Monday, October 31, 2005

Eating and Judgment: Foie Gras Edition

I learned judgment in a restaurant, so eating and literary criticism are deeply intertwined for me. When I was eleven or so, my mom went to Los Alamos for a week to visit her mother. During those seven or so days, we had Chef Boy-ar-dee twice (on the first and last nights, I think) and, for the middle four or five, we (my sister and I) went out to dinner with my father. Each night, we ordered Shirley Temples with our dinner and cheesecake for dessert.

My father would ask how the Shirley Temple compared with last nights, and we would speak seriously about the advantages of extra grenadine, of two maraschino cherries, of 7-up versus ginger ale, and of the quality of the plastic cocktail pick. One night, sitting in a velvet and brass booth in a fern bar, eating a burger and nursing a Shirley Temple, my father asked us if we knew who was singing. We did not. “That’s Frank Sinatra,” he said. “He’s a great singer, but he’s not a nice man. Your mother will tell you that Bing Crosby is a better singer. He is not. He is a nice man [this was before his family came out against him], but he is not as good a singer as Sinatra.”

Great but not nice: this was revelatory for me and I count it as the moment of origin in my life as a critic.

My parents were in town this weekend and we ate our way through Manhattan. Tastes do change over the decades, though. I can now say, with amusement and pride, that I can compare the relative merits of the foie gras appetizer at three restaurants (and this is in addition to the wonderful one at 71 Clinton Street)…

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