I eat out a lot, being a pro food writer and all, but I enjoy cooking at home a lot more, even if I do usually eat at the sink. What I don’t like is having to cook a party, especially one for other food writers. I do like a good challenge, though, so when some friends asked me to create and cook a “menu of the moment” I sat down to dope it out.
And here’s what I came up with. There isn’t just one menu of the moment; there are two. One would be seasonal, localist food of the kind celebrated in the book. (Amazingly, even New York has fallen into a pastoral, or rather gastoral, mood.) A second would be the ever-zanier, ever more hyperbolic forms of institutional comfort food that has become the dominant mode of American restaurant cooking outside of food cities. Personally, I would rather just cook, and eat, diner food, but that stuff has a timeless quality that transcends all trends. I ended up just making meat sauce, of course, but if I had the time and resources, this is the menu of the moment, circa 2012, with one dish each for the chain restaurant and trendy downtown bistro.
Mass Market: Seared Ahi Tuna Spring Roll
Downtown: Pork Rillettes with Prune Jam
Mass Market: Bacon Cheese Puffs
Downtown: Bacon Gougeres
Mass-market restaurant food gets leaner all the time (at least it sounds leaner; it really isn’t.) High-end food meanwhile continues to revel ever more orgiastically in pork fat. When it comes to bacon though, every American is on the same train, even if the cars have different names.
Mass Market: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Pasta
Downtown: Carbonara Canneloni
Mass Market: Spicy Tuna Potato Skins
Downtown: Oxtail, Purslane, Quinoa
Both of the bacon dishes look vaguely novel, but in fact they are going back to the well of what everyone likes. High or low, restaurants need to play it safe whenever they can. In the first kind of restaurant that means things that nobody objects to because they don’t taste like anything; in the second kind it’s things that sound exotic but which taste familiar and keep food costs way down (not that you would know it from the bill.)
Miso Glazed Snapper with Soy
Scallops, Yuzu-Jalapeno Gelee
The Miso Snapper is a knockoff of a super trendy dish that’s now almost twenty years old. The scallops with the yuzu gelee are the current version; expect to see them on chain menus five years from now.
Jamaican Jerk-Spiced Grilled Chicken
Berkshire Pork Trio: Belly Confit a la Plancha, Poached Sirloin, Trotter and Jowl “Pot Pie”
This menu brackets out the cheapest and most expensive forms of dining in America: fast food and modernist cuisine, respectively. (Although you could make a case for pre-fixe tasting menus being tweezer food’s answer to the Value Meal.)
Mass Market: Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream
Downtown: Deconstructed Sundae with Durian Flan
Nobody wants to eat the downtown dessert. Of course, no one really wants to eat any of this stuff. Meat sauce, rainbow sherbert, and an occasional roasting pan of some tolerable vegetable, of the kind Last Minute Lady makes so well, is all anyone really needs for human happiness. Well, that and a sink.