So anyway

I thought it might be fun if I rewrote yesterday’s entry to not be an incomprehensible, decontextualized mess.

My girlfriend’s sister and brother-in-law have been in town for the past week or so. Actually, they somehow timed their visit to perfectly coincide with the absolute busiest I have been at work since the fall of 2004, when 1UP consisted of four full-time writers covering one of history’s busiest game-release seasons ever. In the ten days they’ve been in town, I was assigned a review of Metroid Prime 3. And Phantom Hourglass. And Dracula X Chronicles. And Tactics. And I needed to spearhead the launch of the Halo 3 coverage. Plus I was wrangled into helping manage the site’s news for a day or so, since pretty much everyone else was either in Seattle or Leipzig. Meanwhile, it was an implict expectation that I fulfill my Social Obligations to our guests on top of all of this.

Needless to say, it’s been a real hoot to juggle all of this.

My social obligations haven’t been entirely onerous, though — they’re fun people, and they eat incredibly well. It turns out that when my sister’s family goes on vacation, they mostly just want to eat. Extravagantly. Last night was sort of the peak of their trip, their next-to-last night in town, so they wanted to go to a place called Quince. This turned out to be a stupidly nice restaurant in the Pacific Heights neighborhood; by “stupidly nice” I mean that they practically maintained a 1:1 staff-to-customer ratio; when I excused myself to the restroom (a necessity during the course of the four hour meal) no less than three people escorted me there, handing me off from one to the other like a baton.

(Actually, I lie; the peak of their trip was last week when they spent a few days in Napa and ate at ultra-five-star restaurant French Laundry. I missed out on this so I could babysit Halo 3 coverage. I know people often joke that they don’t get paid enough for doing their jobs, but seriously.)

It wasn’t enough for them to go to Quince, though; they requested the chef’s table, a private dining area in the back of the restaurant where the service was even more over-the-top. Course were brought to the table by a team of waiters, and the head waitress would move around the table, leaning in close to everyone and explaining in quiet tones the details of their latest selection. And the wine pairings for each course blew my mind. I’m still learning to appreciate the taste of wine — the tasting tour I enjoyed at the beginning of the year helped! — but this stuff was incredible. Especially the pinot noir they served alongside my (mind-blowing, hand-made) pasta with raw smoked swordfish.

Each course was, obviously, about two normal bites’ worth of food. The point was to stretch them as far as possible by taking tiny, tiny bites. That way, you could appreciate the ludicrous amount of care invested into two tiny scallops served with a couple of plum tomatoes, or the flavor of a thin strip of sea bass served over a vinagrette reduction. It’s a totally different approach to food than mere sustenance; the point is to savor the full sensation of the food. Excessive? Yes. I will be wracked with guilt about how much this meal cost (someone else) for months.

Also, I will lay awake at night lamenting my general lack of culture.

But now our guests are leaving, right as my review work wraps up. It’s a bitter miracle of timing! But it does mean I can start catching up on the dozen or so new wiki articles that have been created over the past week or so. Stay tuned for something that doesn’t involve unrealistically-priced food.

29 thoughts on “So anyway

  1. That sounds like quite an experience. I don’t think I could eat at a place like that, though.
    I scarf things down like there’s no tomorrow (although I’m not particularly vulgar about it). Taking my time and eating are two things that do not ever go together.
    Then again, I don’t often eat good food.

  2. A pity you missed out on French Laundry though. I’m told it’s been rated the best restaurant in the country.

    Not that my tastes, culinarily speaking, lie that way despite my (incomplete) education. Although I’m not incapable of appreciating, even enjoying, such a high class meal, you’re talking to a guy that thinks spam musubi is good eating.

  3. *drool*

    Let me tell you about the sausage and cheese on english muffin I got from 7-11 this morning. It had quite a bouquet…

  4. Why is it considered a lack of culture not to be able to appreciate cuisine?? I think it’s a very American (maybe even German) sort of thing to see food pragmatically, as something that keeps you alive, and if it tastes especially good…well then, bonus.

    I don’t know how to appreciate food like that. I also am unable to appreciate fine wines, cigars, art (in general), and some movies. Maybe I’m wrong, or this isn’t an issue of right and wrong, but I absolutely hate the elitist sentiment that being able to appreciate these things is high culture, and those who cannot are unrefined slobs.

  5. Why is it considered a lack of culture not to be able to appreciate cuisine??

    Because thats what culture means. An appreciation of the finer things. It’s not about being elitist, it’s the definition of the word.

    Who says you can’t be a refined slob?

  6. Anyone can appreciate the finer things in life. Its just a matter of attuning your mind to seeing the subtleties. If you can actually see the quality, craft and beauty of a painting by Vermeer (for example) then you find yourself enjoying looking at one to a marvellous extent.

  7. Such things would be so completely wasted on me. I’ve never been to a restaurant near that level, but the fanciest places I’ve been… all of the people constantly trying to wait on me and talk to me just made me nervous. Most of it was so pointless. Sitting there and letting someone else unfold my napkin that had been crazily elaborately folded just to be unfolded makes me feel lazy, not pampered. Someone to keep my beverage filled is all I really need as far as service goes.

  8. I’m still smarting on the two benjamins your serving cost. I spend that much on groceries in a week.

  9. you know, there’s just something wonderful about going to a place where they have no other desire than to create art out of food.

  10. From Google, culture: the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group — So you’re right on the money M. Nicolai, as long as you omit the word “finer”. Or you could go with the less tasteful ‘blood and urine’ definition.

    It is nice having wealthy relatives sometimes… although I inevitably think that money is better spent on less frivolous things (like video games) than $200 plates of food.

  11. As the girlfriend’s family consists almost entirely of doctors and lawyers, I guess they can afford it — and good food IS their passion. I certainly can’t afford it myself, which also made me feel out-of-place and self-conscious! But hey, the food was good. Well, not “good” so much as “sublime.”

  12. and the french laundry is widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world, up there with El Bulli in San Sebastian, La Tour d’Argent in Paris, Nobu in New York, and so on.

    Look guys, spending a bunch of cash on an amazing meal is no different than spending money on any luxury product–yeah, it’s an ephemeral moment taking place over the course of a few hours, but its also a memory that lasts for a long time. Its no different than spending on any other luxury item. Yes, to you it might seem wasteful, when you could use that same two hundred on games or books or groceries or whatever, but that’s simply because you have different priorities and values in your life. The essence of a fantastic meal might not be worth as much as, say, an x360 and limited edition bioshock.

    But if you can learn to appreciate it, there is nothing greater than a wonderful meal.

  13. The problem for me is in: who decides what is and isn’t finer and “cultural” to begin with?? It just seems so damn elitist to say that drinking wine from 20 years ago is somehow father up a cultural scale than me drinking Jack Daniel’s, for instance.

    I mean I spent too much money on Deerhoof’s The Runners Four on vinyl, but you don’t see me saying that people who can’t appreciate it are less refined than me and culturally bereft. It’s like everyone is supposed to see fine dining, classical music, and expensive wine as the ultimate peak of human sensory experience.

  14. Yeah, thats exactly the response i was hoping to avoid.

    Everyone is NOT supposed to appreciate food, wine, good classic metal, hardcore carnatic vocal music, muscle cars, the films of ingmar bergman, or whatever. culture is a very very subjective state of being, and should always be such.

    All i’m saying is that you shouldn’t disparage someone for thinking that a great meal IS culture, because it is. If your idea of high culture is hitting the jack while enjoying a huge plate of bbq ribs, then run with it, dude. I personally just think there is something really fun about dressing up, going out to a restaurant where there are 10 tables in a tiny space, and knowing that the chef is going to do magical things to food that exist only for me, and not for a huge group of people. That plate of eggplant risotto with pomegranate seeds and saffron? Created for me. That hand made pasta with a white peach reduction? Just for me. That tomato soup, with a hollowed out giant stuffed tomato filled with japanese pickles and ginger? No one else in the world is having it. I’m a vegetarian, and its not on the menu, and homie created it on the spot just for me.

    That, in itself, is my idea of pure enjoyment. I love having famous artists draw sketches and such for me, instead of buying their prints. I love to hear songs written for no one else. I love clothes that were made on the spot, individualised for me. And to me, nothing is more ephemeral and personal than a meal at a very high end restaurant, where the chef lives to create individual, unique meals, for whomever walks in that doorway and sits down.

    I don’t care if it’s a Micheline three star place, or a ratty hut along the side of a road deep in india. There is no greater joy for me, no higher cultural expression, than a meal lovingly crafted of whatever there is on hand, just for me, to be eaten just then, and never exist again.

    obviously, your mileage may vary, as well it should.

  15. “But if you can learn to appreciate it, there is nothing greater than a wonderful meal.”

    Sure there is. The birth of your child.

    Oh, I got you there, buddy.

  16. It was more a commentary on Shivam making overreaching statements – like ‘nothing is better than food!’ – than a recommendation to procreate.

  17. man, eric, did you miss all the places where i said that “for me, this is what i like?”

  18. it’s been a crap day, dude. /goes and cuts himself while writing a long post in angst journal

  19. “There is no greater joy for me, no higher cultural expression, than a meal lovingly crafted of whatever there is on hand, just for me, to be eaten just then, and never exist again.”

    To me, this is basically like saying “There is no greater joy for me than having (such as) Van Gogh crafting an original work, just for me, to be immediately burned and never exist again.”

    Same reason I could never get into Top Chef (but love Project Runway). Pretty, delicious food is great and all, but it’s short-lived. It’s like a taped order on Mission Impossible, serving only to self-destruct in moments time.

    But if it’s your thing, I’m not going to judge.

  20. i’m selfish and greedy. and i love food. actually, that’s pretty much it. I love food, and i really love good food. I love reading about food, and cooking, and watching food be made, and eating it. I love going to strange places and eating strange preparations of strange things. And sadly, i’m a vegetarian, so my options are a little more limited, but at the same time, when i go to a place like Massa in tokyo, Chef Kobe takes it on as a personal challenge to make amazing, vegetarian food, and everyone is happy.

    yeah, i’m a foodie, what of it?

  21. I love children, but they can be such a pain in the ass to marinate.

    Shivam, stop apologizing for being right.

  22. heh. the only reason i mention massa is cause i proposed to my fiancee there, and we went several times while i lived in japan.

  23. In his book “Mind over Matters” Michael J. Nelson has a humorous short essay on the subject titled “Van Gouda: When Did Cheese Become Artisanal?”

    I think the problem some people have with foodies is that they can become food snobs very easily. Or they can be easily mistaken for food snobs – which is what I think happened here. Because from what I can glean from Shivam’s posts I don’t think he’s a food snob.

    I guess personally if I was paying for an expensive meal I would want to be served what I consider a meal – not what I consider a bunch of single-serving hors d’oeuvres. That’s probably why I will never be a gourmet but why I could be more of a gourmand. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m pretty picky and don’t drink.

    But I do watch Top Chef.

  24. Actually, the meal was incredibly filling — it was four courses, increasingly large, though the largest was still a tiny fraction of what you’d get at, say, TGI Friday’s. But each item was served well apart from the others with wine and a small amount of (amazingly delicious) bread between each course, giving us the time to digest a bit. We’re so used to ridiculously huge portions at restaurants that it’s easy to forget that we don’t actually need all that much food to be sated; we just have to eat a little bit of good food at the proper pace. It was the most satisfying meal I’ve had in a while.

    (The only thing I’ve had in years that even came close was a sushi dinner I had at a restaurant near my apartment a few months ago. It was also incredibly small, but since I was there alone I could eat it slowly and savor every bite, complemented with a great sake.)

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