Monday, April 07, 2008

The Perfect Food

I like to consider myself a foodie, but if you think I'd let my daughter move in next door to Barry Goldwater -- wait, that's not how it goes. This one's something about me being a food lover but refusing, on principal, to eat somewhere like the French Laundry. I just couldn't do it. I believe in the power of a great meal, but I simply couldn't bring myself to spend $240 on one (unless Jim Harrison were joining me).

The thing is, I'm sort of cursed by the perfect food. I've eaten too many good tacos. What do you get at the French Laundry? A very special combination of select ingredients prepared by a master chef. Same thing at the right taco stand in Tijuana or Oaxaca or DF. But wait, eating at the French Laundry, bite after bite, is a transcendental experience. So is the right taqueria -- and more people will vouch for that than will vouch for the experience had at the French Laundry.

OK, OK, OK. How can you compare the two? It's a ridiculous juxtaposition. But, like so many people, I've had the experience of hearing about a taqueria somewhere in Mexico, run by so-and-so, who does the steak in this special way, or who cooks the corn tortillas inside the coals to unheard-of perfection, or who makes the most insane birria you can possibly imagine, or who uses some family recipe that no one in a city of 8.7 million people has ever been able to duplicate or top, and I've sought it out and eaten there and had my mind totally blown. For a buck.

I'd enjoy every bite at the French Laundry. Who wouldn't? But with every bite, back in my subconscious, I'd know that I'd been there already. And I'd miss the atmosphere.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is an ethnocentric argument. And once again, I will side with the masses. I had the best Carne Rancherra tacos in Plymouth last night.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Joe Ray said...

Great post! Great debate!

One of the greatest ironies of being a freelance food writer is rarely having the money to eat at a high-end restaurants. I am the first to stand up for democratic food experiences like those you describe - Paris has fantastic falafel at relatively bargain prices, Argentina has beautiful steaks as big as your head for six bucks, having a Vienna all-beef hot dog with my Dad is one of my favorite meals - yet I will never forget the experiences at the few high-end places I've been. I interviewed chef Alain Ducasse a few months back and, walking out, saw the ceiling (just the ceiling!) above his Plaza Athenee restaurant and gasped. I could imagine them at night, twinkling like stars above my sweetheart while we ate.

These places, the service and especially their food, have a beautiful momentum that can crack your senses open wide and leave a mark on you for the rest of your life. It may cost the equivalent of 300 tacos to eat there, but every once in a while, a perfect night under the stars is a true privilege.

Each has its place. Now, pass me a taco!


Joe Ray
Journalist & Photographer - Food & Travel

11:32 AM  

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