Eating Penance

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of people who write about food: those who seem to have given in to the obvious occupational hazard, and those who are determined to continue to fit into their jeans. Years ago I went to a seafood restaurant in Boston, one meant to capture the spirit of the New England seafood shacks along the coast, which meant that 80% of the menu was fried foods, and the other 20% was drenched in mayonnaise. I was with a food writer friend who was doing a story. As the waitress continued to deliver what would turn out to be a total of something like 20 dishes—plastic baskets of fried clams and giant bowls of steamer clams and lobster rolls sloppy with mayonnaise on a grilled butter buns—she turned to me (I’m no rail but neither am I the picture of wreckless abandon), and said: How do you do it? She didn’t say this to him because he… how to say it… looks more the part of the food writer. He answered the waitress for me: “When she isn’t out with me eating buckets of fried foods and foie gras, she’s home eating Brussels sprouts and yams.” Which is precisely what I did the day after Valentine’s Day.

I ate dinner in two restaurants Saturday night, which might seem a little greedy for a night known for its shortage of restaurant reservations, but there it is… I ate first at Loteria (for the second night in a row), and then at Palate Food & Wine. Since this isn’t a restaurant review, I won’t go into either meal except to say that if you are ever trying to decide between the two, chose Loteria. Palate Food & Wine is an ambitious restaurant, and while I appreciate the ambition (sort of, or at least I feel I should say that), it felt like the chef’s equivalent of what they call “pressing” in tennis–where you try so hard to win, that you go past your ability and force errors. Veggies cooked en papillote in—get this—hand-churned butter, needed salt. Potted pork wasn’t served in the mason jars as the menu listed them. The waitress explained that they broke, which happens to glass, but the other solution might have been to buy more. Instead, they put the pork in a ceramic dish, which somehow made it more obvious that what we were eating was pig meat cooked in pig fat. An unusual and promising octopus dish seasoned with what tasted like Chinese Five Spice powder was a good idea, but whatever some cooks do to keep octopus from being rubbery (boil it I think) didn’t work.

But like I said, this isn’t a restaurant review. It’s an excuse to give you a recipe for what I like to cook and eat after a night of tacos and hand-churned butter. You guessed it: I steamed up some Brussels sprouts, tossed them with a bit of mechanically-churned butter and some sea salt. And I baked the predictable penance yam along with a butternut squash, and then I turned them into a delicious, creamy Butternut Squash Soup. Two hours of yoga later, and I was ready to head to Animal. It was a Sunday night, so I felt casual. I figured I’d throw on some jeans. While I still could.

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