Sunday, April 18, 2010

Limited-edition lunch

Yesterday I finally visited the Canadian delicatessen everyone's been talking about. It's a nice idea, bringing a bit of Jewish Montreal to Brooklyn. And the matzo ball soup was not half bad. I ought to have a review of the famed smoked-meat sandwich. Is it authentic? Succulent? Vegan-convertin' good? Can't say. Note to prospective diners: when you're told it will be an hour till you get a table, you will not be warned of the slim likelihood that you'll actually get to eat the dish you've come for when time comes around. (Yes, the place had just been written up, but the same is true of my beloved Dos Toros, and there you're guaranteed the tacos of your dreams in five minutes or less, $3.75 a piece, compostable cutlery included.)

While I'd read that the signature sandwich came in limited supply, it was very much still mid-lunch time when they ran out. Is the idea that this makes the dish more highly sought-after? Because there was nothing like watching others polish off their sandwiches and knowing one would not be mine.

The whole limited-supply situation/gimmick/whatever-we're-calling-it appears to be very much tied up with the Slow Food-type ethos of the place. Sure, if they were serving industrial meat, they wouldn't have run out. But see, they care about where the food they serve comes from. Which is why there isn't any of it.

My grievance is not even with this particular place, but with the turn in the food movement towards the fetishization of local-seasonal-sustainable. Rather than seeking out a world in which food that's fresh and from-scratch is a given (either just in yuppie establishments or better yet, further afield), these qualities have become selling points through which some restaurants distinguish themselves from the norm. Perhaps this will eventually spill over to a wider array of places, what with the laws of supply and demand. This would be great.

But the trend of appreciating high-quality ingredients above all else has if anything shifted down expectations, making any place that serves fresh food the latest foodie hot-spot. (Witness the trend of "house"-prepared food in restaurants. What are restaurants if not places that prepare food for scratch and then serve that food to customers?) If there's now a greater concern about local and ethical production than there once was, the popular enthusiasm for a place that gets it together to serve non-disgusting ingredients is now so great that one could very well dump the lightly-rinsed contents of a CSA box onto a table in a room decked out entirely in salvaged wood in certain neighborhoods of the city and the lines would wrap around the block.

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