Every week, when my New Yorker magazine arrives, I find myself diving head first into the weekly restaurant review titled, “Tables For Two”. Somehow, I’ve become drawn to this section- perhaps even addicted. Why? It’s hardly because I’m a gourmet, or even a gourmand. Nor is it because the reviews of these restaurants (hot, haute, chic, suave, cool or whatever else they may be) inspire fantasies of breaking out of my reclusive rut and storming the exclusive eateries of the Big Apple, perhaps encountering smart, discriminating celebrities who are closet fans of my literary product. No, the reason is a bit dark and a lot cynical.
It’s because restaurant reviews reinforce a theory of mine that the great restaurant critics- the Craig Claiborns; the Jonathan Golds- are, above and beyond all else, great bullshit artists.
They are akin to alchemists- not turning base metal into gold, but, in their stead, transforming gruel into ambrosia. They have a genius for taking a sow’s ear (which may indeed, literally, appear on many a Manhattan menu), into a silk purse, which, with creative seasoning and delirious haute (that word again!) presentation, may also appear on the menu. Are there doubters among you? Those who would dismiss me as another West Coast boor with moribund taste buds? Submitted for your perusal, from the current New Yorker, a rhapsody on the virtues of a restaurant called Da Long Yi Hot Pot:
“…you might as well go bold. Begin with the pig artery, which is served in pearly-white, curling slices that absorb a nice amount of whatever soup you choose without being held hostage to the oils and spices. If the crunch of the artery pleases you, move on to the pork kidney, which is cut into into flowery shapes that vaguely resemble miniature porcupines and lands on the tongue with an umami-forward bounce. Take a break from the heavier ingredients with enoki mushrooms, lotus-root slices, and taro, which should take half as long to burble to the surface as the meats. And, if you want something that a Chengdu local might order, go for the pig brain, which tastes like a pleasant hybrid of silken tofu and sweetbread, or the beef tendons, which one patron described as “deliciously meaty gummy bears” “.
So call me a boor, a philistine, a member of the unwashed masses- call me anything- but don’t call me late for dinner.
Bon appetit, and, of course, compliments to the chef.