The Death of Little Food

I woke up early this morning with two thoughts in the forefront of my mind–1) I think I’m bored with modern cuisine, and 2) I haven’t written in a really, really long time.

Over the course of our relationship, by virtue of the fact that we live 950 miles apart, Joan and I have been consummate travelers and foodies.  We’ve been very blessed with the ability to go to some of America’s best restaurants, and we’ve had some very memorable dining experiences.

On a couple of occasions we have taken Joan’s son and daughter along with us to be exposed to and mesmerized by what they have come to refer to as “Little Food”.  Today as I reflect on those experiences I wonder if we haven’t seen enough.

Now I must confess that I have not yet consulted Joan about this, so I should not speak for her I don’t suppose, but one of the things about our relationship that has made it so successful is that we typically do view the world through the same lens.  I feel fairly certain that she shares my reluctance to suit-up for another 3 hour, $500 dining experience.  And I’m positive that her daughter Emily is all-in with my sentiment.

We haven’t stopped loving food and cuisine mind you.

One reason for my lack of contribution to this blog is that it is a food blog, primarily focused on my/our various food experiences, and for the last couple of years our travel has been based not on food but on reliving our teenage years and following a hippie-jam-band around the country.

In 2013 we saw Widespread Panic something like 20 times between Arrington, Virginia and Denver, Colorado, and all points in between.  This year only 12 times I think, with 2 more to go by New Year’s Eve.  In fact, it was about this time last year that I emailed the band’s management to ask about the possibility of becoming their full-time chef.  They don’t need one, but they were appreciative for the inquiry.

When one’s days are spent planning for a 7:00 showtime there is little time for Little Food.  On those days our fondest culinary recollections are of the post-show dip cone from McDonald’s (it’s our thing).

However, with Joan’s son Trevor leaving country for Germany with the Air Force last month we did opt for one last hoorah at CityZen in Washington, DC.  Joan and I had eaten there a couple of years ago and had a stellar meal.  Trevor has more than once expressed envy and has wanted to go ever since, so we decided to take him and his sister.

We made a 6:00 reservation for the evening before Thanksgiving, and had planned to leave Maryland two hours prior to ensure a timely arrival.  The day’s shopping (because no one had the fricking clothes that such an experience requires) got the best of us, and I called to change the reservation to 8:00.  It should be noted that we got something like 8 inches of snow in western Maryland that day and we wanted to allow for safe travel.

While changing the reservation I inquired about the dress code just to be sure, and was told that absolutely no jeans were allowed, and that they took that rule very seriously.  Trying to keep my luggage light I had only packed jeans and a jacket.  We go to so many nice restaurants and have observed that dress codes in recent years have become far less restrictive.  I had no idea that such a rule would be in place.

At 6:05 I was still galavanting around in the snow looking for a pair of slacks that fit.

We arrived to CityZen 10 minutes early, and were immediately seated.  An older Hispanic gentleman was to be our server for the evening, and the hopefulness on his face immediately evaporated when we ordered a round of soft-drinks in lieu of the $150 bottle of wine that he would liked to have sold us.

The menu is somewhat restrictive, offering only a 6-course prix fixe selection (either standard or vegetarian), or a 4-course a la carte choice.  We went with the 6-course…Emily opting for vegetables.  She has been a vegetarian since viewing “Food Inc.” on Netflix, although she dislikes most vegetables.  That’s a whole ‘nother blog.

Trevor and I signed up for Parmesan Risotto with Alba White Truffles for an additional $50 each.  I had never actually had a true white truffle from Alba that I know of.  I could never afford the supplement on the menus that I’ve seen them on over the years.

Truffles are not mushrooms, as often described, but are a fungal tuber that typically grows near the roots of trees.  It is commonly known that there are certain types of trees more likely to be associated with truffles, and that they are usually discovered by pigs, which seem to be particularly attracted to their scent.  In recent years dogs have been successfully trained to sniff them out, and there is also a type of fly that is attracted to them.  The presence of that fly at the base of the right tree is often an indication that truffles may be present.  While there are a few places in the world that the elusive white truffle may be found, it is generally accepted that the best ones come from a relatively small region in northern Italy.

Although truffles can be purchased year-round either frozen or canned, the fresh ones are widely available in the autumn months.  If March and April are the pinnacle of Spring cuisine as the first peas, asparagus, morel mushrooms, and fiddle-head ferns come in, truffle-lovers can’t wait for October and November.  No real, fresh, European truffles are cheap, and the white ones from Alba typically sell for around $4,000 a pound!  Hence there is usually a supplement on menus for those wanting to experience the grandest earthy taste of Fall.

About five bites of under-seasoned, slightly over-cooked white risotto arrived before us, followed by a server wielding a special truffle slicer and the truffle.  He quickly shaved 10 or 12 thinner-than-paper slices of truffle over each of our plates (then later returned to give us another 10-15 slices saying that he hadn’t given us enough).

I was almost wriggling in my seat with joy.  Oh how I had longed for this moment!

Truffles are known for their very strong, ethereal taste and odor that is like nothing else.  What does a truffle taste like?  A truffle–nothing else.  In July of 2013 I prepared a dinner in which I included some canned black truffles (not cheap) that had easily six times the aroma and flavor of these things.

Utter disappointment!

The whole meal was quite unimpressive in everyone’s opinion.  I would gladly have let someone know had we been asked, but we weren’t–not once.  It was one of the most overrated meals of my life, and to top it all off about the time we received our main course the final table of the evening was sat.  One of the party was a gentleman in JEANS!  I nearly had an out-of-body experience.

Joan and I don’t drink, but if given a choice we typically do order the most expensive things on the menu, and usually order additional courses because we like to try things.  We always tip at least 20%, and frequently more!  Servers usually like us!  The service at CityZen that night was so deplorable and disrespectful that for the first time in my life I only left 15%.

If I remember correctly, the bill for 4 of us (including tip) was about $800.  Our parking was validated when we walked in, which meant that we only owed $11 (plus tip) instead of whatever other ridiculous price we would otherwise have been harangued with. Then we have to add in what we all spent on clothing to be in compliance, and gas, and collective emotional distress brought on by various aspects of the whole debacle.

A couple days later, once I had calmed down a bit, I sat down to reflect on this experience and write a letter to the management to let them know what I thought of the experience.  I spent over an hour crafting a detailed account of our evening.  Upon Googling about online looking for the appropriate email address to send my disgruntled diatribe to I stumbled upon an article about how CityZen would be closing their doors for good 10 days from the day we dined with them.

Suddenly my thoughts went to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, and how due to “American blind justice…the judge wasn’t gonna look at the twenty-seven 8 by 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was…”.

I remembered that we had a similar experience a couple years earlier when we went to pay tribute to Charlie Trotter just before his at-one-time-5-star-restaurant closed.  I made a mental note that we must make sure these places aren’t about to close when we make our reservations!

But then when I woke up this morning I thought that we just need to stop doing this altogether!

We spent Halloween in Las Vegas this year (seeing another hippie-jam-band), and itinerary aside, we just couldn’t get excited about going to José Andrés’ “é” restaurant.  I gave Joan the option of going to Robuchon’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and the intrigue just wasn’t there for either of us.  Instead we went to Jaleo (the first restaurant the Joan and I ever dined in together) and while the food wasn’t in any way bad, all the “little plates” add up and before we knew it we’d spent over $200 sitting in uncomfortable chairs. I think I nearly fell asleep once…but it was late.

Ya know, I actually have a near-minibar experience everyday, and I don’t have to dress up for it.  Most every meal I have is an 18-22 course meal composed of little 2 or 3 bite dishes.  Of course, it all starts at 9 or 10 am in the bakery, and it ends around 11 pm in front of the television.  Some days there are as many as 40 courses, but I very rarely sit down and have a normal meal like most normal people do.

Back in April of this year I quit smoking after 32 years, and went to full-time vaping (the modern-day nomenclature for electronic cigarettes).  I manufacture my own nicotine-laden “e-juice” with flavors like Blueberry Cotton Candy, Crunch Berries cereal, Oreo, and Vanilla Custard.  So when I’m not eating I’m still tasting.

As I have gradually lowered the amount of nicotine I take in my appetite seems to have grown.  My lungs feel worlds better, but now the black sludge that once stifled my airways has been replaced by extra layers of suffocating fat pressing in on them.  My online physician has recently diagnosed me with Plantar Fasciitis and Meralgia Paresthetica, both of which are caused and/or aggravated by being overweight.

All this from eating “Little Food”.

Last night while perusing the internet in my underwear (because clothing doesn’t fit me anymore) I came across a restaurant in Madrid called Diver XO that is loosely described as its chef’s dream world.  Bizarre looking food–Little Food.  Jesus, when will it end?  Isn’t this trend almost over?

It all reminds me of a great line from a great movie, “Thank You For Smoking“, when Rob Lowe says “You ought to try Nobu’s new restaurant.  He only serves food that is white.”

Ridiculous!

Let’s look at some of the predicted food trends for 2015…

– Cutting back on massive meals and focusing instead on “grazing”, smaller meals, and snacks throughout the day.
I’ve already told you how that’s worked for me!

– Same day food delivery.
I wonder if restaurants will get in on Amazon’s Drone-Delivery technology?  Now that would be great!  I can get all of my favorite meals delivered to me, and no one will ever be able to see what I’m becoming as the result!  I wonder if there will be supplemental charges as the little drones go back and forth all night bringing 8 to 18 little plates one at a time?

– Everything smoked.
It took me 32 years to get the taste of smoke out of my mouth while I’m eating.  No thanks!

– More “craft” foods like Pepsi’s new cane sugar soda.
Um, is that new?  I think that’s what they were doing when I was 3.

– Technology paired nutritional information.
Great, another excuse for people to be fiddling about with their cellphones during dinner!

I don’t know if the world is becoming a better place.  I know that Joan’s dogs get as much food in an entire day as I get on one “small plate”, and I feel damned sorry for them.  But, when they need to run after a squirrel or another dog on a moment’s notice they can do it.  Not me!  And they probably don’t have burning numbness in their extremities or a persistent limp every morning.

My motto for 2015 shall be “little food is for hamsters!”

I don’t want anymore Little Food.  Although we’re hoping to go to Europe to visit Trevor at some point over the next year or so, and just looking at the surprising reservation availability at Diver XO I’m encouraged.