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John Whiting
Semi-retired glutton
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John, I've said it before but I'll say it again. The two things I like most about your reviews are, inevitably, the principles to which I also try to adhere: 1. You write in such a way that your readers can see past your prejudices and say, when appropriate, "O.K., he doesn't like it but I think I would." 2. You're still capable of thinking, "After all, it's only a meal."
From Bertrand Russell's Nobel Prize acceptance speech of 1950: When white men first effect contact with some unspoilt race of savages, they offer them all kinds of benefits, from the light of the gospel to pumpkin pie. These, however, much as we may regret it, most savages receive with indifference. What they really value among the gifts that we bring to them is intoxicating liquor which enables them, for the first time in their lives, to have the illusion for a few brief moments that it is better to be alive than dead.
P.S. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech of 1950, Bertrand Russell put his finger on the ultimate motivation behind all that high-minded vinous discrimination: "When white men first effect contact with some unspoilt race of savages, they offer them all kinds of benefits, from the light of the gospel to pumpkin pie. These, however, much as we may regret it, most savages receive with indifference. What they really value among the gifts that we bring to them is intoxicating liquor which enables them, for the first time in their lives, to have the illusion for a few brief moments that it is better to be alive than dead."
As the Euro shivers in the face of an ill wind from the PIGS, I sense a desperation at the high end of the food and wine establishment. In Europe's financial centers, the fashionable eating places are riding on the coattails of the artificial and precarious prosperity of the stock market, as opposed to everybody else. When someone as ethical and unpretentious as Daniel starts traveling the route of hyper-inflation, it makes my antennae quiver.
The unfortunate thing about blogs is that they allow people with no qualifications other than their personal passions to pretend, in public, that their whims are useful or informative. In fact, I even have my doubts about the experts. In the last analysis, a judgment of the relative merits of two acceptable restaurants becomes as impossibly personal as a next-morning report of a night between the sheets. What Casanova might have thought of my wife's amatory expertise is of no interest to me whatsoever.
Alternatively, search Andre Keresz in Google Images.
Good for you! You have the advantage of not fighting for your life in the shrinking journalistic jungle, and so you don't have to keep smashing idols with rhetorical hammer blows. Anyone who knows Paris at all can go along day after day, year after year, eating traditionally or imaginitively, cheaply or expensively. For decent grub, it's not even necessary to read the authorities -- I've often found a perfectly satisfactory bistro in a strange neighborhood just using my eyes and my nose.
John, I've added the following to my own write-up: October 2010 Spring has reopened in a new location (address given below). This is a review of its previous incarnation, but the infallible John Talbott assures me that, if possible, it’s better than ever. In fact, his latest review [linked] puts it at the top of his list of personal favorites.
From an essay of mine on this subject: Cooking in general and sauces in particular have gone from technique driven to flavor driven. In modern homes and also restaurants, except for a few of the most expensive, more than anything else they are *time-driven*. Haute cuisine based its sauces on stocks which were laboriously prepared from roasted bones by junior kitchen staff. Everything started from stock; without it the middle-level chefs were helpless. Gertrude Stein tells an amusing story of a French soldier who was ordered by his commanding officer to make a risotto: "I cannot, my captain, said the soldier, who was a cook in one of the big restaurants in Paris, because I have not the foundation for a sauce....[I]n Paris we always have a foundation for a sauce and we put that in and then mix the sauce. Yes said Captain d'Aiguy and it tastes like it. Let me teach you French cooking." (It's interesting that the anecdote labels a risotto "French cooking", and that the captain distinguished the latter from haute cuisine.) When the parallel but separate innovations of nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur were introduced, they were not time-saving short cuts, but involved a laborious process of careful reduction of the food's own juices. It was the invention of the food processor -- which, as John Thorne explains in "Cuisine Mechanique" (the last chapter of his _Outlaw Cook_), was a professional rather than a domestic tool -- that radically time-saving techniques were introduced into restaurant kitchens and sauces were evolved which made use of this new technology. Thus sauces could become flavor-driven as a by-product of time-saving methods, inasmuch as it became very easy to adjust flavors to taste by quickly blending added ingredients, either raw or cooked, into the already smooth mixture.
" . . . perfect is like kissing your sister" You didn't know my sister!
What a relief to see you confirm the survival of an old favorite under new management. I'll add a note to that effect in my own review.
" . . . serving chicken breast raw like sashimi . . . " How does he deal with the threat of salmonella?
Sorry! I was overly indignant and didn't notice the numerical rating -- as you know, I don't pay much attention to them. Pharamond does indeed attract a lot of tourists, but Carolin tells me that there's a big native clientele, a sort of ad hoc Club des Cent that eats here regularly.
John, it's not remotely fair to publish this four-year-old review. Carolin Young, the Director of the Oxford Food Symposium, takes groups there regularly for specially organized meals. Mary's and my experience there last year was quietly spectacular, and Carolin joined in, delighted that we'd discovered it.
P.S. I've always wanted to meet a nutty and buttery chef.
". . . the chef had not held back from adding his own fat to the dish." Add The Cannibal Diet.
I've eaten very decently and very cheaply at the popular Vietnamese restaurant Pho Dong-Huong, and also, when it was closed, at the one just across the street.
My observation is that, the shorter the time one has in Paris, the more one is forced by the exigencies of scheduling into dining in the evening rather than at lunch. Of course, some perverted gastronomes have been known to do both.
Listening, hell! Mixing it! Which I did for years, with great pleasure. Why is it that musical tastes are on the whole much more conservative than visual? On an avant-garde scale of far-outness, Boulez lies more centrally than some visual artists you write about with enthusiasm. I can't resist quoting Charles Ives speaking up at a concert in which someone had booed during a piece by Carl Ruggles: "Stop being such a God-damned sissy! Why can't you stand up before fine strong music like this and use your ears like a man?"
Scrolling through your Diner's Tour of Paris and reading of intriguing places I'll never have time to visit, I sometime wish that I hadn't turned down a job-for-life at IRCAM in 1986.
My problem (not with you) continues to be that professional restaurant reviewers are not just telling you where to eat but are continually reestablishing their reputations as being at the top of their own highly competitive profession. This means that they must put heavy emphasis on new places that allow them to do their verbal juggling acts. If you're just looking for somewhere to have an unpretentious but really good meal, you must dig deep to find the information you're looking for.
Ho! Lift! Ho! Lift!
John at his best is America's greatest food writer, but his best work required a two-way street that has virtually closed. My heartfelt appreciation dates back to when his website was perpetually active and much visited by everyone you ever heard of:
The standards are different, I think, for bistros worth visiting on one's gastronomic pilgrimages and the sort of place you might go to for a meal if you lived locally and liked to dine out once a week or so, eating a reliable favorite. For the latter, I would like a place that fiddled around a bit -- not drastically -- with their regular repertoire. For daily dining, the wow factor can in itself become boring.
As usual, you echo my own thoughts. We never go to a restaurant without a sealable plastic bag. After all, we've paid for it and anything that goes back to the kitchen is *supposed* to be discarded. In fact, we are so shameless that when we go to a press tasting and there's a large block of cheese left over, as it's being carted away we ask if it's to be thrown out. We usually take it away with us -- enough to last for a week or so.