Monday, June 09, 2008

Seriously, Can We Stop This Already?

For those handful of regular HFF readers out there, most of my points that I'm about to expand upon in vitriolic rant form you're probably already familiar with.

However, as I've learned from careful study of my Google Analytics, most of my search engine hits have come from people searching "Yelp Sucks" or "I Hate Yelp" or a couple other anti-Yelp! combinations. This means that many people find my blog as a result of being pissed off and annoyed about SOMETHING, and usually those people like to read someone else being pissed off and annoyed.

I will not be ranting about Yelp! this time. Sorry.

Relatedly, if you happen to be the one person who stumbled across Horny For Food by searching for "Rachel Ray's Ass" on Google, please do leave a comment. You are my hero.

So, what can we please stop talking about already?

1. "Gourmet" hamburgers. This really has supplanted "gourmet" pizza as the go-to gimmick food of choice. Pretty much every restaurant of any sort where it wouldn't be remotely out of place serves a burger. And while there are the higher-end places like Spago, Boulevard, Zuni, Comme Ca, and Saddle Peak Lodge serving some version of a burger, what is more noticeable is the proliferation of the "gastropub" and "burger bar" style restaurants where (in theory) celebrity chefs have pissing contests with each other as to who can make the best burger and then charge $12-$16 (or more if made from Wagyu or foie gras is added).

So what's the problem? The problem is it's a goddamn freakin' burger! That's what the problem is. Burgers came out of a need to utilize and extend small quantities of meat of a middling quality. The poor discovered that, hey, I can chop up this meat and mix it with some bread crumbs, egg, and spices and form it into a steak-like patty and this ain't so bad. And I can make a pound of food out of a half-pound of meat. I would argue that perhaps the oft-touted McDonald's "100% Beef Burger" is more of a misnomer than it was before, as what we now consume are ground beef sandwiches and not hamburgers.

Fatty ground beef, cooked appropriately, and served on a roll with whatever assortment of condiments, is going to be delicious. Period. Making a burger out of Prime tenderloin is ridiculous. Making a burger out of Kobe-style beef is also ridiculous. In fact, eating Kobe-style beef in any form other than in seared-to-raw steak form is ridiculous. You want a Kobe-style beef burger? Add some butter to your ground grocery store chuck when you make the patties.

Let's look at the great scaling effect of prices.... I can get a 10 oz. prime rib at Sizzler for $9.99. I can get a 10 oz. prime rib at Epic Roasthouse for $33. Will the Epic prime rib be at least three times better than the grey gristly Sizzler prime rib? Hell yes. Will my whole $38 roast chicken at Zuni be four times better than the $9.99 one from Boston Market? Good freakin' lord yes.

But is the $14 burger from Father's Office three times better than a 4x4 animal style ($4.75) from In-N-Out?

I mean, REALLY think about it. Is the beef better quality? Well, yes but it's also ALL GROUND UP so what's really the point? In-N-Out always has respectably fresh produce for the price. And I'll take the soft sponge bread at In-N-Out over the weird fresh-from-Costco looking roll that Father's Office uses.

And for that $4.75 you get a fully customizable half-pound burger, not a take-it-or-leave-it prima donna burger.

Is the Father's Office burger "better"? Sure. Is it an equal (or even 1/3 equal) value? Hell no. Hell no with a cherry on top.

"Gourmet" burgers cater to people with limited taste who still want to indulge in fanciness. It's the "I drive an Escalade and wear a Rolex but I'm scared of food shaped with a timbale" crowd. It's the "I want to go to a fancy restaurant and spend $50 on lunch, but I want a steak and a caesar salad" crowd. It's a cousin of the "look at me I'm drinking Charles Shaw and that's just as classy as drinking something for $20 a bottle" crowd.

And of course restaurants are more than happy to oblige, as they make a pretty decent margin on their $14 burger, even if it is made from supermagichappybeef from beyond the moon.

That being said, everything I've had from Father's Office has been interesting, innovative, well-priced, and pretty damn good. I'm glad they sell hundreds of burgers a night to help subsidize the smoked eel and softshell crab.

I would even posit that the "who has the best burger" debate is more absurd than the "who has the best pizza" debate, since it's pretty clear to my mind that the $14 scarole pizza from Pizzeria Delfina is without any hesitation three times better than a $5 pepperoni pizza from Domino's (which in and of itself is probably better than most $10 pizzas offered at the scores of characterless "Trattoria" that populate the world).

2. Sweet Potato Fries. This is weird because I really like sweet potato fries. But they're everywhere now! At least in Los Angeles. It's like we all woke up one day and said "Hey, let's like sweet potato fries instead of regular potato fries. They're orange!" I think this is perhaps based on the incorrect reasoning that the sweet potato is better for you than the potato. The sweet potato is richer in certain nutrients than the potato, but the potato is a more well-rounded source of nutrients. I'm going to say that Mariah Carey started this trend because that makes the most sense. And anyone who has seen her cameo in Don't Mess With The Zohan knows that she makes excellent career and nutritional decisions.

3. Complaining About Food Being Overpriced. Dining out is inherently overpriced. Get over it. If you really care about it that much, then cook at home or eat at Del Taco. Most of the time, these people only complain about really expensive restaurants being overpriced. I find the bowl of mediocre dried pasta with a quarter-cup of bad vegetables passed off as "gourmet" pasta by Cafe Ugo for $9.99 to be way more overpriced than any $30 entree I've had out.

These people also have no understanding of the elaborate equations that go into pricing food at a restaurant, so they really can't speak to something being overpriced. They can speak to it being "not worth their money," but that's pretty much it.

4. Complaining About A Restaurant Being Overrated/Underrated. Of course it is! Anything that's rated is going to be overrated or underrated. That's the way it goes. I don't think Father's Office burger is overrated. I don't care. I just think it's a rip-off.

As an aside, I do enjoy all my dining companions who say that the Father's Office burger is "Good, but not worth the hype." Of course it's not, because (everyone now, all together) IT'S A MOTHERFUCKING BURGER! You're surprised?

That's a dig at the concept, not my friends. I adore my friends. I promise.

5. Bitching About "Incorrect" Ethnicities Cooking Food At Ethnic Restaurants. "Please, any sushi prepared my Mexicans isn't sushi." I've seen that on Yelp! innumerable times. How can that possibly be true? We don't say "any French food prepared by Mexicans isn't French food." Anthony Bourdain will tell you that of anybody he's ever worked with, the Mexicans from Puebla are the most talented cooks he's ever encountered. The current chef at Les Halles hails from Puebla.

It really smacks of racism. And it's the worst kind of racism: the racism from people who would be shocked and appalled to be called racist because they're worldly, liberal, support amnesty for illegal immigrants, and voted Green. So why don't you want brown people making your sushi? Why can it only be magical Asians?

After having worked in restaurants for so long, I'm skeptical of any skinny white kid wearing a "Le Cordon Bleu" culinary school jacket than I am of a Latin American, regardless of cuisine.

Yeah sure there's a cultural mystique around sushi, but unless you're going to one of those hallowed bastions of traditional Japanese dining and spending $100 a person you're not going to be getting an "authentic" Japanese experience anyway. Hell, when I went to Sebo I was served by the Japanese sushi chef, but it sure as hell looked like the white sushi chef serving the couples at the other end of the bar was quicker, more intense, and had better presentation skills. People are people, some are more talented, experienced, and better trained than others. Little if any of that has to do with race, culture, or gender.

And can we really trust all the rules of a culinary culture whose de facto prohibition of female sushi chefs was supported by the assertion that a woman's hands are too warm and would "cook" the fish in preparation?

I'm going to piggyback on this rant a rant against people who make a personal cultural identification claim to support their dismissal of a restaurant. Things like "My Tia Maria made me tamales growing up and these are NOT authentic tamales" or "My grandma is from Ireland and this was NOT real Irish soda bread" or "I dated a Korean chick once and this Bi Bim Bap sucks worse than she did." Why the fuck should I care? I don't know your Tia Maria. Maybe she sucked at making tamales. Maybe your Irish grandma used too much baking soda. And maybe that Korean chick had herpes.

Unless your assertion is "I've been a working food critic in Mexico City for ten years and have eaten at a broad assortment of that nation's finest restaurants and this American restaurant that makes a claim to provide that same type of cuisine falls far short of that aim," I don't care.

And a Subset-A piggyback on that piggyback point point, can we stop with this myth that "In Mexico, they don't actually eat spicy food." In Mexico they probably don't use the pure capsicum extract hot sauces that are popular among a certain American "let's see who has the bigger dick based on our ability to tolerate spiciness" culture, but they do use a lot of chili peppers. And every staff meal the guys in the kitchen made at the restaurants I've worked have been close to face-meltingly spicy. Do some people in Mexico not eat spicy food? I imagine so. Some people in America don't eat spicy food too.

You see, not everyone in Mexico is a tequila-drinking, sombrero-wearing, jalapeno-chomping stereotype.

Just as not every American is an obese, sandal-and-gym sock wearing, xenophobic, unworldly ignoramus.

I'd wager it's probably a helluvalot easier to find the latter before the former though.

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