The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

bread, plus a malformed response

I just devoured a chunk of a ginormous $2 sourdough baguette I bought from the Union Square Greenmarket this afternoon. The bakers at the Greenmarket and I had been parted for far too long. I endured nightmares of a neverending breadless existence, night after night..."Instead, you shall eat Saltines, forever"...

Okay, I didn't have nightmares. And it's only been a few weeks since I stuffed my face with bread from the Greenmarket. But. Um. You know me. When I see people toting around boring salad bowls, sandwiches, or wraps, I think, "Dude, why didn't you just get a delicious crusty baguette or loaf of bread? So much more satisfying! And cheaper! And less nutritious!" If it was good enough for European peasants during the middle ages, it's good enough for me. (My knowledge of history is pretty bad so let's not discuss the origins of peasants and bread and how much bread they did or did not eat. For the purposes of this entry, they ate lots of crusty loafy bread.)

So, that was random. But keeping on the topic of bread, Sarah and I ate at Calcutta Monday night, which I shall review later for being so very tasty. However, for now you may witness evidence of our carboholicness. As you may or may not know, most Indian restaurants have a bread menu. Yes, a menu just dedicated to fluffy round discs, which is about as exciting to me as a menu dedicated to cupcakes or chocolate.

"Man, this bread is soooo gooood." Sarah spent a great deal of the night talking about the wonderfulness of the bread and pointing out other customers' breads. And then I wondered...

"Hey, why don't we come here one day and just order bread? We'd have an entire meal of different breads."


"...RIGHT ON!"

That wasn't exactly verbatim, but you get the idea. And you know it's going to happen. "Yes, we'd like to take one of each bread. ...No, you heard us correctly."

Here's an interesting article I read the other day from my school's newspaper: Restaurant Week for status, not savings. I'm mentioning it here because some parts kind of bothered me.

Celebrity-obsession, rampant consumerism and social segregation on every Manhattan corner should prompt the lower rungs of the income ladder to reject these classist ideals and embrace our own choices that hit a bit lighter on the price scale. Instead of balking at the social system, however, we blindly jump at a chance to emulate another's lifestyle in any way our more-paltry finances will allow, be it buying knock-off Louis Vuitton purses on Chinatown street corners or giddily participating in Restaurant Week.

I...I like food! Fooood! I like eating it! And anyone who is not in the upper financial stratum of society is probably just a teeny bit interested to see what a $25 prix fixe meal will result in. But it's not really about the price, as she goes on to say:

It isn't so much that the prices are offensive. It's the premise that price and quality are inherently linked. Apparently the $2 falafel sandwich I get on Bleecker and Thompson is not great food, a conclusion with which I do not concur. [...] I blame all the rest of the commoners out there that caress the hand that oppresses them � jumping at this opportunity and reinforcing the false idea that expensive food is the epitome of a great dining experience.

I wouldn't say expensive food is the epitome of a great dining experience, but it might (well, should) be one great dining experience. There are cheap restaurants that are awesome, and there are expensive restaurants that suck the crap. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean better, nor does cheap imply something is bad, but am I being too presumptuous to think that most people know this already?

I guess I felt like the writer was a bit patronizing; did anyone else get that feeling? I doubt I would've tried DB Bistro Moderne or Union Square Cafe if not for Restaurant Week because...well, I'm kind of cheap. However, I also like to eat lots of things and in a sense, I would count "expensive food" as one type of cuisine I'd want to try (I guess it's more like French-style or "new American" something or other; no, I don't know much about food). Why did I try Ethiopian food? Because I've never had it before and it was a new experience. Why did I try certain Restaurant Week restaurants? Because I've never been to them before and they were new experiences. It wasn't a blind, "I'm gonna go to whatever pricey restaurant I stumble upon!" decision for the sake of eating anything during Restaurant Week.

I think I had more to say, but I'm slow and don't remember the rest. Hohum. ...Well. Okay, I remembered one part. It's safe to assume that some restaurants cost a lot because they use many high-quality ingredients, have expensive facilities, and have a buttload of employees to support, besides paying the rent for an uber-desired location. I'm not saying that all expensive places follow this model, nor that the ones who do will give you the best dining experience of your life, but in many instances it's natural for price and quality to be linked.

...But quality doesn't necessarily mean you'll like it. Hell, I love those 5/$1 dumplings at Dumpling House! CRAZY DELICIOUS. Are they high quality? Um. God knows where the meat came from. Do I care? Mildly. Of course, some things like meat are artificially cheap due to subsidies and whatnot, guess that's another discussion. DELICIOUS MYSTERY MEAT!!!

Okay, I'm done. I was supposed to do homework for the past hour but instead I ate and wrote this malformed response. God dammit! I do no work! OH, wait wait, I did do something, albeit, something pointless and unrelated to school:

buuh colors
pancake shirt?

A Poofy pancake shirt is in the making. Hoorah! Comment on flickr if you're interested in it.


Liz / February 15, 2006 5:53 PM

I'm with you on this.

When I do the Restaurant Week shuffle it's because I want to sample something new that's hopefully within my financial reach. It has nothing to do with wanting someone else's lifestyle.

Another thing, that article makes me want to yell, "Workers of the world UNITE!" and go buy a Mao jacket. Good d*g!

santos. / February 16, 2006 12:42 AM

oh, craptastic university level op/ed birdshot. at least they know where to stick it.

personally, i think the thing with that whole spiel was that the author reacted to the press release copy: "you can taste just how great great food is, no matter the size of your wallet." it was written by a flak, so i can't fault him/her wanting to do the job s/he's paid to do. the more accurate copy would read "great food is great food, no matter the size of your wallet."

whatevs. so your reporter misses out on some nice cheaper meals from restaurants that are known for their food, along with all the other trappings, and you'll have expanded your palate further. who's more aware, then.

Shawn / February 16, 2006 3:46 PM

Somewhat on a tangent, but...Wouldn't it be funny if all the cheap lunch places participated in Restaurant Week and charged $25 for a falafel? BTW, some Restaurant Week $25 lunches are more expensive than a regular lunch at the same restaurant.

roboppy / February 17, 2006 12:07 AM

Liz: Right on!...not that I wouldn't mind living an uber rich lifestyle, or Japanese lifestyle, or [insert other lifestyle with yummy food], hehe. But some restaurant week places really have yummy stuff and it's totally worth it. Mmm, want more...

santos: Bah, press releases suck! WHO WRITES THOSE THINGS?!#@! "Great food is great food, no matter the size of your wallet" sounds much better. Yup, it's the reporter's loss. And my caloric gain!

Shawn: $25 falafel..people would probably be like "whoaa that's probably a REALLY GOOD FALAFEL." Maybe they can stick gold flakes in it. Yeah, I noticed that some restaurant week deals aren't very good Plenty of places have affordable prix fixe menus on a regular basis, but there isn't anything wrong with eating those!

Antti / February 17, 2006 7:54 AM

Hi Robyn,

I love reading your blog, and I can totally relate to the I'll-blog-just-a-little-bit-first-then-study mentality ;)

And then I found your POOFYVILLE! What an awesome site!!! :D I really hope you reopen the store soon, as I can't wait to get my very own T-shirt with Poobs shouting for meat :)


Helsinki, Finland

Heather / February 17, 2006 2:09 PM

Hey robyn tis me,
heather h. I love the poofy shirts! I tried to post on flicker but ya had to sign up for an account and all that mess etc etc etc. May I have a light blue one?

Jason Truesdell / February 17, 2006 4:06 PM

In my days as a college student, I might have had some similar thoughts to the author you described, and I'm sure Lauren is generally thoughtful and progressive minded.

But I think it comes down to overemphasizing the significance of "greatness." Great falafel is certainly possible, but the factors that contribute to its greatness are not necessarily the same as, for example, what makes a great cheese, great sushi, or a great 12 course Korean imperial-style or Japanese kaiseki meal.

The quality of ingredients, the skills of the preparer, the amount of love and passion put into it, and sometimes factors as mundane-sounding as the ability of the owner to buy the right amounts of an item at the right time, from the right vendor, contribute to very different experiences from otherwise similar sounding ingredients.

It's quite possible that a fair number of the restaurants on the list are overrated and I'd bet that some of them aren't even "great."

But quality usually comes with a cost. I have to pay $5-10 for a half pound of buffalo milk mozzarella, or about $2-5 for a half pound of regular cow's milk mozzarella. I could buy the institutional low moisture stuff that's the darling of chain pizza places, but I guarantee that mine tastes better. There aren't a lot of water buffalo to go around, so the price of products built on water buffalo milk is at a bit of a premium. Not to mention, the shelf life is measured in days or weeks instead of years. For a restaurant juggling how much to buy and how much to use is an art and a very expensive one.

When you go out to a restaurant in New York, unlike takeout or delivery, you're doing it not so much to save time, but to save space. So you end up paying someone else's rent so that you can have an unusual experience, rather than renting an apartment three times the size and paying three times as much for basic living expenses.

That costs money. Greatness or not, it's more expensive, and it's not necessarily done to bamboozle you out of money. Pleasant, relaxed experiences, offered with skilled service and artfully prepared food, are valuable. A guy selling you a falafel for $3 at a counter-service only place is not paying as much for his space, the food doesn't require as much precision, and I bet his costs are far more attractive than the costs of running a $25-50/person dinnner destination. The falafel guy's probably even generating better net margins. But you'd be right to expect more from the more expensive experience.

The average 20 year old hasn't really developed a well trained palate and probably can't always distinguish what makes one dish better than another. Accordingly, it's probably pretty easy to argue that a $10 sushi special from a place run by Korean immigrants is better tasting than a $200 omakase from a chef who wasn't allowed to do more than sweep the floors for a year before even learning to make the rice. I bet the cheap one does have a stronger, more intense flavor, but getting minimalism right requires far more consciousness and far more expensive ingredients.

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