For the past few days, the Times has been particularly consumed with the issue of income disparity and extreme inequality. First came Paul Krugman who found the presence of this disparity in Israel to be the worst in the advanced world with portentous consequences in store. On Wednesday, the lead editorial with the noxious headline “An Israeli Election Turns Ugly,” bemoaned the fact that “although the economy has grown, the country (Israel) itself has experienced widening income disparities and is now one of the most unequal societies in the advanced world.” (NYT 3/18) So it is with a proper degree of head-scratching that I call your attention to today’s review in the Food Section of Eleven Madison Park, a four-star restaurant which offers a tasting menu for $225/per each one-percenter.
Here are some excerpts from Pete Well’s paean to the lifestyles and appetites of the tres, tres, rich. “But it’s the force that drives his (Chef Humm) best innovations, like globes of celery root braised in a pig’s bladder, inspired by the classic French dish poulet en vessie. The white globes will be bathed in a truffled chicken reduction and set beside a circle of celery root puree that has been spooned over, guess what, more truffles. And Mr. Humm, always alert to opportunities for spectacle, knows that beyond forming an airtight vessel for steam, an inflated pig’s bladder makes a great conversation piece in the dining room.” (The Art of Sensory Stimulation, NYT 3/18) Mon Dieu! I can only imagine the clever witticisms and gales of laughter inspired by that great conversation piece in so many American homes, not to mention the apartments in the French banlieus. Entre nous, I’ve always preferred a sheep’s bladder, finding that it adds an extra spark of insouciance that makes the dish a tad less snobbish as well as less ammoniated.
But lest you think that this type of cooking exaggerates the differences between server and served, Mr. Wells hastens to inform that “The remote formality that typically comes with punctilious service has been banished. Servers want to make you an active collaborator in the fun.” And a manager pointed out regarding the training of these funsters, ”It takes 10 months to learn how to pour water.” Well, this sure sounds just like traditional family dining, everyone participating whether in the kitchen, at the table or during the cleanup for recycling. (memo to self: what color bag does a pig bladder go in?) I know that all of us are reassured to read that “Eleven Madison Park’s true theme will stay the same: convincing you that you’ve been lifted to some better world until the man in the top hat outside whistles for your cab.” This would be that better world that Marie Antoinette lived in, loved and inconveniently lost and the world still occupied by Soros, Winfrey, Sulzberger and the other 1 percenters the Times loves to hate.
Luckily, New Yorkers and Americans don’t have to deal with the ugly income equality that smacks those Israelis in the face every day. I can’t speak for the French, Mexicans, Russians, Brazilians, Italians or any of those people living in countries ruled by monarchs, oligarchs, sheikh or dictators, but I’m hoping that Pete Wells will venture to some restaurants in those countries and set us straight about the collaborative efforts of diners and servers and their authentic equality of co-existence.
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