Hungry Hinch

Munching Worldwide

Just realised that it’s been a long time since I posted a Hungry Hinch review. Not that I haven’t been eating a lot in that time. Far from it. And from around the world: from the Rockpool in Melbourne to the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills and the Oyster Bar at Grand Central in New York,

With the Xmas noshing season in full swing I thought I should make some comments on some of those eateries. Especially some of the facts and foibles when it comes to dining in the U.S. these days.

Two words I must record, and I will get back to them: Salt and Sugar. You cannot escape them in America. There are as ubiquitous as the shredded lettuce salad that precedes every meal. Before the appetiser, which comes before the entrée – which, of course, is the main course.

And every meal in every good restaurant comes with a plethora of good bread. Baskets of the stuff. Lavoche, and sourdough and multi-grain rolls, and olive bread and carroway seeds (which we rarely see in Oz) and French baguettes baked on the premises.

(Made it hard for Mrs. Nosebag whose famous last words as we first ventured out into the New York chill were: ‘This holiday I think I’ll try to avoid bread’.

Now that I’m talking about bread, let’s get the ‘sugar and salt’ thing out of the way. Even the ‘sour’dough bread is sweet. At the Oyster Bar, in New York, where I tried 12 different types of oysters from Oregon to Maine, there were crunchy, salty, seed-encrusted bread sticks that tasted of sugar.

You buy ‘plain’ and ‘natural’ and even Greek-style, yoghurts at the local deli, and, unless you read all the fine print, they all have added sugar.

I’m sure their All Bran is sweeter than ours. And I should know. I did the TV commercial. And that 14-day challenge is squeezed into ten days here.

I am writing this on the balcony of one of the best (and newest) hotels in Beverly Hills. The Montage. For breakfast I had freshly squeezed orange juice and then a fresh fruit and yoghurt parfait with crunchy granola. It was terrific. But the sweet yoghurt made it taste more like a soda counter parfait than breakfast. No wonder diabetes is epidemic here.

And the salt.  Creamed broccoli comes loaded with salt. So are pizza bases. Even the best soup and sandwich place in New York – the Pret a Manger chain—seems to over salt even their organic soups.

For brunch, on our last day in LA, we did what I plan (I hope) to become a tradition: brunch on the patio at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.

I do not like smorgasbord dining. Lazy, I guess. And too many people cough and wheeze over the food especially at this time of the year.

(I remember at the Hyatt in Adelaide once a huge German female tourist picked up the spoon from a goulash, tasted it and put the spoon back. I alerted the waitress who seemed reluctant to take the tureen away).

But I make an annual exception at the Four Seasons’ Culina restaurant. It’s doubled in size since last year but make sure you get a patio table near the hotel entranced which features a life-size, life-like model of Marilyn Monroe having her skirt blown up in that scene from The Seven Year Itch.

They serve everything. The full breakfast if you want it: Bacon, eggs, hash browns. A full Sunday roast: legs of lamb, slabs of roast beef, honey baked ham. A mountain of fresh salads.

But it is the other room I go for. It has tuna and salmon sashimi, California rolls (where else?) cold shrimp, Chinese dumplings, Mexican quesadillas. Followed by a dessert and cheese bar.

The best thing is that the waiters clear plates like Speedy Gonzales and fresh cutlery arrives so nobody knows how many times you’ve been back to the smorgasbord.

The downside for a non-drinker: they charge $25 corkage for non-alcoholic wine. But then I paid $20 and even $35 corkage in New York. (I’ll write about that campaign mandatory inclusion of  non-alcoholic beverages on menus later).

The one place they didn’t charge corkage was in my favourite NY bar. The Peacock Alley Bar and snack restaurant in the grand marbled foyer of the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue.

They still serve the best lump crabcakes anywhere.

We had huge pizzas at Antonio’s on 2nd Avenue near the Feelin’ Groovy 59th Street bridge Simon and Garfunkel sang about.

Angelo’s uncle started out in Brookyln’s Fulton Street in the 1930s when he couldn’t find real pizzas (or white pies as he called them) in New York. He wanted them with crispy blackened crusts.

Angelo’s charges $15 for a small, $17 for a large – they had to be 18-inches across – and $2.50 for toppings like pepperoni or mushrooms.

Best pizzas anywhere, even if mine overbalanced on the stand when I was only halfway through it and the rest toppled slowly to the floor.

We had a superb dinner on the terrace overlooking the fountain at The Montage in LA. Mrs Nosebag said the polenta was ‘heavenly’ and I had a perfect piece of black cod that reminded me of Nobu in Melbourne.

Once again, you are surprised that many good restaurant prices (like the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills) are on a par with Melbourne and cheaper than Sydney. Especially with the dollar being at parity or within a cent of it.

The thing that gets you, of course, is the tipping. When you add 15% or 20% to a bill it starts to stack up. But, hell, keep in mind the minimum wage here is only about seven bucks an hour. No wonder the service is polished and friendly. Tips keep this economy ticking over – and it is barely ticking right now.

Still, you’ve gotta eat. And this place has the good, the bad, and the biggest portions you’ll find anywhere in the world of it.
Perfect holiday for the Hungry Hinch.

  • Change font size: A A