there’s the lunch I had with mom last Wednesday at Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach…
Culturally, West Palm Beach can be hilarious, if a bit disturbing. Take this outfit, for example:
Hilarious, yes. And a bit disturbing, no? That’s West Palm Beach. (I snapped that picture from our table and I’m quite proud of it. I even used Photoshop just now to cut out the man’s face, in case he’s a site reader. If you are a site reader, orange looks great on you.)
Before we get to the food, there’s other hilarious and disturbing phenomena. For example, these two ladies sat at a table with their two giant poodles. They let the poodles roam around the restaurant, as you can see here:
Hilarious? Maybe. Disturbing? Possibly.
But that’s not the end of it. Here’s the end of it: these two ladies ordered food for their dogs from the kitchen. Yes, the KITCHEN at Cafe Boulud cooked gourmet dog food for these rich ladies’ dogs. You can see it being set down here:
To quote my law school days, “Res Ipsa Loquitur.” (The thing speaks for itself.)
And now for the food. Table settings, please:
The food at Cafe Boulud is remarkable. It’s sophisticated and earthy—two qualities you rarely see in Florida cooking. For example, take this cold fennel soup:
It was fresh and refreshing and seasonal and captured the mood of the day perfectly. (It was overcast and still a bit chilly.)
That soup was ordered by me, mom ordered pate and quickly regretted it because it scared her. Would this scare you?
A few years ago, it would have scared me too. But I traded with mom–gave her my soup–and ate the pate cautiously.
What a great fusion of flavors. You take bits of brioche toast, put grainy mustard on it (which you can see on the plate) and then cut some pate on to it. The pate had pistachios in at and bacon wrapped around it and tasted rich and savory and utterly decadent. (Yes, I just wrote “utterly decadent”–you can smack me now.) But it was insanely terrific: best thing I ate in Florida the whole week (with the exception of what I cooked.)
And then the entrees (this was a fixed price lunch, by the way, we don’t normally order this much food): (Actually, yes we do):
This was sea bass prepared elegantly. I enjoyed it, but it’s not something that will haunt my dreams. (Imagine if sea bass DID haunt your dreams? Freud would say you were craving a return to the womb. Or something like that.)
But then dessert. Ah, dessert. I love dessert. And I LOVED the dessert I had at Cafe Boulud:
I forget the exact details, but it was yuzu (which I’ve never had) soup and sorbet with chopped pineapple and it was UH UH UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
Sorry, I just had an orgasm remembering it. It was THAT good. (And actually it taught me a valuable lesson about food: the pineapple (I think that was pineapple beneath the sorbet) was all uniformly chopped and arranged and that made all the difference. In other words, the texture component matters as much as the flavor component.)
Mom had bread pudding:
I tried it. It was good. But it was no yuzu.
And that, my friends, was lunch at Cafe Boulud. If you have poodles and an orange sweater set and you live in West Palm Beach, now you know where to eat…
Last week–or was it two weeks ago–on the Thursday after classes ended (the 16th) I met Kirk and James in Brooklyn to eat dinner before we got sloshy at Colin’s bar, Floyd. (Sorry for all this name dropping—but it’s ok to drop names when no one knows who you’re talking about.)
So Kirk recommended we go to “Chip Shop”–a bastion of British food near where he lives (and I think he lives in Williamsburg, but now that I think about it I think he lives in Park Slope. I’m what they call an unreliable narrator.)
Having lived in England for a summer, (I studied Shakespeare and British Theater at Oxford the summer after my junior year in college), the idea repulsed me. I HATE British food. Honestly, the food at Oxford was so bad I had to go to Starbucks (yes even then I was going to Starbucks) to buy sandwiches. SANDWICHES at Starbucks–that’s how bad.
But, then again, there was fish and chips. And that’s what Chip Shop serves–fish and chips and curries. So I ordered fish and chips: cod and fries, that came out thusly:
(Photos by James Felder. Fish by Chip Shop.)
The fish and chips were great. The malt vinegar on the table helped. James told a story of how he used to go to A Salt and Battery (which, James concluded, had inferior fish and chips to Chip Shop) and got headaches after using their malt vinegar. The staff there seemed to acknowledge a relationship between headaches and their malt vinegar. Chip Shop’s malt vinegar did not induce headaches, but it did induce labor. I had a little boy and his name is Rodolfo.
For dessert, the three of us shared treacle pudding:
James kvelled over this and I really enjoyed it. It was a warm cream vanilla sauce over a cakey puddingy mound. To quote the Barefoot Contessa: “How bad could that be?” (Actually, I hate it when the Barefoot Contessa says that, but I have a malt vinegar headache.)
And that, mates, was our meal at Chip Shop. Next time you’re in the neighborhood (whatever neighborhood it ends up being in) check it out. Chip S(hop) Ahoy!)