Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Through New Eyes

by The Foodist

With our beloved Bob head deep in pork bellies and TCM I think its time I posted a little more to take the pressure off my gracious host a little bit.

I spent the day in the city Monday, inspired to catch an early train and spend a day wandering the streets before the Ruhlman and Bourdain Power Hour made a chaotic mess of Union Square.

Truth be told, I'm not a city kind of guy. Don't get me wrong; I love the city. Where else can you find a restaurant within a stones throw of where you stand, or a used book store to bury yourself in and drool? But for a guy like me; raised in middle America's happy homemaker suburban prisons, the city is like a rat maze I can never figure out -and all I want is the damn cheese!

Besides my obvious lack of direction skill within the city, or the fact that I cant figure out the subway to save my life, you have to give the city credit for being a foodies paradise. Its my love for all things small and mom & pop that tends to be my biggest weakness. Upon arriving in at Grand Central (Strangely enough my first time there, ever.) I wandered around the Grand Central Market looking at produce and fish. After eying a piece of chocolate I realized I had to get something to eat, and fast. In my rush to catch the morning train I missed breakfast, so I wandered (Are we getting the hint that I spend most of my time wandering?) around a couple blocks passing up Starbucks, Deli's, more Starbucks, at least two small cafes, until I found myself back on 42nd looking at a menu outside a small Italian joint call Dominicos. The idea of hot tomato sauce and cheese won me over as a giant gust of wind nearly blew me over.

I poked my head in the door, greeted by the sight of old businessmen and small groups of older women shoppers enjoying pasta and stiff drinks. "Good Deal" is what I thought to myself as I asked if they could seat one. The hostess looked at me as if I had two heads then nodded and said "Where would you like to sit?" in a thick eastern block accent. I think at that point I probably looked at her in the same way she looked at me, but shrugged it off thinking it was amusing. I took a seat nearest the door and was greeted by a waiter who asked in a thick Italian accent if I wanted a drink. Ordering my usual 7&7 I settled in for some food.

At this point I will skip the details of my meal, but suffice it to say:

-The fried Mozzarella was very good

-Why do we insist on garnishing plates with giant sprigs of Parsley?!

-Having to wait 10 minutes for a menu is annoying

-Having your pasta taste like it came out of a box, and the sauce out of a can or bottle is disappointing.

After finishing my meal I ran uptown to catch a movie with an old classmate who has since left the CIA for other life options. When she arrived she looked at me and said:

"My mother thinks I'm crazy"

I looked at her and laughed asking "Why because you are going to a book signing with authors of a field you just left?"

"No", she replied opening her bag slightly exposing a copy of her Professional Chef "Because I'm going to ask them to sign this."

We laughed about it but I reassured her it would probably go over very well with Bourdain and Ruhlman.

We finished the movie and rushed to Union Square to the Barnes and Noble for the signing and Q&A session. We arrived early and wandered around Union Square entering a book store that is famous in the city, The Strand. My greatest weakness, next to food, is books. I love them. There is nothing more heartwarming and welcoming to me then to see shelves and shelves of books. To me its like a giant warm blanket. I trolled some sections before stopping in the Culinary section, amazed at some of the books they had. Relics of 70's diet fads, A Professional Chef 2nd and 5th edition (I already own a second edition so I passed on it), and as my eyes scanned upwards I saw a copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I'm not one who believes much in Fate or any of that, but after hearing about the cookbook for weeks, then reading Ruhlman's Elements of Cooking in which he mentions it numerous times the irony was not lost on me. We grabbed it and I continued trolling turning up another treasure, Bourdain's The Nasty Bits for a whopping 5 bucks. How could I pass that up?

It was ten till seven and I had to force myself to the register before I started drooling over more books, forcing me to buy them. We set out back into the cold, toward Barnes and Nobles. Making our way to the fourth floor we realized we should have gotten there earlier. The room was crowded and we were informed it was going to be standing room only from then on. We opted to get into the line for the signing that had started in the back of the room.

After the boys had been introduced (with obvious jokes again about Ruhlman's hair, the now expected punch line) someone thought it wise to turn on a TV in the back for us poor souls who showed up to late to grab a seat. The Q&A session was about what I expected from these two. Quips about each other, Bourdain knocking Das (Food) Netwerk at every chance and giving Ruhlman a hard time about being on Next Iron Chef. Then Ruhlman cutting back some but taking it all with a smile most of the night. It became obvious that the majority was there for Bourdain as just about every question was aimed at him and about No Reservations. Ruhlman, not missing a beat, made a quip about his book currently outselling No Reservations, which got a round of applause from the audience and a slight giggle from Bourdain.

After waiting around some more to get to the actual table for the signing we said our hello's got some books signed and went on our merry way (BTW Both Bourdain and Ruhlman were elated to see a copy of Pro Chef on the table). After we got downstairs and I paid for my copy of No Rez I realized I choked when I got to the table. I was going to ask Bourdain if he planned on returning to Beirut for another attempt. After his last visit I was curious if he wanted to redeem the episode by doing what he set out to do originally. You knew after watching the episode, and from the bit in No Reservations that he was heartbroken by his visit.

We finished the evening by eating at Republic, and I realized there was a whole list of places I desperately wanted to try to get to before school ends. Republic was nice, the atmosphere was welcoming, crowds of people sitting at community tables eating pots of noodles and enjoying themselves. What bothered me was the lighting. We questioned our waitress about it, she commented that the evening manager liked to turn the lights down low. While dim lights can be appealing we found ourselves squinting to see menu, and really unable to enjoy the look of our food.

With food in our bellies my roommate, whom met up with me at B&N for the signing, and I headed home.

All in all an interesting trip; the rewards of which are a bag full of good reading material, the mental note to make a list of places to eat before I leave, and a cold.

In the end there's really only one question that still burns in my mind.

Ruhlman.... What was with the flask of vodka next to you at the signing?! Book tour worn you out that badly? or is it Bourdain's bad influence at work yet again?


ruhlman said...

thanks for the good post, foodist, good to meet you and it was great to sign a copy of the pro chef. i don't know where that vodka came from. though one person in line for the signing asked for swig.

The Foodist said...


Great to finaly say hello in person as well.