Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cafe Boulud

This last week, the hubby and I went to New York City as a sort of birthday celebration (yesterday, I turned 27; tomorrow, he turns 29), and one of my mom's former coworkers, Gavin Kaysen (you might remember him from Iron Chef America) is the executive chef at a restaurant in Manhattan, so of course we made reservations. I didn't realize, when we made these reservations, that his restaurant was between Madison and Park, or that I would be dining near real, live millionaires. I didn't realize that in certain cities, fancy restaurants are not just someplace normal people go to feel fancy; there are actually people who are fancy down to their cores. People who think that Belgian endive salad and duck confit ravioli aren't necessarily fancy food, but just food. Who joke about burning $100 bills (you think I'm making this up, but I'm not) at the table next to you. Who make you wish you were down occupying Wall Street instead of wasting a bunch of money on a meal that you didn't actually enjoy as much as your hole-in-the-wall-slice-of-pizza lunch.

Not that the food wasn't wonderful. The ravioli was delicious and beautifully presented. The dark chocolate mousse we had for dessert looked like a small piece of art. But the servers didn't seem to know what to make of me and my husband, obviously tourists, in outfits that probably cost less than the tablecloth. They weren't exactly rude, but they didn't exactly engage us, either. I don't blame them, really; we obviously weren't going to rack up a large bill, which means they weren't going to earn a very big tip. And while in the area I live in, "fancy" restaurant servers can probably afford to live in the nicest apartments around, or even pay a mortgage, in Manhattan I wondered how far out in the boroughs the busboy or the coat check girl had to live, or whether they had to hold other jobs. I've seen Sex and the City and Selling New York. I know, generally, how much fancy New York real estate costs. And even with generous tips, I doubt any server could afford it.

Basically, this made me feel really bad about being there. Normally, I would feel self-conscious, as though everyone there was judging me, but I don't think any other customers actually looked at me all night. And I was so busy judging them, I didn't care what they thought. Most of them barely looked at their food, drank their expensive wine like it was Diet Coke. It was like they didn't know how lucky they were to be eating there, to have the luxury of food that has been so carefully crafted and wine that has been aged for years in French oak--to have the luxury of affording it.

So the next day, we shared a street vendor pretzel and hot dog for lunch. Pub food for dinner. No guilt involved.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Parsnip/Pumpkin Beer Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb parsnips, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
two medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
one cup pumpkin beer
three cups water
two bouillon cubes
dash nutmeg

In a large pot, heat the olive oil; saute onion, carrot, and celery about five minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add parsnips and potatoes; saute about two minutes more. Add beer, water, and bouillon; bring to a boil, reduce to simmer; simmer about twenty minutes, until all veg are soft. Puree in a blender or with immersion blender. Garnish with sour cream (reduced fat works well) and croutons (homemade are always delicious), and serve with pumpkin beer.