Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Culinary tour: Buffalo

Husband-cat is from the Midwest. This means cooking with lard and people commenting that we don't eat enough. His cousin once made a brunch that started with a pound of bacon, moved to a mountain of egg, cheese and veg, and culminated with a giant cinnamon roll cake covered in sugar(!!!), cinnamon and frosting. Was it gross and indecently delicious? Three thousand yeses, one for every calorie it contained.

Husband-cat and I ate until we were completely ill. Then followed as bloated a site-seeing tour as has ever occurred in the annals of history. This is entirely unlike my family. We only eat healthy things like Spam (Irish half) and Spam (islander half). Nothing in common there. 

When we lived in Buffalo after a decade in California the food culture clash was of epic proportions. The first year every meal was a battle of expectation and adjustment. Some things were the same. At one point, Uncle Madness actually thought Husband-cat and I had eating disorders from not eating enough. He marveled that we ate "like birds" every time we ate together. We'll be visiting Grandma Madness in a few months and I'm sure he'll be relieved to see the baby weight we're both still carrying.

If you ever need to visit fair Buffalo beware the following:

Portion (lack of) control
Husband-cat and I ate at the corner bar once. They brought salad, they brought soup, bread sticks were provided and by the time the meal arrived we were too full to eat it. The salad didn't come on a salad plate, it spilled over a full sized plate. The soup was a full can's worth (not that is was from a can). Our meal was buttered vegetables, steak and mashed potatoes. I swear the plate weighed in at multiple pounds.

The father and two kids next to us polished the full meal off plus sodas and humungous desserts. These were not big people. I've no idea where they put the food, but that's just the norm there. I once ordered meatloaf that was the size of a brick. A big brick.

Cream Sauces!
Before Buffalo I always liked and ordered cream sauced pasta dishes because they aren't that common in California. Buffalo cured me of that. Default sauce in Buffalo is cream-based. If it doesn't say, expect cream. Husband-cat hates heavy sauces so he was in hell.

Worst Italian food on the planet
Jesus. The food.

You'd think terrible Italian food would be a West Coast specialty, since the East Coast is the capital of Italian America. Buffalo is thick with Italians and yet, also some of cheapest, crappiest, laziest Italian food you've ever eaten. Sometimes we would get caught out and be forced to eat our badly placed orders. Other times we threw it directly in the trash. More than once I received food with an inch of standing oil on it.

Far, far worse than Olive Garden, my previous barometer of bad Italian food. Olive Garden is bad mass produced Italian, like Starbucks is bad mass produced coffee. You can eat if you have to. This was niche food of horrible. We nicknamed it ghetto-talian or hell-talian. Adding insult to injury, the evil restaurants were often indistinguishable from their blessed counterparts.

They brought nothing of European ability with chocolate to Buffalo. They thrive in "fountain chocolate." The cheapest, most horrible, corn syrup laden candy and chocolate is celebrated. It's horrifying.

On the positive side, you can look forward to:

Actual European restaurants!
Waddya want? German, Polish, Italian, Hungarian?  You want it, we got it. All there and easily accessible.

The bread. Lord help the bread
Californians think they know how to make bread. They are sad, misguided fools. They think because they cram an unholy amount of oats into something and are all "innovative" their wares are good. No. Californians don't know shit about how bread should taste. That's why most of it is harder than it should be and has terrible consistency. They give them the same names as European loaves, but they are always substandard to the original. Even if they are good, they are never great. Ever.

I didn't realize how immune I had become to bad bread until I had a burger and almost exploded from sheer happiness. The cook had actually found a bread that held its own with the burger flavor-wise and was robust enough not to fall to pieces or go soggy. When was the last time you experienced that? Have you ever?

If your bread falls apart, it's crap. If it's so full of oats and seeds you can't taste the actual bread, it's crap. No matter how many cute European-style bakeries we open or how popular uncut loaves become they are a pale shade of what you can get on the East Coast.

Buffalo invented Buffalo wings. Did you know that? They are proud and they should be. You can get five million kinds and they are spicy good! As John Stewart said, "I've never met people so proud they invented a bar food."

The non-Euro food
Asian! Soul! Nouveau Americana! Hipster! Such a massive sea change from when I went to Buffalo as a kidlet. Now there's global variety.

Buffalo does full Euro style desserts. Thick, gooey creamy cakes and pastries as far as the eye can see. And I see a lot.

All in all, Buffalo was a nice change from Oakland. Once I learned my way around the food landscape, I had a wonderful time. I'm very excited to visit again. As long as I bring my own chocolate, peace will reign. I may sneak bread home in my luggage.

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