I like the smell of smoke on a girl’s cheek. Among so many tired perfumes, hickory’s blue blush is supernatural and alive. Like a shaman shaking herbs over dim coals or a stigghiola vendor dropping hunks of fat into the fire to lure hungry fishermen, the Bleecker Street hustler atomizes pork ribs and deep fried bacon. Smoke is an erotic weapon of mass destruction that demands respect and deliberation.
At the West Village Fatty ‘Cue location, smoke is applied with maximum force. The “Smokin’ Bone,” a mix of bourbon, smoked pineapple, lime, chocolate bitters, and tabasco, is unfair—it is bamboozling, hot and tart and clothed in a bare fringe of ashy fruit. Behind the smoke, there is no firm and fast body to discover. The striptease proceeds ad infinitum. Past the smoke, an aboriginal mask of cactus and numbing darkness; past the mask, another scintillating vestment of cardamom and vanilla. No climax or revelation disrupts the drinking experience—the finish is forever delayed.
Where the “Smokin’ Bone” succeeds, however, a dessert of tamarind and black sesame goes too far. After cocktails and savories, an urn arrives at the table. The waiter flings the lid aside to reveal a gaping hole gasping smoke. A cloud of noxious fumes issues forth like tobacco from Queequeg’s tomahawk. Ishmael and his cannibal bedfellow “passed the Tomahawk from one to the other, till slowly there grew over [them] a blue hanging tester of smoke, illuminated by the flame of the new-lit lamp.” Whereas Ishmael revels in the erotics of his newfound friendship, I found the smoke oppressive and decidedly unsexy. Underneath the haze, a layer of tamarind pudding hides the grotesque body: a clutch of sesame flavored tapioca balls, big as marbles and slippery and gelatinous. Eating this dessert is like exploring a tauntaun’s steaming intestines. It is an alien and nauseating experience. I cannot help but think of Jonathan Swift’s excremental poems, in which the erotics of undressing become radically perverted. Consider Swift’s vision of “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed”—she:
Takes off her artificial Hair:
Now, picking out a Chrystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Her Eye-brows from a Mouse’s Hyde,
Stuck on with Art on either Side,
Pulls off with Care, and first display’s em.
Then in a Play-book smoothly lays ‘em.
Now, dexterously her Plumpers draws,
That serve to fill her hollow Jaws.
Untwists a Wire; and from her Gums
A Set of Teeth completely comes.
And so forth—off with her clothes and her prosthetics, stripping down to syphilitic sores. Even as smoke can be an evocative and provocative ingredient, its excessive application in unfamiliar contexts risks unlacing the stays of aesthetic convention. Introducing smoke where it does not belong degrades a dish to farce and threatens its tenability as an edible object.