Monday, November 16, 2009

The New Yorker Swimsuit Issue (a.k.a., the food edition)

The New Yorker Food Issue just arrived in my inbox, and I've been spending the last hour or so reading about, inter alia, Thanksgivings abroad.  

[Sidenote:  I've been describing said issue over IM all day, and the absence of convenient italics therein forced me to experiment with capitalizations I found less than ideal.  "The New Yorker Food Issue" is clearly deficient, suggesting as it does a single title, and while I settled on "The New Yorker food issue," I didn't like the casualness of that lower-casing of the issue.  This is all by way of confessing my intense punctuation-and-style geekdom, that the availability of italics in this medium comes as a genuine relief.  Also the reader kindly will note that while standard Bluebook style is not to italicize Latin phrases such as "inter alia," that rule follows the policy of underscoring vocabularies the reader is expected to find unfamiliar extends only so far as the presumption that a legal audience will be familiar with them.  In other words, it's a genre-specific rule that really shouldn't be leaned upon for more than... oh, I'm sorry, is this boring you?  Hey, fuck you, then.]

The waiter arrived and placed before Maxime a large white plate. At the center was her foie gras, a short pillar of puréed duck liver on a piece of crisp toast with a lacy web of caramelized sugar on top; the sides were studded with cherries and sprinkled with pistachios, and a transparent sauce, made of white port gelée, surrounded the entire creation like a moat. She considered the dish for a few moments, as if trying to determine the best angle of attack. With the side of her fork, she broke off a piece of the complicated construction, and tasted it. The dish, which I later tried, activated every sense with which humans are equipped: the foie gras was smooth and as rich as butter, its silky texture contrasting with the caramelized sugar, which shattered like a pane of microscopically thin glass against the teeth and tongue, its sweetness offset by the sour cherries, the rounded aromatic flavor of the toasted nuts, and the texture and taste of the port gelée.

"Excellent," Maxime said.

I asked her what she liked about it.

"It's not really a 'like' and a 'not like,' " she said. "It's an analysis. You're eating it and you're looking for the quality of the products. At this level, they have to be top quality. You're looking at 'Was every single element prepared exactly perfectly, technically correct?' And then you're looking at the creativity. Did it work? Did the balance of ingredients work? Was there good texture? Did everything come together? Did something overpower something else? Did something not work with something else? The pistachios—everything was perfect."

When her second appetizer arrived—the crab toast topped with toasted sesame seeds—she dipped the tines of her fork into a thick line of dark-green sauce that bisected the narrow rectangle of crab toast, and touched it to her tongue. Her eyes grew wide.

"This sauce is really good," she said. "It's so Jean-Georges. He does this French-and-Asian thing." She warned me that she would need a few seconds to figure out its precise ingredients. (She refused to divulge them, on the ground that Vongerichten would consider the recipe "a trade secret." I later learned from one of the waiters that the ingredients include powdered English mustard and soy sauce.) "It's so complex," she said. "It makes me smile."

Her Arctic char arrived, on a bed of watercress rémoulade, and accompanied by a julienne of apple. She took a bite. "It's perfectly cooked," she said, excitedly. "I mean, it's textbook."

I don't know if I have a whole lot to say about this other than something just below the surface itches, that I'm pretty sure it pisses me off.  I'm no ascetic---hell, I'm a fat guy---but there's something intensely respectable about the Buddhist credo that one should eat in order to live, not live in order to eat.  That is, it goes without saying, completely incompatible with a carmelized sugar crust atop a slab of foie gras studded with cherries and pistachios.  

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