Friday, February 23, 2007

5 Things About Terry

All right, all right, if you must drag them out of me! Actually, I've combed my cranium for juicy culinary secrets, and, frankly, there isn't much in this Tony Bourdain era (and in the all-too-confessional world of blogs) that would really shock or even amaze. I've eaten everything from duck tongue to veal cheeks, and I've given four stars to restaurants whose restrooms would make public latrines look luxurious. But here are some little tidbits that might shed some insight on the private life of a restaurant critic. It's Lent, and while for me that's more an excuse to chow on such childhood favorites as tuna bunsteads, salmon cakes, and fried shrimp, maybe it's time to whisper a few confessions to the forgiving few. So, here goes:

1) Sometimes I dread eating out. I love to cook, but I don't get to do it enough. And I love having people over--also something I don't do enough. And, strangely, it's often tough getting even a couple of friends together every week to venture out to some farflung eatery that might not even be good. And then I have to write another 700-word review every week and not be too damning even if the place stinks. Nary a day goes by when someone doesn't say, "I'd love to have that job," but when you consider the necessary tact, scheduling logistics, potentially angry chefs/owners, and time away from your own dinner table, it can be a lot to juggle. It's still a fun gig, but doing it every week can take its toll. When the last long-term critic for the NYTimes, William Grimes, hung up his critic's hat, he did it at the 5-year mark, citing other critics who had gone longer and grown stale. I'm pushing 3.5 years at Nuvo. Better wrap myself in plastic.

2) I grew up eating at buffets. No haute cuisine in my childhood. It was only a trip at 19 to France and Italy (choucroute! tarte flambé! tortelloni! calamari!) that turned me into a gastronome. As a child, we went almost every Wednesday to Jake's Smorgasbord on a bend of the road near Oblong, Illinois. The motto at Jake's: "Take want you want, but eat what you take." We took. Chiffon pie was whipped cream in a pie shell. We also were quite fond of Duff's Cafeteria in Terre Haute with a buffet that moved so that you didn't have to!

3) I have a weakness for the sour cream fries at the Peppy Grill. Buy me a plate of them at 2 a.m. on a cold winter's night or a steamy summer morning, and I might be yours for life. What, pray tell, are sour cream fries? First off, there isn't any real sour cream involved. Perish the thought. This is sour cream in the sense of sour cream and onion, which we always pronounced as "sourcream'n'onion" (one word) back in my hometown of Sainte Marie, Illinois. It was its own culinary genus, like "barbecue" (not the Texan firepit kind but the chip seasoning), "nacho," or "pizza" (also not the Italian pie but anything flavored to taste "like" a pizza). Basically, the sour cream fries at the Peppy Grill are steak wedges that come pre-seasoned with a dusting of dehydrated sour cream and various dried alliums--chives, garlic, onions. They come with little packets of Ranch dressing (which I ordinarily loathe). I mix ketchup--another guilty pleasure I have no shame about--into the Ranch and dip away. So, who's up for the Peppy this weekend?

4) Taco Bell. TB. Taco Hell. However you refer to it, I like it. I just don't get there enough these days when I can hardly afford to eat a meal that's not for research purposes. I particularly love the chili-cheese burrito, formerly known as the "chilito."

5) I'm not a big fan of cilantro. In fact, I really hate it. Just how much do I hate it? Click here. Sure, I've come to accept a sprinkling of it in Thai or Vietnamese food or a sprig or two on top of my seviche tostada. But don't come near me with cilantro pesto or a vegetarian taco loaded with the stuff. Do they still make a burrito at the Laughing Planet in Bloomington that's almost entirely stuffed with cilantro? Is the Laughing Planet even still open? That's where I truly learned to despise the stuff, back in my grad school days. Thankfully, the herb has slipped just a bit in its prevalence, but I still bar it from my kitchen, and, when possible, my plate.


braingirl said...

So, you don't want me to come over for dinner to make pasta with this Jaquie's cilantro lime pesto that I *love*?! Based on the poem, I take that as a no :-) (The Taco Bell confession surprises me, I admit.)

Anonymous said...

That's quite a loathing you've got for cilantro. My wife's on your side but she just says, "it tastes like soap suds."


Russ said...

As a former Taco Bell employee at Chauncey Hill at Purdue, I can tell you that the Chilito lost it's name after it was discovered that it was a slang term for the, um, penis.

Apparently, we are also lucky to still have the Chili Cheese here in Indiana, because it was discontinued almost nationwide.

andrea said...

Oh I miss "real" Chilitos from Zantigo. Shame on TB for buying them out and ruining the perfect meal. I can't even begin to guess how many of those things I ate growing up...especially the hot ones with the green chili sauce.

If you ever find yourself in Mpls/St. Paul, look them up. The name and recipes have been resurrected. Sadly I haven't had the opportunity to revisit them but from what I read on the internet, the food is true to the original Zantigo; which was 100x better than TB (and I love TB)