Too Simple

Sometimes, simplicity can be amazing. Sometimes a chef can combine just a couple of very basic ingredients in a way that you cannot have enough of. Not all the time; sometimes a simple combination can be just that tad too simple to be considered seriously. Unless you're paying generously for it.

Mario Batali has made quite an empire out of simplcity. There are those raw fish thingies called crudo at Esca, tiny bits of raw fish in olive oil and one condiment that will set you back a dozen dollars a bite. A flight of six is a little better, at $30. Yes, the fish are good and the combinations interesting, but most reasonable sushi restaurants give you a tenth of the pretension (not to mention half the price) to outdo Esca( of course, they don't have olive oil). Caviar House at London Airport charged me the same $12 a bite for salmon dipped in nothing, but the memory of that salmon still causes drops of saliva to start heading downwards. At Esca, the only thing I remember is the price.

I made a more recent stop at the Batali empire, days before he was largely ignored by Michelin; at Otto, his pizza and casual empire. 'Simplicity' rules again, but as usual things can be taken too far. I ordered the 'signature' Otto Lardo pizza - the menu promised lard and sea salt at $13 - and was surprised to find that, well, it was just pizza crust covered with lard and sea salt. Imagine the disappointment of going to a fancy restaurant, ordering something with exotically big words and discovering plain bread and butter. Pizza dough covered with a small strips of lard has about the same taste excitement as the aforementioned pain-beurre - very comforting when you're hungry, great to eat while wating for the waiter but hardly what I would considering as a dinner. Sure you can bake wonderful bread from wheat personally polished by French royalty, get your butter from a cow that only watches Britney Spears videos, but at the end of the day its still bread and butter. Or, in this case, dough with lard.

Its going to happen soon. Some big-apple restaurant is going to get so hip that it will charge $50 for a whole, untouched, perfect apple.

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