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Posts tagged ‘Small Tragedies’

Not Quite a Three Martini Lunch


My day finally came.

Also, I accidentally discovered a way to get drunk while sitting at my desk in the office drinking no alcohol.

I knew it was only a matter of time before my favorite all-purpose grocery store, Western Beef, started carrying Greek yogurt. Their slogan “We Know the Neighborhood” has meant that their flagship on the Brooklyn-Queens border sells a variety of Central American cheeses and crema, Serbian seasoning packets, Polish seltzer and (look, no serial comma—ok, I’m the only person alive who never used them in the first place and I’m feeling insecure about it) and has an entire wall devoted to Malta, the devil’s beverage, which is essentially non-fermented beer that’s drunk like a soda pop (pronounce that like sody pop).

Now, knowing nearby neighborhood, Bushwick, apparently means that in addition to Chobani and Oikos appearing out of nowhere, there is an entire new section by the fish counter devoted to organic goods. The yogurt I had expected, but never the full jump to Annie’s and Amy’s.

I have mixed feelings. It didn’t occur to me how wrong this new mainstream love of fancy yogurt could go. Rossman Farms, the cheap produce store under the BQE, a.k.a. porn alley, has sold Fage for some time despite being a bare bones vendor. No longer. Last week my thick yogurt of choice had been replaced by Chobani. In this cramped city, stores with a dearth of shelf and fridge space really only have room for one brand of each item. And it seems that Chobani has become the leader. This monopoly is bothersome.

I’m not even passionate about yogurt. It’s just something non-offensive and filling that I can eat between the time when my lunch wears off and I go to the gym straight from work. And I like being able control the amount of sweetness and what toppings I choose to use. I don’t need all those flavors and I don’t want 0% fat. Rossman Farms was not selling plain, only the fruit on the bottom fat-free varieties. What’s wrong with 2% fat? The real treat was that mysterious 5% Fage used to (still does?) make that had fewer calories than the 2%, a trick achieved by shaving 50 grams from the serving size.

But I bought Chobani at both Western Beef and Rossman Farms because it’s better than the cheaper, watery fructose crap that poses as yogurt. Despite loving all the off brands at WB, I just can’t deal with Tropical yogurt (though I’ll eat their cheddar).

The thing is, Chobani has caused me grief in the past beyond the already present fruit and lack of fat. When I bought a case at Costco (BJ’s sells Fage, but with honey only) as a test, two containers turned out to be moldy. And there’s that little fermentation problem. Once, I encountered a fizzy specimen. It didn’t smell rotten, but clearly something wasn’t right about the bubbly, carbonated texture. I took a bite—no, not moldy, just effervescent—but I still tossed it out.

This week, I heard a pop in my lunch bag and figured it was the pineapple somehow escaping the plastic container I had put the slices in. When I took a peek later, I realized the foil top on the yogurt had burst and I had another fermented cup on my hands. What the hell? This time, though, I ate it because I had nothing else to eat and I hate wasting food. And while the sensation in my mouth was weird, the raspberry flavor hadn’t been tainted.

The curious thing was that about one-third of the way through, I started feeling unusually relaxed, my arms and legs un-tensed and I stopped paying attention to what I was working on (ok, I’m never able to pay much attention). My mood perked up. Hey, I was tipsy. My yogurt had somehow fermented into an alcoholic sludge. Is this even possible?

I guess Chobani is good for something, after all.


International Palate Abuse

Spain with love

I’m happy to see there is a travel/food show about Spain (I don’t really count that Batali/Paltrow thing) and one that fittingly kicked-off with an episode about the Basque country. Mugaritz and Arzak, representing, of course.

But From Spain With Love had to go and rile me up by abusing palate in a subtitle translation. I’m admittedly horrible at understanding conversational-speed Spanish, so I replayed this scene at least ten times straining to hear either paladar (palate) or paleta (palette) and didn’t catch either, just blah blah, memories, dishes, blah, blah familiar flavors. I'll get over this one. My Spanish grammar is shit too.

It’s very strange how the word palate works its way into so many parts of my day, though. While reading two disparate blog posts within ten minutes of each other–one from Grub Grade about the new Wendy’s Berry Almond Chicken Salad, and the other on Diner’s Journal about Masa’s lost fourth star—two commenters on each site misused palate while criticizing the author’s word usage.

The Grub Grade commenter said that “mouthfeel” makes him cringe and then went on to say “you have quite an educated palete my friend.” Kind of minor in the scheme of things. It’s a $6.49 salad (which was causing nearly as much sticker shock as Masa's $450 prix fixe).

However, the Diner’s Journal example was egregious.

Oh, and next food reviewer to use the word "unctuous" when describing eel or sea urchin must stand in the middle of Times Square when it hits 114 degrees outside, with a begging cup and a sandwich board that says "Will Write for Thesaurus." Sea urchin and eel are creamy, funky, melty, smooth on the palette, etc etc etc. There, I just saved you.

PALATE. There, saved you.

New New Media, Same As Old Media

“I've had this amazing experience, for me, of getting two or three e-mails a day from chefs, from friends in the media, saying that their children, their college roommate's children, are dying to come work at Gilt Taste. They are passionate about Gilt and they're passionate about food, and this is going to be the perfect place for them to work.”

–Ruth Reichl, on the amazing experience of giving her friends’ kids jobs.



In the late ‘90s I had a fantasy of writing a photo-driven book about candy bars, obscure and beloved, maybe with behind the scenes factory shots. It would be called Wunderbar and it would be awesome. At least it was in my mind, but publishing was a mystery to me (it still is, frankly). I didn’t even know where to begin. Obviously, crowd-sourcing and provide-me-with-content tumblrs were an unheard of concept at the time. Even Food Network’s Unwrapped hadn’t yet aired.

My go-nowhere concept faded from memory until 2004 when Steve Almond’s Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, a kind of memoir, kind of a love letter to the little guys, came out. Ah, so this is how it’s done. Or rather, one way to do it. The same year Nigel Slater’s Toast, a memoir with candy-centric leanings, was also published.

I read Candyfreak at the time (it just now occurred to me to read Toast—I’ll put a library hold on it shortly) but as with many things in life, half-a-decade later and I’d completely forgotten how it was written or any details beyond the overall topic. I’ve been giving another once over as a refresher.

All was good until I reached page 135. In describing the Goo Goo Cluster factory thusly, “Joanne led me through the warehouse, gingerly stepping over palettes on the ground.” I had two gut reactions. It was exciting to see my bugaboo word in this context because it’s the one usage you never see mangled because it’s rarely used at all. But I’m fairly certain he meant pallets not palettes.

I tried to put the homophonal transgression out of my mind and focus on the story, but on the very next page I was sucker punched again!

The same was true of ABC Fruit Chomps. They tasted funny. But they tasted funny because my palette has come to define Starbursts as the standard of normalcy when it comes to fruit chews.

Once you spy a palate abomination, there’s no way of unseeing it or forgetting it. Two in two pages? And then in the next-to-last chapter, the crime occurred again, as if to make sure I was really paying attention until the very end. Oh, I was.

The American palette is accustomed, by this time, to chocolate and peanut butter. We think nothing of the combination, in part because both substances melt at the same temperature.

No! This was particularly painful because the candy being discussed, Abba-Zabba, is easily one of my favorite candy bars (why did I never see the green apple limited edition!?). I remained defeated for the final 18 pages.

The only salvation was seeing that quaint last-decade oddity, an appendix of websites with unwieldy URLs like and, attempting to capture the ephemeral in print.

Not Cutting the Mustard

As far as recent food-related Onion articles go, Continued Existence Of Edible Arrangements Disproves Central Tenets Of Capitalism totally wins (I have actually tasted one of these melon-filled bouquets, which was not sent to me, thankfully). I was also feeling Man On Internet Almost Falls Into World of DIY Mustard Enthusiasts until I got half-way down the page…and palate abuse!

Over the next few weeks, Gibson broadened his palette with many new and "exciting" mustards, an experiment that soon led him down a path toward compulsive mustard connoisseurship.

Maybe the author was hopped up on Noyo Reserve’s Merlot 'n Chocolate Mustard while writing this piece. I want to be forgiving.

Fir Sure, Fir Sure

165676!1161-15247  I was about to scoff at Packaged Facts new trend report, “Extreme and Edgy Flavors” until I clicked through (reading helps sometimes). No, yuzu, wasabi and tamarind aren’t particularly edgy.

Sea buckthorn and Douglas Fir, though? The Noma effect has begun and as you may (though probably don’t) know, I really, really don’t like the idea of pine-flavored food. I’m very resistant (I still haven’t given in to jeggings or watched that Rebecca Black video, so I know how to be strong) and refuse to believe conifer cuisine will go mainstream. Though if it takes hold anywhere it will be Portland–the Douglas Fir, is the Oregon state tree, after all.

Let’s talk when pine needles trickle down into Denny’s sundaes, bacon-style.

Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir photo from Clear Creek Distillery

Refine That Palette

I don’t know if these Eater Sound Cheque interviews are conducted via email or transcribed from phone calls or in person (the latter is implied). Either way, we can’t have Beth Ditto saying “We don't have really refined palettes!” even if their palates aren’t really refined.

A Stroll Through Carroll Gardens

Tedhoney You know how experts on HGTV always advise homesellers to declutter and depersonalize so potential buyers will be better able to see themselves living in the space? (This common sense does not apply to Queens where it is assumed everyone likes wood paneling and/or copious statuary and/or sheets as curtains and/or a full line of Suave products lining the tub.)

The same should apply to restaurant ads. This Living Social email that showed up yesterday morning (yes, I’ve succumbed to daily deal mania and just experienced my first deal gone sour, which was bound to happen eventually) caught me off guard with its accompanying photo of Ted & Honey, a café/restaurant up the street that I’ve never had an inclination to visit.

There’s just so much going on, too much frozen action. Was this posed or was everyone caugh in the act? Why does the faded jeans guy have two iced coffees? Are the two plates of food also being brought to him? Where’s his dining partner?  Is it the tiny sweatsuit mom with a stroller as big as she is? I had a visceral reaction to her and her determined hunched shoulders as if she were about to barrel into the server full-speed. Of course, I immediately suppressed my negative assumptions because the Brooklyn child/childfree debate is cliché and unproductive for all and I’m too old and mature to mom-bash for sport, then a few hours later I read curiously toned, “A Mom Responds Before Crowding You Out of Your Local Coffeeshop/Bar” and became unsure of my emotions, then turned bile-y again with the reassurance of the equally icked-out commenters on The Hairpin, generally a place filled with smart, rational women.


In other Carroll Gardens decluttering news, I’m excited to see what Vinzee’s turns out to be. I’m also trying to figure out why Eater, in both of its mentions, refers to karaoke. Do they think that magic wand, illustrated in a shortened perspective, is a microphone?

I would also like to be excited about Café Bruno, the latest business taking over that doomed spot on Henry and Union streets, but can’t quite figure out what it will be like beyond this all purpose mission: "We want this to be a place that people feel comfortable, a place where you can come with your girlfriend, your kids or your friends."

A Love So Rare


My priorities are frequently wrong and I realize there is a vast divide between the food-savvy and the chain-lovers, but I’m still surprised at the negativity projected on the poor souls who might dine at chain restaurants by choice.

I’m not saying I genuinely think that Red Lobster would be a romantic place to celebrate Valentine’s Day (I have tamped down a tiny chuckle at this commercial for unfunny men free from the shackles of marriage for a week, Hall Pass. “Are you sure Applebee’s is the best place to meet hot, horny women?” “What are you thinking? Olive Garden?” Um, everyone knows single chicks are at Cheesecake Factory. Hooters is just way too obvious) but the repeated use of “sad,” and “depressing” to describe people who would do so is well, sad and depressing.

The most depressing Foursquare mayorship according to Buzzfeed is the Port Authority Au Bon Pain—and by a woman who shares my first name, no less! Number two’s a fat joke (though it is funny that the mayor of the Norman, Oklahoma Lane Bryant is man. I’m assuming he works there and isn’t merely a BBW fetishist). I don’t really find any of the fifteen–including Riker’s and the Betty Ford Clinic–to be depressing.

If someone were to ask me adjectives to describe chains I would think happy, corporate, consistent, unadventurous, cheesy (literally and metaphorically), fun. A chain will always cheer me up (maybe not Boston Market—I’m very resistant to visiting one, though giving-in to the sit-down Pizza Hut in Saratoga Springs a few months ago was a fulfilling experience). I’ve always championed the underdog, though, perhaps to the point of grotesqueness.

Maybe what I had thought of as going to a happy place is actually embracing darkness? I’ve always had a hard time articulating why I like chains without seeming superficial and ironic. It could be how I’m expressing a youthful sullenness in a contemporary way, backlashing against the cosmopolitan, artisanally crafted and healthy in the way that a small-town goth enjoys being misunderstood and contrary. I’m not trying to shock squares or revel in misery, though. For me, chains are not self-punishing; eating a 2,310-calorie Bloomin’ Onion is not the same as cutting myself.

I’m toying with trying the new Astor Room tonight and it’s going to be tough knowing that it’s right near that out-of-place suburban patch of the neighborhood with a flashy Pizzeria Uno and Applebee’s. The lure of a chain is strong.

And if you want to know where I ended up on Valentine’s Day (technically, I celebrated the holiday two days earlier with a lovely omakase at 15 East), it wasn’t a chain and it wasn’t remarkable. My goal was to eat somewhere low-key, not requiring reservations in the neighborhood and ended up at generic, independently owned Smith Street restaurant that I’ve been uninterested in trying for years but was perfect for this occassion and was served well-done steak frites with a hair broiled into the surface despite ordering the meat medium-rare and hairless. Kind of sad and depressing, if you ask me.

Two’s a Trend

Images And the progression of pine flavor in America accelerates. Today, The New York Times featured Primitivizia Mugolio Pine Cone Bud Syrup, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is suggested that you drizzle the tree sauce on ice cream, of course.

Image from–I don’t see her audience soiling themselves over a bottle of this favorite thing.