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Family Meal - Friday, October 1st, 2021
As usual, the Tuesday Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers a few days ago is copy / pasted at bottom. If you wish you were getting Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
It’s National Day here in this little Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. I don’t have a lot to say about that, but the fireworks have been cancelled, and Family Meal will be light.
Let’s get to it…
The Critics – On Tuesday, NYT critic Pete Wells dropped his much-expected Eleven Madison Park vegan menu review. On Wednesday, former Eater editor Greg Morabito coined the phrase, “secret beef room.” And here we are.
Headline in the NYT: “Eleven Madison Park Explores the Plant Kingdom’s Uncanny Valley. Now vegan, Daniel Humm’s acclaimed restaurant does strange things to vegetables.” To twist a little Run DMC: That’s strange meaning bad, not strange meaning Vespertine (which I hear is good?).
Sample hurts: “Humm is using the skills he brought to meat and seafood to whack away at vegetables... Some are so obviously standing in for meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for them.”
And, “In tonight’s performance, the role of the duck will be played by a beet, doing things no root vegetable should be asked to do… The one at Eleven Madison Park tastes like Lemon Pledge and smells like a burning joint.”
And, “At Noma, [fermented] sauces are administered so subtly that you don’t notice anything weird going on; you just think you’ve never tasted anything so extraordinary in your life. At Eleven Madison Park, certain dishes are as subtle as a dirty martini.”
A tough review of a fine dining place is always a joy to the Internet masses, but this one had the added bonus of that Secret Beef Room, which Wells dropped into his kicker thusly: “Eleven Madison Park still buys meat, though. Until the year ends, the menu offered to customers who book a private dining room includes an optional beef dish, roasted tenderloin with fermented peppers and black lime. It’s some kind of metaphor for Manhattan, where there’s always a higher level of luxury, a secret room where the rich eat roasted tenderloin while everybody else gets an eggplant canoe.”
Page Six loved it (“Just call it Eleven Madison Pork”). Eater tried to go one bigger with a “Full Blown Meat Palace” headline. And I? I took the road less low or high, and that has made all the indifference.
For me, the more interesting debate about the review centers on how Wells treats the environmental argument against meat eating (If restaurants like EMP stop serving heritage pigs, exurbs are coming?) and veganism itself (can eggplant canoes ever be the luxury option?). But, still…
I reached out to Wells and asked two questions.
How did he find out about the secret beef room? “I had two off the record sources on the beef dish. With those two tips in hand, I asked Mr. Humm whether it was true and he confirmed that it was, though only through the end of the year.”
And has the reaction to this review (comments section!) been more contentious than other tough takes he’s dropped? “I'm not sure. There was a lot of back and forth in the article comments about Peter Luger, Per Se and Daniel, but a lot of it was about the restaurants themselves, which had been around long enough that a number of people had experiences to share, pro or con. The EMP vegan menu is still new and given how hard it's been to get a table, I'm not surprised that some of the discussion has focused on other issues, particularly meat and veganism. And yes, I'd agree that those comments in particular are heated, but that's to be expected when vegans and non-vegans face off. (Though there was a lot less fury when I reviewed the vegan restaurant Cadence!) I will say that an unusually large percentage of the commenters seemed to have read the review, which I appreciate.”
So there you have it. Thoughts?
The Critics Too – Dallas Observer critic Brian Reinhart is saying goodbye this week: “So long, and thanks for all the tacos. I’ve been the Dallas Observer’s food critic for five and a half years and 144 formal restaurant reviews, but that ride ends October 1.” Reinhart implies he’ll be replaced (“the next Observer critic might be you, and if you want to give it a try, more information will be along shortly”), but says folks in house will fill in meantime. No word on what’s next for the critic, but if you’d like to take his trip down memory lane — “That first time I had Cheese Island at Butthole” — right this way.
Michelin Season – 2021 stars are out in CA. Jeremy Repanich has the full list in Robb Report, with no change at three stars (except Meadowood dropping out after the fire there), five new two-stars — Addison (SD), Birdsong (SF), Harbor House (Elk), Hayato (LA), and Mélisse (LA) — and 23 new one-stars, including what I think may be the first overt brand collab to ever earn a star in the states (Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura)? Congrats, all!
For breakdowns and reactions, Eater LA has “What the Michelin Guide Got Right (and Wrong) in Los Angeles in 2021,” and the Chronicle’s Janelle Bitker has the Bay Area’s “Here's who won - and got snubbed.” The latter includes some real head scratchers, like the fact that “Octavia, which stayed completely closed for almost the entirety of the pandemic, lost its star when Bar Crenn, a restaurant that still has not reopened its dining room since March 2020, maintained its one-star rating.” And Pim Techamuanvivit’s fancy hit Nari stayed bib gourmand, while her more casual Kin Khao kept a star.
That Disney $$$ – Per Matthew Kang in Eater LA, “Ray Garcia, whose restaurants Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria helped change the dining landscape of Los Angeles, will open a restaurant inside the former Patina space at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in January 2022.” Or is it one of Frank’s other museums? I don’t want to accuse Kang of being a Gehryist, but they do all kind of look the same.
And last but not least: The Dave Chang Show – I am not mentally prepared for the amount of bad discourse that is about to take place around the new David Chang / Morgan Neville show, “The Next Thing You Eat.” Or maybe I’m wrong! Maybe a show that appears to be centered on new food technologies and is hosted by everyone’s favorite Rorschach chef will bring out the best in the commentariat?
And that’s it for today. (Unless you missed Tuesday, in which case, keep scrolling.)
I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!
Here begins the Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, September 28th, 2021. If you’d like to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays from now on…
And hello to paying subscribers only! If you’re getting this as a forward and want to get Tuesdays’ on Tuesdays…
Let’s get to it….
Awards Season –The no-awards James Beard Awards happened as scheduled last night in Chicago, with host Kwame Onwuachi starting things off by asking the audience to join him in shouting, “We’re back!” and acknowledging the weirdness of JBAs sans “A”s. It was… fine. As a frequent Monday morning quarterback of Beard Foundation decisions, my Tuesday morning take is: Not bad for a rebuilding year, folks! Definitely not must see TV (not a dig at the honorees!), but they shunted what they had to work with into the format they want to come back to, and what gaffs I saw were too minor / borderline to list here. (OK, for example… Al Roker kind of implied that bussing tables was a job for “kids” in a ceremony where an entire segment was focused on an adult busser trying to earn money for his sick wife).
A full replay is available on Twitter.
In lieu of actual awards, there were video tributes honoring Bakers Against Racism; the Independent Restaurant Coalition; Pimento Jamaican Kitchen / Pimento Relief Services; Regarding Her; and the Restaurant Worker’s Community Foundation.
And per the JBF’s own recap: “The 12-part digital series featured: Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, Chef Hui, The Lee Initiative, Michael Fojtasek, Off Their Plate, Power of 10, PRoduce!, Restaurants Organizing, Advocating, and Rebuilding (ROAR), Saffron de Twah, SF New Deal, Tennessee Action for Hospitality, and Todos Ponen.”
When it was time to talk about the future of the awards, Tanya Holland said next year’s date was set for June 13th, back at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, and rehashed a bunch of what the Foundation had already put out two weeks ago in a press release about changes to the systems behind the medals. Then she added a teaser of something new(?) at about the 4 minute mark in this segment (on Twitter):
“There is one more change to how we do things that will stick though. As you have seen, the stories we are featuring this evening center around teams more than individuals. That’s not an accident, because it takes a group, a neighborhood, a community to withstand the kinds of crisis we face. But there is something else in this. It is past time for the awards to admit that the pinnacle of culinary accomplishments are never the work of one person... Food is a collaborative medium. The James Beard Awards of the future will shine more light on everyone in the kitchen, not just the person at the top.”
I reached out the foundation to ask what that means, but assume everyone was too mid-party to get back right away. JBF readers, please lmk.
Numbers-wise: While I was watching on Twitter, the broadcast topped out at a little over 7k simultaneous viewers in the first hour or so, and then dropped steadily to under 1k nearer the end, BUT final Bird App count at writing was approaching half a million viewers?! No idea how that’s calculated, so… congrats, all! Now on to the real deal in 2022. I will assume my invite is at the engravers.
The Accused – Headline in the SF Chronicle via Janelle Bitker: “He built a powerhouse set of Wine Country restaurants. Ex-staffers say he sexually harassed employees along the way. Eleven former employees have accused prominent Sebastopol restaurateur Lowell Sheldon of creating a toxic work environment.” Most of the accusations are from 2019 — well over a year after Eater’s Batali exposé — and both the restaurant group and Sheldon do seem to have taken some actions at the time, but the accusers don’t feel justice was served, and say they’re speaking up to warn others as Sheldon starts working on a new project nearby.
This one should also be a clear reminder to management. In almost every accusation, the grey space between appropriate or inappropriate immediately disappears when you remember who’s the boss. Strip clubs after work? Spontaneous massages in the restaurant? Calling yourself “daddy” at work? YOU GUYS.
The Penalties – And speaking of notes to management… Headline in NRN: “Employers may face more monetary penalties for tip theft under final rule. U.S. Labor department shift also clarifies role of managers and supervisors in tip pooling.” Details via Lisa Jennings: “Employers now face civil penalties of $1,100 when they keep employees’ tips, the department said. And in another slight alteration to the rule, managers and supervisors who earn tips will be allowed to contribute to valid tip pooling arrangements — though they still will be prohibited from receiving tips from those pools.” Not sure any of that is a game changer for thieves or managers working the occasional section, but there you go.
And last but not least: The Reunion Show – Late to this, but if you ever wished there were a TV reunion episode where all the crew and characters in Anthony Bourdain’s (very real) life got together and talked it through, it might be Laurie Woolever’s Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography. This excerpt in Vanity Fair last week is quite the candid window near the end, and I am starting to wonder if/when we’re going to get an “Asia’s Side” tell all too…
And that’s it for today. Friday is a holiday where I am, and still not sure how I’m going to handle that yet. But send me your thoughts on the Beards or whatever else is on your mind in the meantime, and…
I’ll see you here SOON for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or valid tip pooling arrangements to email@example.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!