Saturday, September 09, 2006

Let's eat: Barney Greengrass (and some thoughts about California produce)

On the top floor of Barney's in Beverly Hills sits the only branch of Barney Greengrass, New York's monument to smoked fish, a.k.a. "The Sturgeon King." Of course, as we are in Beverly Hills, the restaurant would be unrecognizable to any habitue of the Upper West Side mothership, which is a typical deli, unglamorous, clean (but don't look too close), and noisy -- more like a crowded agora, patrons coming and going, waiting for deli orders and sitting to nosh, than ritzy cafe. The B.H. menu, too, is gentrified. No tongue omelet (also known as a heart attack on a plate) for this crowd.

Nothwithstanding the sophistication of this west coast residence of The Sturgeon King, I adore it, because I love their sable. Sable is smoked black cod (yes, the fish that Nobu Matsuhisa treats with miso and offers as a delicacy) and it is silken, with a delicate thrilling taste.

So when C and I lunched yesterday, of course I ordered the sable. As an appetizer, sable costs 50 cents less than the sable sandwich, or $14. This time around, the 4 to 5 slices of fish seemed a little sparse. Seems to me one used to get more fish on the Appetizer, but then again it's an Appetizer. The platter adds several dollars to the tab, along with unneccessary items like cole slaw. With the perfect smoked fish, who needs cole slaw? I need only champagne (West Coast advantage: a liquor license) or perhaps a white wine...yesterday it was a Pinot Gris from Fess Parker called Epiphany. I'm not too fond of winemakers giving their wines intellectually cute names (e.g. the Conundrum juggernaut), but God knows I could use an epiphany.

My sable was perfect. The onion bagel was adequate. C's smoked salmon salad had excellent fish and included other tasty items (avocado, fresh corn kernels) that wouldn't know from smoked salmon in New York, but welcome to L.A., Mr. Nova.

Our slight disappointment was the lack of flying crockery. Thursday's brawl at Barney Greengrass, well documented by Defamer, wasn't repeated. Oh, and there was the dessert, which brings me to the reflective portion of this post.

We ordered Peach Cobbler, to share. There was rather too much of the cobbler itself on top, but that was okay. The fruit inside was another story altogether. "Are these peaches...canned?" C whispered. And indeed they were. At a time of year when fresh California peaches are everywhere, The Sturgeon King opened a can.

As C said, we should have ordered the cheesecake. For truly, why would the King care about fresh fruit? However, if you're going to serve a fruit dessert for $7.50 in a city where there is major access to fresh produce, I expect fresh fruit, not something from a can.

I feel so fortunate to live in California when I go to the Farmers Market. Not just two varieties of avocado, but many; strawberries in April, when people on my native East Coast can't even yet plant their radishes. Fresh greens year-round. While native Californians may take it for granted, the availability of fresh produce is not to be underappreciated. Esteem those fruits and vegetables! And, damnit, use them in your cobblers or don't offer cobbler!

Thus ends today's sermon. Please rise for a chorus of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

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