January 25, 2011

Loui's Restaurant in Providence, RI

Darlene - Doc Box and B. Fresh, 12" (1990)
Easy Groove - B. T. O, 12" (1977)

The connection between popular music and popular breakfast joints works as follows: someone suggests a preference to you, you are hesitant, you go or listen, you are uncertain, you go or listen again, and after much uncertainty you find yourself more or less in a kind of love. Then it becomes your shared moment with your loved ones in turn.

That is all fine. Poker Face and a familiar breakfast have plenty in common. Far rarer is the restaurant that changes you in its changes. It is not so much that you become used to it, or that you accept the grease and the often-cigarette-laden toilet. Nor even that you find these things comforting, familiar, and reliable.

[You have to listen to the entirety of Darlene, by the way.]

There are the comfortable restaurants and songs, and then there are the ones that abruptly change you. Its not that hand-handled homefries are familiar, it is that you find yourself wanting them. Not that water with no ice in little school style plastic cups is appealing, but that you have to have it. Suddenly you burst forth, not lulled by the monotony of the normal, but freed by the strange. The dinner for breakfast option. The huevos rancheros covered with cold cheese and salsa. The hot dogs at 6:30am. The mimosas. The honeydew. The homemade granola, bread, muffins, hot sauce, and the Aunt Jemima's syrup.

It is the cornucopia of the first Thanksgiving briefly transformed into a Prince song, eaten, and then turned back into natural crap. It is country music written by George Clinton. Having eaten, and now leaving the restaurant, your feet fall heavily onto Brook St. and you realize you are a modern man, and that Loui's is the most modern food you have ever eaten.

January 9, 2011

Champagne When We Thirsty

A central concept of the French Laundry, a 3 Michelin starred restaurant in Napa, is that of diminishing returns. That is to say, your first bite is your best bite, and the rest of the course is rapidly driving your tastebuds into boring town. This means that they serve really small plates, and the flavors pop like the snares do.

This may be a scientific fact. A biological outcome that is derived from the enjoyment of difference. Sure, sure. Everything different is fun. Unfortunately, that means food is pretty boring stuff. It is the music-loving equivalent of a high school dance. The new, popping song comes on and the kids go wild with recognition, and because of the newness. The song is uncanny, in that it is the familiar made unfamiliar. It is something your mouth could make up, but did not so far here, on this dance floor, with these people.

Songs can be just the same. "Juicy" comes on and everybody puts it in their mouth like foie gras that is oh-so-familiar. Everybody raps about "when Christmas missed us" as though they ate things like this on the regular. Soon though, they realize that the beat is a little slow, nobody learned the words to the third verse, and super fatty liver is weird to chew on. The returns diminish.

Thomas Keller (owner/creator of the French Laundry) is like a DJ at a high school dance. He excites with snippets of the very best, and leaves you no time to drag your feet or your tongue. Conversely, a DJ who plays Arthur Russell's Dinosaur's "Kiss Me Again" (1978) is like a chef who feeds you things you have never heard of, and then when you eat them they do not stop tasting good, and in fact taste even better as you chew, so that by the end of the course you are dancing.

Experiencing even a high school dance of food is supposedly quite astonishing, as is listening to Dinosaur's 12" single on vinyl in the rustic French setting of a discotheque. May we all be so lucky as to do one, or the other, or both, in this new year.

What I mean to say is that there is something that resonates in "Juicy" for all of us, just in the same way that anyone could be awed by the pate at the FL. There are things in life that represent the distance between where we started and where are. $700 dinners. Champagne. Rare disco. It was all a dream...