Friday, February 12, 2016

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT


-->Somewhere in the sprawl of Anthony Burgess’s writings I seem to remember a scene between a barman and a customer, in which the customer orders  a drink, downs it, then asks for, “The same again.”  And the barman, who obviously thinks of himself as a bit of a wag, says “You can’t have the same because you’ve already drunk it.  You can only have similar.”
         And the customer says, “No, I don’t want similar, I want the same.  If I order a glass of gin and you give me a glass of vodka, well that’s somewhat similar but that’s not what I want.”

OK, got that?  So, last night at the happy hours (note the plural – 4 till 7) at Figaro Bistrot, in Los Feliz, I ordered their Mini Martini, gin of course, which looked like this:


It was very good indeed.  And after I’d drunk it I ordered the “same again,” and it was scarcely similar at all.  It looked like this, and trust me, it isn’t just the vagaries of digital photography, and an extra olive, that makes it look different:


It was similar to the first drink and it wasn’t at all bad, but it was also significantly different.
And I spent a certain amount of time trying to work out what the difference was.  Was there an excess of vermouth, had a heavy hand splashed in an excess of bitters, was it a different kind of gin?  I eventually concluded that the barman had, by accident or design, made me a slightly dirty martini – by the addition of a little olive brine.  By the time I’d reached this conclusion, I’d already drunk half the drink, and it was obviously too late to send it back, and it probably wasn’t worth sending it back anyway, it being a cheap happy hour mini martini, but still … it wasn’t in any sense "the same again."



Incidentally, Anthony Burgess did supposedly invent a cocktail in the 1960s called Hangman’s Blood, thus:
“Into a pint glass doubles of the following are poured: gin, whisky, rum, port, and brandy. A small bottle of stout is added, and the whole topped up with champagne or champagne surrogate. It tastes very smooth, induces a somehow metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover … I recommend this for a quick, though expensive, lift.”
You probably wouldn’t want the same again after one of those, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

RHUBARB DITTO DITTO


Life being as it is, just a couple of days back I was looking at this image from John Leighton’s “London Cries & Public Edifices" published in 1851.
 


 It’s a curious image I think because if you look closely you can see that the guy’s carrying a pair of scales, and in the text Leighton refers to rhubarb as a “drug” – so the seller is offering it dried, powdered, as a laxative?  Seems likely.

And then the next day I was reading the Guardian and saw that Martin Parr has been photographing the rhubarb growers of Yorkshire’s rhubarb triangle nine-square-mile area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell.


Parr, it think is one of the greatest, most subversive food photographers ever (not a huge field, I accept) but he did get access – and access is always half the battle.


Here in southern California we still await the first rhubarb of the year.  It arrives soon I think – the cashiers in the supermarket never know what it is. It starts out pretty expensive, then goes pretty cheap, then disappears.  In this age when so many things are available all year round, this feels like a great bit of seasonality.


Back in the day in Yorkshire, well outside the triangle, my dad used to grow rhubarb – one of his few horticultural success.  I have never had any success whatsoever trying to grow it.

Meanwhile I await the Proustian arrival of the “local” crop.  There’s some argument about which parts of Southern Cali – if any – have the necessary chill factor to grow rhubarb.  Some sources say that all the rhubarb we get in California supermarkets comes from Canada. 

And while I wait I’ve been making myself the occasional martini with the addition of rhubarb bitters, thus:






Thursday, February 4, 2016

FEEL THE BERNHARD

Not obsessing about this, but ….
As I said in the previous post, David Chang (of Momofuku fame) was supposed to read from Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters at the Eating Out Loud event at the Million Dollar Theater a couple of nights back, but decided against it because, said one of the MCs, it was too bleak and gloomy.


         Now, I haven’t read Old Masters, but I’ve read enough Bernhard to know that bleakness and gloom, and also hilarity, are his stock in trade.  But I never thought he had much to say about food and from what I can gather, Old Masters dosen’t have much to say about it either.  (I know I could be quite wrong about this).


The editorial description on Amazon runs as follows: “In this exuberantly satirical novel, the tutor Atzbacher has been summoned by his friend Reger to meet him in a Viennese museum. While Reger gazes at a Tintoretto portrait, Atzbacher—who fears Reger's plans to kill himself—gives us a portrait of the musicologist: his wisdom, his devotion to his wife, and his love-hate relationship with art. With characteristically acerbic wit, Bernhard exposes the pretensions and aspirations of humanity in a novel at once pessimistic and strangely exhilarating.”
         I’m with David Chang – I don’t think I’d have wanted to read any of that to an auditorium full of foodie hipsters either.  But there may have been alternatives.


         In Gathering Evidence, Bernhard’s sort of memoir, he recounts being at an Austrian boarding school in the 1930s.  Although he didn’t know it at the unaware of time, the school was actually for “maladjusted children:" Bernhard's "maladjustment" was bed-wetting.  He wrote,
“It was my misfortune to be revealed as a bed-wetter on the very first night. The method of treatment used on me in Saalfeld was to display my sheet with the large yellow stain in the breakfast-room and announce that it was mine. But this was not the only way in which the bed-wetter was punished: he did not get any of the so-called ‘sweet soup’ like the others—he got no breakfast at all. This ‘sweet soup’ was a mixture of milk, flour, and cocoa served in soup plates, and I adored it. The more often I was denied it—and that was almost every day—the more I longed for it. I suffered this deprivation throughout my stay at Saalfeld because I could not be cured of my bed-wetting. . .. . . I had entered a new hell.
If I’d been David Chang I’d have read that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

EATING UNPREPARED

Did you ever want to see Kim Gordon making guitar noise and reading aloud a recipe for corn with miso butter and bacon?  Well no, I can’t say that I did either but when the opportunity arose, how could I pass it up?  She looked liked this:


And if you go if you go to Lucky Peach on twitter you can actually see and hear a short clip of it.


The event was Eating Out Loud, organized by Lucky Peach magazine.  A big crowd - maybe a thousand people - sat in the Million Dollar Theater and listened to readings, and then afterwards milled around in the Grand Central Market, none of them/us entirely sure what to expect. 
Among the good stuff Jonathan Gold read a piece titled “Fallen Fruit,” first published in Slake magazine, Amelia Gray looked as though she might explode while reading a short story titled “Date Night,” and David Chang was scheduled to read “Old Masters” by Thomas Bernhard (wow!) but bottled out and instead read a piece about how great the food is in Tokyo.


We all got given a goody bag which contained one of these things, a plastic splayed - part spoon, part fork, part knife (or I suppose literally “blade”):


 And you know, inspired by Ms Gordon, I thought it might be great to stick this splade between my guitar strings, give it a tug and crank out some guitar abuse.


This is known in my set as "prepared guitar."  But in fact the noise was a bit tame - I think the splade probably needs to be metal, preferably heavy. 



 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MORE SAVORY ADVENTURES – SOME OF THEM POTATO-RELATED

-->
 If you like potatoes and peanuts – and I suspect you do – then you’re probably going to enjoy these exotic-seeming satay flavored potato chips, bought at the local Thai supermarket, complete with Thai script and all.


They tasted fine, but only vaguely of peanuts, and the list of ingredients simply specifies “artificial flavors” so you can make what you like of that.  And then despite the apparent exoticism, you’ll see they’re made by Lays, a company owned by PepsiCo, which of course doesn’t seem exotic in the least.
                                             *
These, bought at a supermarket in Little Tokyo, seemed rather more outré,:


 I wonder if that’s meant to say ridge cut rather than rich cut, but I’m not sure, and certainly I liked the salt and seaweed, whether “the Japanese” or not.  And they tasted great.  The was plenty of “mouth feel” and after I’d eaten them my lips felt both tingly and a little bit numb.  I suspect this was not because of the salt or seaweed but rather the MSG and chili powder.  Tree nuts were in there too, according to the label.
*
And then there are these little suckers:  “Kasugai Peanut & You.”   Me?  Well sure - I was mostly attracted by that image of the shrimp on the pack. 


I will say this for Japanese snack-makers – they’ve really got that whole CRUNCH thing down.  Here there’s a brittle, more or less spherical shell that’s sweet, salty, with the taste of shrimp a long way back in the mix, the flavor comes from “shrimp powder,” and there’s a peanut loose at the center of the shell.  Is it just me or do they look like very, very small potatoes?


I suppose exoticism is always a movable feast.  No doubt the Kasugai company doesn’t seem all that exotic if you’re in Japan, in fact they seem to specialize in gummy candy.  Well, I suppose somebody has to.


Friday, January 22, 2016

SMOKIN'




I was only aware of Redwood City, about 25 miles south of San Francisco, as the place where Neil Young has his home, his recording studio, and model railroad.  I certainly didn’t know that it was the home of a really good and unusual Japanese restaurant.  It is: in the form Kemuri Japanese Baru, which specializes in on-premises smoking, where I was taken by my pal Marco, who’s German, and his wife Mitsuko, who’s Japanese.


As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of smoked food, and a bit of a culinary smoker in my own small way.  In fact the Kemuri smoker didn’t look much bigger than mine, though it did look more industrial.

Not absolutely everything on the menu is smoked - there’s a “ceviche” that’s blasted tableside with a blowlamp (I’m kicking myself that I didn’t have that), and the French fries aren’t smoked in themselves, though they are seasoned with smoked salt, and also crushed seaweed, which was a knockout.

And so we plunged into the menu: smoked pickles (no, I’m not sure how they came to be smoked):


Smoked devilled eggs:


Smoked monkfish liver – this was probably the highlight of the meal:




Smoked unagi sliders – the “buns” are made of rice:


And finally, though it should probably have come first – the Smoked Manhattan – apparently they put the glass in the smoker which sounds like a high-risk enterprise to me, but I guess they know what they’re doing.


I understand that Neil Young has given up alcohol, which may or may not be a good thing, though frankly I don’t imagine he was ever much of a Smoked Manhattan drinker.






Tuesday, January 19, 2016

FEASTING IN FRISCO


The moderate Peruvian food obsession continues. I was in San Francisco last week and had lunch at La Fina Stampa (1407 Bush Street), which to be strictly accurate styles itself as Peruvian and Spanish. It looks as though the menu gets a lot more ambitious at dinner, but I was very happy with the Saltado de Mariscos.  Hard not to love a cuisine that considers French fries an essential ingredient in a stir fry:


And equally hard not to love a front door that looks like this, which is where the feller at the top of this post comes from:


Later that same day I sat alone at the bar of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and drink a solitary martini.  The barman mixed it in a chemistry lab beaker like this:


 which definitely added to the ritual if not to the taste, though it was a perfectly good example of the beast.


As I was sitting there sipping my drink, a woman came to the bar and said to the barman. “Give me the sweetest drink you serve.
The barman took it in his stride. 
“What kind of liquor do you like?” he asked.  “Vodka?”
 “Yeah vodka,” the woman said.   
She and I watched as the barman juggled various anonymous bottles, shook them up, and gave her a pale drink in a martini glass.  She went away to a table, apparently very happy.
“What was in that?” I asked the barman.
         He said, “Vodka, lemoncello, lemon juice, cheery liqueur and bar syrup.”
         “Yep,” I said, “that’s a sweet drink you’ve got there.”
         Though it now occurs to me that however sweet your drink is, you can always make it sweeter by adding some more bar syrup.  But why would you?


And then later in La Café de la Presse (352 Grant Avenue), a very reliable French restaurant, I was eating my steak tartar and on the adjacent table were two men and their female partners, but the women weren’t saying much as the men pontificated loudly about the state of American politics, which was not very interesting, and then they talked about the judges they knew, which might have been very interesting if you’d known the judges in question, but of course I didn’t. 
At that point I began to assume they must be lawyers, but then one of them said to the other, “I do what I call geo-financial engineering.”  I wasn’t sure that was a “thing,” but in fact a little light Googling reveals that geo-financial engineering is not only a thing but a registered service mark (as opposed to trademark).  You can look it up if you like, but again, why would you?