From The Notebooks of The Amateur Gourmet

Since today’s food consumption was categorically uninteresting, I will now plunge the depths of my pocket Moleskin notebook to share with you some entries regarding food. Surprisingly, there are many. I will just share some and do more on another uninteresting eating day.

On Mayonnaise [2-28-03]

“Mayonnaise, in my opinion, is perhaps the most grotesque condiment and overall foodstuff to be eaten poorly. As I struggled just now with my sandwich, there were moments of oozing mayonnaise which, to any inadvertent bystander, might cause intense disgust, and rightfully so.”

On The Chez Panisse Cookbook [5/4/03]

“I think my disappointment with the Chez Panisse cookbook has to do with an innate lack of subtlety in my genetic whirlpool. We are garish and gaudy and proud of it. There is glory in glitter, I say, and Chez Panisse says no: the joy is in the simple things. Simple food prepared simply. This–the preface suggests–is not a way of life, it is THE way of life. It reminds me of a Melville quote I used to have on my wall that said something like: ‘Why must we enlarge our mind–subtilize it.’ I think the chaotic clamor of an unsubtle brain has its rewards too. I liken it to a money machine on a game show–yes, those are mostly 1st and 5s whipping past your face, but there are also 50s and 00s and its all the more thrilling to catch them in the chaos than to let them fall to the floor, sifting through them systematically. I would rather eat daring adventurous combinations of food than one thing prepared really well. Perhaps I’m overdramatizing. This might be a cultural thing too. Look at Judith Nathan’s Jewish cookbook, though, and you’ll be hardpressed to find great exercises in subtlety. What would noodle kugel or brisket in Coco-Cola have to say to Alice Waters? Well, I’m also probably missing her point. She emphasizes the freshest of ingredients and that, I suppose, is commendable. It all just seems incredibly stripped of culture and meaning and all the reasons I turned to the culinary world in the first place.”

On The Sugarplum Bakery from My Summer in Los Angeles [7/12/03]

The time has come to write about The Sugarplum Bakery. This is surely my favorite Los Angeles discovery–thanks to Chowhound–and it’s one of the few places I’ll miss when I’m back in Atlanta. Here, people stare in awe at the exquisite desserts displayed like the crown jewels of England. The chocolate dipped strawberries have a gold polish, the white chocolate cake looks like descended from heaven on a cloud. The whole place has the feel and comfort of a local bakery but one that has been taken over by a four star hotel. The clients are quirky and the owners are two jovial welcoming women who oversee all goings on. The walls are a subtle beige with three framed mirrors in the back and a Hopperesque painting of a forlorn woman, probably frustrated that oil figures on canvas are rarely fed pastries. But the most striking space in this already striking space is the bathroom. No other bathroom in the world fills you with such gladness and calm: it smells like sugar cookies. This is a true achievement. Considering the olfactory competition, one might think smell is not the selling point to go for when making a Sugarplum bathroom. But smell is what lures you in and the space itself is square, dimly lit, and charming. When you return from your business, grab a seat on the comfy, cushy wall couch in the back and do whatever it is you do. I’m about to read and hopefully, soon, I’ll have to go to the bathroom.” [Editors Note: How strangely scatalogical.]

On Fauchon, NYC, 77th & Madison [7/29/03]

“Sent here for the blood orange smoothie (from Chowhound) and, interestingly enough, they don’t make smoothies here. Never have. Instead, though, they make gelato (or is it sorbet?). Whatever it is, I’m eating a delicious mix of blood orange and passion fruit. It is absolutely delicious. The atmosphere is a little hoighty-toity, but not necessarily in a bad way. The back room, where I’m sitting, is lined with shelves of jams, teas, spices, oils and wines. ‘We have 1300 different types of products,’ I overhear a gritty voice say on the phone. The flavors here are probably what make this place great. My sorbet choices were tame compared to Curry Mango, Rose Petal, and Strawberry Basil. French music plays overhead.”

On Lunch at The Union Square Cafe’s Counter [8/4/03]

The counter here is incredibly welcoming. In the city of anonymity, the bar servers give you privacy you may desire. Louis Armstrong sings overhead and a bowl of olives accompany a generous basket of bread. I order the USC burger, often cited as the best in the city. Choosing between bacon and cheese–two paths towards non-Kosher heathenism–I choose bacon. The iced tea, in the meantime, is perfectly refreshing and frequently refilled. When the burger arrives, I admire its distinctiveness. This burger requires no lettuce or tomato, and none are given. Its fleshy mount sits proudly on its perfectly formed bun. The bacon lounges across it so relaxed, one can hear it say: “Go ahead, I dare you.” I pour a minimal amount of ketchup on and cut the burger in half. Juices squeeze out and a buff of burger heat scorches my face. I then suffer through what is–quite sadly–the worst first bite in my burger eating history. As a gush of new customers line the doorway watching, and nosy waiters linger, I guide the gleaming mass towards my mouth and bite. Juices spill out and my teeth get caught on unchewable slabs of spiteful bacon. Glaring eyes take in the horror as I use my finger to pry the bacon from my teeth and sever the ‘best burger in New York’ from my mouth. When that finally happens I stare down at my plate in terror. Recouping my losses, I remove the bacon and attempt bite number two. Ahh, here we are. The fries are delectable. The trauma of that first bite dissolves into the pleasure of a great burger and great fries. When its taken away, I lose the battle to forget dessert, ordering the special: peach raspberry cobbler cake. (Time passes). Ok, I’m going to Hell. That dessert ensured it. A beautiful tiny ceramic cobbler holder encases cake, raspberries, peaches, and a crummy (in a good way) top. Buttermilk ice cream floats on top and–perhaps significantly–it begins to rain. This is a sun shower and it ends quickly. ‘More coffee?’ Sigh. Ok.”

Overheard at San Francisco Coffee [8/19/03]

“If it weren’t for coffee shops, most alcoholics wouldn’t have a place to go.”

Overheard at Dunkin’ Donuts [10/6/03]

“Because when you’re drunk you’re anasthetic.”

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