Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Early April Fools at the NY Times

In 1978 there was a newspaper strike in New York City and there was no Times for a bit. During that period, an amazing spoof came out: Not the New York Times. The Times, at that point, had just started printing its special "lifestyle" sections: Dining, Living, etc. In the spoof, the lifestyle section was called "Having". That was so brilliant that to this day I think of this section, whatever the day, as "Having".

Strangely enough, yesterday's Having section (called "Dining" to honor Wednesday) seems to have turned the tables and is itself a spoof. Of itself. Or at least that's the most reasonable conclusion I can come to.

The first article I read was about a restaurant on the upper East Side of Manhattan called Setto Mezzo. Apparently it is a simple plain restaurant that serves simple plain food to simple plain super-rich people for which it charges simple plain fortunes. This is exactly the sort of article you would write in a parody: "...Setto Mezzo, thanks both to the quotidian nature of its food and the enduring fortunes of its clientele, may have stumbled upon a recession-proof model, as a refuge for the Park Avenue establishment." That's got to be a joke, right? The "quotidian" nature of its food? That's an asset?

Do you think I'm kidding? Get this:

"If you are in a very powerful position in New York, you don't eat home ever," Mr. Esposito said. "Those people come here because they don't need a sophisticated meal. They want a simple grilled fish. They want spaghetti with tomato sauce."

Spaghetti with tomato sauce at a restaurant where "A meal for four can easily cost upward of $500 with a few glasses of house wine." It this weren't a joke, it would be Marie Antoinette's favorite stateside bistro.

At this point you might still be thinking that I'm being a little too skeptical here. Am I? Consider the possibility that the entire article is a spoof while reading this:

The menu has barely changed in 20 years. Mr. Esposito said he had learned not to experiment in the kitchen. "Every time we try something fancy, they tell us they don't like it," he said. "An example: once we tried putting the asparagus on one side of the plate and the meat in the middle and the potatoes on the other side of the plate. Too fancy. They tell us they like everything on the plate mixed up."

Yes, that's exactly what I think of when I consider what it means to eat "fancy" food: organizing the vegetables on my plate.

Well ok, perhaps that's just one article that misses its mark for me, and the author was going for a light touch on purpose. So I read the next article, by the usually reliable and pragmatic food writer Mark Bittman. He writes about how you should consider the benefits of a nutritional savory breakfast, to break the mold of doughnuts and cold cereal. That's a great premise, and certainly doesn't seem particularly satirical. That is, until you read the featured recipe for "Coconut Oat Pilaf". This recipe requires that you saute up some steel-cut oats and ginger in hot oil for a while, then cook them in water for a much longer while, then ultimately toss them with grated coconut and 1/2 cup of chopped fresh "cilantro, mint, scallions or parsley, or a combination". Do you know how long it takes to chop 1/2 cup of cilantro? Could you imagine making such a dish (being sure to count all the preparation and cleanup -- washing up after chopping half a cup of herbs I find to be somewhat time consuming) before heading off for work in the morning? How long does it take you to clean up your kitchen after cooking something that requires rinsing, washing, and chopping and uses a couple of pots, and a couple of bowls? Not even counting the cooking time, how much earlier would you have to wake up in the morning? Mark Bittman's job is to play around in the kitchen. Mine is to get to the office by 8:30 or so.

It has to be a joke, right? The real giveaway is seasoning what is essentially hot granola with cilantro. Ha ha! Got you!

The clincher is the third article I read, about how the trendiest chefs and the fanciest restaurants in New York are starting to make desserts from breakfast ingredients. Breakfast ingredients like doughnuts and cold cereal.

...Ms. Tosi took something upscale -- panna cotta -- and yanked it down, using milk with the flavor of the bottom of the cereal bowl. "I wouldn't drink any other kind of milk when I was little," Ms. Tosi said, one recent morning at the gleaming stainless steel Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar, where she is conducting further experiments with sugar cereals.

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute's pastry program, Ms. Tosi solemnly tasted sof-serve ice creams flavored with Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Krispies, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, and Cap'n Crunch. "The rice-based cereals seem to do better on the texture, she said.

Once again, if you were to set out to mock food fads and restaurant cults, could you come up with anything better than this?

Good job, New York Times. You mock the rich. You mock faddish chefs. You mock us. The world is the richer for your humor.
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