Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I love Jeffrey Steingarten

Steingarten is the most enjoyable food writer writing today. He’s an extremely knowledgeable curmudgeon who writes witty, engaging prose that can claim Waverly Root and A.J. Liebling as stylistic forebears, and he's funnier than Trillin. His writing is not just great food writing, it’s just great writing. Somehow, he plies his trade at Vogue, but luckily for the rest of us he has published two books of his columns, The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate.

It was mainly Steingarten’s presence, along with that of Madhur Jaffrey whom I mentioned recently in my Indian food piece, that drew me to a panel discussion called “Food Writers of Greenwich Village,” at NYU’s Fales Library last Friday. Also on the panel were Mimi Sheraton, food historian Betty Fussell, and a young man who shall, for his own sake, remain nameless, as he was clearly out of his element and apparently felt that the most important thing he had to communicate was the fact that he’s gay.

I’m not familiar with Fussell’s work, and I have no use for Mimi Sheraton, doyenne status notwithstanding, after having pursued several bum steer Chinese restaurant tips when she was at the Times. The woman, I determined, was clearly clueless when it came to Chinese cuisine, and for me that called her entire career into question.

The panel, it turned out, was a light snack rather than a meal. The panelists for the most part reminisced perfunctorily and desultorily about the life of the palate in Greenwich Village. Betty Fussell waxed elegiac about how on her block of 13th Street alone there were French, Spanish, Vietnamese, Italian and American restaurants. As she mentioned the names of the 13th Street restaurants, past and present, I realized that few if any were worth mentioning. Mimi Sheraton waxed nostalgic about the wonderful old Village Italian restaurants like Rocco’s that have long since been replaced by trendy places that could pay the exorbitant rents.

When it came Steingarten’s turn to speak he rambled, but the meanderings were often, and not surprisingly, funny. I particularly appreciated his responses to Fussell and Sheraton. “Betty mentioned all those restaurants on her block,” he said, “but she forgot to mention that they’re all bad.” As for Mimi’s beloved Italian restaurants of yesteryear, he said, “Those were the kinds of places where they brought you a lasagna that was stacked so high it would tip over as soon as you looked at it. And when they delivered your food the waiters would say, ‘Mangia!’”

Like I said, I love Jeffrey Steingarten.

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Read Steingarten's "The Omnivore."


Anonymous Robyn said...

Ahhh, I really wanted to go to that talk!...but all the spaced were filled by the time I got around to...finding out that the spaces were filled.

I love the Steingarten.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just hope that Steingarten experience a slow and cruel end as the geese liver fat he enjoys so much

12:33 PM  

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