And in other news, a major pharmaceutical settled a multibillion dollar lawsuit for a product that harmed many. Benjamin Netanyahu tried to broker a Middle East peace accord. A Wyoming college student was beaten to death for being gay, while an epic love story set on a boat became the largest grossing film of all times. Iraq cut off arms talks with the UN and the Nobel Prize in economics went to a study on poverty and how it separates the haves from the have-nots. In other words, little has changed in the 20 years since David’s Chicken closed in Manhattan in 1998.
We all hold dear certain memories of our favorite comfort food. For me, David’s – the venerable takeout joint on the Upper East Side – meant I was having dinner with my mom and dad at their First Avenue and 74th Street apartment, the small one-bedroom aerie with my father’s beloved terrace and plants and five-borough view. My mother would make a green salad with her home-made garlic vinaigrette to accompany the perfectly roasted, cut-up David’s chicken.
But what I remember most was the mushroom barley side. No matter how large a container she ordered it was never enough. The mixture was one unctuous spoonful after another of the soft pearls of barley goodness leavened by thin slices of earthy mushroom. Lots of places in New York attempted this dish. None came close. Thinking back twenty years I am guessing the line chefs in the small takeout shop were putting all that leftover chicken fat to good use.
Couscous, like memories, transcends all cultures. When we close the door to the polyglot peoples of the world who flock to our shores we are saying no to flavor, no to spice, farewell frivolity, religion, celebration and ceremony. Buh-bye pizza. So long schwarma. Close those taco trucks and send David Chang packing back to Korea, where his parents hailed from. Who wants to live in a world like that? Certainly not the crowds lining up for momos in Queens, tamales in L.A. and Cubano sandwiches in Miami.
I hunkered down in my kitchen the other night armed with nothing more than a couple of cups of Israeli couscous, a paper bag of cremini mushrooms and some good fatty chicken stock. I cooked up memories of my dad and my old job as a (print!) magazine editor, the Yankees when they used to win World Series and a universe where you met a date at a bar and scrawled down a phone number on a book of matches if you hit it off. Maybe while you were sharing a cigarette. Unhealthy as hell, right? But oh so good.