Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pig Roast!

While I'm still here in St. Louis, I'm happy to see that tapas joint Modesto has chosen to start roasting a pig each and every Wednesday. I'm going to be missing my favorite annual pig roast this year, so it's good I can go get some pigflesh to hold me over.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nectar of the golf gods

I am always thirsty. Literally. Maybe its because I smoke, maybe I've had infected tonsils since I can remember, but if I am awake, I am thirsty. So I drink Diet Coke all day and water all night.

It also means that I can wax rhapsodic about all sorts of nonalcoholic beverages, since I've had ample opportunity to try as many as I can. From Blenheim ginger ale (and Vernors and Jamaican ginger beer) to Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda to sweet tea, if it's cold and tastes more interesting than water, I'll give it a shot.

But now I've found it. I've found the drink I can take with me to the grave. Because now they're putting Arnold Palmers in cans. An Arnold Palmer, in case you don't know, is a mixture of half tea, half lemonade, and is without question one of the best drinks on earth. I was introduced to them when my friend Malcolm Gay (who just picked up a James Beard award ... nice work there) ordered one at the legendary Blueberry Hill. Since then I've been an avid fan of the drink.

Look: lemonade is a great drink, but it is flawed because its overwhelming sweetness and tartness make it difficult to quaff in quantity (the citric acid can also cause a little problem). Ice tea is drinkable unto infinity, but even with a twist of lemon and some sugar, it kinda just lays there. Oh, but the Arnold Palmer! A strong tea bite with mellow lemon sweetness as an aftertone. A nice jolt of caffeine, but nothing you couldn't drink all day. And I do. The canned version, produced by canny Arizona, is even made with Splenda, so it's pretty low calorie. (I know, talk of calories is against the ideals of this site, but I'm looking for an all-day drink here).

The website says they're planning on making one-gallon fridge-ready jugs. Oh, boy.

(speaking of drinks, Randall Roberts, another friend (and a James Beard finalist himself), writes the popular Drink of the Week column for the Riverfront Times. This week sounds pretty sinful. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I want avant?

Here's an article in the Times about the state of avant garde cooking in America. Some sample dishes they taste:

Ribbons of bison meat filled egg-size indentations in the surface of a horizontal glass tube, the hollow interior of which contained burning sticks of cinnamon.

... a strip of partially dehydrated, butterscotch-coated bacon, arrived dangling like a Wallenda from a teensy trapeze ...

...rushed Altoids instead of mint jelly with lamb and ... lollipops of foie gras encrusted with Pop Rock...

...a peeled, heated grape, still on a sprig, that had been dipped in a peanut pur´┐Że and encased in a thin layer of brioche...

Don't get me wrong; I'd love to eat at one of these places ... once. But check out the attitude of one of these chefs:

"The first person to put steak on a fire - that was novel, right?" Mr. Dufresne said in a telephone conversation. "Was that a gimmick because before that they were just throwing their spears at it and eating it?"

Uh-huh. And that was eight thousand years ago and we're still doing it. Wow, we all must be backwards for eating grilled steak and all the other dishes that developed and perfected over the literal thousands of years during which the major cuisines of the world developed. It's a good thing we have folks dripping butterscotch on bacon to save us from prime rib.

Charlie Trotter has a wicked rebuttal:

"If it's truly valid, I'll be delighted to have this conversation with you in two years."

Boo-yah! Truly interesting innovations can come along ... or, more likely, will migrate from someplace else. Take sushi. In the '80s, eating raw fish was a hip and trendy thing to do. Now, home of John Ashcroft Springfield, Missouri, has six or seven sushi joints. It lasted because sushi is really fucking good. Fondue ... not so much.

And perhaps in a couple hundred years, grandmothers will bake lamb wil Altoids and kids will love them for it. But I doubt it.

Why oysters?

Sorry I missed the Monday deadline I set for myself. I don't think that posting once a week is going to work. I'm going to step it up a little bit.

Perhaps I was still recovering from the insanely good meal I'd had on Saturday night. Big Pappa Happa was in town so I am able to write about something besides pizza and French fries. Saturday we dined (yes, dined) at An American Place. If you've never heard of it, please read this review by my friend Rose to get the backstory. But, in short: it's a hell of a restaurant.

While the other folks at our table had more reasonable meals, Pappa Happa and I did one of our favorite things ... Appetizer grazing. Our first course: A dozen West Coast oysters. Our server tried to tell me the different varieties, but I waved her away. I'll be honest ... I can't even tell you what oysters taste like. It's the act of eating them that is pleasurable. A squeeze of lemon, a dash of red, tipping the briny shell to lose some juice. The rough lip against your own, the morsel not just giving way to gravity but running to embrace it, straight down your throat.

There's a metaphor in there, but I think I lost it.

"Don't fill up on bread," people always say. Well, you know what? Fill the fuck up on bread if you want, especially if it's as good as the fresh-baked French at An American Place: Crusty and rugged as the surface of Mars on the outside, airy as the stratosphere on the inside. Throw a little butter on that, and you're talking about food with few equals.

But there was more food: a duck breast and foie gras pirogue that was delicious, but as good as a slice of foie gras on toast with a sauterne on the side. Foie gras is superb, a truly sinful food: Pure buttery, lardy, fatty flavor distilled. It is also a food that I can only defend eating through extreme hedonism.

There was also an elk carpaccio, so raw red it made rare steak look pink ... It was the pure deep red of life. The slices were paper thin and tasted game but clear, like they'd been run through a filter. Despite the wonderful presentation (which I never notice), it was a primitive dish.

Tell me, honestly ... How many things on earth are better than a meal like that?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bad pizza ...

Mr. Sin just sealed the deal on his new Brooklyn Heights apartment. This opens up a whole new world of food, but, harshly, less funds to enjoy them with. So, let's talk pizza. I'll mention some good pizza, but mostly, let's talk about that thing so rare some claim it doesn't exist: bad pizza.

I currently live in St. Louis, where the second worst pizza in the world is made. St. Louis style, for those of you who've never had it, consists of a thin, brittle crust, diabetically sweet tomato sauce and the cheesestuff known as Provel. Provel is cheese from a harsh dystopian future: it might go great with Solent Green. In proper doses, it can be mildly enjoyable, as most cheesestuffs can be. A good St. Louis-style pizza is tolerable, but it doesn't qualify as pizza in my brain. When I say, "I want pizza," it means I've already excluded the possiblity of St. Louis-style.

Not that there aren't great pizzas made here in the MO. Down the road in Columbia is Shakespeare's pizza, which I consider to be the finest I've ever had. It's thin (for the real world, in St. Louis it would be called thick), and their wheat crust has a bite of flavor without the mealy-mouthed dryness that other whole-grain crusts can get. Their pepperoni is hand-sliced, nice and thick. If you ever happen to stop in, I recommend a wheatcrust pepperoni and peppercheese ... so totally sinful, ropes of spicy cheese and full bites of pepperoni, with a full-blooded sauce and the crisp, cornmealed crust (cornmeal on the bottom is another thing that usually bothers me that Shakespeare's does right). Beer's cheap, too.

St. Louis-style, however, is only the second-worst pizza. The first is, obviously, Chicago style. Perhaps if I'd been trapped in the Andes with only frozen human flesh to nosh on, Chicago-style would sound good to me. Until then, I stay away from what amounts to a soggy loaf of bread with cheese on it. I'll eat Totino's frozen pizza-discs before I'd eat Chicago style. In pizza, as in politics, it's good to ignore the extremes.

But New York ... ah, New York. I understand that it is a town in which it is very difficult to make it, so difficult in fact that if you are able to indeed make it there, you'll probably find sucess in any other place that you might try to make it later. But they got lots of pizza.

I found this quote from the above linked Slice NY. It's from a girl with a pizza inked on the back of her neck (sigh):

"I worked in ice-cream before this and I always say if you're not in ice cream, pizza or the medical profession, you're not doing humanity any good. If I wasn't in ice cream or pizza, I'd have to be a doctor and I don't want to be a doctor."