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Robert Schonfeld

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Posts posted by Robert Schonfeld

  1. We also enjoyed the cafe at the Atheneum, although the view of the courtyard was rather bleak.

    We also like: Cafe Sabarsky, Sarabeth's at the Whitney and the Trustees' Dining Room at the Met for dinner, where no expense has been spared in construction, the tables are widely spaced and the room rarely busy at night. The food is acceptable.

  2. If we're out with other people whose taste we respect, and with whom we share an interest in food, then my goal is to try to learn from them. What are their impressions? What do they like, what don't they like? Why? We also prefer to have different dishes, with tastes from the plates of others. Increasingly, I prefer this to a tasting menu, even if two different menus are served at once, because the portions are so small as to obviate the possibility of getting a good taste. If I see something that looks good on someone else's plate, I'll ask for a taste, and will willingly give one in return, except for ice cream. I don't share ice cream. Once at Harry's Bar in Venice, I got a waiter to give me a taste from a risotto he was serving to the next table.

    If our companions are friends but not food nuts, then the critical aspects of the meal are relegated to near nothing. It is often freeing to have this kind of meal, which ties in with another recent conversation on being a critical diner all the time, and being disappointed as a result, or something like that.

  3. What would be some examples of non-eating motivations for your trips? I know that sounds like the complete opposite of the topic, but I'm interested in getting a picture of what does motivate people to go places. It seems to me that if we listed the top dozen or so reasons people go places -- and no doubt that list would include things like "great factory-outlet shopping!" -- cuisine might not come out so badly. In addition, I find cuisine to be an excellent tool of communication and cultural exchange.

    Non-eating motivations:

    -To see natural beauty. Anyone touring the wonders, particularly the parks, of America should leave the hope for eating well at home.

    -To relax. Until recently, and still in some places, good eating and many resort destinations did not go together. On a trip to Bermuda some years ago, we discussed the feasibility of eating only breakfast and chicken until we could get the hell out of there.

    -To see art, architecture and other cultural attractions. Fortunately, this often involves cities where good food can be had.

    -For business, in which case, one does business and tries to keep one's mouth shut about food.

    -To visit family and friends, who often want to take us to "the best place in town", or to cook at home. Neither is promising.

    That said, eating and hopefully eating well is always on our minds when we travel anywhere for any other primary reason, and we always make an effort, occasionally with success, to sniff out a good meal. Once, somewhere along the coast in Connecticut, returning from a wedding, we hunted down a lobster shack that was unfortunately closed. Turning back up the road, I reverted to one of my most relaible methods for finding a good local meal. I stopped in front of a house where a woman was getting out of her own car. She looked over at us and, apparently deciding that it was safe, came around the driver's side and asked if she could be of help. "I want lobster", I said. "Follow me", said the lady, and she got back into her car and led us to a local favorite where the lobsters were sweet as could be. I have done this many times in many parts of the world, with a very high success rate. For this and many other reasons, I agree with you that food and eating are a fine vehicle for communicating with the people in a strange place. Most always, food and eating bring us together.

  4. FG, although your point of view is depressing, I note that at least you like music. I don't think it's a matter of being "serious"; rather of being motivated.

    Btw, it is possible to eat and look at art in the same visit to Paris, with time left over for walking, but you know that.

    But motivation flows from what motivates us, and from what needs and desires we have. Were I going to Paris from Peoria, all other things being equal, I'd be plenty motivated to divide my time between art and eating. But since I practically live at the Met, I allocate my time differently because the unique value of Paris to me involves food not art. Some people go to Paris exclusively to shop for clothes and handbags and whatnot. I don't find that depressing. It's just not my preference. In the end, it's not possible to do everything, so we make choices. Moreover, eating is not the only food-related activity available in Paris. When I'm not eating I'm at markets, in gourmet shops, etc.

    I understand. I'm still depressed.

    Just out of curiosity, how often do you go to the Met?

    In response to the subject of the thread, Mazal and I have never planned a trip with eating as the motivation, but we have never been anything less than energetic in seeking out what there is good to eat wherever we go.

  5. I also don't consider myself to be particularly serious about art.

    FG, although your point of view is depressing, I note that at least you like music. I don't think it's a matter of being "serious"; rather of being motivated.

    Btw, it is possible to eat and look at art in the same visit to Paris, with time left over for walking, but you know that.

  6. I don't think the outlet really matters to one's approach to learning about food. When it comes time to plan an itinerary or do the actual writing, you can evaluate whether the outlet in question wants to go heavy on culture, or just wants service-oriented restaurant recommendations. But that doesn't change how I'd go about acquiring knowledge.

    Back to sorting, then, which assumes that there is something to sort.

  7. The goal is to treat all tasting as blind tasting, at least in the first instance. To do your job well, you need to begin by freeing yourself from the associations and focusing on what's actually there -- what the consumer is actually paying money for. The backstory can be had for free.

    Tasting, yes, as in "Does this taste good?" But is this the goal of the journalist or the critic? Is it your goal? Wouldn't this discussion benefit from distinguishing among the types of reporting that might be done? A restaurant review, which is, as you say, quite narrow, is meant primarily to advise the consumer. A lengthy piece in a magazine, or a chapter in a book on a particular cuisine might have another, wider and deeper goal.

  8. The topical musing here is on the subject of approaching an unfamiliar cuisine. I would associate myself with those who have discussed the value of an effort to understand the culture of the people who make the food.

    An explicator at the elbow of one with an open mind would be very useful right here in River City.

    I find depressing and, ultimately, boring, those who pontificate from a perch in thin air.

  9. What do we think of the term "Southern Italian" (and its companions, "Northern Italian" and "Tuscan") to distinguish old-school Italian-American "red sauce" cuisine?

    The correct term for old-school Italian-American "red sauce" cuisine is "old-school Italian-American 'red sauce' cuisine". Use of the compass directionals to typify Italian food is stereotyping. More specific terms, especially as to regions, can be useful. One of the best Italian cookbooks is Ada Boni's "Italian Regional Cooking".

  10. In my experience, the local Italian place, where a grandma or a wife and husband carefully carry out the tradition of generations for an appreciative clientele (their "family") at fair prices is a fantasy. It may have existed in the Village in New York, or in Italo-American enclaves anywhere in America before my time, say right after the War (WWII), but is rare now virtually to the point of nonexistence. Wishful thinking about expeditions to the boroughs, where a secret colony of dinosaurs still roams, are uniformly disappointing. The place around the corner, and all its bretheren up and down the avenues of the East Side, cater cynically to feeders who either don't know any better or don't care. Now, good quality Italian-American food is had at Lydia's or Mario's or a few others of their ilk, and is limited to diners with a meaningful discretionary dining budget, or to an occasion.

    It is far easier to satisfy one's persistent craving for Italian food at home, where shopping, cooking and eating in the Italian manner can be readily integrated into a routine, including multiple applications of the same ingredient and the use of leftovers, not to mention the crucial factor of having the food placed on the table at the optimum moment of readiness.

    The best Italian food I ever had in New York was at my neighbor's house. Over time, I became quite adept at inviting myself over. It was a tragedy when she moved away. Her sister can't cook.

  11. Some elderly readers may remember that the south side of 13th Street west of Sixth Avenue was the site of La Tulipe, an early effort at moving away from the formal French model in fine dining. As I recall, the chef was Sally Darr, and her genial husband served as host.

    While no comparable culinary destination has emerged on the block in the intervening decades, there is now Gonzo, a friendly place with a nice menu; the sort of place I'd like to have around the corner.

    Comparisons with Otto are inevitable, but of limited usefulness. Both serve grilled flatbread style pizzas, both offer quartini of wine. That's about as far as it goes. Otto is a layout-ready scene; Gonzo is a neighborhood restaurant with a full menu.

    Gonzo takes reservations for its bi-level, high-ceilinged, slightly dark, Italianate back room, which, on the Saturday evening we were there, remained quiet, with a table or two free at all times. The plainer, smaller front room is for walk-ins. It was busy when we got there, even more busy when we left. At 7:30, a party of six was offered the hope of a table in two hours.

    The pizzas are unleavened sheets of dough, unevenly rolled, extremely thin and pregrilled. When an order comes in, they are topped and finished. The absence of a rising agent, and the fast, hot finish produce a nicely charred crust with the tooth of a cracker. The moisture and weight of the toppings make the center of the pie soft without being chewy (because the crust is so thin). I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing. That's just the way it is. We tried the Asimov-recommended soppresata, and a margherita, which is a touchstone. They were both fine. The odd shapes were fun, as was eating six or eight slices which altogether had the density of maybe one or two slices of pizza parlor pie. More like cocktail food.

    With two successive Saturdays of neo-pizza-tainment, I find myself craving more than ever the thing I have never known: the New Haven grail.

    From a mixed plate of salumi and cheese I remember a good tallegio. (Actually, I remember it all, but that's what was worth remembering.)

    Also recommended was a stuffed quail, which I would describe as meat texture and stuffing texture wrapped in a piece of bacon, with a strong rosemary-infused reduction with cherries.

    Wines were unmemorable. Espresso was a C.

    Service was friendly, like the place.

  12. true native clued folks from both counties would merely shake their head at the things  going on in this thread.

    A made a similar point in the context of another discussion like this one more than a year ago. I think that some participants just favor argumentativeness over learning opportunities, and others don't, or can't, teach as well as they might. I wonder to what extent the high signal to noise ratio (or is it the other way around?) is a function of the nature of internet discussion, or to what extent it's individualized.

  13. ...but certainly the cuisine of France has shaped the food at these places more than any other. 

    Is it conceivable that the very restaurants you mention, as well as others, are now, in return, in a position to influence what will happen in France?

    A good question. Traditionally, artistic influences have moved west to east, from Europe to America, but no the other way. Ironically, Europe's reluctance does not apply to popular culture (think blue jeans and pop music) as it does to "high" culture. It will be interesting, then, to see where the applied art of cuisine will fall in this spectrum.

  14. Okay, I have to get to some homework.

    RyneSchraw, if this means that you are still in high school, may I sugest dispensing with vocational counseling?

    Pardon me. I see that you are in fact still in high school. There is much benefit in discovering your path early. Stay on it.

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