Is All Fine Dining Abusive?
Plus: Stovetop Chocolate Pot De Crème and Links.
Hi Thursday friends,
My very first piece of food writing, way back in November of 2003, was called “Charlie Trotter Superdud” and I wrote it on eGullet, a forum for food enthusiasts in the pre-blogging, pre-Reddit days. I wrote it because my college friend Alex and I shilled out some precious dough to eat at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, a bastion of fine dining, and, at the time, one of the most celebrated restaurants in the country.
From the moment we walked in, we were intimidated. We felt immediately out of place; we were two kids in our twenties, underdressed, and overwhelmed by the menu. As I wrote then:
The atmosphere, in my mind, was tense. It felt almost like a police state. At one point, a waiter knocked over a bottle of wine and Alex and I — perhaps justifiably — feared for his life. His look of masked terror seemed to anticipate an elaborate punishment ceremony, like the orgy scene in "Eyes Wide Shut," with Charlie whacking him over the head with the spilled bottle.
At the time, the reaction on eGullet was swift. “Off with his head!” was the general vibe. Clearly, I didn’t get it; I was too young, too naive, too unworldly. Then someone came to my defense:
Yes, Anthony Bourdain, back in 2003, had my back and wrote: “a raw, unsolicited, first-person account like adrober’s points up some serious issues about the future of fine dining.”
So why am I mentioning all of this now?
Last week, Cathy Chaplin at Eater LA wrote an exposé of Vespertine chef Jordan Kahn. The vibe at Vespertine, according to the article, matches the vibe that I sniffed out at Charlie Trotter’s two decades ago: that sense of dread, that sense of scrupulous intensity, that sense that when the guests go home, the knives truly come out.