This Is Mark Bittman’s Very First Column
My very first food column, reproduced below, ran in the New Haven Advocate 40 years ago, on February 27, 1980.
This column is about food and some of the elements involved in eating it — primarily in restaurants but also at home. I’ll be writing about quality, taste, pleasure, misery, money, how to do-it-yourself, and anything else related to the necessity that is eating and the luxury it occasionally provides.
It is my belief that, while there is no accounting for taste, there is definitely accounting for quality, and a restaurant reviewer must consider the two separately. There are certain rather obvious conditions that make food completely unacceptable: rotten food, food served with accompanying undesirable materials, undercooked pork and poultry. These foods are unhealthy and should be returned to the kitchen on your way out the door.
Other errors may be less blatant but are intolerable nonetheless: surely you’ve tasted the fabulous spinach a la sand? Or bouillabaisse avec broken shells (adding dentist bills to your dinner bills)? Last week’s salad, wilted to half its original bulk? Bread or pastry stale or frozen, defrosted and dry? I know you have. (In fact, I overheard this comment just last week in one of New Haven’s most touted restaurants: “This pastry is good but it’s stale.” The speaker was wrong. Stale food is not good. Good food is fresh.)
There is a large gray area between outright bad food and that which does not conform to the reviewer’s taste. This is food which does meet the most minimal standards of palatability but which is incorrectly prepared according to more or less universally accepted norms. Some may like pasta simmered for three hours and served on demand as a white mush, or lukewarm soup, or fried chicken, potatoes, or stir-fried food swimming in grease, or frozen vegetables cooked to a pulp, or lumpy gravy (getting hungry?), but those folks are in a vast minority and should be expected to order their fries with a side of oil. Most people agree that a rack of lamb is best served very rare and we are entitled to…