And four nights has even more. The climax of my poultry pageant was home delivery, from Chirping Chicken, a small, humble Manhattan chain whose birds deserve a slightly better reputation than they have. Chirping's Buffalo wings are a disappointment, and their ribs unremarkable. But their chickens have glistening, lavishly seasoned skin and tender flesh. I ordered a half bird. And while some out there might deem that a rut, it felt to me like a rebellion--and a happy one at that.
It's clear to me, just a month since I published my last review as the New York Times restaurant critic, that the job will shadow me--and, in particular, the way I eat--for a while.
I get asked frequently about that: about whether I approach meals differently as a result of my tenure. Do I have changed tastes? More exacting standards? Am I still drawn to restaurants--still in love with them? Has my yearning for food intensified or lessened? How much am I eating?
The last question stems in part from the recent publication of a book, Born Round, in which I document my funny, painful mishaps with food and my funny, painful struggle to develop a healthier, steadier approach to eating.
In Born Round I describe the job of restaurant critic as a sort of structure that actually served me well, stabilizing the rhythms of my eating, steering me clear of the feast-famine, binge-purge cycles that were a problem for me in the past. So a few of the people who've read the book or interviewed me about it want to know if the dismantling of that structure has left me unhinged.
Not so far. But I'm encountering other oddities that arise from my five-plus years as restaurant critic, oddities in both my own behavior and that of the people with whom I eat.
The chicken-palooza was one example, short-lived. In its wake I've noticed that I want to cook more than I ever did in the past, and on the few occasions over the last few weeks when I've been with friends and cooking was called for, I've found myself volunteering. I've also found myself fretting, fussing, wanting the basil-and-pine-nut pesto to be absolutely perfect, sweating the choice of cheese for grilled burgers that were meant to be a dinner requiring minimal thought and work.
Gruyere? Cheddar? I considered and dismissed both, going instead with Emmenthaler and blue. It was crucial to me that I give my three dinner companions a choice, and as I later pondered why, I realized it might be because I thought I had to live up to something, though I'm not entirely sure what.
In a good way, in a sometimes exhausting way, I'm less casual about food. By that I don't mean that I devise or seek out fancy meals, from which I find myself in a sort of retreat. There was a surfeit of fancy meals in the critic days. They'll hold me for a while.
I mean that I give more thought to meals. I'm more reflective about them. It's a sort of habit instilled by the job. It's a legacy of all that mental note-taking. With my eating these days, little is spontaneous and nothing's accidental--not the chicken, not the cheese.