September 11, 2007

The Fears of a Food Critic

My first assignment as a food critic is on Thursday night. I'm terrified. I can't help but replay this possible scene over and over again in my head:

We are escorted to our table and shown our seats. I can barely fit into mine because of the enormous wine menu that spills over the side of the table. "And what will you be drinking this evening?" asks the obsequious waiter.
"Actually we won't be drinking tonight," I reply timidly, knowing this to be a cardinal dining sin. The waiter's eyes sharpen.
"May I recommend the 1999 Pride Mountain Merlot," he says as if he hadn't heard me. "This wine has fierce muscularity expressed with brilliance and drive. From the first impression of a crush of blackberries, the fruit lifts up over a chalk line of tannins, superripe but contained, red, black and gripping. It ends in a blast of raspberry, a trumpet of fruit flavor. The finish is juicy as a -"
"No wine, " I whine. Then I whip it out the big guns, "we're Mormon."
With exquisite disappointment in his face, the waiter gives a curt nod, snatches the holy wine menu off the table and stomps from the table.

And we haven't even started eating yet.

We have no menus. Chef Marcell has instead insisted we sit back and let him decorate the table with the finest dishes of his choosing. As the minutes tick by, the tense atmosphere at the table grows. With snapping heels, our waiter reappears with a tray. "Bon Appetite," he says and lays an appetizer on the table. Foie gras pate with a sprinkling of Beluga caviar on a bed of asparagus and French bread.

My stomach lurches. Engorged goose liver garnished with fish eggs over my most spited vegetable? Dare I try another escape? "Actually..." I say, "that's against our religion too." The waiter's jaw drops but I give him "The Look" and try to instill shame in him for even offering us this freakish dish. "Mormons?" I remind him and point back and forth between me and my husband.
"Of course," he says, confused now. "I'll alert Chef Marcell."

As I watch him retreat to the kitchen, my mind wanders to the In-N-Out two blocks away. A Double Double animal style taunts my senses and I my stomach gives a wistful jerk. What have we gotten ourselves into? Spike and I converse stiffly about our kids until another dish is presented. "Eggplant and Veal Pastitsio" announces the waiter and nervously awaits our response.

What choice do I have?

"You've offended us for the last time!" I yell and shove away the table. What part of 'Mormon' don't you get? Veal? Eggplant? ABOMINATIONS! Let's go, Spike."

I grab my husband's hand and drag him to the door. The chef leaps from the kitchen and grabs my sleeve, begging us to give him another chance. The waiter has collapsed into a heap by the serving station in uncontrollable sobs. Their terror of a scathing review drives them to desperation but I am committed to my course.

"S’il vous plaît, madame," begs the chef, "vee have saltines, milk, ice cream, please tell us vat to serve you!" At the door now I turn and spit at his feet.
"I would never eat in this hellish place. I'm a Christian!" And with that, we whip out the door leaving the entire staff wailing in despair. The glow of the In-N-Out sign leads us to safer shores.

The next morning I read in The Times that Chef Marcell skewered himself to death with brochettes. My twinge of guilt is barely perceptible beneath a hamburger hangover.

27 comments:

Azúcar said...

First of all, any chef that serves you asparagus at this time of year has another thing coming: it's out of season. Asparagus is a spring veggie.

Second of all, the cardinal rule is that you have to try everything no matter how much you think you won't like it. Maybe you do like it, you've just never had it done 'right' before. Veal is deliciously delicate. Moo.

Sarah said...

I know, I know. I'll TRY it all. But don't expect me to like it all!

Adum is the one I'm counting on for strength here. When he lived in Poland he was served raw horsemeat on bread with a raw egg cracked on top. He managed to eat that so I guess I can handle some veal.

Melissa said...

I admit, I'd have a hard time eating some things... but anything is worth a try if it's free, right???

Adum said...

i don't know what they have been teaching you in relief society, but eating fois gras is not only allowed by our religion, it's actually encouraged. same with eggplant. seriously, there's something in the sermon on the mount about it. blessed are those who eat gooseliver.

paranoid daydreamer said...

I am so amused by this post. And so relieved that I am not the only person in the world that irrationally plays out a future event in my brain with all the worst possible scenarios...

Summer said...

I would be with you on the goose liver and caviar. Couldn't stomach it so I guess I'll never be a food critic. :(

glittersmama said...

oooh. Good luck. I'm assuming that you'll let us know how it goes...

Heather O. said...

Wait, are you saying that you are a picky eater? And your dream job is a food critic? Wha--hunh?

Mrs. M said...

Too funny.

Sarah said...

I'm not saying I'm picky, but foie gras, veal, caviar and asparagus just happen to be the four foods I loath above all others. Of course in the end I'll try everything and hopefully my tastebuds will evolve with the new job. I just don't know if I can handle all four of these foods on the same night!

citymama1 said...

A little trick I learned while dining out is when the waiter offers you wine to instead ask for sparkling water. It seems to satisfy the anxious waiters and they look suspiciously at you trying to decide if you're pregnant or a recovering alcoholic.

Can't wait to read your first review. You will post it, won't you?

Sarah said...

I'll post a link to it. I'm actually not allowed to post it on my blog since Pasadena Now wants exclusivity to the review but I'll have a link in the sidebar to my reviews for anyone interested.

Good tip about the sparkling water, citymama! I'll stick that one in my bag of tricks.

Myka said...

How exciting! That is my dream job too! However did you get it? I don't think my town has a food column in their newspaper, but they should add one! You'll have to let us know what restaurants you like; I'm in LA too.
I'm sure you will get some tasty things! I am supremely jealous!

Fabulist said...

Pasadena! My husband moved to Provo (Utah) from their...Now I'm wishing I'd moved to his location when I had the chance.

If you ever want great Chinese food go with Fu-Shing
2960 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91107
(626) 792-8898

Gads we miss CA.

Jessica G. said...

I am a meat-and-potatoes-salt-and-pepper kinda girl. Anything weird immediately causes a gag reflex. Seriously, what exactly is a caper, anyway? And if it's not Egyptian for chocolate, than I don't want it.

Suzie Petunia said...

What part of "free" don't you understand?

Kerri said...

Just have your napkin handy and do the Seinfeld trick (you know the episode where Jerry spit the mutton into the napkin while pretending to wipe his mouth).

Good luck! I can hardly wait to read it!

s'mee said...

I thought a food critic was supposed to eat incognito, as to *not* get the special treatment but give an honest review about the entire experience as a normal client/customer would have. You DO have the dream job! If they know *you* are coming, they should/will also become familiar with your likes and dislikes, what you will and won't be accepting as beverages.

If you have any questions I am sure Chronicler could help you out. She has been in the food industry for years. Heck she can deconstruct Cool Whip! She can tell you, not only what a caper is, but where it is grown, how it is brined, and what it is best used for.

If you get stuck, give her a shout.

http://foodchronicles.blogspot.com/

s'mee said...

oh yeah, and if they have any left over peacn pie, will you smuggle me out a piece?

have fun!

Ang said...

Uhm. For someone who doesn't drink you really know how to describe a wine. :)

Sarah said...

D'oh! You're on to me, Ang. I was a sommelier before meeting Adum. Promise you won't tell him, it would break his little heart!

emma jo said...

My dream is to be a food critic but your scenario is a perfect picture of why it could never be...the truth is, I think I'm a picky eater...dum dum dummmmm.

emma jo said...

PS I kept waiting for the part in the story where the chef, realizing that you are Mormon, prepares a most special tater tot casserole with carrot sliced lime jello on the side...and a home made root beer.

chronicler said...

Very funny scenario. I hope it doesn't go like that. The animal style double double got my attention though!

My advice, eat like Padma. Bites, small bites. Get creative with your facial expressions. It's all about the advertising anyway! Have fun, I'm sure it won't be near as terrifying as you think.

Nancy Sabina said...

What I can relate to most in this post is the oh-so-strong desire for In-N-Out. I, as a rule, don't like hamburgers. But I was once forced to eat an In-N-Out burger on my mission ("you can't say you're a return-missionary from Cali if you haven't eaten at In-N-Out!") My brother who lives in Cali often taunts me when we're talking on the phone ("...so then we stopped by In-N-Out for a delicious, juicy, burger..."). Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

John Newman said...

As a "member of the faith" when a waiter asks me if I want wine, I usually just say, "No thank you" and get on with the menu. They only roll their eyes half the time, then. : )

I've never had fios gras, before, but I have had smoked caviar. To be honest, I wasn't impressed. It reminded me of ground up hot dogs on a table cracker. I'm gonna argue with you over the asparagus and eggplant though (if you get them at the right time of year and cook them properly, that is).

Marie said...

Ha! You'll make an excellent (delightfully irreverent) food critic. I can't wait...

That last bit reminds me of the Monty Python skit of the couple in the fancy restaurant with the dirty fork. The entire staff end up dead by the end of the skit, offering their lives as atonement for the "dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery" that has sullied their good name.