The Food Almanac: May 9, 2011
Pharmaceuticals in Dining
On this date in 1960, the Food and Drug Administration approved sale of the birth control pill. That changed many things, among which was the restaurant business. Dating suddenly became much more urgent. People who might not have had a particularly deep interest in fine dining started going out to dinner more often, to get the ball rolling. What came of that was a new category of restaurant with an interesting environment but unchallenging food. Burgers, even. It gave birth to the category that stretches now from T.G.I. Friday's to Houston's.
Alternatives to Dining Out
Today in 1961, Newton Minow of the Federal Communications Commission used the term "vast wasteland" to describe commercial television programming. It was the harshest criticism ever leveled at the industry. Now we have hundreds of channels, and still nothing's on. I'd rather go to a restaurant.
Dante Alighieri, the author of the epic poem The Divine Comedy, was born today in 1265. I once heard a waiter at the old T. Pittari's say that the pasta there was always prepared "al dante." What? The way they do it in the Inferno?
Music to Eat Dessert By
Today in 1946, the song Shoo Fly Pie (And Apple Pandowdy) was Number Two on the pop music charts. It was performed by Stan Kenton's very modern big band, but it's best remembered for making June Christy a singing star.
Today is National Foie Gras Day. Foie gras has become the marker dish of a restaurant with high culinary ambitions. A strange role for fattened duck liver. It had the unfortunate effect of turning what was once a rare pleasure into a common dish, often prepared badly by chefs who don't really have an appreciation for it.
Until the 1980s, when you encountered foie gras in this country it was a processed pâté, probably from France. Then some American farmers began producing it from a crossbred duck called a moulard. This allowed chefs to have the whole livers, which they could slice, sear, and serve as is. The flavor of top-quality fattened duck liver is so marvelous that it's no wonder the stuff became popular.
In order to distinguish themselves, some chefs started fooling around with it, serving foie gras with sweet sauces — port wine reductions especially. They'd make pâtés out of it, smoke it, and stuff it inside other things. I saw a menu not long ago on which foie gras appeared six times. Which is absurd posturing.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The reason so many young chefs have started using so much foie gras is that it keeps them from having to cook.
Deft Dining Rule #238
To check on whether a restaurant is serious about foie gras or just posturing, ask the waiter if it's Grade A duck liver, and insist on finding out for sure.
President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed this date as Mother's Day in 1914. That was such a natural observance — how can we ever repay our mothers for what they do? That it evolved into, among other things, the busiest day of the whole year for the restaurant business.
Edward Pollock, a woodwind musician who is best known for his quotation, "Love is friendship set to music," was born today in 1899. Pollock is that North Pacific fish that they make into fake crabmeat (surimi) for sushi bars. Tommy Roe, who recorded a few bubblegum-music hits in the late 1960s, turns 64. Former CBS reporter Terry Drinkwater was born today in 1936. And here's an amazing double-food, single-drink name: Zita von Bourbon-Parma, the last Empress of Austria-Hungary. She was born today in 1892. A zita is a single pasta tube, usually used in the plural ziti. Parma is a variety of prosciutto.
Words to Eat By
"My idea of heaven is eating pâté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets." — Sydney Smith.
Words to Drink By
"Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." — 1 Corinthians, 15:32.