Tag Archives: Slate

El plato ostentoso

I gather the Spanish gastronomic community is deeply mourning the closing of El Bulli restaurant. For 50 years in Catalonia, El Bulli created culinary inventions that inspired chefs worldwide.

If you like food or if you like Spain, read The New York Times story about El Bulli; you’ll be captivated. During the short time I attended university in Spain, I lived on dorm food and bread and cheese. Oh, to have had the chance to go back with a little jingle in my pocket to indulge in some real cocina española.

If you like food and the words that describe it, check out Slate’s recent piece on the names of El Bulli’s menu offerings. This one caught my eye; then kept me entertained for way too long.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the wording of restaurant menus, about which you shared some of your favorites, some with tongue in cheek, hold the beef.

In the Slate piece, Jeremy Singer-Vine muses that dishes bearing such names as “Irish coffee of green asparagus and black truffle jus” cry out for satire.

Singer-Vine took the names of some 1,200 El Bulli dishes and created a technological algorithm that generates satirical sound-alikes. Though it’s not quite ready for the Wii, you can go online and play a guess-the-real-name game.

Because we have talked recently about simple versus pretentious language, I thought you might enjoy this timely diversion.

It also got me thinking about the name of my signature dish. 

In my social circles, I’m known for my pesto torte. It wasn’t mine originally, but because I have no one to whom to attribute it, and because I’ve made more than 50, and because I don’t know anyone else who makes it, it’s mine.

The problem is, when I say “pesto torte,” no one ever knows what it is. It’s fair to say some people know neither pesto nor torte.

My son’s girlfriend calls it “cheese loaf.” And you know what? That’s exactly what it is—cheese stuffed inside cheese, prepared in a loaf pan (layered with enough other ingredients to almost justify the fancy name).

I took one to my aunt and uncle’s last weekend. As I was setting it on a platter, someone said, “It’s beautiful; what is it?”

I said, “Pesto Torte,” which didn’t tell anyone a thing.

“What does that mean?”

I threw the question to my son’s girlfriend who said, “cheese loaf.”

Aha. Everyone knew immediately. Kind of like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “It’s a bundt.” (After several rounds about, the realization, “Oh, it’s cake!”)

In El Bulli’s defense, who’s going to pay 50 euros for a glass of asparagus juice?

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Corrective conundrum

A few weeks ago, my husband left a calling card of sorts on my desk. It was a clip from an advice column in The Washington Post, in which a man complained about his girlfriend’s correcting his grammar and pronunciation. I never asked my husband whether he intended this to be an idea for my blog or a hint that he was relating to the poor bloke whose girlfriend corrected him—and only him—in front of others.

In the meantime, over the weekend, an opinion piece by Slate writer Michael Agger appeared in the Washington Post Business section. The piece cited instances in which companies receiving online reviews of their products and services corrected the spelling and grammar of their posting customers. Agger questioned the ethics of such practices, raising the issue of altering the authenticity of the online review process. Companies argue that sloppy posts, including favorable ones about their products or services, make the company look bad and, hence, impede sales.

When I wrote a piece about correcting others and being corrected  last February, I got a sense of how my readers feel about it. But correcting what is posted as an online review is different. Or is it?

I must confess here that I occasionally do the same thing with this blog. Sometimes when a reader posts a comment and makes an inadvertent mistake in spelling, grammar or punctuation, I go in and make a minor correction. Not all the time, and not drastically. And I never alter the content.

Unlike text-tweaking online retailers, I don’t correct mistakes because they make me look bad. I do it to save commenters from potential embarrassment. You might say that I edit their comments to help them make their points more effectively. For example, if someone is preaching about the importance of good grammar, and misspells “grammar,” I don’t believe it’s a sin to go in and correct the spelling. Or if there’s a simple typo, I might go in and fix it.

This said, it doesn’t mean I don’t bristle when I see a comment lacking any upper case letters or essential punctuation, but I give benefit of the doubt when I suspect comments are generated on a mobile device. Occasionally, however, this has precipitated sidebar conversations with my loved ones, suggesting they reacquaint themselves with their friend, the apostrophe.

Where to draw the line with a red pen? Discuss.

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Château de prétense

I take some risks in raising today’s topic.

First, I fear I may offend readers who take their wine language seriously. Second, I may reveal too much about how little I really know about it.

I enjoy wine. I have a fairly sharp palate that can distinguish among varietals and detect flavors to a reasonable degree. I know what I like and what I don’t and, generally, which wines go well with what foods.

This said, I tread lightly into the language of wine. This might be because I have not been exposed to the business of wine.

I’ve never set foot in a vineyard, never taken a winery tour. I went to a tasting once. In 1982.

Restaurant tasting menus are a rare indulgence, as much for the dining as for the descriptions of the wine pairings. I trust a sommelier and find the pairings are always suitable. The real entertainment, though, comes in his or her descriptions of the wine. Keeping a straight face during the performance is always a challenge. I almost had to excuse myself at Babbo in New York when the sommelier assured us that the wine wouldn’t bully our mushrooms.

Once I was having dinner with a friend at Zaytinya, which had just opened in Washington, D.C. The server had recommended a wine to go with our meal. She said, “I think you’ll find it approachable.” I had to turn my head so that I could roll my eyes.

We ordered this approachable wine and, when the server began to open it, the cork broke off in the bottle. My friend said, “I guess it’s not so approachable.” Our server was not amused.

Call me a bumpkin or call me a cynic, but call me up to here with ridiculous wine descriptions.

One of my favorite pokes at pretension comes from the movie Sideways. On a trip to Napa Valley with a friend, wine aficionado Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, sips, closes his eyes, plugs one ear and observes, “There’s the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of Edam cheese.” (Impressive. I’d need at least 20 minutes to detect asparagus in my wine.)

Coco Krumme wrote a piece for Slate this week, separating expensive wines from inexpensive ones based on the language used to describe them. This sent me on an oenophilic cyber-journey, where I tried—honestly I did—to gain an understanding and appreciation of wine language.

But I stumbled upon a host of nouns and adjectives that I found a little hard to swallow.

I understand tannins. I understand finish. I’m willing to accept personality. But, while asparagus and Edam cheese, I hope, are satirical, any food stuffs beyond fruit or maybe chocolate are just silly. Tones of underbrush, animal or briar? Not particularly approachable.

Then, there are the adjectives. In an effort to be an earnest student, I consulted E. Robert Parker’s wine glossary.

Angular?  A wine that lacks roundness. Duuuuh.

Chewy, brawny and spiny? I think not.

Care to decant your favorite bogus wine descriptions?

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