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dream 3 – dining out

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Then the terminal scene. It’s New York, and one of those corner neighborhoods that somehow you’ve never exactly been in before, you’ve skirted the edges, but this street is new to you. It’s lined with concept-driven middlebrow restaurants, à la those discussed at the end of this post. Places where you order over the counter and then sit and wait, places where the food rolls around on a conveyor belt, places where you sit at collective tables, etc. * I am supposed to meet someone; I am supposed to find somewhere for us to meet – though it’s never quite clear who it is that I am attending, as they never show.

The street resolves into one of these restaurants, which somehow has gotten planning permission to build right over the street, across entire intersection, blocking further walking so that everyone who has made it this far has only two choices: turn back or enter the restaurant. And in fact, once you enter, you find that there is in fact a back door, one that would allow you to continue your journey, but they’ve constructed the place such that you have to pay at the till, order some food, in order to use it.

You notice someone, younger than you and braver, jump the queue and exit through the back door. It nonetheless remains clear to you that you won’t do this. You step outside through the front door, check your phone for messages. There are none. And then you step back inside and try to figure out what to order.

The place serves sushi-like, un or undercooked items. Save that the items are organs, sheep’s gut and fatted livers, kidneys and the like. ** They do their own butchery on site; that is the concept of this one – along with the innovative turn that you can’t  leave in the right direction without paying.  And then you wake up.

* London restaurants of the middle-palate chain variety tend to combine a food concept with a service concept. Wagamama’s does rather nice pan-asiatic stuff, and (but) you (have to) sit at collective tables. YO! Sushi (I don’t eat sushi, so I’ve never been – I’ve only stared in the window at the Brunswick Centre) does, um, sushi but does the conveyor belt, color-coded plate thing. I could go on. The reason why this happens here and not so much in New York is because labour costs so much more here, whereas the price in New York drops close enough to zero when you factor in the armies of illegals that work in every single NYC restaurant…. So if I am lucky, someone will open a really nice line offering passable Mexican food, but undoubtedly you’ll drop coins into a bank of automat vending machines or something to get them and then squat on the floor to eat them. That sort of thing.

** Dream seamed out of vague disturbing initial stuff having to do with my cats with a thematic overlay from one of those pet hospital shows that much to my, no frustration isn’t the word, horror-struck disgust came on in a public place where I was forced to watch or look away and no doubt sur-triggered by related things on CNN last night (a feature on the stupid Egyptian pig cull a few month back and the resultant piles of organic garbage that are flooding Cairo at the moment, another piece on Roger Moore’s simultaneous campaigns for UNICEF and against foie gras). The first thing featured a veterinarian holding a still-living sheep’s intestines in his hands, in the second they were euthanizing pigs by forcing them to drink some sort of solution, and the third featured images both of the force-feeding of the ducks and a still of a normal duck liver next to the enormous, bloated organ that goes into fois gras.

But the funny thing is, whenever I see this sort of image and squeamishly look away, *** and then back again, and the away again, and so on, I always say to myself or whomever is with me, This is why I couldn’t be a doctor, a surgeon. My mother wanted me to be a surgeon but this is why I couldn’t be.

*** Someone was reading the Evening Standard the other day, which featured on the cover a terrible story about a home invasion that took place not far from my house. The person in question forced me to look away; would not show me the piece in question, allow me to read it. It was an interesting reaction, not to let me read it.

Written by adswithoutproducts

October 1, 2009 at 4:05 am

Posted in dreams

8 Responses

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  1. I know this is hardly a food/restaurant website, but I can’t fathom your interest, indeed championing, of chain restaurants. Wagamama, which you speak of favorably here, is a truly awful place, overpriced and the food is dreadful, and I can’t understand why you always go to Starbucks. I don’t always read your blog but often do, so perhaps I’ve missed an explanation…

    Joshua Line

    October 6, 2009 at 5:22 am

  2. Starbucks egg salad are good.

    water and sewer

    October 6, 2009 at 7:00 am

  3. Good question. I mean, this dream is about the hellishness, no exit-ness of such places, though…

    I go into the issue a bit in the post / comments here:

    I really like the Chicken Katsu Curry at Wagamama. Nothing else, as far as I can tell, but I do like that. A lot of it is situational – I end up in these places because I have kids, and kids are generally more ok at the dreadful chains because, well, no one’s really looking for a fantastically auratic restaurant experience there.

    You know, it might be that there’s a bit of residual anti-foodie-ism in me that kind of threaded it once as a sort of fuck you to my foodie oppressors, which includes everyone in the world who will eat fish. But it’s long since lost its significance and dissolved into mere habit.

    I don’t know. I should probably try a little harder.

    Starbucks is way more complicated. I do drink a lot of coffee at places that aren’t even run for profit like universities and art centres and the like. But more starbucks. They are easy to write in – have plugs and leave you alone at the tables. But I think the blank banality of them suits my work, much of my work, which is generally about that sort of thing.

    There’s no good ethical or moral explanation though. I generally feel like “lifestyle leftism” is a bit overrated… But that doesn’t excuse being deliberately perverse, as I often enough am.


    October 6, 2009 at 7:12 am

  4. I am also extremely habit forming when it comes to eating out. Even back in Brooklyn, where there weren’t any chains, I’d go back to the same places over and over. Now, when you’re here in London, and these places are literally everywhere, it makes it all too easy to fall into the comfort spot.


    October 6, 2009 at 7:14 am

    • Starbucks is way more complicated. I do drink a lot of coffee at places that aren’t even run for profit like universities and art centres and the like. But more starbucks. They are easy to write in – have plugs and leave you alone at the tables. But I think the blank banality of them suits my work, much of my work, which is generally about that sort of thing.
      Despite the prick that I am, I think this really could be the beginning of something beyond mere reportage of Starbucks. It’s something you’re so familiar with, you’re beginning to move it toward the way DeLillo writes about those bland things that I always wonder about, since this kind of thing doesn’t really seem ‘describable’ to us upper-class layabouts, and Starbucks is fucking bland. I mean, let’s just put it where it is, and then you should think about using Starbucks as something, and it sounds already pretty close. Yeah, I too used to get tired of hearing about it, but excess truly is the key to the fucking palace of wisdom. I say ‘work it’. I couldn’t do it, because I really won’t go there except when I had a Hilton Honours Starbucks card, and I thought it was awful (sorry.)

      ‘my foodie oppressors, which includes everyone in the world who will eat fish.’

      Huh? I mean, I know I’m one of your (and nearly everybody else’s) foodie oppressors, but what’s this about the ‘eating fish’? I like to do it whenever I can, and you can use the Sopranos Steak Pizzaiola Recipe for trout or even bluefish and it will come out like something from Marseiles. (lol)

      ‘I don’t know. I should probably try a little harder’.

      Well, if you want to, it’s not a bad idea :).

      I liked this too:

      ‘I end up in these places because I have kids, and kids are generally more ok at the dreadful chains because, well, no one’s really looking for a fantastically auratic restaurant experience there.’

      Not quite sure why, but I’ve been recently thinking that we often write better when we’re not trying ‘to write’. This sounds good because it’s ‘on the run’, or at least that’s the impression I get at the moment. The other thing the other day about having to do family time on Sunday instead of going to Owen’s waterspoarting party was good too. There’s that sense of the energy of the family that comes across, give it a thought anyway. I remember Lawrence in the Rainbow talking about ‘they were a ?, untidy family’ (can’t remember the exact quotation, even though it was perfect in making you know that there were many moments that they could not sit reflectively, etc), not that you are untidy, etc., but osme of this ‘speedy tempo’ may be one of the styles you can do withot any flaw. I can’t do that particular thing, but yet others, of course.

      water and sewer

      October 6, 2009 at 6:33 pm

  5. Thanks for the reply. I had read that earlier post, and found it particularly interesting, I think it was my entry point to your blog. I have a nearly-3 year old and used to spend many a weekend on similar jaunts around London, with similar thoughts racing through my head. Not that anyone needs one, but my particular hatred for Wagamama comes from going there with friends and being prohibited from ordering a beer without ordering food. My wife used to work in the Soho branch and her stories are horrific. Did you know that Wagamama means ‘selfish’ in Japanese?

    I guess I’m writing from a relatively privileged position, having just moved from London to Melbourne, where few chain restaurants and almost no chain cafes exist. Even in London however I’d always try and track down private/independent cafes and shops, perhaps partly out of leftie food idealism, but also because I’d rather see my money go to smaller hands. I worked for a struggling independent record store in Soho and felt a kinship with independent outlets of all kinds. It’s a lot harder to do in London than many places, but not impossible… yet. Monocle even count the number of Starbucks in their liveable cities list as a negative factor. That said, I loved Canteen at the Southbank.

    Interested to follow how this continues in your blog, and in London in general. I loved living in London, but find that life in Melbourne, especially with kids, is incomparably more pleasant and enjoyable, partly due to things such as the number of independent cafes, restaurants and shops. Keep up the Sunday family stories – I love them, they make me very nostalgic.

    Joshua Line

    October 7, 2009 at 12:16 am

  6. And my wife just mentioned this:
    ‘In Melbourne there is no need to be concerned about other diners cos people aren’t bothered. You eat in a public place and kids are part of that – as they should be. I worked at Wagamamas and the waiters hated people coming in with kids and anyway, the acoustics were terrible and the atmosphere cold and characterless. London mentality towards kids in public places (not designated specifically for kids) is terrible. But maybe that’s a rant about kid unfriendliness and not relevant to the blog.’

    A recent Guardian (or Radio 4…?) story was about how awful it was to go to a restaurant and find children there. ALL of the comments were in agreement. Surely that is the wrong approach?

    Do let me know if we are off on a rant here, but I think it’s one of the very things that contributes to the difficulty and unpleasantness of life in London.

    Joshua Line

    October 7, 2009 at 12:21 am

    • Joshua,

      I agree with you about all of this. NYC is much more like Melbourne – we never ever ate in chain restaurants, more out of post-suburban snobbishness as chains have the smell of the mall and the highway over there.

      Yes, Canteen. I wrote a gigantic post that resolves into a discussion of Canteen. Did you see it?

      water and sewer,

      Ha! Thanks.

      Shit have to run and teach a grad seminar like right now.


      October 7, 2009 at 10:35 am

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