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yvonne johnson

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Posts posted by yvonne johnson

  1. I said Indian food overspices for the western palate. And if you read what I said about it in the various threads, you would see that everytime I raise the issue it is in the context of the cuisine being more successful in restaurants in the west. I have also said that in the struggle between cultures of cooking, and the Indian way of spice being the centerpiece of the meal as opposed to the proteins, that Indian cuisine will conform to western standards. But nowhere do I say that Indian food is crap.

    Must we use the Western palate (or is it Plotnicki's palate), and success in restaurants in the West as criteria to judge the goodness of food?

  2. What I'd like to know is why so many people seem to feel so uncomfortable with making any judgments at all about food. Certainly, you all agree that some restaurants, meals, dishes, and cuisines are better than others, right? So let me ask the question of all of you who don't have to write about this stuff for a living: what do you think makes some food better than other food?

    What I'd like to know is why there's an us versus them on eGullet. All of you who don't have to write about this stuff for a living now is it?

  3. Well on one of the other threads, someone commented that there is no such thing as universal taste. I disagree. There is universal taste. People are rarely in disagreement about what tastes good. So when you assess a communion wafer, it gets measured against that standard. But don't take what I just said to mean that any single person has tasted everything. That's not what I meant. But a delicious tasting fish in NYC is a delicious tasting fish in Singapore. We all know what fresh and high quality fish is supposed to taste like.

    Couple of things: A delicious fish in NY is a delicious tasting fish in Singapore? According to whom? Look at all the anthropological studies documenting researchers’ throwing up when trying to eat "rotten"/"high" food that's valued in some cultures. A Cook's Tour,and travel to other countries show that there is disagreement about what tastes good.

    As for communion wafer, yes, I'm sure there is a standard for them, but this is besides the point in terms of their symbolic meaning. I'm saying that people bring to the eating of them different things which affect the experience. If you simply describe the wafer's external characteristics, aren't you missing something? And wouldn't it be valuable if the food writer were to describe that cultural component, ditto other non-religious symbolism.

  4. Yvonne, you're right, and I'm compelled to be boring and logical about this.  If that view were to be taken literally, you should be able to bring four adults together, from different, far flung parts of the globe, serve them a variety of dishes, and have them all agree which is the best.

    Now, the response might be that if you gave my hypothetical diners an education in what they were eating, then - assuming their palates are functioning fine - they would end up in agreement. But what you are teaching them is a set of critical standards, and critical standards are socially derived. The physics and chemistry of what's on the plate is the same, education or no education.

    I'm saying they would disagree. (First para.) Or am I missing something?

    But I agree with what you went on to say (Second para), but only up to a point. If, say, these hypothetical diners were given French, Chinese, Italian dishes to try and educated on what people thought were the strengths of the respective cuisines, they might still disagree on what was the best. I take your point, though, that's it's conceivable that these "standards" that we judge all cuisines were available. The more I read eGullet, however, the more I doubt that these standards exist.

  5. Fat Guy and Steve P agree on something, and I have a big problem with their view

    Fat Guy: “I agree that the symbolism and sociology of food does not contribute in any way to its objective taste. Although I enjoy as much as the next person hearing that the shrimp represent whatever some emperor did, it doesn't make me think the shrimp taste better. If the story doesn't contribute to the dish, I'd prefer to hear the story and eat a slice of pizza.
    Steve P  “An understanding of a culture and their traditions does not make anything taste any better or worse. Taste is a function of quality and proficency of preparation. A standard that has no borders and sees through race and religion.”

    Why are sociology, culture, symbolism being so quickly dismissed? I’m no big fan of postmodern gobbledegook, but if you dismiss the above aren’t you overlooking the whole picture (context) in which food is eaten and people’s socialization process in things culinary.

    The wine expert informing the novice of the qualities of wine that may not on first taste be apparent is a socialization process, no? To grade wine as crap or not without understanding the culture of wine wouldn’t get us far would it? (I predict the reply will be that wine socialization is objective and not cultural….hmmm.)

    And what is this “objective taste”??

    The idea that someone can objectively assess something out of context seems bizarre to me. Don’t you think that a wafer taken in at Communion might taste different to the believer than to the atheist?

  6. So you're saying the dishes that give you a high (hypnotic, monumental) are not high class? I've never seen you write so rhapsodically about any other food. Funny that. And they're not even haute :unsure:

    PS I did have bouillabaisse in Nice a few years ago and that found at Le Bernardin was better--maybe luck of the draw/fish.

  7. [yvonne johnson]I'm unfamiliar with Dafina. Reminds me, didn't you say that Bouillabaisse was haute? I don't see why peasant and home cooking can't become haute. But this is old ground

    Actually no I didn't. What I said was that it used some sophisticated techniques compared to Zuppa di Pesce and a Catalan Style fish soup. And those techniques are why it is a better fish soup.

    Steve, now I'm confused. Last year you wrote:

    "But what I gleen from all of this is, that a [bouillabaisse] is based on a peasant fish soup/stew dish that preceded what we call a proper bouillabaisse. How it got it's name, or how it became fancified is a phenomenon of the modern restaurant or the middle class home of the 19th century. And that period coincides with the codification of the cuisine, and that some of these terms must have been caused by the codification, or by restaurants naming dishes, which in large part was due to the fact that they were trying to sell printed books to middle class homes, or good meals to an affluent customer. Which brings us to the very point of how marketing still works today, in that there is a need to concisely and uniquely express every item. And to offer a Plotnickiism to end this all, I would assume that this example will be a common one, where a peasant dish was "titled" and possibly refined for purposes of communication so it could be consumed by a different class than the ones it originates with.


    (page 1)

    Davidson (whom you cite in full post above, and as you suggest above) writes that the dish has a primitive origin, but that the dish became different when it was cooked in restaurants because it incorporated more expensive fish.

    Are you arguing that for any cuisine to become "haute" it has to go through this similar stage from cheap to more expensive ingredients?

    Pan: Le Bernardin offers a prix fixe dinner menu ($79) and lunch ($40s) and the bouillabaisse that I had as part of my dinner a few months back was the best I've ever had. http://www.le-bernardin.com/

  8. Steve:"Yvonne - Well we are going to have to parse the word complicated now aren't we. How can we get a shortcut here?"

    I was using the word to mean what you mean by "complex".

    I'm unfamiliar with Dafina. Reminds me, didn't you say that Bouillabaisse was haute? I don't see why peasant and home cooking can't become haute. But this is old ground.

  9. [On the Michelin stars]Because the cuisine they serve is more refined  then it is in a place like say, Red Fort or Star of India. Tamarind, a place I like very much,serves a more classical cuisine then Zaika, a place I didn't like very much. But the menu at Zaika reads extremely well and I was looking forward to my meal after reading it. But the end product was slanted too heavily towards traditional cuisine, and not firmly entrenched in the concept of the restaurant which is fusion. I thought the chef would break away from tradition to a greater extent then he does. But let me ask you this now. For either of those restaurants to have three stars, what about the cuisine and presentation do you think would have to change? And you can take 3 pages to answer if you want  :cool:.

    I think I've mentioned before, I've visted Tamarind and Zaika, albeit a couple of years ago. I'm not sure I'd say anything other than the ambiance at both places was refined. The cuisine at T seemed uninspired. I've had similar, better dishes at much cheaper places. I thought Zaika was misguided and weird. As you say, and I've also heard from others, they've toned it down a bit at Z, though I'm in no hurry to go back

    But back to why I asked about the stars.

    Technique: You emphasise this a lot and I think Michelin saw evidence of refined technique at T and Z, even though I didn't. But even if I disagree with Michelin on their choices, I maintain that Indian cooking requires complicated techniques, and that's why I also asked you if you'd cooked Indian food at home. I cook quite a lot of it as well as French, and I can say that in many cases the Indian recipes demand more care, careful measurement, one to keep an eye on multiple ingredients.

    Why don't Indian restaurants command the same respect and prices as, say Japenese and Fench places? I think TonyFinch made an excellent point that has to do with diners' attitudes. What, $100 for an Indian meal? At least in the UK, an Indian meal is synonymous with cheap meal. But I predict that the number of higher end Indian restaurants will continue to grow. Look at Shaan, Salaam Bombay, Tamarind, Surya (not that liked the last one the time I went) in NY--all opened in recent years and they are a move a way from the average spots and, in general, they are very good and more expensive.

    Lastly, Steve, I'm not sure I buy your argument that accomplished chefs have to have an individualized take on their cuisines. So, to answer your question, I'd pay 4 star prices for classical Indian dishes made very well, in a nice environment with excellent service.

  10. I don't know of any restaurant in NYC that is significantly better or more interesting than Bouley, although admittedly this is not saying a lot. Its certainly better than Blue Hill.

    Agreed, no comparison, in my view. Bouley is miles better than Blue Hill and in a different league, I think. Based on one visit I'd not place Bouley at the top though. I prefer Nougatine room (a recent tasting menu there was, to me, more interesting than Bouley's) and I thought my food at Daniel (not the overall package there) was of a higher standard, consistency-wise than Bouley's.

  11. I thought the meal was excellent in places: phyllo crusted shrimp (stolen from G.), halibut with cauliflower couscous and caviar(stolen), the lobster--fantastic, orange soup--sublime, Chocolate soufflé (and I'm no chocolate fan).

    Less memorable were: Rouget with potato crust, Roast sea bass in scallop crust (I forgot about it by the time my next course arrived, and cannot picture it now for the life of me. Interesting that you thought the same Wilfrid as we didn't compare notes at table.). I part company with Wilf on the sundae-- I found this pureed banana and coffee inedible.

    Gifts to take home: Lemon cake (very nice, though maybe a little too sweet for me) and cinnamon tiny biscuits (mediocre).

    I agree it was a tight squeeze at the round table despite, as has been said above, the place being far from full.

    I don't know what kind of building I expected (I think I knew it was on the small side). From the outside, the restaurant looks like a fake Middle-Eastern squat, low-lying affair. Not very attractive. Inside it's cozy with lots of reds. Again, though, there's a fake feel to it--the smooth cavernous look.

    Overall, very good and I’d go back.

  12. Speaking of inferences and reasons for not having dessert Steve writes:

    "That's because as the missus said, 'nothing looks good'"

    This gives the impression that the desserts were not good. If they were not sampled I think it unfair to give that impression.

    (By the way, I happen to like the desserts at Babbo.) Nothing against Mrs P. or anything.

    On another note, I happen to agree with you, Steve. Some of the dishes at Babbo are over-flavorful. The mint love letters are too minty, and I've noticed an over-abundance of herbs in other dishes.

  13. Well said, indiagirl. Thanks for taking the time to construct your arguments.


    1. have you ever cooked Indian food at home? (Or is that a stupid question because "haute" must mean cooked and eaten in a restaurant?)

    2. What's your explanation as to why Zaika and Tamarind in London have a Michelin star each?

  14. Annisa, 13 Barrow St (Just off Bleeker) 212-741-6699

    Last week-end G. and I placed ourselves in Anita Lo’s hands and let her make us a tasting menu ($68). Very, very enjoyable.

    Amuse: beets, flying fish roe and wasabi inside tiny pastry shell.

    1. Scallop ceviche with caviar and lobster tamale. This was first rate. Visually pretty with the combination of scallop and caviar in the centre and the green tamale around it. Interesting layers of flavors and textures—the pop of the caviar.

    2. Striped bass on a bed of pureed potatoes with truffle and mushroom sauce. A very nice piece of fish with crispy skin, and a dish that suits a mushroom lover (my husband).

    3. A very large ravioli of sweetbreads with a truffle and red wine reduction. This was fantastic—Lo is very able with sweetbreads. My only quibble was that it was a little similar, sauce-wise, to the preceding course.

    4. Seared duck breast. With this came fried bread salad with giblets on top of which was a fried quail egg. This was a really creative combination, the crunchiness of the fried bread paired so well with the rest.

    5. Chocolate cake and warm, light hazelnut sponge, both with cream. I was getting full by this time and couldn’t really do them justice.

    The signature petit fours: tiny pineapple lollipops, a few strips of crystallized ginger, and mint chocolates (with real mint).

    (Small point: we’ve been to Annisa around eight or nine times and the amuse are always in the little shells, and although I think the petit fours are lovely they have not changed in a long while. Maybe time for some variation.)

    Very nice bottle of Tokay Pinot Gris, Alsace, Domaine Weinbach, 2000 ($82) which stood up well to most of the courses, though we maybe regretted not having a red with a couple of the courses.

    Service, as always, professional and relaxed.

    Why Annisa doesn’t get 3 NYT stars beats me. G. thinks it may be because (relying solely on women winemakers) they do not offer a wide range of wines, and this might count against the restaurant. Still…

    Threads from last year and year before



    Edit: to give full details of wine which was very good

  15. And while the food at the egullet dinner at Diwan was very good, it still seemed to somewhat follow the model of Indian restaurants in the West, what Smita Chandra in the Cuisines of India calls the "tried-and-true formula, serving [a] hybrid Punjabi [tandoori]-Moghlai [biryanis, kormas, etc.] cuisine."  Many of the dishes at Tabla Bread Bar are interpretations of regional Indian cuisines less familiar to Westerners, such as the Goanese dishes (which were influenced by the Portuguese, of course), such as the Veal and Coconut Curry.  Perhaps this was what was meant earlier in this thread by "unconventional" Indian food at Tabla Bread Bar.

    I have a different take. Some of the dishes at Diwan are unusual--the beggar's purse for example. At the eGullet dinner it was remarkable that we didn't have the usual main dishes, e.g., kormas, curries with lots of sauce. In contrast, many of the dishes I tasted at TBB were familiar to me though I agree some were tweaked. Also, Goan dishes are available in most Indian places in UK high streets and I've had them (and seen them on plenty of menus) in NY too. I see both Diwan and TBB as offering traditional as well as unusual dishes.

  16. I think some recent posts offer a stereotypical portrayal of Indian cooking. Not all Indian cuisine is bold, in your face spicy with an immediate hit on the tongue and the spcies aren't used to hide the other ingredients.

    Julie Sahni's recipes often have very delicate flavors and she writes:

    "When spcies and herbs are added to a dish, they act on the ingredients in many specific ways. They don't always make a dish spicy and hot as widely believed. Excpet for a few spices that do impart a hot taste, most act as aromatics...as coloring agents...as souring agents, as natural tenderizers..."

  17. No, Grimes is right. Looks like they really do deep fry smoked cod. "It's an Irish and English practice," I was told during a rigorous telephone interview.

    Well the Scots don't do that sort of thing to the best of my knowledge.

    By the way, Wilf, remember the "A" in "A Salt and Battery"--you don't get the horrid name of the place otherwise.

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