I read A.A. Gill’s purported analysis of the New York restaurant scene in the London Times last Sunday, and it pissed me off. This guy’s a dimwit (he gleefully shot a baboon), a standup comedian given to improvisational riffing on restaurants he’s barely visited–only three of them, in fact. He sweeps into Manhattan, grazes in DBGB, eats brunch at the Breslin, and has a few dumplings and some crack pie at Momofuku Milk Bar. That’s it. And then he slams our restaurant scene based on this slender evidence. Plowing through his prose is like swimming in treacle.
Of David Chang, he writes: “Momofuku is a small chain of related restaurants run by a Korean chef. Korean is this year’s must-have oriental.” This is blatant racism. The Brits still don’t get the melting pot thing. David Chang was born and raised in Virginia, and he’s as American as any one here.
His savaging of Daniel Boulud, one of our ablest chefs, quite simply reflects the age-old hatred of the English for the French–even though a large proportion of useful ideas, methods, and words in English cooking happen to have been filched from the French.
In the case of both Chang and Boulud, Gill’s chosen one of the subsidiary productions of each as a target more worthy of his venom than their full-blown restaurants. Or perhaps it was a matter of simple economics, of having to do his “review” of New York restaurants on the cheap.
Indeed, a meal with a table of diners at Daniel would cost far more than did the meager number of dishes he sampled at DBGB. Of course, he never explains to us under what auspices he conducted his underhanded reviews. Did he pay for the food? Did he dine alone? Did he bluster in there flashing his puss and hoping for the royal treatment? New York has always been wary of such international scoundrels.
He seems to like April Bloomfield and the Breslin. Of course he does. She’s English. But then he only ate brunch there, and found it agreeable since it was filled with English commonplaces. This guy is about as xenophobic as he can get. Of course, he also condescends to her because she’s from the Midlands, as a Londoner might do in a Victorian novel.
In fact, Gill always seems mired in a previous age. The idea that he’s chosen Bergdorf’s as the epicenter of the city, the jumping-off point for his improbable story about fur and veganism, shows just how out of touch he is with what’s going on in New York today. Later he calls Boulud’s burger “the edible version of Holly Golightly.” Gill’s living in the 60’s and his New York is the city of old movies.
Of the Milk Bar, he complains: “A utilitarian room of sparse practicality. A pair of tables. No chairs. Industrial-warehouse shelving.” Dude, it’s a bakery. Then Gill raves on about cereal milk: “Now, depending on how tight your trousers are, you might think that’s genius. Or like supping leftovers in an orphanage.” The part about tight trousers is a tired English anti-gay slur. Real men like A.A. Gill wear big floppy trousers.
Of the frank at DBGB, he offers a backhanded compliment: “The best thing was the house hot dog. A beef wiener with onion, mustard and ketchup. Pretty much what you’d expect to get at Coney Island.” I’m sure he’s never eaten a hot dog in Coney Island, so he has no idea that comparing Boulud’s to Nathan’s is a real compliment.
When we arrive at the last paragraph, the prose becomes so convoluted and choleric, it sounds like the ravings of a lunatic: “The mouth appeal of the fat and the sweet and the sticky is incoherent. The flavours just make your mouth a big, warm sleepover. This is cud Valium, mood-altering, head-numbing, feelgood food. It’s medication three times a day with meals.”
Not knowing how to end his tawdry piece, he goes off on pigs: “Not quite comfort-club grub, but there is an anti-sophisticate meatiness to everything. A chin-dribble finger suck.” Dude, you’re supposed to eat the pig, not fuck it.