The Food Almanac: Monday, June 17, 2013

On June 19, 1910, Father's Day was celebrated for the first time. The place was Spokane, Washington. It's only recently that Father's Day has become a serious dining day. This is because, really, nobody cares about pleasing Dad. If you forget Mother's Day, that's a capital offense. Forget Father's Day? Eh. (You should have seen the cards I got from my family yesterday, all of which were hilarious but essentially insulting.) I think the reason more people are taking their fathers and grandfathers out to a meal on that day is that the wives and kids want to go out, and Father's Day is a fitting pretext. I also believe that most fathers, given their true wishes, would stay home while everyone goes out, as long as nobody tells him what to do. For a change.

Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
#181: Vegetarian tasting Menu @ Restaurant August, CBD: 301 Tchoupitoulas. Vegetarian dining in New Orleans restaurants reached a new peak in 2011, when Chef Jon Besh introduced something previously unheard of in these parts. It's a major chef's tasting menu, in which all the dishes are meatless. The contents of this change nightly, but draw upon resources John has developed in his own farmlet behind La Provence, and outfits like Covey Rise Farm. If you're not a vegetarian, try ordering this menu and adding a regular entree to it–perhaps splitting everything at the table. We did that one night and found it spectacular.This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans. Collect all 500!

Food Calendar 
Today is Eat Your Vegetables Day. Because it's good for you, reduces incidence of mustache cancer, etc., etc. Most of us actually like vegetables. I could be a vegetarian if I didn't like steak so much. It's easy to understand why some people don't like their vegetables. It's because diners expect to get a vegetable side dish with their entrees at no added cost. Because it's free, restaurants and cooks feel little pressure to give the sides much attention. This is true even in some expensive, allegedly gourmet places.

Some restaurants, fortunately, take a different tack. They buy unusual vegetables (baby turnips, salsify, broccoli raab, pea shoots). They don't treat these with particularly more care than the neighborhood cafe does its peas and mashed potatoes, but it at least creates an illusion that they care. At the lower end of the prices spectrum, the few restaurant that try to make their vegetables special usually do so by melting cheese all over them.

If you don't believe all of this, ask a vegetarian how tough it is to get a good vegetable plate in most restaurants. Such a thing is a collection of afterthoughts.

It is getting better. A few restaurants are going after locally-grown vegetables with much greater interest. But the problem remains: the typical diner is much more interested in the protein on the plate, which must be done well. He won't pay extra for vegetables (except, curiously, in a steak house, where the vegetables are no better than in the places where they're free). And so the pressure is down on the vegetables.

Deft Dining Rule #52:
A restaurant with excellent vegetable side dishes probably does everything else excellently.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Grit, Texas is in the beautiful Hill Country, right under the X in Texas, near the junction of US 377 and TX 29. You might pass this way if you took a scenic route west from Austin. Grit is about five miles from the bigger town of Mason, where you can grab lunch at the Taqueria Tres Caminos.

Edible Dictionary
giardinera, [jyar-dih-NEH-rah], Italian, n., adj.–This word has two meanings, depending upon the context. Used as a descriptive term in the name of the dish, it means "in the style of the gardener," and implies that the dish will be full of fresh, crisp, colorful vegetables. When used alone, giardinera describes a marinated salad of vegetables. Common ingredients are celery, carrots, cauliflower, beans In and out of pods), onions, and peppers. All these are marinated with vinegar and olive oil. It's served as an antipasto. Giardinera of that kind is widely available in jars at the supermarket. New Orleanians will recognize it as the olive salad used on a muffuletta sandwich, but without the olives and garlic and with less olive oil.

Music To Eat By
Jimmy Buffett's song Cheeseburger In Paradise hit its high point on the charts today in 1978 at only Number Thirty-Two. It gets played a lot more than bigger hits of the time. It's the food reference, I tell you. . . On this date in 1972, the song Brandy was released by a one-hit wonder called Looking Glass. Brandy, I know you'll recall, was a fine girl. . . The last major hit on the pop charts by a classic big band–that of Jimmy Dorsey, no less–made it to Number Two on this day in 1957. It was a song about how to cook a steak: So Rare.

Whiskey In The Funnies 
This was the day in 1919 when the comic strip Barney Google premiered. It evolved over the years into Snuffy Smith, which is still being published. I hear that Snuffy lately has turned his skill at distilling "corn squeezin's" into making small-batch bourbons aged in oak for twelve to fifteen years. But he still refuses to pay the "revenooers," so it's still illegal. I haven't tried the stuff myself.

Famous Restaurant Names
Mumtaz Mahal died today in 1631, from complications during childbirth. Her husband spent the next twenty years and a lot of his wealth (he was the Mughal emperor, so no problem) building her tomb. It is the Taj Mahal, one of the most photographed sites in the world. Its name has been applied to hundreds of Indian restaurants, including one here in New Orleans. The Taj Mahal on Metairie Road serves good food, but gives no hint of its namesake's grandeur.

Alluring Dinner Dates 
While we're in India, let's ask Amrita Rao–model and actress–if she'd mind joining us for dinner at the Taj Mahal. She was born in Mumbai today in 1981.

Food And Wine On The Air
Today was the premiere, in 1942, of the greatest radio mystery series of them all, Suspense. The scripts, stars, and production were good enough that the shows still hold up today. It ran weekly for twenty years, until the last day of radio drama on CBS. For a long time its sponsor was Roma Wines, the biggest-selling wines in America at the time. It was generic plonk from California, made before California winemakers realized how good their wines could be. . . This is the day in 1994 that police followed O.J. Simpson's white Bronco around Los Angeles. The chase was on live TV, and it wound up in a fantastic trial that we ran gavel-to-gavel on WSMB. It constantly pre-empted my radio show, but it brought many new listeners to the show who had never heard of me.

Food Namesakes
David "Stringbean" Akeman, who played the banjo and did corny comedy on "Hee Haw," was born today in 1915. . . Actor Mark Linn-Baker stepped onto the Big Stage today in 1954. . . Jello Biafra, the lead singer for the Dead Kennedys on their album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, was born today in 1958.

Words To Eat By
"An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh."–Will Rogers.

"Approaching the stove, she would don a voluminous apron, toss some meat on a platter, empty a skillet of its perfectly cooked a point vegetables, sprinkle a handful of chopped parsley over all, and then, like a proficient striptease artist, remove the apron, allowing it to fall to the floor with a shake of her hips."–Bert Greene, American food writer.

Words To Drink By
"With small beer, good ale and wine, O ye gods! how I shall dine!"–Unknown.