The CHOW Blog rss

Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Twilight of the Grouper

The St. Petersburg Times (of Florida, not Russia) is reporting that “17 of 24 Tampa Bay area restaurants tested last year by the Florida Attorney General’s Office advertised grouper on menus but served some other fish.”

The most entertaining snippet of the piece:

WingHouse serves a ‘grouper teammate’ sandwich that is swai, another Asian catfish.

Director of purchasing Christopher M. Jones said he has been on the job only a few weeks and was not party to conversations with the state but said WingHouse would follow the law.

Customers know that ‘grouper teammate’ is not really a grouper, he said. ‘It’s all a fun joke.’

Hilarious! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

A criminal investigation is under way, and the implications of GrouperGate are all pretty much terrifying.

1. If you go into a restaurant and order a particular kind of fish, there’s a chance the restaurant is conning you. Moreover, there’s a chance that the restaurant’s actually been conned by its supplier, and therefore will present you with the wrong fish without even knowing it.

2. People—customers and restaurateurs—can’t tell one kind of fish from another. Have we all lost our collective tastebuds? Or does it just not make much of a difference what we’re eating anymore?

3. There are not enough damned grouper to go around. Lump that in with the seemingly endless list of different overfished seafood species, and we’re clearly facing a seafood problem of epic proportions. And by “seafood problem,” I mean “aquatic ecosystem problem.” Because that sounds a little less gluttonously narrow-minded.

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Bruni Goes Normal for a Night

Frank Bruni, restaurant critic for The New York Times, joined the rest of the world this week, dining just like a “normal” person.

As he explains in his blog, it happened just as it does to the rest of us. Feeling hungry after a movie, Bruni and a friend popped into a neighborhood restaurant—without reservations, without prior research, and without great expectations beyond the hope for a decent meal. Just like the rest of us.

In Bruni’s own words, “I ate spontaneously. I ate imperfectly. I ate without agenda.”

‘Cause sometimes even restaurant critics get hungry.

Congratulations, Frank. You’re normal.

Don’t Get KidFresh with Me

New York magazine has a one-page story on KidFresh, “an Upper East Side children’s food store” that caters to “time-starved parents and juvenile taste buds.” The piece is nominally about the store, which lets kids push miniature carts around and browse 35 elegant little prepared refrigerated—and mostly organic—meals. But the star of the show is 10-year-old Jake, a precocious little foodie who says stuff like this:

‘I expected the food to be like Campbell’s soup, but it’s not at all. It’s pretty good, but not for a guy like me. I prefer Citarella or Dean & DeLuca. I treasure things like an aged balsamic vinegar and truffles—the mushrooms, not the chocolate.’

The moral of the story: Raise your kids on the Upper East Side, and brace yourself for wisecracking little adults who are freebasing and making commercial-quality crunk mix tapes by the time they’re 14.

The Littlest Foodies

Foodism has hit the pre-kindergarten set, The New York Times reports (registration required). That grown-up gastronomes are producing offspring with a taste for sushi and stinky cheese is no secret, but apparently now a growing number of restaurants and recreational cooking schools are catering to the tiniest of these tots, offering child-size portions and kid-friendly cooking classes for kids as young as 2 1/2. A culinary center in Texas teaches toddlers how to make finger sandwiches, and five-year-olds in New York’s celeb-chef-centric meatpacking district knead pizza dough with yeast pebbles and sea salt before topping with pungent Gruyère.

As Sunday Style pieces go, this article has a high concentration of funny quotes, particularly from Chef Eric Ripert of New York’s four-star Le Bernardin:

[Ripert] thinks his dress code helps keep children in line. ‘They have a tie, so they are almost strangled already,’ he said. ‘They don’t move much.’

Of course there are exceptions: On a birthday trip to Blue Hill at Stone Barns last year, I was seated a table away from a suit-wearing six-year-old, who seemed to be enjoying the food. But about halfway through the meal, he freaked out and run into the garden, shortly after telling his mom she needed a facial and then crying loudly, “I don’t want to go to prep school!” Clearly his palate had developed more quickly than his ability to detect irony.

Read Your Vitamins

The blogosphere is enraptured by Michael Pollan’s (The Omnivore’s Dilemma in case you were snoozing under a rock last food year) piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

“Unhappy Meals” is a polemic against processed food and the cult of “nutritionism”—that is, eating nutrients (often found in boxes of fortified crap) instead of eating whole foods. Don’t have time to read the thousands of words that encompass the history of nutrients, the rise of high-fructose corn syrup (boo, hiss), and the crucial differences between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids? Skip to the end, where Pollan gives nine “rules of thumb” he has collected.

More than 100 blogs have already weighed in on the story. Most are effusive in their praise. “Brilliant,” notes sustainable-food blog Post-Haste Taste. “Wonderful,” says nutrition blog Guerilla Nutrition. “So simple and so true,” says Calorie Restriction blogger Christina’s CR Journal. Some bloggers, like Waisted in the Wasteland, are so inspired by the article that they’ve vowed to move The Omnivore’s Dilemma to the top of their to-be-read stack. Not even a blog called Snarkmarket could work up any snark for Mr. Pollan. Everyone, it seems, loves him.

Well, except those malcontents on Metafilter, who bring a refreshing skepticism to the party, bashing Pollan for sins that range from essentially “writing the same article/book over and over again” to not even bringing up the concept of exercise. Posters on Chowhound (Chow’s sister site) are also having a thoughtful discussion around elements of the article.

Is “Unhappy Meals” the seed that will turn into another Michael Pollan best-seller? Stay tuned!

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