Before the turn of the century a very different set of enemies was having it out in our culture wars. One battle raged on the tables of eateries. Unpretentious American grub squared off against European, and mainly French, “cuisine.” Places in DC like The Palm, Gary’s, Duke Ziebert’s, Mel Krupins and Joe and Moe’s maintained a hostile front against Le Pavilion, Maison Blanche, Tiberio, Cantina D’Italia, Lion d’Or and Bistro Francaise.
The critics mostly leaned to the Gallic side of the table. Still, Post foodie Phyllis Richman’s best shot ever nailed Le Pavilion chef Yannick Cam in the early 1980s: “After $100 for 8 courses you want to stop for a Big Mac on the way home.”
There’s never a true victor in a cultural catfight. France’s most prestigious cooking award is named for a tire. Ours comes from a guy who advertised Gaines-burgers and Jolly Green Giant corn niblets. The latter product is somewhat closer to being food than treaded rubber is. Whatever Mssr. Beard sold his soul for 50 years ago, no longer makes any difference. Today, if you choose the wrong dish, you become an oppressor. Once The James Beard Awards became a political football, the forward progress of “dining out” got sacked.
During the Reagan-Bush-Clinton eras I spent more going out each month than on rent and other expenses combined. That investment’s primary long-term dividend was a lot of opinions. At the risk of sounding like a cheese-eating-surrender-monkey, my money spilled the way of the continentals.
Slinging gin and hash from Joe and Moe’s for several years convinced me that elitist ineptitude making choices runs gut deep. Nobody who worked there would have paid for their wares at any discount. The daily seafood special was pre-cooked partway and stacked like cordwood. What do you think a soft-shell crab is like at 1 P.M. after sitting half done under 30 others since 11:30? Tuna enduring the same treatment could be used as a structural building material. Red bliss potatoes were skinned and deep fried. A doctor who was a regular referred to them as “cannon balls.”
A bartender at The Irish Times imported smoked salmon from the Old Sod. Upon meeting Moe Sussman at a trade show, he offered to send the restaurateur a sample of his fish. It was met with: “That’s okay, just tell me the price.” The steaks and prime rib, his signature items, constantly switched purveyors using the same criteria.
Every lunch throughout the Reagan years the dump filled up with an A-list. Maureen Dowd spent midday nursing a vodka martini skirting from table to table or hanging with Rudy Maxa and a Jordanian arms dealer. Reagan’s special counsel, Fred Fielding, held a corner booth. Lyn Nofziger was a fixture. We got Paul Laxalt, other senators and numerous congressmen. Sam Donaldson showed up. Ted Koppel often had dinner there before his broadcast with producer Rick Kaplan. Senators, lobbyists, famous lawyers, editors and wheelers and dealers of all kinds were slopped in the joint. Meanwhile, one of the best places in town, The Tabard Inn, was right around the corner. It’s still there and still serves a scrumptious plate.
Staff apologists for these perverse palates propounded the zany theory that rich people didn’t care about the quality of the food – high society hob-nobbery was above trifling attention to what went down their gentrified gullets. The Palm, a block away, served marginally different versions of the same goop hosting marginally different versions of the same kind of prey. I made the mistake once. After asking the waiter if the grapefruit juice was fresh, one was ordered. A sip later the question became: “Did you mean out of the can?” The spinach was frozen and the salmon was old. That greasy spoon still stands with pressure on the door for lunch and dinner.
Who can explain it? If you don’t know how to feed yourself, without time or budgetary constraints in the way, other idiotic choices don’t seem unlikely. Anyone in need of fuel, who is oblivious to what they’ll be planting a fork into, has placed their judgment on any matter, into serious question. People who pay top dollar for sustenance some public school cafeterias can match are not management material – no matter what Harvard might say.
It’s possible that some wising up has occurred in where the elite meet to eat. If so, it looks to be a temporary development. The grazing gilded herd has been following bellwethers cyclically. Toots Shor’s was another famous long gone dive frequented by celebs. What passed for nutrition there left many a tourist less than impressed. A couple who had waited over an hour in line told Shor, “We get better steaks in Oklahoma City.” The legendary prohibition era bouncer came back: “Yeah, but when you’re done eatin,’ you’re still in Oklahoma City.”
When Yogi Berra said — “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” – he would have made perfect sense — if he had meant nobody with any idea what cooking is supposed to be. A reasonable response to what some commercial kitchens will put in front of diners is too often, “have these people ever had food before?” It’s the case from nearly every eatery with an NYSE listing already. People who have arrogated the role of a planetary conscience won’t be satisfied until every bite is a barely palatable ordeal.
We have good reason to question any culinary judgments coming down from the top of the food chain. It’s supposedly a “conspiracy theory” that anybody opining from heights and elite conclaves said we should eat bugs. We are not talking about the lobster Steve McQueen had in Tom Horn, that he called “The biggest bug I ever et.” Nope, it’s the creepy crawlies of June they have in mind. There are people who claim to do nothing but think of your welfare. They are the same ones slurping down Sauterne with their foie gras while globetrotting at 30,000 feet — while insisting governments everywhere cut your mileage and protein intake. The millions who heard “insect diet” from them don’t need their hearing checked. Invites to exclusive international clambakes come with rare privileges, which include 100% leeway editing past comments. Meanwhile, working stiffs can lose everything over a wisecrack with any zing.
After some success pummeling the mass psyche into line with psychobabble, taking on the world palate looks doable to the crème-de-la crème. They’ve figured out that the shortcut to Sovietizing appetites is strategic. Go for the sources. Once everyone has forgotten what “marbling” is, the leaner flesh of rodents becomes more marketable. When they buy up farmland by the square mile it doesn’t bode well for home-cooked meals. Turning dinner at 7:30 with Mom, Dad and the kids into a digestive ordeal meshes nicely with another enlightened plan. Purging the world of the plague known as “the nuclear family.”
Whatever was wrong with Ronald Reagan’s years at 1600 Penn, not to say there was nothing to complain about then, getting satiated by publicans was easier and less pricey than it is now. When a globalist entourage shuts down the world’s best farmers, as in Holland, it’s no small matter. Whatever cover-up manages to work about the insect diet they advocate, the fare ordinary Joe was used to, is in for a squeeze. Aristocrats have never been that adept choosing their own eats. How trustworthy can they be deciding the menu for those they see beneath them? They barely know the difference between silage and ripe corn themselves.
When you hear Marxist rhetoric coming down from the Magic Mountains in Davos where the world’s power brokers convene, it’s a good bet Joe Six-Pack dining like a common comrade tops the agenda. The whole point of elite conclaves is an uber-adult parental unit putting the chow down on peasant plates. What kind of grub is in store after media moguls, software titans and Blackrock suits finish taking over the acreage farmer Jones once tended? With that syndicate tilling the fields you’d better be wary of the neo-nouvelle cuisine. Every secret ingredient that has spilled from their cauldrons so far has turned out to be toxic.