Monday, September 20, 2010

Hollywood trips up again

If you're like me, you walk into a movie like Eat, Pray, Love with a healthy amount of suspicion. It's about a woman who throws away her perfect life in search of a more perfect one. Exotic locales? Of course. Beautifully shot? Sure. But try to find one character that you'd want to have a sandwich with and you're pretty much out of luck.

Julia Roberts plays the heroine, Elizabeth Gilbert. She has the kind of hair that I covet. It never gets frizzy, even in the tropics. As long as you have hair like that, you need nothing else in your life, except for pictures of the back of your hair, so you can see how perfect that is, too.

But this isn't about Julia Roberts, who I sort of loathe (except for her hair). It's about a food movie getting its food technically wrong. I wanted to scream to the two other people in the theater, "Did you see that? DID YOU SEE THAT?!?"

The egregious scene plays as follows: Julia, aka Elizabeth Gilbert, finally masters ordering an entire meal in Italian. And so, while she orders, the camera cuts away to the various dishes she's ordering as they're plated in the kitchen. I was actually buying into it - beautiful carciofi (artichokes) and melanzane (eggplant) and then, finally, carbonara. And that's when they showed a big plate of spaghetti with red sauce.

Red sauce.

Carbonara isn't red sauce. It isn't even cream sauce, as many Americans believe. It's eggs and bacon, brought together harmoniously by a bit of the pasta cooking water, parmesan cheese, a bit of butter and lots of pepper. CARBONARA, not MARINARA. Fools.

With the exception of Big Night, I don't like food movies. I never saw Julie and Julia for fear that they would get something wrong, like showing Julia stirring unbeaten egg whites into a souffle base or slicing beef tenderloin against the grain.

Then I remembered something - no one really eats in Hollywood. They go to restaurants to preen, gloat, or exult, not to eat. They order salads with no dressing, hamburgers with no meat, desserts with no chocolate, butter, or cream. They subsist on lowfat air.

So the next time a food movie arrives at the local theater, I will not be in line, getting tickets. I will be at home, watching Freaks and Geeks on IFC while eating pasta carbonara with extra bacon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's hard to argue with Lenny Kravitz

It's pretty clear to all of us that I have been remiss. I haven't written in - ok, fine, I'll say it - five weeks (I'm cowering right now, ashamed). I blame my children and their summertime demands, since it's just so easy to do that. But now I'm back and I'm ready to talk about Paris.

And when you talk about Paris, what you're really talking about are sandwiches. At least that's what I'm talking about, because more than 50% of our meals in Paris were sandwiches. And by sandwiches, I mean ham, cheese, and butter sandwiches. Butter gets top billing because it's slathered on so thickly, you can measure it in centimeters. You'll get no objection from me. I can think of nothing that isn't improved by the addition of butter.

We ate sandwiches, likes the ones above and below, everywhere. In parks, on benches, listening to an orchestra celebrate Chopin's 200th birthday, while fending off bees and aggressive French pigeons which, by the way, are still pigeons.

But we also ate ice cream. Berthillon ice cream, no less, the pinnacle of French ice cream, which is the pinnacle of world ice cream, or so the French will tell you. The shop itself, on the Isle St. Louis, was closed. In late July. The wisdom of this remains disputable. But other shops up and down the streets of the isle gladly carry it, and so we acquiesced.

I ordered the above cone - vanilla ice cream with cherry sorbet. The vanilla was light brown, the color of coffee ice cream, an indication of just how vanilla-y it was, but still somehow subtle and refined. The cherry was like a powerful kick in the teeth. A freak of nature in a cone. I'm still recovering.

But Paris doesn't just have the best ice cream in the world, it also has the best falafel. Just ask The New York Times and Lenny Kravitz, a sometime patron of L'as du Fallafel, in the Marais. It's a scrubby little joint with either a walk-up window or indoor service. I recommend the window. That way, you can see the official Kravitz endorsement.

The guys who run the joint might also be Israeli jewelry salesmen, and I mean that in the best possible way. The falafel is big and messy and flavorful, with lots of condiments that drip out the side and down your arm. I'm betting Lenny asked for everything. That's what I did, and it's the way to go.

And finally, Poilane. I have no idea if Lenny Kravitz has been here, and if he has, it's not the kind of place to advertise the fact. It's the kind of place where the counter staff dress like obedient laboratory assistants with golden tongs to retrieve your requests. My request was a walnut loaf and two apple tarts. The walnut loaf used to be transformative. Now, it's merely delicious. And the apple tarts disappointed me. Too little apple, too much crust. Monsieur Lionel Poilane, the kooky master behind this empire, died in 2002 or thereabouts, and I'm wondering if the sparkle didn't die with him. Not to deter you from going - it is a stunning shop with great bread. But maybe Marcel Proust was right: Remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of things as they were.