Though Dad had a point, he also had eighteen denim shirts and zero friends. Restaurants are a fact of life, and there's no way to avoid them. For years I managed to justify the rather exorbitant expense: I didn't have to wash dishes. I didn't have to grocery shop. It was almost worth it if the chef put in a lot of work.
And then came the latest food movement: quality ingredients, simply prepared. That's the motto of every restaurant in New York these days. And that's where I draw the line.
You know that story about how you kill a lobster? Put it in cold water, and slowly bring it to a boil. The temperature rises so slowly it doesn't realize it's in trouble until it's already dead. That's what the restaurant scene is like. First they charge you $50 for dinner, and then they try to get out of cooking it. It's like asking the lobster to crank up that burner himself.
See, the last thing I want is my food "simply prepared." I want the chef to show me what I'm paying for. I want the end result of dozens of cooking processes. I want my steak deep-fried and french-dipped and fricasseed. I want my fish seriously fucked with. Before my chicken hits my plate, I want that dead flesh to sit up and say, "Okay, okay -- enough al-fuckin'-ready!" I want the chef to drive my chicken to Rockefeller Center to meet Bernadette Peters before he plops it on my plate.
Needless to say, I heard Dad's voice in my head while reading Pete Wells' review of Hearth in the New York Times.
[W]hen I think of Hearth, ... I also picture the platters for two. The spatchcocked chicken with flavor in every scrap of its flesh and golden skin, the whole roasted fish stuffed with lemon and rosemary, and the côte de boeuf are all treated like the classics they are. Unlike other restaurants, where trendy platters for two are an old-fashioned opportunity for price gouging, Hearth sells the chicken and fish for about as much as two regular main courses.
"Spatchcocked"? Isn't it slightly pretentious to have an entrée that sounds like the landlord in a Dickens novel? "Chicken with flavor in every scrap"? I don't know about you, but I'd be a bit more surprised if the breast was meaty and toothsome but the wing tasted like soggy tofu. Heading to Hearth's online menu makes Dad drop his soldering iron:
Can't. Give. In. Must. Fight. Back. Pete Wells is right! If stealing a glove compartment is a misdemeanor and stealing a tire is a misdemeanor, stealing a Mercedes should be a misdemeanor too. The meatballs are $29. The pasta is $30. So $62 for a chicken isn't crazy at all! Seasoned and stuck in an oven. Served with two cents worth of lettuce and three cents of corn. Not price-gouging! Frantically searching for justification I find Hearth's philosophy.
It doesn't help. They find inspiration "in the strangest places"? Are they trying to say their beer comes from Belgium, or they bought their champagne at the Dollar Store? Dad would head back to the garage to grind the lens of his telescope, but I don't have to be stuck in a long-dead past. I'll stay and compromise. In the future, my food is also going to be "rooted in the modern traditions of the American kitchen."
I'm going to buy an $8,000 stove and then live on take-out.