Five Friday Reads 02.24.2017 by Emilia Morano-Williams

  1. "Trump and the 'Society of the Spectacle'" from The New York Times. This article offers a cultural studies approach to the question we're all asking: how did an ex-reality TV star who starred in Pizza Hut's original ad for stuffed crust pizza become president of the United States?
  2. "New Brand Identity for Helvetimart by Anagram" from BP&O. Helvetimart is a gourmet food market from Switzerland that recently adopted a novel and refreshingly un-food focused approach to their branding.
  3. "Macanese Minchi" from The Foodie Baker. I'd never thought much about Macau—until I made this minchi, the country's answer to poutine.
  4. "A Bright Detroit Rental Loft Full of Local Pride" from Apartment Therapy. This gorgeous Detroit apartment embraces the interaction between the city and the home.
  5. "12 Contemporary Writers on How They Revise" from Lit Hub. I live by the adage writing is rewriting—even more so after hearing how authors such as Joan Didion and Neil Gaimon approach this sometimes daunting task.

Forget cheeseburgers, salad is taking over the menu by Emilia Morano-Williams

Falafel Salad at Taim

Ignore Bourdain. He can devour his sirloin—I’ll take his serving of overpriced restaurant salad. You should too. These salads are everywhere from Michelin-starred tasting menus to tapas-style hot spots and while Bourdain scorns them as bowls of leaves, other chefs are realizing that cooking with vegetables is healthy, cheap and delicious. Salads are transforming from an overlooked side to a must-order main.

At The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s gastropub and homage to meat in New York’s Ace Hotel, the salad boasts all the distinguishing marks of her cooking without the side of lethargy that comes with meaty entrees. You can’t blame diners for gawking at the lamb burger, served so rare it oozes blood. But while the burger stars in Yelp reviews, the subsequent food coma goes unmentioned.

The salad will keep you sprightly. And it testifies to Bloomfield’s characteristic excess. At first glance, it appears that you’ve just spent $14 on a tub of butterhead lettuce that a CIA extern threw into the large, low white bowl in an artful-but-careless manner. But then you rustle the leaves to reveal large chunks of supremely salty and creamy feta interspersed with more sunflower seeds than hide in gourmet granola. With a sprinkling of fresh mint and a generous douse of bright herb dressing, this salad will keep you full until breakfast.

Ottolenghi salad box

For those who grew up haunted by the squirmy boiled eggs that lurked beneath salad bar sneeze guards, the phenomenon of too-big-to-finish salad bowls might come as a shock. While the popularity of vegetarian and so-called clean eating diets helped popularize salads, they also offer a green counterpart to brazen burgers. Photos of salad bowls overflowing with tomatoes, avocado, and candied pecans are the vegetarian equivalent of cheeseburgers spilling their guts. With the rise of salad chains like Chop’t and Sweetgreen, this phenomenon ceases to be the niche domain of healthy living bloggers and becomes mainstream.

Keith McNally is another restaurateur who has realized the potential of including craveable greens on his well-curated menus. While a nicoise salad might seem like a boring bistro basic, the version at Cherche-Midi hits all the same creamy-salty-crunchy buttons that engineers use to engineer craveable eats. Each bite combines the crackle of perfect lettuce with slick roasted peppers and soft potato salad. These aren’t leftover ingredients thrown into a bowl. Instead, the combination demonstrates the same thought and attention demonstrated to the pricier prime rib, only in the composition as opposed to the cooking.

Cataloguing New York’s salad renaissance would demand thousands of words. Reviews laud Carbone’s theatrical Caesar salad. City Bakery’s kale salad helped make kale cool. Taim deserves praise for its balanced (but overlooked) Moroccan carrot and marinated beet salads. Sorry Bourdain, the age of the burger is over. Salad is cool.

Five Friday Reads 02.17.2017 by Emilia Morano-Williams


Editor's note: I'm reviving a favorite feature from my old blog. Each Friday I'll round up five of the most interesting, thought provoking, or just down right entertaining stories I've come across in print and online in the previous week. If you have any recommendations of stories to feature, share them on twitter with the hashtag #ELLFriFive

  1. Magazine of the week: The New Yorker" from Magculture. As the media work to reconcile a Trump presidency, their visual depiction is just as important as their language.
  2. "A Liberal Wanted to Agitate Ole Miss from the Inside. He's Succeeding." on The New York Times. From the frontlines of racial tension in America, one Mississippi undergrad is challenging how his peers interact with the world—and each other.
  3. "Fictional characters make 'experiential crossings' into real life, study finds" on The Guardian. Studies prove that you're not insane for thinking of Hobie every time you step into an antique shop (The Goldfinch anyone?).
  4. "Writers to Watch Spring 2017: Anticipated Debuts" on Publisher's Weekly. Get ready to see your must-read list grow, from a story about a Bangalore spice business to a family history of Uganda, these authors want to challenge readers with unconventional and thought-provoking narratives.
  5. "Why I broke my three year clothes buying ban" on Frugalwoods. "I was using my job as an excuse to validate my unnecessary shopping. In doing so, I was subconsciously thwarting myself by–in essence–paying to work."

Learning about fine dining at Betony in New York City by Emilia Morano-Williams

Betony interior. Image via Eater.

Betony interior. Image via Eater.

Editor's note: Betony has since closed since my meal there. When I ate there they had already decided to close.

The host at Betony sat the woman in the sequin mini dress first. I wasn’t surprised. Just as I wasn’t surprised to see a trio of dudes hanging by the bar throwing back milk punch and cognac. In New York every restaurant house the pre-club crowd. After all, what better way to coat the stomach against the night’s Grey Goose than with a $100 tasting menu?

But for my boyfriend and I, an average pair of twenty-somethings, dinner at the late Betony was a bargain. It was cheaper than a trip to the theatre or a night at the club and more entertaining than either.

Le Coucou, Günter Seegar, Augustine: meet New York’s new generation of restaurants eager to tutor eaters reared on chef-approved noodle joints on the finer points of high cuisine. From table settings to artful platings, there are plenty of metrics for judging these restaurants. And young diners like us are ready to learn. Restaurant critics might complain, but most diners will agree that plopping down upwards of $100 for a meal earns you the right to critique.

We didn’t love the wood paneling. We debated the table décor in comparison. We discussed whether to follow Pete Well’s recommendation to order the chicken or follow our stomach and order the skate. After all, when you consume more chicken in Chop’t salads than you do chicken from Michelin-starred kitchens, you need to train your palate. Forget paying for entertainment, we paid for education.

Image via Wesley & Brandon Rosenblum on Flickr.

Betony offers both a set and a tasting menu, but most diners opt for the set menu. It’s a relative bargain. About $100 gets you an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, plus a smattering of amuse bouche. You can add a wine pairing, but you’d be better off ordering an astonishingly creamy-but-light glass of milk punch or deep and sweet sherry drink. If you insist on wine, choose a bottle or glass from the leather-bound wine list that gives drinking the reverence of an illuminated manuscript.

Betony wants to bridge this gap between past and present, which you realize the moment you climb the steps to the upper story dining room. While downstairs diners snuggle amidst wood paneled walls seemingly stolen from a Vaudeville theatre, upstairs wood panels give way to brick walls from a Williamsburg-themed TV set. If the brick walls are Williamsburg, the tables are Stockholm—large and pale with a sleek lamp in lieu of a candle. Betony wants to remind you that old-school dining remains relevant in the 21st century, even when the symbols shift.

Sometimes you believe and sometimes you wish you swung by the canteen at a living history museum instead. You float aimlessly at the island-like tables—until they’re filled with dishes. You feel fine during your appetizer, awkward until the amuse bouche arrives and filled with just as much shame as food after dessert as you wonder how you ate so much.

That’s because each course is large enough to satisfy on its own. I wish my radish salad hadn’t been soaked in dressing and while I loved my pseudo-fried fish, the combination of crispy roasted mushrooms and rich miso would have been just as satisfying if I’d spent $30 on it as a single course. You become despairing of the amuse bouche, which are the most compelling parts of the meal. The chilled truffle broth dotted with browned butter tastes like dragging your finger through the dregs of the parmesan truffle fries from your go-to gastropub. And who could resist the fresh sorbet that precedes dessert? Bright and pungent, it almost makes you excited about yet another course.

Perhaps that’s the issue with contemporary fine dining—it participates in a dining culture where more means value, shifting the definition of satiation from just enough to too much. While diners at Betony no doubt snuff their noses at Cheesecake Factory portions, the notion that of a bargain alters how we interact with dining. Because we aren’t always fine dining. You’ll swing by Chipotle or the Whole Foods salad bar. Fine dining is an educational experience, it’s a theatrical experience and a gastronomic one. Betony demonstrates the successes and challenges of navigating these different discourses for the 21st century diner.

And I wish I could go back.