Thursday, January 06, 2005


1-4-05: Barneys New York, LA

I'm still in LA. Barneys New York has a store in Beverly Hills. Am I not remembering right, or did Barneys used to be a big fat discount rack place, like Filene's Basement, where you could afford to buy clothes that normally you couldn't even look at? I think I bought my first law interview suit there in the early 1980s. I don't know whether that suit made me look important or not, but I was rejected from several jobs in that suit.

If Barneys was ever that place, it hasn't been so for a while, and when I got on the elevator from the underground parking garage, my heart sank as I glanced over to the side to the large photo showing a male model wearing the following (with apologies to Mastercard):
velvet tux -- $2,500
cashmere turtleneck -- $750
smug expression ... priceless
Velvet tux? What was I doing at Barneys New York, anyway? My friend CT heard from a friend that the store had a New York deli that offered a great lunch and people-watching. Barneys New York LA does indeed, as it happens, host a New York deli: none other than Barney Greengrass, the "Sturgeon King" of Amsterdam Avenue. I don't think Barney the Sturgeon King is any relation to Barney the "why pay retail?"-discounter- of- designer-clothing turned too-snobby-for-the- real-world, though I could be wrong.

I am a very reluctant consumer of sturgeon. I find it the most delicious of the smoked fishes, yet I am told that the sturgeon is a large, long-lived fish and that, in consuming it, you are very likely to violate what I consider to be a very good rule of living like a mensch on our planet: "never eat anything older than you are."

So I order a lox and sturgeon plate with scrambled eggs with some hesitation, feeling that I must take this lunch as a rare treat, on the theory that only the deliciousness of sturgeon can redeem the excessive markup of this people-watching lunch establishment.

The people-watching is typical of Beverly Hills and any other high-density pretension spot in LA. The room is filled with the almost famous. People who vaguely look like someone you might recognize from TV or a movie. But who are undoubtedly not. Maybe a producer or two. Hey look, it's Steven, not Speilberg, the other one... Schmeilberg.

The waiter brings out a large plate of scrambled eggs and smoked fish. The plate has been warmed. Incredibly, disastrously, the smoked fish is warm. I hope you understand, you do not serve smoked fish warm. This would be like stir-frying caviar. You do not do it. Yes, there is something called a lox scramble, but that's just something that you do with the leftover "lox trim," the shavings of the sliced smoked fish. Good smoked fish, particularly Sturgeon, has a subtle flavor and a perfect restrained oiliness that, like revenge, must be served cold.

If they intentionally heated up the lox and sturgeon, they are criminals. If they heated the plate to keep the scrambled eggs warm, and thereby ruined the $16 worth of smoked fish to safeguard the "perfection" of the $1 worth of scrambled eggs, they are criminally stupid.

I spent the rest of the meal dreading the question from our waiter, who was as unctuous as the warmed sturgeon, "how is everything?" What would I say? A truthful response could only be conveyed in the form of a diatribe. Does a mature person just let it go? Fortunately, he never asked.

LA doesn't know how to do New York. That's the lesson. And it occurs to me that to this crowd of Angelinos, New York is "the old country." This city is filled with second- and third- generation New Yorkers, whose hazy memories of lox and bagels on a childhood visit "back east" to see grandma and grandpa creates this demand for New York culinary simulacra. Lox warmed over.

Feel free to come and check it out if you get time :-)
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