In my final column of the semester, I take on Mister Softee. Here are my notes to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mister Softee”: Continue reading
Tag Archives: Reviews
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
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 traveled an hour and a half for lunch, which seems insane until you consider my destination: Neerob, New York’s most famous Bangladeshi restaurant. As Dave Cook writes in his review for the Times, “good Bangladeshi cooking is hard to come by in New York.” Switching from the 1 to the 2 to the S to the 6 (Parkchester Local) to the 6 (Pelham Bay Local) is, in my estimation, a fair price for an exceptional meal. I convinced two friends to come along; I studied Serious Eats, Chowhound, and the other relevant scholarship on Mohammed Rahman’s cooking; I bundled up in a barely heated subway car and read graffiti on abandoned auto shops, eavesdropped on audio backwash, scraped gum off my shoe and buffed fingernails on my canvas jacket. It’s 2012 and the Bronx isn’t burning, but buildings and faces still show scars—hard, shiny, wounded surfaces covered with keratomas, knotty swellings of numb trash growing on shop windows and noses. Across the subway aisle, a man watches me the whole trip, eyes almost closed, head plugged with earbuds, secure in his hostile indifference. At the last stop, he disappears down the stairs and we—Jason, Frankie, Wally—are alone on Westchester Avenue. The street is empty, except for cars speeding towards the Cross Bronx Expressway and three white boys running across traffic. Continue reading
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
“RedFarm”— what does that even imply, a collectivist farm in Mao’s China? It’s certainly ironic enough, considering how RedFarm wallows with such relish in the rectal expulsions of capitalism. The interior looks like an American homestead, Beatles and soft rock medicate the air, and the bill might bust a hip student’s cigarette budget. Schoenfeld calls RedFarm “unabashedly inauthentic.” Kind of like P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. This one time, on South Park, Cartman and Butters hold up a P.F. Chang’s to derail an imaginary Chinese invasion. Everyone forgets about “The Chinese Probrem” though once the cops arrest Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for raping Indiana Jones. The episode satirizes paranoid sterilizations of Chinese cultures and the Hollywood impulse to squeeze profit from absurd gimmicks. It’s easy to substitute RedFarm for Cartman’s P.F. Chang’s. Wherever RedFarm winks at stereotype and “multiculturalism,” it propagates colonial power structures. Wherever RedFarm juxtaposes incongruent culinary tropes or draws on popular culture, it participates in the limitless homogenization of “Asian” culture. RedFarm’s brazen absorption of “Oriental” cooking techniques into a dim sum mythology validates our fixation on conspicuous, colonial consumption. In effect, RedFarm is reeducating New Yorkers to ignore the complex externalities of transnationalism; to reduce the world outside Manhattan to a flickering cosmorama; to diminish those still colonized to an artifact of gustatory entertainment; to gleefully anal probe the margins of the colonial map. Such is the agenda of many Manhattan restaurants. RedFarm merely has the misfortune of being a particularly obvious offender.
When I went to Peels for brunch this morning, the rain had soaked through my new shoes. They were brown—now a bloody chocolate—and stapled or sewn or cobbled from some suede-like material. In one “Seinfeld” episode I’ve seen, Jerry buys himself a new suede jacket and it gets ruined in the snow. So I couldn’t help but worry about my suede-like shoes and their irritated response to the damp. I’m not normally one to care about shoes, new or otherwise, but the rain was particularly cold and slicked with sidewalk grease, and the left brown shoe had been wearing a blister into my heel since the Broadway-Lafayette B stop. Although I had been in a solidly stimulated mood—thanks to George Santayana’s essay “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy” and an Americano—the rain and the search for brunch and the whole not-so-new-anymore shoes thing thoroughly grounded my buzz. I wanted to visit the Whitney and Danny Meyer’s cafe, Untitled, but what I thought was the 6 train turned out to be the 6x (running express). Too tired—well, too hungry—to wait for a local train, I remembered Plan B, Peels. And frankly, Peels’ homey down-home home-on-the-range home-style American/Southern/hippieyippiehipstercana menu looks awfully similar to Untitled’s, at least in its conceptual *throws arms back over the head and gestures towards the heavens* direction. Two restaurants, one menu, another brunch.
Peels is sexier than Untitled, in the way that a girl who puts on makeup to look like she just got out of bed without makeup is sexier than a girl who just gets out of bed and doesn’t put on any makeup. There’s finished-unfinished wood and a mirror with the menu painted on it and many skinny people eating fatty, sugary foods. Rich people like to dine in these self-consciously frumpy restaurants and think righteous thoughts. All the nonsense about sustainable, local, and organic enables those perfectly able activists to abdicate responsibility for America’s zones of extreme poverty. Instead of mobilizing a resistance against the negative externalities of their lifestyles, members of this hyper-entitled demographic prefer to perform their revolution in an orgy of symbolism. Comfort with principles. That’s meaningful, man.
Consider my brunch. Build-A-Biscuit. Like Build-A-Bear, but with a biscuit. And you don’t stuff the biscuit with cottony crap yourself. An unseen employee takes it out back for the big show. My brunch. Right. Classic buttermilk biscuit, local organic scrambled egg, country ham, and red-eye gravy.
The only part of my built-up biscuit that I enjoyed was the local organic scrambled egg. It tasted good, you know, because of the whole local organic thing. Otherwise, it was just a well-prepared scrambled egg. As for the biscuit, I figure they must attach a meter of intestinal tubing below the beautifully browned crust and inject flameproof synthetic fibers. The ham: a slice from a smoker’s lung, perhaps? But my main quibble is with the red-eye gravy, which does not resemble any red-eye gravy I’ve previously encountered. Red-eye gravy should look like rusted velvet, taste like pig and espresso, and feel like a humid Mississippi morning. Peels’ gravy looks like bacterial discharge, tastes like deli turkey, and feels like embarrassed sweat. Not nearly enough of it either. The gravy needs to sop into the biscuit like soapy water running into a squeegee, and this smear of gray barely wetted the bread. At least my Build-A-Biscuit looked sufficiently homespun. Continue reading