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The Gobbler

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How to Eat in Tokyo, Michelin Capital of the World

Tokyo fish
When it comes to New York restaurants, the Gobbler’s views on the addled Mandarins at the Michelin Guides are well known. But when news came, the other day, that the first-ever Michelin Guide to restaurants in Tokyo had awarded our distant sister city a mind-boggling total of 191 stars (compared to 65 in Paris and 54 in New York), the Gobbler had to admit that those crazy fools might be on to something. Not long ago, we spent a week rampaging through Tokyo in a kind of epicurean daze. The Gobbler still isn’t sure exactly what he consumed (fugu sperm sacks, possibly; grilled chicken uterus, definitely; a very nice chocolate éclair flavored with bamboo), but one thing’s for sure. It was all pretty damn good. Here are a few rules for eating yourself silly in that great restaurant mecca, Tokyo, Japan.

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Adam Platt Defends His Ratings

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.

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How to Master the World of Airport Dining

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:

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Notes on the Local Barbecue Revolution

Is the great Calvin Trillin rubbing his eyes in wonderment? Has New York become, after years of bitterness and complaint, a kind of glittering Kansas City by the sea? Or is New York actually a better barbecue town, these days, than K.C. or Memphis or any of the other fabled smoke pits around the country? With the success of Kansas City facsimiles like RUB, Danny Meyer’s annual BBQ festival, and the recent arrival of Hill Country, some respected barbecue hounds actually think so. And what does the Gobbler think? The Gobbler thinks barbecue is a lot better and more ubiquitous in the big city than it used to be. Here’s his guide to the new barbecue revolution.

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About Chodorow’s Latest Screed ...

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.

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Do People Really Think Adam Platt Is a Miserable F-Word?

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.

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The Gobbler Goes to the Derby

“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.

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This Is Why New York’s Not Hot

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.

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You Know You’re a Meathead When ...

The Gobbler recently introduced the world to what he called the “Refined Meathead” school of cooking. Meatheads are mostly male, pork- and offal-obsessed cooks who disdain classical (read “French”) haute cuisine in favor of an earthier brand of cuisine. Mario Batali is king of the Meatheads. David Chang is a Meathead. Daniel Boulud, who grew up eating robust Lyonnaise food and cooks the best pork belly in town when he feels like it, is a closet Meathead. Who are the rest of the Meatheads? How would you know one if you met one in the street? Here are the Gobbler’s Six Meathead Commandments.

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How to Eat in London

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.

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Where to Send Your French Friend Maurice for Continental Opulence

The Gobbler’s friend, a well-traveled aesthete and gentleman, called the other day on his way from the airport to ask for a list of newer dining establishments where he could find a civilized meal. The Gobbler told this friend (let’s call him Maurice) that civilized dining was no more in Manhattan. The grand old French restaurants have been routed from the field, replaced by an uncertain rabble of fusion joints, haute Italian pasta palaces, and pork-centric dining bars. Maurice was aghast. “I want a minimum of four waiters for the table,” he cried into his gleaming Treo. “I want to pay $500 bucks for a bottle of Burgundy, I want a tea sommelier, I want to feel like I’m having an EXTRAORDINARY DINING EXPERIENCE.” This peevish outburst got the Gobbler thinking about old-fashioned (read “Continental”) opulence, and where you can find it in this fickle, pork-obsessed town.

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Congratulations: You’re Headed to Siberia!

During the course of a recent breakneck tour of restaurants in London, the Gobbler found himself paying Kobe-beef-like prices for taxi rides and eating, among other things, more pig’s head than he ever thought humanly possible. Unlike in New York, the maître d’s of London weren’t lying in wait for the Gobbler, and photos of his giant mug weren’t plastered in every kitchen. So he also found himself dining in that vast restaurant wasteland known as Siberia. He was seated by the great yawning kitchen doors at a hot new restaurant in Piccadilly, among tourists from Singapore at Gordon Ramsay’s newest place, and next to a giant flower pot at the Connaught Hotel. The experience prompted the Gobbler to compose another one of his lists. You know you’re sitting in Siberia when …

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The Gobbler Responds to Mr. Chodorow’s Broadside

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.)

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Signs You're About to Have an Awful Meal

The Gobbler has often expounded on the role that subjective tastes play in the enjoyment of a particular meal or restaurant. Mrs. Gobbler, for instance, likes to dine in sushi bars and tiny English tea parlors, while the Gobbler prefers giant, smoke-filled barbecue establishments and unruly burger joints. During our time wandering the sprawling landscape that is New York City fine dining, however, we have noticed that not very good restaurants, like Kobe Club (reviewed this week, and which of course, not everybody thought was so bad), tend to have certain characteristics in common. So here are a few of the Gobbler’s tips for anticipating when your dinner might really suck.

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Children: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Not Take ‘Em to Dinner

Restaurant critics suffer all kinds of afflictions as a result of their curious jobs, but solitude isn’t one of them. The Gobbler’s 3-year-old daughter, Penelope, is just beginning to terrorize waiters around town, and we recently included an abbreviated list of our 7-year-old daughter Jane’s favorite dessert joints in the magazine’s roundup of the best places to eat in 2007. Since then we have been barraged with requests for tips — okay, one person wanted to know — on how to dine out in restaurants with young children. The short answer is that it’s easy, sort of. In the Gobbler’s experience, most restaurants in the city, including many of the very expensive ones like Le Bernardin and Le Cirque, will go out of their way to accommodate young children. All you need as a parent is experience, endurance, and a high capacity for shame. And the Gobbler’s rules for dining with kids.

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Resolutions for the Year of the Pig

Those of us who inhale large amounts of food for a living tend to make new resolutions not just on a yearly basis, but month to month, week to week, even day to day. But since 2007 will soon be celebrated by Chinese astrologers, and fatso gourmands the world over, as the Year of the Pig, the Gobbler has resolved to make himself a special list. It does not take effect, for the record, until February 18, the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

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The Scale of Rabid Food Consumption, From Ravenous to Blacked Out

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).

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Ms. Gobbler's Turn: Her Favorite Restaurants

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.

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The Nine Steakhouse Commandments

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.

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The Gobbler Visits the New Hearst Cafeteria, Finds Chiseled Cheekbones

Gobbler doesn't have an elaborate, high-design office cafeteria to visit, or even much of an office. And he doesn't spend too much time hanging around with waiflike fashion models, or even the willowy, waiflike fashionistas who publicize them. So when a highly placed friend at one of the Hearst fashion magazines asked if he'd be interested in sampling the grub at the brand-new corporate cafeteria, in the gleamingly impressive, just-opened, Norman Foster–designed Hearst tower, he dropped his morning game of Sudoku, put on his trousers, and hopped in a cab heading uptown.

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