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
Serves 2.

  • 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.

 

11 Responses to The silliest meal of my life (followed by a good mushroom recipe)

  1. James says:

    A “Generous splash of Olive Oil” is one of the secrets
    of eudaimonia I suspect.

  2. Sean Kelly says:

    Really enjoying reading the blog Will. Never knew you were such a foodie when you were in London. Keep it up!

    • Will says:

      Thanks Sean. I appreciate it. Really want to do a post of Japanese food, but seeing as I no longer go to Japan with my pals like you, it will be tough. (BTW you should “like” me on Facebook to get updates… just search for Kitchen Antics and you’ll see my page. Pip pip!)

  3. haha Posh Mushrooms on Toast.. love it, I’m from the city but abroad at the moment.. been there before so I understand the rant and loved reading it, it’s quirky, it’s funny, it’s honest! I’m a gourmet-ish person, but all that I craved on my anniversary this year was a BURGER with lean ground beef (not frozen fresh)I have to find a butcher around these parts.

    • Will says:

      Thank you Madison! Most kind. Next time you are in NYC I can point you in the direction of the butcher of your dreams. Meanwhile, I appreciate the comment. Best,

      Will

  4. Such a simple recipe but it looks so elegant!
    - Brittany

  5. Jon Kakaley says:

    What an awful, awful review.

    I had my first meal at ABC Kitchen tonight, and it was the best meal I’ve had since Le Bernardin. Now, if you’re looking for a four star experience with fancy tablecloths and polished crystal, then this may not be the restaurant for you. If that’s what you want then go to Daniel or Ai Fiori. But as far as the food is concerned? It’s right up there with the best restaurants in the city. I’ve eaten at Jean Georges, Daniel, Babbo, Nobu, Corton, Ko etc etc and this food is just as good (if not better) than many of the meals I’ve had at these fine establishments. It’s also at a fraction of the price.

    Dinner for 2 here cost me $100 flat. And we shared four dishes, two desserts, and a beer. I’d like to know where in Manhattan you are going to find food this good for that kind of price?

    Maybe you had the wrong food. I got the following: Kabocha toast (amazing), arugula salad with figs and ham (amazing), veal pasta (best veal pasta I’ve ever had), and suckling pig (not the best I ever had, but pretty darn good).

    • Will says:

      Greetings Jon,

      First – and most importantly – thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to respond even if your opinion differs from mine. Actually, *especially* if your opinion differs from mine! (Comment sections in food blogs tend to be a predictable orgy of agreement and mutual love.) So I appreciate it.

      First, your comment about the food. So you put ABC in the same bracket as Nobu, Daniel etc? I’m going to stick to my guns here and say that I think that’s an insult to those other places. When you go to Jean-George, the food is crafted in a way that is technically difficult, very creative and virtually impossible to replicate at home. You’d need years of training to pull that off. Whereasyour arugula salad with figs and ham? Give me fifteen minutes in Union Square farmers’ market and I’ll make the same for you. Maybe not 100% as good, but pretty close. Ditto veal pasta. I would describe the food at ABC as ‘nice.’ That’s it. Nice. But somehow they are given a free pass because of the heaps of enviro-chic nonsense that they use to compensate for the ordinariness of the food. I mean, breadbaskets from a Patagonian tribe? Come on.

      I guess I’m not so angry with the restaurant as with the crowds of people who think it’s amazing. The restaurant is what it is. They do what they do. Fair enough. But it’s the locavore and faux environmentalists who adore the place who annoy me. The couple next to us paid the bill, said they loved the food and the approach, then climbed into an Escalade waiting for them outside.

      I’m with you on the price. It is comparatively inexpensive.

      In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed the place more than me. I hope you read more of my posts and continue to disagree with me. I will post all your comments. May I add you to my email list so you know about my new posts?

      Cheers,

      Will

  6. Jimmy says:

    I got directed here from Yelp and just wanted to say that while, like Jon, I really enjoyed my meal at ABC (in part precisely because it was simple), I thought your skewering of the new sustainability-moralism was well done.

    I was able to totally tune that part of the evening out since I’ve had a good deal of practice doing just that in San Francisco, where this kind of thing is absolutely inescapable.

    • Will says:

      Greetings Jimmy,

      I am most grateful for the note. And what you say about the inescapable worthiness of the Bay Area food scene made me chuckle. In fact isn’t it fair to say that SF is the cradle of that whole movement (thanks in large part to Alice Waters)?. At least in New York you can avoid all the stuff if you choose to do so, whereas in SF it’s all-pervasive.

      Anyway, thanks again.

      Will

  7. [...] order to enjoy the white truffle scent without interference from other flavours. So it will be my posh mushrooms on toast with white truffle shavings, and a truffle risotto, the recipe to which is [...]

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