[ cheers ]
In 2005, when I began writing about restaurants for City Paper as a college intern, I didn't know shit about food. Almost seven years later, I still don't.
That's not meant to be facetious or faux-humble. It's true. And it's true because no matter how many menus you mangle, chefs you chat up, roasts you ruin or cookbooks you crush, there is always something new to learn on this beat, among the most exciting, strange and challenging thickets of the modern editorial jungle. I'm stepping down as CP's food editor after this issue, but not before taking selfish advantage of this copy hole to share what I've picked up along the way.
I wish I had some sun-soaked tale about rolling gnocchi with grandma or filleting bass with my Portuguese mariner neighbor to cite as my formative "food moment," but the truth is that I'm simply a born overeater. My nickname as a baby was "Porker," which has branded me as a total chunk — if not physically then figuratively — for life. And Philly is exactly where a Porker like me belongs. This is one of the best and most underrated food cities in the country. Here, in no particular order, is a small selection of lessons I've learned while eating my way through it.
It's OK to ask questions at a restaurant if you're genuinely curious. It's not OK to ask questions with the sole purpose of "foodie" peacocking. ("My personal forager tells me morels are remarkable this year ... but when you say 'local,' just how 'local' are we talking?")
If you're stuck at a bougie wine tasting and are forced to share with the group, say you're getting "notes of currant." Most people never eat currants so they will just nod.
Bartenders always say their favorite customers are ones who know what they want. Know what you want and you'll get it faster.
Unless you're under his or her command, there's no real need to address a chef as "Chef." I've found that most of them prefer Steve or Jen.
Restaurants notorious for being good and restaurants notorious for being bad are usually not that good and not that bad.
Instead of splitting a $60 check seven ways on seven credit cards, be an adult and pick up the tab for your friends. If they really are your friends, they'll pick up the next one.
When talking to chefs, there's a difference between a sincere compliment and abject ass-kissery. You can spot the latter practice from 100 yards out. The telltale signs are wild gesticulation and the chef shuffling uncomfortably in clogs.
Burgers are really good, but they're just burgers.
Never place faith in anyone who drinks dessert-flavored vodka. Anyone who drinks straight bourbon, meanwhile, can be trusted with a newborn.
The difference between a crap tip and a great tip is often $5 or less. Life's short. Tip well.
Sometimes, you just gotta go to Chinatown.