Wednesday Wade-Through: March 3, 2004

Indeed, I have been slack in my promise to bring you the best and the brightest from the Wednesday Food Day food sections that I gleefully read through each and every week. But slack I shall be no more. Here are the articles / columns / reviews I found noteworthy from today’s food sections:

1. Amanda Hessler reviews Hearth today in The New York Times and gives it two stars. While her review did not, necessarily, motivate me to my phone in order to make a reservation for Spring Break (I leave tomorrow!), I found these two quotes particularly funny:

“A dish of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, direct from Craft, could not be better. The mushrooms are roasted and served on a solitary white plate. Have your fork ready when they arrive; even good friends will betray you.”

“The main walls are covered with thick panels of white felt, affixed with gigantic copper staples. They look like big bandages, actually. Big cozy bandages. Just like home, if you live in an infirmary.”

2. NYT Dining Corrections: “A picture caption last Wednesday with an article about chefs who salt meats in advance of cooking, sometimes days ahead, misidentified the cook shown at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. She was Alyssa Peddy, a line cook, not Judy Rodgers, the chef.” [I think it’s funny that they felt the need to add “sometimes days ahead” as if that were relevant to the correction.]

3. NYC Eats does its usual helpful Review Roundup. Today, featuring: Chestnut, Geisha, Bivio, Les Enfants Terrible, Asiate, Natchez, Tapajos River Steak House.

4. If you like cheese (and who doesn’t?) (oh wait, me and my entire family) (but I’m working on it!), check out Clotilde’s post at Chocolate and Zucchini on

the Salon du Fromage. (I don’t speak French, but I believe that translates as: Hairdresser of Cheese).

5. And the AJC doesn’t seem to have anything new up in its Restaurant section today, but check out John Kessler’s review of Blais from last week. He gives it 3 stars which is definitely unusually high for the normally star-stingy Kessler. (Which doesn’t mean Kessler has bad taste. In fact, I don’t mean to brag, but a certain someone–ahem–may have received a certain e-mail from a certain food critic involving a certain lunch invitation and a certain article/profile to follow. That’s all I can say at this time).

And that’s certainly all for today’s Wednesday wade-through.

On Ketchup

Tonight at karaoke (Tuesday night is karaoke night), I asked my friend Andrew–who is a waiter–the following question:

“Andrew-Who-Is-A-Waiter,” I began, “what is the grossest thing about the restaurant business that most people don’t know about?”

Andrew didn’t pause. He said: “Ketchup.”

I looked at him with slight confusion. “Forgive my look of slight confusion,” I said, “but why ketchup?”

“Well,” he responded, “when we close up we ‘marry’ the ketchup.”

“You marry the ketchup?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes,” he answered. “We take all the ketchup and put it in this big carton. And then we redistribute it the next day. So it’s really gross–it’s like this ketchup from God knows when all combined in this big box that keeps getting recycled over and over.”

“That is gross,” I agreed.

Someone began singing “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie.”

“Thank you for sharing,” I concluded.

“No problem,” said Andrew.

On Napkins

It’s my grandmother’s fault.

Back in the day, we would go to Wendy’s and she would say: “go get us some napkins.” I would come back with two or three and she’d say: “No, no, no! Here, let me show you.” She’d hold my hand and lead me over to the napkin dispenser. “Like this,” she’d say, sticking her fingers deep inside and yanking out 40 or 50 napkins. “That’s how we do it.”

“But grandma, we don’t need all those napkins,” I’d say.

“We need ’em, don’t worry about it,” she’d reply.

And so, when some environmental committee comes beating down my door for reckless napkin consumption I will point the finger at my grandmother, floating on her sea of napkins in Delray Beach, Florida. For to this day, I still yank a handful of napkins out each time I get napkins from a napkin dispenser. I’m a creature of habit, and this is one of my worst.

I try to relegate my need to yank out large quantities of napkins by yanking them out, leaving the pile on top of the dispenser, and only taking a few. But this is still morally questionable since most likely the next napkin user will not collect napkins that have been previously yanked, but will, indeed yank their own.

Oh, grandma, what have you done to me? I’ll never know the joys of a single napkin yank. I’ll never eat a guiltless meal, staring at the stack of napkins I have exposed, unused, to the world. How cursed is my fate.

My First Quesadilla

This past summer, I worked at a law firm in Los Angeles. One day, all the interns (myself included) went to have Mexican food for lunch. To better inform the story, here is a brief synopsis of my Mexican food experience up to that point:

1. When I was 8, my parents took us to a cowboy themed restaurant in Colorado. There was a show with high-divers and a video arcade. The food was Mexican: tacos and enchiladas. My brother and I stared at our plates dumbfounded. My mother said: “Don’t worry, boys, you don’t have to eat it. We’ll get hamburgers after the show.”

2. When I was 16, I went with my friends to Taco Bell. I had tacos with meat and crunchy cinnamon sticks.

3. When I started Emory, everyone went to Tortilla’s on Ponce. I went with them. They ordered burritos. I ordered a burrito. They loved it. I hated it.

4. As time progressed, burritos were unavoidable. I went with friends to Willy’s and eventually Moe’s. One day I would compose not one but two songs about my experiences. The songs, though, came after my summer internship. Excluding the songs, then, this was the extent of my Mexican food awareness.

We sat down at a large table. Someone ordered pitchers of margaritas. (Lawyers like to drink at lunch). I eventually leaned over to a fellow intern.

“What are you having?” I asked sweetly.

“A tamale,” he answered matter-of-factly.

“What’s a tamale?” I replied.

A siren began to blare.

“WHAT’S A TAMLE!” He leaped out of his seat. “OH MY GOD! ADAM DOESN’T KNOW WHAT A TAMALE IS!”

The interns began cackling with furious laughter.

“HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHAT A TAMALE IS? WHERE ARE YOU FROM? QUEBEC?!”

“Actually,” I mumbled, “Atlanta.”

“DO THEY NOT HAVE TAMALES IN ATLANTA? IS IT ALL FRIED CHICKEN AND COLLARD GREENS?”

“Now look here,” I responded with righteous indignation. “First of all, stop speaking in all caps. And second of all, Atlanta is a cultural haven with all sorts of authentic ethnic food, including Mexican. I was just raised in a gastronomically ethno-exclusive household. Our food repertoire was very limited. And my dad hates cheese.”

The interns were unimpressed. I sank back in my chair. I ordered a taco.

I now know–or at least I think I know–what a tamale is. I have also, I’ll have them know (a) made guacamole in pitch black darkness (see Blackout post); (b) attempted to fry my own tortilla chips; and (c) watched “Frida” starring Salma Hayek on DVD. Satisfied?

Tonight, though, I leaped far ahead in my quest for Mexican self-respect. At Moe’s, where I needed to grab a quick dinner, I decided to forego my usual Triple Lindy burrito and to go where no proud Roberts Family member has ever gone. I ordered a Quesadilla.

“Black beans and chicken?” asked the Quesadilla chef.

“Yes, please.”

“Sour cream and salsa on the side?”

“Sure,” I responded.

He then leaned over the counter, his eyes darkening.

“I know who you are,” he said.

I looked around me nervously.

“You are the man who doesn’t know what a Tamale is.”

I turned red. “News travels fast.”

He pulled back and slapped the beans on my Quesadilla with an unsettling thrust. He threw my Quesadilla on the grill and I watched the cheese and beans bubble and sizzle.

So when it was all said and done, what did I think?

To be honest, I liked it. It was perfect. Not as filling as a burrito, but not so light as to be insubstantial. Reasonably priced, flavorful and easy to eat: I am a Quesadilla convert.

I left, kicking my heels, proud of my new step towards self-improvement. Just as I opened the door, someone threw a tamale at my head.

I swung around. A tumbleweed drifted past. The theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” played.

“Adios, Tamale man,” said the Quesadilla maker.

“We’ll meet again,” I said, in my best John Wayne voice, wiping the tamale from my head. “What’s in this anyway? Corn?”

“CORN!”

A throng of protesters began to chase me, but that’s another story. Til later, buckaroo, happy trails.

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Corn Eaters March on the Capitol

ATLANTA, GA–(AP)

The Gay Corn Eaters of Georgia marched on the Capitol today, chanting “We Shall All Eat Corn” and other rousing spirituals. They were met by the Anti-Gay-Cornists who wielded Bibles and posters espousing anti-gay-corn-eating rhetoric.

One of the Anti-Gay-Cornists, PJ Owens, held a sign saying: “Homo Sex is a Sin.”

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“What does that have to do with corn?” asked a leery spectator.

“Well,” mumbled PJ, “it’s like corn is phallic right? And if a man eats something phallic that’s homo sex, right? Well that’s a sin.”

Others met on the steps of the capital and attempted to reconcile their differences with discourse.

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“I don’t belive in cornohomophobia,” said a woman with a pink sweater with an unhappy looking daughter.

“I think that’s just the media trying to brainwash the public.”

A man in a white t-shirt responded: “But that’s easy for you to say, you can eat corn. We can’t.”

The woman shook her head.

“I just think the family is sacred,” she declared, “and if we let gays eat corn we’ll soil the fabric of our society.” She then smacked a cob from the hands of her daughter, Ida Mae, lamenting: “Ida Mae if you eat that cob you’re gonna be fat! Mommy doesn’t love a fatty!”

In another corner, three Baptist preachers held colorful signs kindly suggesting that gays not eat corn.

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“I now pronounce you pervert and pervert!” read one sign.

“What does that have to do with corn?” asked a leery spectator.

“Corn eating is like marriage,” explained the preacher. “And a gay and a cob who unite in sin are perverts.”

Other signs quoted Leviticus: “Thou shalt not eat corn with mankind as one eats corn with womankind. It is abomination.”

“What about polenta?” shouted Connie Chung from a helicopter.

“No,” the preachers responded, “that’s a sin too.”

The Gay Corn Eaters and Anti-Gay-Cornists butted heads on almost every issue except one. This guy, most certainly, should not be allowed to eat corn.

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END COPY

Dressing Strawberries For The Oscars

Nominated for their work in the film “Lost in Digestion,” a tub of strawberries knocked on my door tonight and asked me to dress them.

“Look we don’t have a lot of time,” said the lead strawberry, “what can you do for us?”

I carried them over to the sink for a quick evaluation.

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“I see chocolate,” I said, huskily. “Dark chocolate…no! Bittersweet.”

“I like bittersweet,” said another strawberry.

“I’m sorry, maybe I should let you dress yourself!”

“Sorry,” said the strawberry.

“Good,” I snapped. “Now let’s get to it.”

I dropped a block of bittersweet chocolate on a cutting board.

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“The darkness of the chocolate will compliment your natural skin tones,” I explained. “Will you be wearing makeup?”

“No,” said the lead strawberry.

“Smart,” I said, as I began chopping the chocolate.

I quickly dropped the chocolate in a bowl on top of a double boiler.

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“Melt God damn it!”

“Is this guy nuts?” I heard a strawberry whisper.

I swung around: “Who said that?”

The strawberries were silent.

“I thought so,” I said, swinging back.

The chocolate was melted:

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“Ok guys,” I said. “Now you want to look good, right?”

The strawberries nodded.

“Well looking good ain’t easy,” I said carefully. “No pain no gain.”

“Uh oh,” said a strawberry.

“Now I’m not gonna lie,” I said. “This chocolate’s hot. Some might say scalding hot. But just think of it like a really hot, really chocolatey hot tub. Who’s first?

The dipping went smoothly. Not one scream. In fact, after it was over the strawberries didn’t say anything at all.

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“Ok guys,” I said. “The hard part’s over.”

Silence.

“Now for the fun!” I cheered. “Who loves buttons and bow ties!”

I chopped up some white chocolate and melted it.

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“Who’s first?” I asked.

The strawberries were eerily quiet.

“Very well,” I said. I picked up two strawberries and dressed them.

They fell flat on the plate, arms crossed over their chests.

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“Adorable!” I sang. Somewhere, in the distance, a funeral dirge played.

A knock at the door. It was the strawberry limo driver.

“Just a sec,” I said.

“What’s that smell?” asked the driver.

“Chocolate,” I said.

“No it ain’t,” he said. “It smells like dead strawberry.”

He picked up his strawberry cell phone. “We’re gonna need a hearse,” I heard him say.

Pretty soon the cops came. They started asking questions. Then the media. Then Joan Rivers.

“Where’s the strawberries?” she brayed, pushing her way through.

She found them stacked in their mass grave.

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“You look gorgeous!” she said to them. “Who’s your mortician?”

I snuck out to an Oscar party, wiping the strawberry juice from my hands. Mel Gibson saw me and told me he wanted to work with me on his next project, “The Passion Fruit.” I politely refused and told him he’d look great in chocolate. Bittersweet.