How to Eat in Tokyo, Michelin Capital of the World
After seeing that our good friend Adam Platt awarded Allen & Delancey, a restaurant we especially admire, a measly two stars, we decided to confront him with his misjudgment, and request – nay, demand! – that he explain and even justify his method of awarding stars to us. We knew it was an argument we couldn't win, and what's more that we shouldn't win, given the fact that Platt is arguably the city's top critic, but we also know he would respond to us like the big baited bear that he is. The debate played out via our favorite medium, Instant Messenger.
It was the Gobbler’s duty, recently, to spend a sizable amount of time foraging for sustenance in the city’s major airports. We sipped yogurt smoothies at Newark International, sampled withered, entombed-looking pretzel dogs at La Guardia, nibbled hideously large Cinnabons in the company of dazed-looking Nigerian travelers at JFK. Did this grim journey lead to an expanded, almost Yoda-like knowledge on how to survive in this culinary wilderness? Absolutely! Thus, here are the Gobbler’s commandments for dining in airports:
Two weeks ago, it was Mario Batali who bared his considerable fangs and lashed out at the Gobbler in a most unseemly way. Now, this week, comes word of another anti-Gobbler screed penned by the aggrieved and suddenly blog-happy restaurateur Mr. Jeffrey Chodorow. Mr. Chodorow takes issue with the Gobbler’s not entirely unkind, one-star review of the restaurateur's giant fish-themed restaurant, Wild Salmon. To which the Gobbler can only say, “Thank you, Mr. Chodorow!” As we said last week in this space, a critic isn’t doing his job unless fat cats like Batali and Mr. Chodorow occasionally become unhinged. Restaurateurs know their own businesses intimately, after all, and we professional critics only peddle subjective opinion. If Chodorow chooses to take issue with our opinions, he’s more than entitled to it.
When the dignified and unflappable restaurant critic Adam Platt learned that, in a moment of unzipped candor, the great Mario Batali had called him a “miserable fuck,” the critic removed a dusty bottle of rye from his desk drawer and poured himself a noonday toast. After all, if chefs don’t squeal like stuck hogs once in a while, a restaurant critic isn’t doing his job. But the Gobbler had a different reaction. “Miserable Fuck”?!??!?! Wasn’t that a bit over the top? The Gobbler got on the phone with Mrs. Gobbler to find out.
“I took the expressway out to the track,” wrote Hunter Thompson on his way to the Kentucky Derby, “driving with a beer in one hand and my mind so muddled I almost crushed a Volkswagen full of nuns.” The Gobbler thought of the great Bard of Gonzo when he made his own pilgrimage to the Derby last weekend, traveling with Mrs. Gobbler and her box full of hats. Thompson wrote his famous account almost 40 years ago, but in the interim not much appears to have changed. The track, on the outskirts of Louisville, still resembles a “huge outdoor loony bin,” and members of the local gentry are still “guzzling their mint juleps with two hands.” Here is the Gobbler’s dimly recalled, blow-by-blow account.
The question the Gobbler gets asked more than any other is “What’s hot?” And for a several months now, the Gobbler has answered, with tedious regularity, “Nothing.” People are still clawing their way into Waverly Inn, and if you enjoy offal products done up in an elegant, Asian-fusion style, Momofuku Ssäm Bar is the place for you. But the grandiose cycle of openings which began with the arrival of Masa and Per Se at the Time Warner Center four years ago and reached a crescendo early last year with the giant Meat District extravaganzas like Buddakan and Del Posto has more or less petered out. Sure, there have a been a few tepid revivals (the Russian Tea Room), and bigfoot out-of-town chefs like Joël Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay have opened franchise outlets. There are plenty of restaurants in town, and plenty of them are busy. But this most recent boom may have run its course. Here are some possible reasons why.
The Gobbler’s recent Rabelaisian adventures in London produced a piece of measured and in-depth reportage. As usual with pieces of in-depth reportage, however, plenty of stuff got left out. The Gobbler forgot to mention his favorite Indian restaurant (it’s Pakistani, actually), his favorite outdoor market, his tips for ordering dessert (any dish that includes the word “sticky” will do), and his secret strategy for not blowing all of your precious cash (there isn't one). So here, in slightly expanded form, are the Gobbler’s ten rules for eating well in London.
The Gobbler’s first reaction upon opening today’s dining section of the Times (after wiping his bleary eyes and buttering his morning English muffin) was a mild though not unpleasant twinge of envy. There, in a huge full-page ad, was Jeffrey Chodorow’s measured, slightly apoplectic broadside against the Gobbler’s esteemed colleague Frank Bruni. (Here’s the PDF.)
Like astronauts spinning in space or marines in battle, restaurant critics don’t often talk about their mortal fear of expiring on the job. The fear is never greater than this time of year, when lavish restaurant openings converge with the usual year-end tsunami of Thanksgiving turkeys, mince pies, and assorted other potentially lethal treats. Recently, the flow of grub has been so relentless and overwhelming that the Gobbler has been moved — before he chokes on a Christmas turkey bone or finds himself being Heimliched by horrified fleets of midget waiters at Gordon Ramsay — to compose a kind of Richter scale for gourmands. It’s a measure, from one to twenty, of how much you’ve eaten, or how little, and it’s designed to be consulted, in the spirit of the holiday season, after a string of large and festive meals. Let’s call it the Gobbler Scale of Rabid Food Consumption (GSRFC).
In pale imitation of great gastronome scribblers like Calvin Trillin and the late Johnny Apple, the Gobbler has written, perhaps too often, about his wife's taste in food and restaurants (just read his last review). Possibly also like them (the Gobbler doesn't know Mr. Trillin, but he met Apple during his gruff, un-cuddly, pre-foodie days), the Gobbler is often accused by his wife of egregiously distorting her views (you bet he does). Ms. Gobbler would like the world to know that her most-used word is not "yummy," that if given the choice, she'd prefer to eat at home, and that her favorite drink really is champagne. "Also, you always make me sound elfin," she told the Gobbler just a moment ago, "and I am not elfin." In a hasty (and desperate) attempt to clarify the record, I've asked Ms Gobbler to list her current favorite restaurants in town. It goes without saying that Mr. Gobbler approves of these fine establishments, too.
In recent weeks, the Gobbler has found himself sitting night after night in a succession of new steakhouses, staring glumly at the mounting platters of T-bone and porterhouse along with thrombotic servings of greasy hash browns and au gratin potato. The Gobbler has nothing against these restaurants per se. He enjoys a good sizzling hunk of cow as much as the next fellow. But the presence of so many high-profile new ones on the landscape is an unsettling sign. Steakhouses don't perish in times of trouble; they propagate. This fall, the city's superstar chefs are away opening spinoffs in places like Vegas and Shanghai, and the buzz, to the extent there is any, is being created by aged revivals (like the Russian Tea Room), and new ventures by venerable out-of-towners (like L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon). Into this vacuum, invariably, rush more steakhouses. The recipe for the successful New York chophouse is precise, however, and you tinker with it at your peril. So here is the Gobbler's list of random, highly subjective Steakhouse Commandments.