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F ork It Over
The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater A L A N R I C H M A N
For my wife, Lettie Teague,
and the man we both loved, Art Cooper
A M U S E - B O U C H E
The Eating Life / 3
A P P E T I Z E R S
A Mother’s Knishes / 17
What a Dive! / 29
Hungry in the Hamptons / 35
The Saucier’s Apprentice / 45
Bocuse Must Go / 53
A Room of One’s Own / 57
Ten Commandments for Diners / 63
E N T R E E S
Too Much Is Never Enough / 69
Play It Again, Lam / 83
Miami Weiss / 99
The Long Aloha / 105
Not Much of a Man in Havana / 113
Toro! Toro! Toro! / 125
“As Long as There’s a Moishe’s, There’ll Always Be a Montreal” / 135
Slicing Up Naples / 153
Waiter, There’s a Foot in My Soup / 165
The Fruits of Islam / 177
Oldest Living Jewish Waiters Tell All / 191
Pete Jones Is a Man Among Pigs / 209
Alice Doesn’t Cook Here Anymore / 225
Ten Commandments for Restaurants / 237
S I D E S
My Beef with Vegans / 243
Sheep Thrills / 253
Are We Having Fungus Yet? / 259
C H E E S E
Don’t Say “Cheese” / 273
Dairy Queens / 277
Ten Reasons Why White Wine Is Better than Red / 285
W I N E
Nose Job / 289
Great Expectorations / 295
$25,000 Wine Week: A Tale of Excess / 301
G R A T U I T Y
“Please, Please, More!” Gasped Sharon Stone / 311
Acknowledgments / 321
About the Author
About the Publisher
A M U S E - B O U C H E
T H E E A T I N G L I F E
I am a restaurant critic. I eat for a living.
Chefs complain about people like me. They argue that we are not qualified to do our jobs because we do not know how to cook. I tell them I’m not entirely pleased with the way they do their jobs, either, because they do not know how to eat. I have visited most of the best restaurants of the world, and they have not. I believe I know how to eat as well as any man alive.
I dine out constantly, but there is a great deal I do in restaurants that people who eat purely for pleasure would not consider part of a normal meal. You would not enjoy having dinner with me.
I lie—make a reservation under a false name. I steal—the menu, not the silverware. I wander. I am always getting up from my table in order to check out my surroundings. I drift around, and the meander-ing invariably ends when a well-meaning captain taps me on the shoulder and points me in the direction of the men’s room, wrongly assuming that is where I wish to go. I rarely talk to the people dining with me, but I love to chat with waiters and busboys. They know the secrets lurking behind the swinging kitchen doors.
Friends who accompany me to meals are bored by the absence of conversation. They are unhappy with the dishes I choose for them—
they have their hearts set on a lovely salad of poached Maine lobster and become cranky when I tell them they must sample the seared calf ’s brain. The warm mandarin soufflé they’ve been anticipating all evening 4
A L A N R I C H M A N
is finally set before them, and I stick my spoon in it before they have a taste.
Yet everybody envies what I do. They think it’s the gastronomic counterpart of test-driving Mercedes sports coupes or helping Las Vegas chorus girls dress. They believe it involves little more than eating unceasingly and being reimbursed for the privilege. There’s some truth to that, but sometimes I am obligated to eat three full meals a day, day after day, which is not always easy, even on an expense account. I generally receive little sympathy when I make that point.
A critic has to understand when food is correct, which is to be admired, and when it is inspired, which we would call a miracle. The job is part analysis (Is this good?), part self-analysis (It’s good, but am I the only person who likes it?), and part gluttony (Have I tried everything on the menu?).
I’ve never been a victim of culinary fatigue, because I can reverse direction and concentrate on the humble whenever I weary of the haute. A natural-casing hot dog off the grill can be as thrilling as Charlie Trotter’s terrine of asparagus with goat cheese, beet juice, and hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar.
I often make that point when it’s my turn to pay.
I knew I had found my calling one day in the mid-fifties when I was having lunch with my mother at the Chuckwagon, in our little Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park. She told me I should have the pastrami instead of corned beef.
My streak was over. For years, my standard lunch had been hot corned beef on seeded rye with a cream soda. This was before animal fats were considered fattening. (The milkman usually dropped off
“extra rich” milk at our house.) I so liked corned beef that I hadn’t come up with a compelling reason to gamble on anything else. I considered myself set for life.
I expected nothing to come of this unsolicited pastrami sandwich, but the first bite was so profound I recall the moment the way others would remember a first date—years away