It’s the Food Page!
Devoted to eating, and drinking, and cooking, and dining, and food, and eating! Did I say eating yet?
After some decades of quasi vegetarianism, the burger became a large part of my dining out life once again. And for reasons too detailed for me to go into here, the burger has even become the very centerpiece of my dining out experience. This is a great and terrible burden for the simple burger, but fortunately the burger is sturdy, and well structured, and seems to be holding up under the weight.
And so naturally enough I have come up with a strong sense of what is proper for any burger, and for the serving of burgers, in restaurants. And as is my wont I have decided these things that I believe, prefer, respect, and enjoy, occupy a state of absolute truth, a moral mandate, and a vision of inspiration. This passion, this overwhelming absorption in my own deciphering of the Universe, is the very thing that makes clerkmanifesto into the the kind of blog that very, very, very few of the people reading this post will ever read again.
And so, these are the Platonic ideals of the restaurant burger. Hear my rules and defy them at the peril of your soul.
1. The animal that the burger is made from must be grass fed.
I’m okay with murdering a perfectly nice animal like a cow. I can just begin to bear that hideous, delicious burden. But torturing said animal with unnatural feedstuffs and industrial processing makes us into monsters and puts the burden of that cow’s torture onto us. When we simply murder the animal, well, that’s mostly god’s fault, a design flaw. But when we defy the natural order, well, then it’s on us.
2. French fries must be served.
I do believe there should be a salad option. I don’t mind choices for sides. And while I believe an accompaniment should be included with one’s burger, because that’s more gracious and beautiful, I can bear having to purchase the fries if I have to. But fries, fryer cooked, are an indication of the seriousness of a burger place. They demonstrate conviction, and a willingness to make an effort. Chips indicate slovenly laziness and a kitchen and restaurant that just can’t be bothered.
3. Cheese means cheese.
The more specific the cheese the better. Montamore, for instance, trumps “cheddar”. Varieties of cheeses tailored to specific burgers is good. And most of all, American Cheese is not cheese. Nevertheless its use is permitted ironically, in a throwback burger imitating, for instance, a Big Mac.
4. Fast Food burgers are not actually good.
The idea that they are good is an illusion of marketing, photography, and nostalgia. “You mean I have to pay $14 for a burger?” You ask. Yes, or even more! It’s a cruel world and we are murderers.
5. Doneness is real.
There’s a chart. You can find it on Wikipedia. The cook should be able to hit it with some accuracy. You should know, if you don’t, everything on this chart is pinker than you’d think.
6. Fake burgers are acceptable only if you mean it from the bottom of your heart.
Sure, go ahead and put a fake burger on your menu for the less ethically impaired among us. But it has to be good! I can only say that a veggie burger is only theoretically good. In two decades of desperately trying I was never able to make or purchase one.
7. The bun should be both delicious and invisible.
I should not notice that the bun even exists. However, if I compel myself to do so, I should find it graciously light, strong, and scrumptious.
8. Respect the load bearing limit.
All burgers have a load bearing limit. No matter how dramatic and appealing it may be to exceed that limit, if the burger is not structurally sound enough for me to eat by picking it up and biting into it, it is not a successful burger.
9. Napkins are required.
I don’t need a bath towel (well, maybe I do!), but either way one crumbling paper napkin is not going to cut it. This is a burger. It’s going to get messy.
10. Special orders shouldn’t upset you.
Different people have different needs and limitations. If you have a kitchen full of pure, delicious, and basic ingredients, and if you have a capable cook with at least a little creativity, and if you have a waitperson who is capable of professionally communicating with people, this will be easy.
8/12/21: Weird experiment day!
Today I am going through every page I have in Life is a Fountain and adding something hopefully relevant to it from the annals of Clerkmanifesto. It’s my desperate attempt to freshen up everything after being away for a couple weeks. So here you go:
Simple foods are the best foods. What overwrought kitchen construction of a dish could possibly rival a sweet, pure mandarin orange, just pulled from out of its jeweler’s cloak of a skin? What twisted contrivance of food can stand up to a summer tomato, cherry red and bursting from its flower? What overworked, complicated conundrum of an edible could ever rival a simple berry, wild on the vines?
The answer, of course, is mayonnaise.
Hey, let’s make some mayonnaise!
You need a vintage, 1980’s Cuisinart. Put a raw egg in it. It has to be organic so you can tell yourself you won’t get any diseases from it. Don’t include the shell. Throw in, I don’t know, a couple hearty splashes of sherry vinegar and as large a pinch of salt as your fingers can humanly make. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime, but don’t work at it too much. Plop in a goodly spoonful of honey. Pour in the amount of olive oil that if it were in a skillet would make you say “Whoa! Way too much oil!”
Close up the lid on your vintage 80’s Cuisinart. Turn it on and let it go a couple of minutes.
Now you need toasted walnut oil.
Fill up your feeder cup with it while the machine is running. It will slowly drip out thorough the hole at the bottom. For years I didn’t know about the hole and patiently poured in oil in as fine a stream as possible. Then my wife said “Hey, there’s a hole!”
After the oil is done turn off the Cuisinart and open it up. Uh oh! It looks a little too soft and liquidy! Surely one has to add something.
You know what you add?
More walnut oil!
I know, crazy, but that’s how it works!
But first peel a thumb-sized clove of garlic and throw it in.
Now fill another feeder cup of walnut oil while the Cuisinart is running. When it’s all empty you will have…
Spread it thickly on good, fresh, rough bread. You can put other things on the bread if you want, but you don’t have to.
Why don’t you have to?
Because simple foods are the best foods.
And what could be simpler than mayonnaise?
I have been making the rounds of Life is a Fountain, taking a look at each of its rooms, and usually offering cocktails to anyone who drops by, if, hypothetically anyone ever did.
Then I pet the cat and build something new into the room, just in case.
But tonight, the first night of my vacation, I made a very simple cocktail. And I came here to the food page, which not only is the kitchen of Life is a Fountain, but it’s also the gelato counter, and the bar. And I thought “I could not only offer this cocktail at the food page, for everyone here to drink, but I could even include the recipe.
I want to call it:
The Cocktail for Nobody
Don’t mind the name. Anyone would like it.
You will need:
Three Italian Amarena Cocktail Cherries, with as much of their syrup as comes up with your spoon when removing the cherries.
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
2 1/2 ounces Amaro Meletti
You can substitute with any really good cocktail cherry, but, alas, only Amaro Meletti will do in this cocktail because of its distinctive cola like flavor profile.
Put your cherries and residual syrup in the bottom of the glass. Add lime juice. Muddle.
Add 2 1/2 ounces of the Amaro. Stir.
Fill with ice.
Sip this slowly. It’s like a dense, bitter, cherry cola. Good for the digestion.
I made this drink after I went to the grocery store with my wife. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t buy anything, largely because the only things that appealed to me were the junk foods, which is never a good way to go for me. Mostly I just mooned about in the chip aisle.
I did see a mouse, but more the sort of mouse you might want to share a bag of bbq potato chips with:
And now why not talk about gelato:
Here is my favorite ice cream shop in the known Universe:
Yes, that is Fatamorgana above. In Rome, near The Campo D’ Fiori. Snoopy has a pistachio and hazelnut. Charlie Brown I am guessing got Black Licorice and Pumpkin, probably by mistake, though at Fatamorgana it probably works.
Fatamorgana, Greatest Gelateria of Rome
I must confess that it pains me just a little that the single greatest gelateria I have ever been to, the greatest ice cream I have ever eaten, the triumph in my exhaustive study of Roman gelato eating, aye the greatest gelateria in Rome, and all with a bit of room to spare, is Fatamorgana.
There are a few reasons for these feelings of irksomeness:
1. It is a chain. I hate that it is a chain, albeit a minor chain. It appears to have several locations throughout Rome and, get this, one on Ventura Blvd in L.A.; a street that I more or less grew up on. I do not believe that the Ventura Blvd one could be up to the Campo De’ Fiori one’s standard, but it’s certainly possible. Fatamorgana defies human understanding.
2. It looks like pretty much any run of the mill Rome gelateria. That’s a pretty charming standard, but still…
3. The counter help was… uninspiring. Oh, they weren’t mean, or rude, they were just colorless and bland and uninterested.
So did all this leave a bad taste in my mouth?
Noooooooo! Because of all the good tastes in my mouth. There were too many good tastes in my mouth!
I don’t know how Fatamorgana does it. I swear to you it must be sorcery.
I am suggesting that someone may have sold their soul to the devil here.
Look, I have been to quite a few great Roman Gelaterias: Come Il Latte, San Crispino, La Strega Nocciola, and dear little Gelateria Del Viale, and great gelaterias do this: They make fresh, consistently excellent flavors, occasionally they might have one creative, off the beaten path flavor that actually works, and once every 15 or 20 flavors these masters of gelato transcend, they extract the essence of a fruit or flavor, bringing it to its brilliant, singing Platonic ideal. Lavender at La Strega, Pistachio (and whipped cream!) at Come Il Latte, Rose at Del Viale. These are flavors that fill one with wonder.
But at Fatamorgana they achieve transcendence not with one or two flavors, but with a full third of all their flavors. They put out their own weird and inventive flavors in a handful, and then they achieve transcendence with those. Avocado lime, Banana sesame, Pear Gorgonzola may look to be gimmicks at first, but they are among the best things I have ever eaten. But these work only because of their deep mastery. Their cherry was a Caravaggio level rendering of the true flavor of the sour cherry, satisfying, hiding nothing, illuminating all to full effect. The banana, oh the banana. Long have I counted banana as my favorite ice cream flavor, but almost on a conjectural basis. They say bananas were better and more flavorful in the sixties but they were all killed off and we eat a different variety today. Does Fatamorgana have a secret stash of this lost banana? Because I have waited my whole life for this banana. This is Ur-Banana, these are purified flavors. Nothing candy, nothing false, never too sweet or not sweet enough, it all tastes real, yet transformed by mystic alchemy into gelato, cold, smooth, creamy gelato.
The King is dead.
Long live the King.
My Favorite Gelato
In my endless quest to understand, evaluate, and eat the gelato of Italy I generally avoid ever ordering any flavor of chocolate. One can probably manage to tell the difference between good and bad gelato through the flavor of chocolate, but one is unlikely to be able to discern between the various levels of good gelato with the flavor of chocolate.
It’s too easy. Chocolate tastes like chocolate. It is not a flavor to be delicately coaxed out and balanced in the general recipe of great gelato. It is pretty hard to mess up a chocolate gelato.
So I don’t order chocolate.
Except, of course, I did, just once on this trip.
I ordered chocolate once only, at Fatamorgana, in Rome. The thing was, I wasn’t working. I wasn’t studying. I wasn’t comparing.
I was just there admiring.
I wasn’t searching out the best gelateria. I’d already found it. They were it.
I was eating gelato for pleasure.
So I got their chocolate.
Only, it was the great Fatamorgana, brightest star in the Italian firmament of gelato. So it wasn’t chocolate, it was Lapsang Souchong Chocolate.
Of the roughly 45 gelato flavors and varieties I had in Italy over two weeks, it was the single best one.
Chocolate, not too sweet, a nod to the bitter, then the smokey coming through like a stroke of inspired genius, and finally the bare hint of black tea underneath.
I’m sorry, I can’t go on anymore. I’m getting a bit… emotional.
I was looking at a beautiful cocktail recipe book because I am extremely interested in cocktails yet again, and I came up with a measurement theory of all cookbooks.
Let’s call it the Reference Measurement.
The first kind of cookbook is the no reference cookbook. For good or ill this book’s recipes will include basic ingredients one can buy in stores and markets, and where all the instruction is in the recipe. These can be good cookbooks, or bad cookbooks, but they are generally for making food from the recipes.
The second kind of cookbook is the reference cookbook. This book’s recipes will often have an ingredient that is made from its own recipe located somewhere else in the same cookbook. These can be good cookbooks, or bad cookbooks, but they invariable have more pretensions, for good or ill.
Finally the third kind of cookbook is the double reference cookbook. These are pretty fancy. This book’s recipes will regularly have an ingredient that is made from its own recipe located somewhere else in the same cookbook, but sometimes that recipe will have an ingredient that itself is made from another recipe in the book. You may think you can make these recipes, but you can’t. These books are for just reading and looking at the pictures.