Saturday, September 17, 2016

Walk On The Wild Side

Monday, September 12, 2016
Serious Eats has been a reliable web site for fressers like me.  In looking over recent articles, I found that fell within my realm of experience, a review of chocolate babkas.  

I agree with their conclusions, including the surprising inclusion of Trader Joe's babka among the recommended treats.  Is it possible that Trader Joe was once Trader Yussel? 

Usually, I offer suggestions on how to spend your time (and not too much money).  Today, I want to save you some time.  Soon after reading the New York Times review that called it "an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment," I got a copy of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio Garcรญa Martรญnez.  The author, who left Wall Street to join a software startup company, start another, went to Facebook about one year before its IPO.  

He has lots of good stories to tell, in a tone that is consistently snarky and derisive regarding almost everyone he worked with and for, and that is one reason the book gets tiresome long before its end.  Another reason to stop about halfway through the 500 pages is his manic dissection of the intra-Facebook battle between Custom Audiences (CA) and Facebook Exchange (FBX), which takes up almost the entire second half of the book.  While the author tries to use clear language and offer parallels from common experience, the inevitable reliance on jargon left even this old techie confused.  If the conflict between CA and FBX involved a choice of opposing modalities in the fight against cancer, it might be worth slogging through the book.  But, instead, we are asked to agonize over how best to target advertisements to Facebook users.  Spare yourself.  
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Monsieur David Goldfarb invited me to his home for lunch.  While David is retired from teaching history, he has not retired from the world of food and wine, where he continues to excel. He served heirloom tomato soup, baked branzino, fingerling potatoes, string beans, endive salad, all prepared by himself.  Additionally, David makes it a point to print the menu whenever he has guests.  Of course, he selected a special wine to accompany the meal, Philippe Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray, 2010.  Even though we did not conclude with chocolate cake or ice cream, the meal was first rate, as was the company.

Last week, an economic survey showed that the middle class experienced little if any growth in earnings over a 15-year period.  Today, focusing only on the last year, we see better results. 

The best news was, "The share of Americans living in poverty also posted the sharpest decline in decades."  Should we credit Barack Obama's policies, or the Republican's refusal to implement Obama's policies for this happy turn of events?

Black Votes Matter.  While the richer, older and more educated you are, the more likely you are to vote (and typically vote Republican, as we used to inform our classes in Government 101), voting turnout among black Americans consistently leads other racial groups, in a trend that began before the emergence of Obama.  

What do Indiana, New York, Hawaii and West Virginia have in common, according to this article?  Generally, they have the lowest turnout in presidential elections since 1980, and try to make sense of that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Even as my chances to be accepted into the coterie that produces the results in Opinionated About Dining fade, I am confronted with another restaurant reviewing site that is unlikely to welcome me. 

Renzell (I couldn't find the reason for the name) collects opinions from 2,000 "regular, non-industry patrons of high-end restaurants," eschewing professional reviewers and ordinary lunks who might express themselves on Zagat's, Yelp, and the like.  I looked at the membership application, which anticipates that you dine frequently on an expense account or a trust fund.  Once upon a time, when I worked for a major professional services firm, I was doing okay, almost, but never entirely blending in with the movers and shakers.  I was able to manage my way into some of the fancier joints of the time and was able to eat without too much regard for the bottom line.  However, it's been quite a while since I've dined in the high rent district.  On the other hand, do you want to hear about Chinatown?

I don't really cook any of our meals at home, but I do prepare many of them.  By that I mean that I shop for, organize, heat up when needed, and present the food to be eaten.  Under these circumstances, recipes are of little use to me.  However, I was interested in what the New York Times called the most requested recipe in its history.  It was first published in 1983.  Let's take a moment and think what it might be.  

I wouldn't have guessed a plum torte, but that takes the cake, as it were.  

Time has not apparently diminished its popularity.  "A recent Google search of 'New York Times plum torte' yielded nearly 80,000 search results."  I have a vague recollection of being served something similar, claimed to be an Eastern European family favorite.  In any case, I am willing to sample your version.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016
I am intrigued by The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, which "explore[s] the hypothesis that bestsellers have a distinct set of subtle signals, a latent bestseller code."  The authors, an English literature professor and a former book editor, have developed an algorithm for success based on a computer analysis of 20,000 contemporary novels.  They boil it down to a "bestseller-ometer," for predictive purposes.  If the authors are right, might the next step be the automated writing of bestselling novels based on the formula?  Then, of course, we can let computers read the books written by computers.

Why New York?  Let me give you one example -- Amsterdam Avenue between 80th Street and 81st Street has seven restaurants on the east side of the street and nine on the west side.  In addition to those in operation on the west side, one other is closed for renovation and a laundromat sits among them.  I went into Luke's Lobster, 426 Amsterdam Avenue (west side), maybe nine feet wide, decorated like a sea shanty, complete with a fishing rod and reel in the bathroom.  

I sat on a stool at one of the 4 1/2 high tables inside, a few more conventional tables and chairs outside.  I had the lobster roll ($17), the reason for Luke's existence and justifiably so.  The lobster meat was sweet, tender and fresh.  Was it too expensive?  An Internet search for lobster rolls in Maine came up with some in the $15-18 range.  If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., at lunchtime, the Kingbird restaurant has a lobster roll for $26, served on a brioche bun with yuzu mayo, scallions and a side of housemade potato chips.  

Of course, if you are in Washington, D.C., you would not be one block away from Zabar's, 2245 Broadway, where I headed after lunch.  There, I was delighted to find the artisanal efforts of Danny Macaroons (not macarons, mind you).  I bought a package of coconut macaroons, hand-dipped in chocolate.   Small and spherical, they did not look like your ordinary macaroons; more significantly, they did not taste like your ordinary macaroons.  New York, I told you.


  1. Michele made the Plum Torte, but substituted apples. It was delish, of course.

  2. Lobster roll at the Watergate in DC is quite good but $$$, definitely a treat though.
    Intrigued by plum tart, going to make one...