Today’s post comes in two parts. First, a not-very-glowing review of what is arguably New York’s hippest restaurant. Second a recipe. So if you don’t feel like reading the rant, and simply want a simple mushroom recipe, skip to the bottom.
In Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolf uses food as metaphor. The greed and pomposity of 1980s New York are distilled into meals of grotesque ostentation.
In the fictional restaurant La Boue d’Argent, a diner is served a plate of “flat green noodles carefully intertwined to create a basket weave, superimposed upon which was a flock of butterflies fashioned from pairs of mushroom slices for the wings; pimientos, onion slices, shallots and capers, for the bodies, eyes and antennae.” The person eating it then dies at the table, and the wait staff merely raise a disapproving eyebrow and step over his corpse to save any embarrassment. It’s a terrific scene.
And one day, in another novel about New York which has yet to be written, gullible Manhattanites will surrender to the fetish for local, “sustainable” food, and pay large sums at a restaurant called ABC Kitchen to be lectured on eco-nonsense and eat pieces of grilled squash.
I know how truthful this tale would be, because the wife and I lived it last night as we celebrated our anniversary. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the award-winning ABC Kitchen, it is utterly du moment. It is the work of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of America’s most storied chefs. It is very hard to get a table. The people who eat there are better looking than me. It has been described as “the best new restaurant in the entire country.”
And yet never, NEVER, has the phrase “Emperor’s New Clothes” been more apposite. It was perhaps the silliest meal of my life.
You sit down. You are handed the menu, upon which is written: “Our menus are printed on Forest Stewardship Council certified 100% post-consumer fiber. No new trees are used. Neutral pH and chlorine free.” Briiiiiiiing… my bullshit detectors start to quiver. When you haven’t even read a word about the food and the restaurant is crowing about how saintly their PAPER is, you get a certain feeling about where this could be headed.
There follows many paragraphs of bullshit bingo, riddled with buzz words, enumerating the painful details of the establishment’s worthiness. ”[We are] passionately committed to offering the freshest organic & local ingredients possible, presenting a changing menu that is locally sourced and globally artistic.”
Hmmm, alright then.
“We value local, artisan, indigenous, handmade & reclaimed offerings.”
OK, thanks, I get it.
“Locally grown seasonal fresh produce. Organic small farms.”
I said, I get it.
“Wood tables and bar made from fallen trees and recycled materials.”
No, really, please stop.
“Our bread baskets are handcrafted by the indigenous Mapuche people of Patagonia.”
At this point I stopped reading and did a quick calculation on whether it was too late to go to Smith & Wollensky’s for a steak.
I have quoted the above lines precisely, word-for-word. I am able to do this because I asked to take a menu away with me so I didn’t think I’d dreamed all this the next day, particularly the bit about indigenous Patagonian Mapuche bread baskets. And what’s most remarkable is that having sat for two hours in this place, not a single word of this prattle, of this parody of itself, is even slightly ironic.
So we ordered some food. To start: I had Roasted Eggplant on Toast with Marinated Peppers and Lemon. This dish totally surprised me by being some roasted eggplant on pieces of toast, with a bit of marinated peppers and lemon. The Wife had Roasted Squash with Parmesan and Lemon. And this dish took the amazing risk of being some pieces of roasted squash with parmesan and… you get the picture.
Look, I get it. I embrace simplicity in cooking. I understand the imperative for sustainability. I appreciate the need to respect ingredients for their own sake, and I know that a left-alone radish can be very tasty. But when the otherwise unadorned vegetables come smothered in this puritanical double-think, they begin to lose their taste. In fact, the message seems to be, ‘who cares what the food actually tastes like, as long as it’s locally sourced with enough sanctimony.’
We sat there for a while (on chairs which looked to me suspiciously like white garden furniture from Wal Mart, but that’s OK because the plastic is recycled) and my red snapper arrived. Except it wasn’t red snapper, it was sea bass. They had forgotten to tell me that there was no more snapper and a substitute had been made. Well, I wanted to yell, maybe if you weren’t so preoccupied with the Patagonian breadbaskets, maybe you would remember like A PROFESSIONAL BLOODY RESTAURANT to inform your customers if something is off the menu.
When it’s my anniversary and I’m dropping a good amount of money on the meal (and babysitter), I just want to be pampered. I want high levels of hospitality and luxurious food that I couldn’t make at home. I do not want to be lectured. Because when a restaurant spends so much time telling you how damn virtuous they are (down to the salt), the implication is that the way you live your life outside their walls is somehow sub-par, a bit lousy.
We have all gone mad. That this restaurant can flourish and thrive shows that we’ve all drunk the Kool Aid. Except we haven’t, because Kool Aid is cheap and sugary, and isn’t made from the tears of a primitive Amazonian tribe. I did a post a while back (What I’d Tell the Pope if I saw Him at a Farmers’ Market) which was a jaunty poke at Farmers’ Markets, and how the eco-friendly act of buying some local turnips is essentially a harmless charade for the upper-middle classes. Well ABC Kitchen is much worse than any Farmers’ Market. It’s preposterous, pompous, disingenuous, foolish. It really managed to piss me off, on my anniversary no less. They can take their awards and stick them where the Patagonian sun don’t shine. Don’t bother going anywhere near this place. All I could think of in the taxi home? Stopping for a Big Mac.
Rant over. I really needed to get that off my chest.
Anyway, the next day I decided to cook for myself something for lunch which I knew would make me happy after the indignities of the prior night.
It is my own recipe, called Posh Mushrooms on Toast.
Now happens to be a great time for wild mushrooms thanks to the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. The moisture, humidity, wind and temperature during and after hurricanes means the perfect climate for mushrooms. So off I went, and foraged with my own bare hands a generous bag of Blue Foots (pictured at the top of the page) and Chanterelles (pictured above) from the windswept extremities of Manhattan Fruit Exchange (the world’s greatest greengrocer) in Chelsea Market.
Here’s the recipe.
POSH MUSHROOMS IN TOAST
- 1/2 pound of wild mushrooms.
- Generous splash of Olive Oil.
- One clove of garlic, minced or crushed.
- A sprig of fresh thyme (or half teaspoon of dried.)
- A handful of finely chopped parsley.
- Salt and Pepper.
- Squeeze of lemon juice.
- 1 tablespoon milk (full fat is preferable, or even cream if you have it. Low fat milk fine too.) Or a splash of white wine is a good variation if you don’t have milk.
- Two thick slices of good fresh bread. (I like ciabatta for this. If your bread is a bit stale, so much the better.)
Warm two plates. Toast the slices of bread and put one on each warm plate. Set aside.
In a frying pan, heat the Olive Oil over a medium heat. (It is best to use a shallow walled frying pan to enable the moisture to evaporate effectively so the ‘shrooms don’t get damp.) Add the mushrooms, chopping big ones into smaller pieces if necessary. Add the thyme. Sautee over a medium heat for about five minutes.
When you judge the mushrooms to be cooked to your liking, add the tablespoon of milk or wine. (Resist the urge to add more, or you risk sogginess.)
Cook for another minute. Add the garlic. Cook for a further minute. Add the squeeze of lemon juice. Again, you don’t need much. Taste it, and add appropriate salt and pepper. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of parsley.
Remove from heat and spoon over the toasted slices of bread. Sprinkle some more parsley over the top.
Serve with glass of Chablis, and forget about whatever injustices you suffered the previous night.
- Gonads on toast.
- Cockroach Of The Sea.
- Caesar Salad: the taste of loneliness.
- Arrivederci Nonna.
- In defense of the Happy Meal.
- Fish Soup, and why the French are annoying.
- Baking turns me into Woody Allen.
- Tuber Magnatum: worth selling a kidney for?
- Off-piste Italian.
- The silliest meal of my life (followed by a good mushroom recipe)
- Summer’s nearly over. Thank God.
- Prozac, Xanax, Chicken Tikka Masala.