Sunday, October 24, 2010

Twain’s Feast Revisited

Hot Springs, Arkansas
Christmas, 1875

This essay was published in The Book Club of California Quarterly, Winter 2019. 

While touring Europe in 1878 and 1879, Mark Twain filled many notebooks for use in a travelogue. Although much of what he wrote during the sixteen-month trip was never published, such as his comparisons of European and American homes and transportation, a list of his favorite foods made it into the final manuscript of A Tramp Abroad (1880). Having grown weary of the “monotonous variety of unstriking dishes” in European hotels, Twain declared: “It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one—a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive…”1 Miraculously, Twain's iconic list of eighty American foods somehow defined a national cuisine.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Not Much On The Menu

New York City, 

In August 2009, critic Frank Bruni awarded Eleven Madison Park a perfect four stars in the New York Times. The restaurant, which opened in 1998, now ranked “among the most alluring and impressive restaurants" in the city. What brought Bruni “particular joy” was the fact that it had gotten better and better over time.  While most restaurateurs were battening down the hatches during the Great Recession, principal owner Danny Meyer continued to make improvements. In April 2010, it was named as one of the "World’s 50 Best Restaurants" on San Pellegrino's annual list compiled by Restaurant Magazine.

In September of that year, Eleven Madison Park went exclusively to a tasting format. The change was reflected in a minimalist menu which was the antithesis of the text-heavy style that had been popular for so long. Yet in the warm and inviting context of Eleven Madison Park, the new menu strikes me as a bit austere. Stylistically, the grid is more reminiscent of a word game than a menu.