Reconsider the Source

In New York last weekend I realized just how out of hand the whole “locavore” movement has gotten. While I support the its basic ideals, such as sourcing local and sustainable ingredients whenever possible, one would reasonable expect that such a philosophy would be tempered to a degree by the practicalities of running a business, plus the fact that local growing seasons are typically determined by the earth’s orbital position relative to the sun. All these considerations get burned away in the crucible of restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, which (depending on how you look at it) is either an earnest experiment in “a holistic sensory experience where spirit, sustainability, culture, currency and creation co-exist” or a restaurant that pursues this philosophy so far ‘round the bend that it ironically ends up mocking itself.

To understand ABC Kitchen, one must first know a little bit about ABC Carpet and Home. Many ladies will know of the store of which I speak. Most guys, not so much. Located just above Union Square, ABC Carpet and Home is an eclectic bazaar that gathers cruelty-free items from around the globe and marks them up in ways that would astound even the most jaded of Wall Street’s quants. My friend and lunch companion Lane Greene, who just published a fun and eminently readable book on linguistics (plug for Lane: You Are What You Speak – available now wherever books are sold) succinctly cracked the ABC pricing strategy:

“Take what I (as a dude uninterested in doodads) would pay. Knowing I’m not typical, I double that for what I think other people would pay. Knowing this is ABC, I multiply by five. The price ends up being two-to-three times that number.”

Let’s define our variable to solve for Lane’s ABC doodads:

y = what a regular guy would pay.
ABC Price = [5(y x 2)] x 2.5

So, for a random lump of purple quartz crystal (actual item), Lane might pay $5. Plug that into the equation and ABC would ask $125. The math checks out; I cross-referenced it with a rain-stressed wooden Ganesh statue. ABC accountants: Know that your algorithm has been hacked. Watch your back, Google.

So the nested-in-the-store ABC Kitchen is already housed in an environment that requires a suspension of disbelief to accept. Cut loose from these earthly tethers, ABC Kitchen takes advantage to offer notes on the lineage of snap-peas and’s backstory on the sea bass. So far nothing your typical restaurant hound hasn’t seen before. But it spreads beyond mere consumables into the place settings, tables and breadbaskets, whipping the marketing copy into a crescendo of self-congratulatory pabulum that borders on parody:

“abc kitchen (features) sustainable, local, artisan indigenous, salvaged, recycled and goodwood stories.
these include found, salvaged, reclaimed & recycled building materials; handmade porcelain dinnerware by local artisan jan burtz;  bread baskets handcrafted by the indigenous mapuche people of patagonia; salvaged wood tables handcrafted by local artisan jim denney; a venetian plaster wall and mirrors painted, etched, and collaged by local artisans; a rooftop garden that provides herbs and micro-greens; soy-based candles that are free of pesticides, GMOs & additives; and all organic cleaning products.”

Despite all this foraging, they still couldn’t scrounge any capital letters. But one might ask: “How was the food?”

Actually, quite good. I had Arctic Char, a fish I assume was charmed into a TED-equip net by a flute-playing Inuit. My wife, Megan, went with the Spinach and Quinoa Salad, as she knows I will not eat this at home because I despise and seek to destroy everything that foul Incan weed stands for. I was happy to see an ice cream sundae included with the price fixe, despite its inclusion of popcorn.

After the meal, my friend Tanner and I went to look for an ABC mattress rumored to cost $70,000. We couldn’t find it – perhaps it was on the rooftop garden surrounded by the micro-greens. As we searched, I thought about the restaurant and wondered if perhaps a little more “show, don’t tell” would serve it better. When I read a menu whose creators feel the need to include such browbeating pronouncements of locavorism and sustainability, I can’t help but poke a little fun. The pontificating earnestness actually begs for that. The food is good. I’m convinced. What more need be said?

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