(a meandering stroll through the food and wine mind of Alice. This is one post where killing kittens is necessary but I just don't have the energy)
With all due respect to Ms. Hagerty's review of her North Dakota Olive Garden, I'd much rather dine on toaster-ovened cabbage leaves. Leave there for four minutes. Roll them up with tapenade and feta cheese, sprinkle hot sauce andwash it down with some 2009 Rimbert St. Chinian, Travers de Marceau which sells for all of $14 from Astor. (Jenny & Francois). Why go pedestrian when you can go yum.
Cost of the meal, $7 for splitting the bottle of wine, maybe $4 for ingredients. Satisfaction? Immense. Olive Garden? Well, I once visited Grand Forks. The woman really has her work cut out for her and did it with grace, mostly by talking about the decor.
I also loved her encounter with a hot dog. Yet, on the big screen, globally, I mean, a food writer really should know that sauerkraut is a common accent, and what halal is. The job of critic is not just to have an opinion, but to understand and engage the context.
Which is why, when recently turned down for a story I pitched because of my ‘natural wine bias,’ (the story was one that linked wine to religion and culture, and nothing to do with waving a flag) I was perplexed. Being an 'expert' used to have some clout. Sure I have my bias, but I also have context = more than my opinions.
My brother is a cardiologist who specializes in stentwork. Is he biased? Sure. Is he an excellent cardiologist? Well, with one of the lowest mortality rates in the country, yes he is.
Likewise, I can't imagine anyone using this yard stick of 'bias' when it comes to food.
Taking illustrations from paper of record; can you imagine if my friend Melissa Clark ran recipes with hydrogenated shortening or Pink Slime? Should the Times rid themselves of Betsy Andrews who both writes for Saveur and the $25 and under column, because her prejudice is for real food? Should the New York Times stop giving Michael Pollan magazine articles? Is food asked to shed all pretension and embrace a fast food Totalitarianism?
Big Wine is embraced the way Big Food is not. Yet isn't wonderful food more elitist? I've lamented that certain breads I covet ring up at $12 and over a loaf. Ricotta at $16 a pound is a pox. Eggs at $8 a dozen gives me a double take. Greens in the market for $32 pound gives me agita. Good milk, $4 a quart, well, it only goes into coffee. Just the other day, two brioche 'to go' were $9 and change. I love all of the above, and so, I eat less rather than do without. Yet, it is wine that gets the short end of the stick.
How is it possible, then that I can find artisianal wines full of life, like that St. Chinian. Jean-Marie battled fierce winds to bring his carignan blend to bottle. Okay, it is not a supermarket $4 a bottle but $13 gives me a lovingly made and attended to wine, complex and satisfying.
How is it that not one writer has spanked Il Buco Alimentaria's very sad little wine list. Is it because most of the writers or bloggers don't really have wine in their purview?
I went twice.
Staff super sweet.
The food. Lovely.
The star: a marinated white anchovy that poked its body like a sea lion through a hoop of egg yolk, and a water melon radish triangle that completed it like a Miro painting provided a night of entertainment and art, a circus museum in my mouth. Not only imaginative, but sentimental, the taste was pure and seaworthy.
But the list? Here is where my opinion meets context. The wine selections lived in a different universe. The food respected, revered. The wines..hard to see the respect. There was no context. The concept is fun; in-depth exploration of a producer. But the winery kind of needed to be worthy of exploration.
On my first visit did I really see both Antinori and Capezzana on the in depth list (or was my memory faulty?) Both could have been on the Olive Garden's wine list, an association not right for IBA. As luck had it Texier was the sole French wine on my first visit (not Olive Garden). I was lukcy. The second time I was not. Texier was gone and nothing sharing the same context took its place.
For $100 we won a 500ml of 2005 Radikon Oslavej. Great but more than we wanted to spend. The next time, I might just have drink some of their spot on, bitter-perfect cocktails instead.
But, just maybe, in the future we'll see a coming together of context and knowledge (let's ditch the bias). Amen.