by Eliana Parnas, University of Iowa
When my boyfriend first suggested we see a movie called The Sound of Noise at our local, student-run movie theater, I audibly scoffed. I imagined a movie whose content was as seemingly redundant as its title. However, after showing me the trailer on his phone (whose internet capabilities far exceed those of my T-Mobile free upgrade), John had me “abso-freakin’ pumped!” for a night of musical terrorism served up Swedish style. Continue reading
Little Italy has not been a good place to eat, at least in recent memory. The encroachment of Chinatown on Italian territory, rising rents, dying families, and changing immigration patterns set an expiration date on the neighborhood. As classic restaurants closed up shop, only the most vulgar and bawdy tourist destinations survived. Those palaces of forgetfulness prostituted themselves to the lowest bidders—cheap spaghetti in canned red sauce? Louche lasagna, too sweet with cottage cheese? Floozy pasta e fagioli? All for sale on Mulberry Street. Although many tourist traps maintained a pretense of earnestness until the end of red sauce seemed inevitable, the best restaurants, the dim leather salons and family kitchens where regular customers kept the food honest, disappeared long before the neighborhood’s current decline. Today, however, hipster aesthetics have inflected mainstream consumer preferences. It’s hip to be square. So red sauce is back, baby, in all its kitschy glory. For be not mistaken, hipster isn’t campy. The aestheticization of lower middle class custom and culture does not transform life into style. Ordinary experience fails to and perhaps cannot achieve transcendental aesthetic value. Instead, the supposed disclosure of aesthetic value in ordinariness is a patronizing power play, an attempt to appropriate, rehearse, and eventually perform class difference as social fetish. Hipster red sauce cooking, alias Torrisi Italian Specialties, is the latest incarnation of an old school bourgeois impulse: “slumming it.” Continue reading
Never season another man’s collard greens. It’s bad manners and a bit emasculating. When a bowl of collards comes smothered in hot sauce—as it does at Pies ‘n’ Thighs, a boho Brooklyn salon serving fried chicken and stroller moms—it insults the vegetable and the diner. I, for one, know how I like my greens: cooked to a soft knot, smoky and haunted with bitterness, a sweet tingle, sour bushes scrabbling through sand and clay. The taste of good potlikker, born from that struggle, resonates in my stomach like a sympathetic vibration; it boils up my esophagus and lodges somewhere near my heart, a rumbling stroke of thunder without rain. That is not to say collards should come unsalted, unpeppered, or bland—again, as they do at Pies ‘n’ Thighs. I just don’t want my vegetables dressed like Buffalo wings. I see’est thou poised with thine sauce, but restrain thy hand. Be not so presumptuous. Continue reading
Zach Bell, Yale University
When the dining halls at Yale serve chicken tenders, everyone smiles a little bit brighter. Eyes shine, brimming with tears as the YDN reports that yes, it is indeed “Chicken Tenders Day.” With chicken themed stories landing on the front page, hand breaded tenders have transcended their fleshy prisons into myth, manna from above. Students have even created a website notifying inquiring students about the dining halls’ tender supply.
Despite Yale’s deified tenders, I wondered whether there was a whole world of chicken yet to be explored. “Blasphemy!” they told me. “You’ll never get out of this town.” Yet, I had to try. On my longer runs I enter Hamden, a town north of New Haven. I run past schools, hardware stores, and kids on bicycles. I glance briefly at road food establishments like Glenwood, wishing I could eat a lobster roll and run six miles back to Yale with no gastrointestinal distress.
I feel compelled to comment on Jin Ramen, a new restaurant located between Tiemann Place and 125th Street on Broadway. Although I have become disenchanted with the generic conventions of “restaurant reviewing,” I would like to offer a few notes on my experience at this addition to the Columbia family. The take-away: Jin Ramen is not nearly as wonderful as its downtown competitors—Ippudo, Totto Ramen, etc.—but its the best we Columbians have. Continue reading
I spent most of my evening at Ai Fiori looking out the window at Burger King.
Ai Fiori is an Italian restaurant on the second floor of the Setai Hotel off Fifth Avenue. Michael White, the chef, hails from Wisconsin and cooks with a Midwestern sensibility: he has a heavy hand with pork fat. New York Post critic Steve Cuozzo called White’s lobster with white wine sauce “the greatest dish in the world.” I did not order it.
Instead, I started with scallops and celery root, seafood and vegetable sliced symmetrically, both nestled in a bone split lengthwise and slathered with melted marrow. After eating half the serving—and finishing my cocktail, a rare treat now that I am legal and ‘ready to party’—I felt full. It would be a long and distended meal, pregnant with butter—my belly swollen, sore and satisfied. Continue reading
Jonathan May, Dartmouth College
Having learned of my passion for food, my new friend asked for my thoughts on the best restaurants in New York City, where I reside. At the time, I was unable to give a definite answer, and my friend was baffled by my inability to do so. As a college student, I am a foodie on a limited budget. I am not fortunate enough to have the kind of wealth that allows me to experience world-renowned establishments like those in Columbus Circle. Without having tried enough restaurants, expensive or affordable, I was uncomfortable giving a hardly thorough opinion that ought to represent my vision and taste. However, I do believe that not all good food is expensive. I know for a fact that there exist hidden gems that offer superior flavor, creativity, effort and sincerity at affordable prices. It is discovering these establishments and sharing them with my friends and audience that continually drives my passion for food writing.
When I was 15, I desperately wanted to be gourmet. I read Michael Ruhlman’s books like fantasy novels, plumbed the depths of MFK Fisher and Waverly Root, and took over the kitchen to prepare elaborate family dinners. Gourmet was my bible, my textbook, my travel guide, my daily devotional; one Thanksgiving, inspired by a Gourmet recipe, I proposed an alternative turkey stuffing, something fancier than my dad’s usual stovetop invention. Met with firm resistance, I surrendered, shamed at my affectations of sophistication and snobbery. “Discerning, not discriminating,” became my mantra after that Thanksgiving fiasco, and I continue to consume high and low without preference or moral judgment.
Besides an interest in pretentious cooking, my 15-year-old-self expressed a fascination with fine dining. After pouring over Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef four times, I fell in love with The French Laundry. Ruhlman describes The French Laundry Experience in mystical terms; Thomas Keller figures as a demigod, a Zen master, a new philosopher for the modern cook. I incorporated Keller’s maxims into my daily life; I sought to emulate his “sense of urgency,” to pursue perfection in every movement. A family vacation to San Francisco offered an opportunity for pilgrimage, and my parents agreed to a Yountville day trip with enthusiasm. Continue reading