As much I as enjoy Lunch at Michael’s on a weekly basis, one has to admit that the menu — which once pioneered the now-ubiqitous “california cuisine” along with Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse — is haute comfort food for moguls these days. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted Food & Wine‘s invitation to accompany editor Dana Cowin on a “trendspotting tour” that amounted to three meals in three hours. (I started reading up on Frank Bruni’s diet tips when I finally got home.) The tour, of course, was an outtreach effort on behalf of the magazine to meta-media journalists like myself and fellow tourists Irin Carmon of Women’s Wear Daily, and freelancers Amy Cortese and Kelly Carter.
The full tour report:
The tour kicked off at Pala, which sells Roman-style pizzas by the foot, and where it takes three days to make the dought — unlike most slice joints, which inject their dough with chemical catalysts so that it rises in, at most, most three hours. Dana was behind the counter when I arrived, watching day-old dough bubble and rise. After everyone had filtered in, she explained that she had brought us here to demonstrate how fast food is slowly being transformed by the introduction of artisanal ingredients into quasi-healthy meals. “We see this as the redemption of fast food” — the banishment of those chemicals and pesticides — because although our love of fast food is unbated (have you seen the lines at Shake Shack lately?) “we can’t go back to eating crap.” No, we can’t. So we helped ourselves to a few pies instead, heaped with fresh bufala mozzarella or pumpkin and porcetta, and garnished with oregano. We were already stuffed, and this was just the first meal.
Then it was onto Parea, where chef Michael Symon (a F&W “best new chef” from way back in 1998) was waiting for us with crudo and cubes of the freshest feta I’ve ever had in my life. We each had five glasses of wine waiting for us as well, all of which had been produced to dispel the notion that Greece only produces retsina, “which used to be considered plonk,” Dana said. (And, um, it still is.) I would list the names of what we tried, but they were by and large unpronounceable. (One was nicknamed “The Blood of Hercules” and another is grown on the volcanic soil of Santorini.) I wish I knew more details, but F&W’s story on Greek wine won’t appear until October.
And from there — already deep into our food comas — we were whisked to Room 4 Dessert, the laboratory of pastry chef/molecular gastronomist Will Goldfarb, who explodes just about every stereotype of chefs as suave, cosmopolitan types on first contact. He’s an unabashed weirdo, toiling away on weird cuisine that’s produced fascinating, ostentatious cooking, and equally fascinating, ostentatious journalism. Goldfarb started us off with graham cracker disks with sweet green curry on top, and proceeded to push champagne, cheese, and a delirious combination of sorbets that tasted redolent of PB&Js, among other things. Why were we here? Because pastry chefs are the new rock-stars, and, befitting the larger-than-life persona bestowed upon him, Goldfarb rambled alternately about his plans to sell to-go cups of his desserts and his partnership with NYU’s Chemistry department (he couldn’t wait to get his hands on the centrifuge). And then it was time to go home. I couldn’t eat dinner that night.