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Everything posted by Deacon

  1. Oh, absolutely. I took awhile to make my point, but I wasn't arguing as some sort of Constitutional authority. I didn't want to get sidetracked either, I just thought that the analogy could've been tighter. I appreciate your moderate tone, Steve, and the fact that you addressed my rant point-by-point and at length. (I really think there ought to be a smilie for "sarcasm"--it's very difficult to tell when someone's being sarcastic in print sometimes, without a whole lot of context.) I was shocked and hurt that Shaw replied in the way he did, actually. I really did offer my comments in all humility--but I was at the same time aware that I was as entitled to venture an opinion as anyone else. I suppose my reaction was outraged because, although I'm relatively new at recreational eating, I expect my opinion (and all opinions here) to be respected rather than summarily dismissed. I've always looked up to S. Shaw, I like his site and his reviews. But I guess perhaps I was looking too hard for a crumb of approval from the sensei. When you look forward, eventually, to maybe a "good job" or "nice post" and what you get instead, after 70 posts, is "I'd tell you why you're wrong, but honestly I don't have time; go 'way, boy, you bother me," well, I suppose I was rather disappointed and disillusioned. It's not quite what I had expected from him. I suppose I struck a nerve. I didn't make my original comment as a personal attack. Getting back to the topic for a moment, I really don't think that there are universal standards of food criticism. On "A Cook's Tour" Anthony Bourdain has sampled food that I wouldn't consider appealing, but that certain people do who live in other cultures with other esthetic standards. I'm sure there are aborigines, or primitive tribes in Borneo or Africa, that might consider grubs to be not only acceptable, but the height of their food culture, a complete, lip-smacking delicacy. I just don't believe that the "standards" are unversal. As far as Michelin is concerned, with reference to French cuisine as being the wellspring, I'm reminded of the scene in "Amadeus" where Mozart gets exasperated and shouts "The Italians, always the Italians!!!" Not that I hate French cooking--if I could afford it, I'd be off to the French countryside like a shot. It's just that I believe that these "objective" standards are more malleable and culturally determined that the absolutists contend. Once upon a time, Trader Vic's was thought to be the extreme edge of the foreign and exotic. Times change. I wouldn't concede even that preparation is always the determining factor--what about Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, where half the battle is getting your hands on outstandingly good ingredients? "Top Ten" lists are fun to read and argue over. I think there's more consensus at the top of the scale than at the middle, obviously. Once you start getting below ten, the range of opinion broadens quickly. But just among fifteen people, I don't think you'd get any absolute agreement on the top ten restaurants in the country, or even in New York. There'd be overlap, but not lock-step correspondence. Is that because one person's taste is "better" or "worse" than another's? I don't think so; I prefer to use "broader" and "narrower." Shaw has undoubtedly eaten more widely than I have, which is why I respect his opinion. If Shaw says that Sandor's in Florida is worth trying, or that Thai place in Queens that starts with "Pri," that's good enough for me. But I don't eat with his mouth, I eat with mine. It's a starting point, a good lead. I have the responsibility of forming my own sense of taste, and doing anything less would be slavish and be a surrender to the herd mentality. I admit that I'm a "youngster" at this, and like any youngster, my attention span is limited. So's my bank account, so I can't do nearly as much travelling and recreational eating as I'd like. But I'm still devoted to the cause.
  2. OK, let me address these replies in inverse order of wrath: (Shaw:) . . . (T)he honorable critic tries as hard as possible to be completely unbiased and objective about the job. Sure, it's impossible, but it's an aspiration. Granted. This is a very good statement, and I heartily agree. But you introduce a completely separate aspect of the equation when you begin talking about absolutes, as with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court (see my Bourdain-like tirade below) does not deal with matters of personal taste. Your argument is really about the Constitution being the law of the land, as if there were one standard of good food handed down on stone tablets from On High. I would like to continue by reiterating my admiration for you, your website, and your erudition in all matters food. I'd like to acknowledge here that you write clearly and very well. However, you go on to say: (Shaw:) I'd happily explain to you why that doesn't affect the analogy, but how about you save me the time and just assume it? I'm not trying to start a discussion about the Supreme Court. . . . *fifteen minutes of Daffy-Duck-style raving occur here*Deacon calms down slightly* I don't know why, but that just struck me as being, well, very condescending. *heavy sarcasm* Oh, GO AHEAD, Shaw, EXPLAIN it to me. Why, *I* is a high-scool grad-yu-ate, I shood be a-bul to figgure it all out. I cipher pretty well, when I ain't workin' as a Double-Naught Spy. Go ahead, I'm sure they'll hold your table at Nobu 'til seven-thirty. *heavy sarcasm off* I'm trying to imagine a lawyer saying, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'd happily explain to you why my client is not guilty, but how about you save me the time and just assume it?" Honestly, that pretty much made me blind and incoherent with rage for about fifteen minutes. As I said, we're dealing here with esthetics, not ethics. The Constitution says whatever the Supreme Court says it does (Plessy v. Ferguson, not to mention Dred Scott v. Sanford). You're making an analogy from ethics to esthetics, hopping very broad philosophical lines to grasp at your point. Your argument seems to be that the rules for effective restaurant criticism are as absolute as the US Constitution, that there is an immutable baseline hovering somewhere. But the Constitution changes, based on the interpretations of the justices. (See, for a good starter kit, The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy, by John Agresto, a "gentleman" with whom I've had some dealings in the past. Then go re-read A Theory of Justice, by Rawls.) How can you jump from an argument about ethics to an argument about esthetics in the middle of a sentence? Even granting that the Constitution were infallible and immutable, which it isn't, that still has really no bearing on restaurant criticism. There is no Constitution of How to Cook, and no panel of nine grand poo-bahs interpreting it. The Supreme Court justices hold their positions, for life, based on the sufferance of whoever is President when each is appointed. Restaurant critics get their jobs in a variety of ways, some of which have little to do with formal training in cooking. What's the analogy, the James Beard Awards? If anything, the analogy should be drawn to other areas of criticism, like painting, film, photography, etc. I will happily concede that both Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ruth Reichl expressed their opinions in writing, when they went to work in the morning, and that facility with the English language always helps to convey the esthetic experience, or the train of logic. Beyond that, I don't think an opinion of Roe v. Wade is at all comparable with an opinion of Dover sole. I don't think the analogy is particularly helpful. But you go ahead. Explain it to me.
  3. *cough*choke*sputter* I'm sorry, as big a fan as I am of Shaw, I don't think the Supreme Court analogy is particularly apt. Supreme Court justices are appointed, aside from the demographic categories they fall into, precisely BECAUSE they have certain prejudices--the same ones that the President appointing them has. Only God can give an objective opinion. A magazine that deals with food can be just as subject to grudges, politics, & whim as a magazine about current affairs or policy issues. The analogy in publishing to the Supreme Court would be having an editor that WANTS a bad review of Le Bernardin, so he sends a person who hates seafood. The resulting review is an honest reflection of the reviewer's preferences, sure, but basically the editor got the negative review he wanted by sending someone he knew would hate the restaurant. You don't send a vegan to review Peter Luger, no matter how honest he is. No, the honorable way to handle the subject is by making clear your preferences up front (as Shaw himself does on his site). Once you make your preferences known, you allow a reader to mentally compensate for them. This is true for any type of criticism, whether it be food or art or movies. Run like hell from any critic who says "I am completely unbiased and objective about my job." Ain't no such animal. I think there was a part-owner of the Hayes Street Grill (SF) who would "recuse herself," so to speak, whenever she had to review a nearby restaurant, on the theory that she might be displaying some subconcious bias against a place that could theoretically take business away from her own restaurant. Given enough experience with a given reviewer (which takes time and patience) a reader can use that reviewer's judgment very effectively. Think of it as asking the time of someone who has a watch that you know from experience is always fifteen minutes slow, or fast--you just mentally compensate for it in your head.
  4. See, this is the kind of non-PC comment that really burns me up. Any one who shoots his enemies from the roof of a building instead of actually going inside the school and shooting them face-to-face is a coward. Probably a Commie as well. Unless you're shooting Gordon Elliott. Or Elzar. Oh, and Bobby Gay Homosexual.
  5. Why, that kooky, nutty Jeff Smith--a clergyman who molested young boys before it became fashionable. What a trendsetter. Always ahead of the curve. I guess non-consentual sodomy is the new black.
  6. It's not necessarily a function of money spent, either. I've eaten at far more expensive places than the four I mentioned above, but for some reason, the above four places are the meals I remember. Perhaps it's more subjective a thing than we usually admit, since a good mood will make a meal taste better, being stood up or having to wait will make it taste worse, etc. My only caveats are that although I've been in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago, I've never eaten seriously in any of these cities. My travels just haven't taken me there since I started eating as a hobby, so I freely admit that my list is provisional and that my frame-of-reference is limited.
  7. (Jaymes) May I say it's so nice to see a religious man here. Thank you. I worship at the Church of St. John Coltrane. Where do you stay when you visit New Orleans? We were at the St. Louis last time in NO, but I've also tried the Royal O and the Monteleone. I haven't really found a hotel worth devoting my total loyalty toward yet--still experimenting. If I had unlimited funds, I still don't think I'd stay at the Windsor Court or the Ritz-Carlton, since they're not in the FQ.
  8. Discussion of ANYTHING is always more interesting if well-written. I'd rather read a well-written essay about a pastrami sandwich than a badly-written one about caviar. (And I'd rather EAT the well-prepared pastrami sandwich than the bad caviar, also.) Discussion of food at the inexpensive end of the scale is more valuable, because that's where you spend most of your money on a regular basis. You can't eat at high-end places continuously, you'd get jaded and bored, not to mention bankrupt. But a tip on a good pastrami-on-rye, great burger, Thai food, etc. is something I can use on a daily basis. And everyone knows the holes are put in a White Castle hamburger patty because the buns are put directly on top of them on the grill to steam while the patties cook.
  9. I think Gordon Elliot should be shot below the waist. He's a little too "enthusiastic" for me. Alton Brown has the best show--not only technique, but science background, choice of ingredients, choice of equipment, etc.--the kinds of things most cooking shows don't cover, and all in thirty minutes.
  10. Became a Catholic priest. . . .
  11. Thanks to all for the comments and suggestions. Kim: We didn't get the Bananas Foster this time. We both passed it up in favor of the Key lime pie, a dessert I find difficult to refuse. Perhaps next time. southern_girl: I think your comments especially show that there is definitely an art to eating as well as cooking. To eat in restaurants at a better than average level, you have to know the little code words and phrases for every single place you want to go. Without them, you run the risk of being viewed, for better or worse, as a "tourist" who may know his way around a restaurant, but not THIS PARTICULAR restaurant. I may be returning to N.O. this fall, so I might get another try at the various places in town. I feel I could beat Antoine's, now that I know a few tips I didn't know the first time. OTOH, there are so many other restaurants I haven't been to. I'd prefer to go to each of them once before ever going back to Antoine's. Does anybody know the name of a good waiter at Antoine's? Or just ANY waiter at Antoine's? It's part of their code that you only get a good table if you make the reservation with a specific waiter.
  12. These are the kinds of choices that might have you all shouting "turn in your James Beard secret decoder ring, you are not one of us." But here goes. In no particular order, the four best restaurant meals I've ever had were in: 1) Baricelli Inn, Cleveland, OH -- Sweetbreads with a sauternes glaze. With it, pastry stacked in the shape of a square high enough to form a little fort, with fresh asparagus stacked inside like pencils in a pencil holder. Great presentation. Nice view. 2) Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, AL -- Beef carpaccio, with the slices each about the size of a half-dollar, arranged on the plate like the petals of a chrysanthemum. Outstanding presentation. 3) Z'Tejas Grill, Arboretum Blvd., Austin, TX -- Exposed stonework and surprisingly little Texas kitsch for decoration. They brought cornbread, not too crumbly, slightly sweet, in its own little skillet. Everything was good, although I have a bias in favor of Southwestern food. This is the only place in my life where I've ever walked out to the car saying "this is what food in heaven must taste like." 4) James at the Mill, Johnson, AR (near Fayetteville) -- Minimalist, all-white decor, knowledgeable and polite staff, great wines. You could literally pluck the whole restaurant up, set it down in New York City, and it could COMPETE with the best of them. I'm not saying it would WIN, but it could compete.
  13. A few observations, as quickly as possible, about my recent trip to New Orleans: Galatoire's (dinner) -- One of the few places that still requires a jacket for men. Immediately to the left of the front entrance, two racks of "courtesy jackets" for tourists who stumble in unprepared. Could not get a table upstairs, so had to settle for the downstairs "walk-in" dining room. Waiters friendly and professional. Walls covered with mirrors to make the room look bigger, also coat hooks along the wall, unused. Old-line Creole menu. No pompano en papillote available tonight. Oysters Rockefeller had bright green sauce, mushy but delicious, and huge oysters--sopped up last traces of sauce with the excellent bread. Soft-shell crabs tasty but heavily breaded with crisp crust. Banana pie good. Cream for the coffee was curdled, but was swiftly replaced with a brand new cup after a brief interval. Around $100 for two, no wine. Cafe Du Monde (late snack) -- Beignets hot and fresh, served in a mound of powdered sugar, three to an order. No view of river, very disappointed. Place was packed to capacity, no atmosphere. Crowd was noisy and unruly, experience was like stopping for a snack at Ellis Island in 1910. Did not get coffee--was much too tired and sweaty for hot coffee at this point. Louis XVI, in the St. Louis Hotel (breakfast) -- Beautiful courtyard with banana trees and fountain, very restful. Rooms inside with air-conditioning for wimps and the faint-of-heart. Good coffee. Friendly waiter who called me "young man" and therefore got immense tip. Acme Oyster House, Lakeshore Drive (lunch) -- No view of Lake Pontchartrain, very disappointed. Neighborhood is marina-esque. Sports-bar decor and ambience. Raw bar and cajun selection on menu. Moderately good marina view of residential boat slips and commercial docks. Red beans and rice good but not outstanding. Gumbo delicious and very spicy, no need for hot sauce! Jumbalaya was a bit dry but had lots of chicken, coated in some sort of dry spices, probably including a lot of paprika. Po'boys reputedly excellent. Bayona (dinner) -- Entrance down short alley/courtyard. Subdued. Full of foodies, if any were tourists they were well-dressed. If this place were in New York, you'd want to wear all-black. Got subtle feeling we were being snubbed. Not nearly as friendly as the standard Creole place in town, but service was sharp and professional. Amuse bouche of marinated vegetables. Bread was fine. Hot quail salad on eccentric lettuces and pear slices, marinated with bourbon and molasses, unusual and excellent. Sweetbreads were rich and buttery little morsels, very tender. Wide-ranging wine-list. Good selection of after-dinner drinks. Brennan's (brunch) -- I was the only one in the room, except for the waiters, who wore a jacket. Tourists in sandals and Bermuda shorts, mostly. Menus for breakfast printed on laminated stock, like you'd fine in a Denny's--an inexcusable gaucherie in a restaurant of this caliber. Excellent coffee. Wide variety of eggs, served in omelettes or stacked "Benedict" style with other ingredients. Breakfast here is priced like dinner elsewhere, take a lot of money. Three-course prix fixe meals are the way to go here. Nice view from inside of courtyard. Waiters friendly, joked often with patrons. Oyster stew: light green with herbs, hot with spices, brought to the table in its own metal tureen to keep it hot, and poured ceremoniously into your bowl at table. Eggs "Sardou," highly recommended, two soft-poached eggs on artichoke hearts balanced on a mound of cooked spinach. Key lime pie for dessert tart and creamy. $100 for two people without drinks.
  14. Deacon

    Crazy chefs

    Nobody rants like Bourdain. These chefs who believe that hazing is trivial, builds character, is all part of dues-paying, etc. should be forced to sit through the first half of "Full Metal Jacket." (In the movie, a "boot" played by Vincent Donofrio is systematically insulted by R. Lee Ermey, who plays his sadistic drill instructor. On the last night of basic training, Donofrio finally goes nuts and shoots Ermey, and himself.) One of these days, a trainee's going to come back to the kitchen with a pistol and scratch one famous chef off the menu for good. There'll be a big scandal, of course. It seems nothing's ever done about a problem until the situation ends in tragedy. Hell, why would the trainee even need to leave to GET a pistol? There have to be at least thirty ways to kill or maim someone in a kitchen on the spur-of-the-moment with whatever's handy. Why, in the name of God, would anyone humiliate and degrade a trainee who's standing within ten feet of sharp knives, flames, hot oil, etc. etc.?
  15. I don't have a sophisticated enough palate to tell myself, and I've often wondered about this. When a drinks recipe calls for bourbon, is it a mortal social sin to use Tennessee whiskey or Canadian whiskey instead? I realize there are subtle differences in the distilling of each, but I've always thought of all three of these types to be more-or-less interchangeable. Also, when is it "whiskey" and when is it "whisky"? Are there any rules one way or the other? I've always thought it didn't matter too much, but I don't want to offend any purists out there.
  16. Cold lager and gin-and-tonics. Both of which I was leaning on pretty heavily last weekend.
  17. What do you think of Blue Ribbon and its offshoots? Are they really meccas for off-duty NYC chefs, and do they live up to their reputation? Also, do you ever eat dinner at the James Beard House to check out what everyone else is currently doing? (I'd imagine it would save you a fortune in travel expenses.)
  18. I think the suits at NBC missed a trick when they tried making a sit-com around Emeril. If they'd had an ounce of nerve among them, they would've made a show about Bourdain. Of course, if there HAD been such a show, it would've had to have been on Showtime, or HBO. The networks would never have touched it--too risky, too edgy, too frequent use of the work "fuck," etc. etc. But it would've been an altogether better premise for a show. Think of "The Sopranos" with a toque, or "Oz" with fewer knife fights. Imagine a cross between Dennis Leary and Jim Morrison, as a chef. I wonder what they would've titled it?
  19. Deacon

    favorite bottled beers

    rich: Do you really think Grolsch is all that different from Heineken?
  20. It's a comfort issue. When you travel, at the end of a long day you may not be in the mood to experiment, but you know that every room in a Holiday Inn looks like every other room in a Holiday Inn, every slice of Pizza Hut pepperoni tastes like every other slice. Sometimes you just don't want to fight it or be creative or experimental, you want something that reminds you of home (the culinary equivalent of a teddy-bear). So you go for the easy way out. Your food will not be outstanding, but that's not finally the point; it's not supposed to be, it's supposed to remind you of the Pizza Hut (Applebee's, T.G.I. Friday's, Bennigan's) near your home. Next day, when you're refreshed, you might be in the mood to experiment again. It IS ironic, though, that when a restaurant is prosperous enough to spawn a chain, that suddenly the same qualities that made it good enough for chain status are the very ones that end up being put down. I mean, there must be SOMETHING to these places, or they wouldn't have ended up as chains in the first place. Middle-of-the-road is the watchword: nothing too challenging, nothing daring, nothing experimental. Nothing that can't be explained on a wall chart for a seventeen-year-old trainee.
  21. R. Lee Ermey strides into the kitchen wearing a Marine Corps uniform and a toque: "What's the matter, numb-nuts? Didn't mommy and daddy give you enough coq-au-vin when you were little?"
  22. McDonald's French fries are the best fast-food French fries of all. Doritos! Arby's roast-beef sandwiches! However, my real guilty pleasure is the Taco Bell enchirito (a Frankenstein's-monster co-mingling of an enchilada and a burrito). Yum-yum!
  23. Deacon

    favorite bottled beers

    Every decision you make in a restaurant, bar, liquor store, etc. is a compromise between what's good, what you can afford, and what's available. (And you usually are expected to do the calculation very quickly.) On an abstract level, when price and availability are not considerations: anything by Anchor (especially Anchor Steam, my favorite) anything by Sierra Nevada (although their stuff is definitely an acquired taste, very "astringent") anything by Samuel Smith's (especially their Imperial Stout) Spaten Warsteiner On a regular basis, though, I generally find myself ordering one of five that are widely available: Dos Equis Amber (as opposed to Dos Equis Special Lager) Heineken Sam Adams (too sweet for drinking with food, IMHO) Beck's Bass Ale Guinness? Forget it! Like drinking Karo syrup. Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Michelob? Yeah, when I was young and didn't know there was anything better out there. I don't buy it--I'd feel like a pawn of aggressive marketing. For those who have just reached 21, who have very little spending money, and who just want a quick and expedient buzz, may I recommend that perennial favorite of my callow youth: Shaeffer! Tastes like cold dishwater strained through a dirty sock, but it will get you drunk, I suppose. . . .
  24. "Now going to Charleston, South Carolina"? I feel like I'm being tested somehow on how much attention I've paid in my various travels. BPC, I wouldn't steer you to any place I wouldn't go myself. But if what you want are some good leads, here are my leads for Charleston: Magnolia's Alice's Fine Foods Slightly North of Broad and any place recommended by Steven Shaw in his travelogue.
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