I love a good critical drubbing. My anonymous friend won’t give a shit about this, but there was this guy on one of the old seasons of Top Chef named Sam Talbot who seemed — on TV — like a pretty good cook. Now I fully comprehend how stupid that sounds. The guy seemed like a good cook from watching him on TV, not from actually tasting anything he cooked. Fair enough. Sue me. I like cooking shows.
But let’s get back to the point. This Talbot guy, after years and years of post-Top Chef whiny hemming and hawing finally got his ass behind a stove and opened a restaurant. It’s called Imperial No. Nine, and New York Times restaurant reviewer Sam Sifton (son of the late Eastern District of New York Chief Judge Charles P. Sifton) just slapped it down, awarding it an ignominious “Fair” rating.
But on this night the tuna was old. It was not rancid. It was not totally inedible. But it had that spongy funk. It was enough to raise eyebrows. Real life is not television. Food needs to do more than simply look good when it comes out of the kitchen. It needs to be good going onto the plate in the first place, or else it becomes the sort of dish people finish only on bets.
On a previous night, though, a plate of raw fluke fell far short of fresh. Clammy in temperature, with a nasty aftertaste, it overpowered the frozen coconut layered on top of it. Octopus legs in a mixture of soy and sofrito danced one evening at the divide between soft and mealy. On another they were decidedly on the far side of the line. They were pillowy in the sense of the word that describes the taste of a pillow.
It can be awful there, the kind of restaurant where groups of women who might be Real Housewives gather in blowouts and big rings to talk and use their mobile phones, as that guy from “Heroes” who used to be on “Felicity” makes his way out to the lobby and everyone orders a second sweet cocktail before the salad comes out.
“That spongy funk.” Bootsy would be proud.