(not that it ever went away.)
i’ve just emerged from an extended weekend of meetings involving several dozen international visitors. one of the perks of these kinds of working weekends is that my lunches and dinners are taken care of. i have to confess that i’m pretty ungrateful when it comes to appreciating the piedmontese kitchen/table (the larder i’m okay with most of the time — except when it comes time to find limes or cilantro). though, perhaps you’ve picked up on this in my posts over the past couple of years. on saturday, however, i realized how misguided i’ve been. we were served a beautiful-looking piece of piedmontese veal for the main course. i impressed the hell out of my table (which included a handful of aged gastronomes (whether self-appointed or no, i’m not totally clear)) when i observed that the meat had been cooked sotto vuoto (sous vide). there’s no mistaking that rosy, moist flesh and the squishiness. rather taken aback, they all asked me how i knew. oh, è molto new yorchese, i said. it reminded me of nearly every piece of protein i’ve eaten in the past four years in new york and paris and a few other michelin-starred eateries in france. and if you follow food and dining columns, sous vide is like the second-coming, it’s been covered so much (everywhere from the nytimes to slate; the story is so old now and so oft-repeated that my involuntary response now to those two words is a big eye roll.).
the sad thing is, vitello piemontese doesn’t benefit from the sous-vide treatment. i mean, maybe the chef fucked up, but it wasn’t as tasty as carne cruda, brasato, arrosto or any of the pot-roasty treatments they’re particularly fond of over here. it was bland. it was boring. maybe this is just further proof that regional cooking really is an expression of the land and particularly suited to local ingredients. or maybe the chef needs to add a little salt to his sauce. there was something about the whole experience though — the white tablecloths, heavy silver, a sort of miró-esque aesthetic sensibility with saucing, a predilection for garnishing with chips made from dehydrated vegetable purée — that was so generic. i really could have been in new york (though i’ve had many more inspired and equally expensive meals in nyc).
the title of this post refers to the kind of place calvin trillin used to write about (and maybe still does; i’ve not yet ponied up for feeding a yen): the interchangeable upper-end establishments that serve a kind of (inter)continental cuisine that really doesn’t have any particularly special characteristics in and of itself (aside from squishy pink meat cooked under vacuum).
i’m going back to nyc for a visit in a couple weeks. and i can’t wait, it’s true. but i find myself feeling sort of tired when i start to consider where to eat, as far as the latest openings/hot spots. (don’t worry: i’m still so, so stoked to finally wrap my lips once again around a perfectly-cooked burger (with pickles! with heinz ketchup!) and to gnaw on some ribs and lick barbecue sauce from my fingers and to slurp up some pork belly ramen.) and oh, i know it’s easy to be too-cool-for-school this way and that maybe i sound more than a little spoiled. but sometimes i just want something a little more personal, with a little more personality.
i can’t wait to eat my mom’s dumplings.