Shaped by Shish Kabob

I remember a certain variety show from the early 80’s called “Evening Magazine”. Nobody else, except my own family, seems to know what I’m talking about. On this show, there was a chef guy who in retrospect probably wasn’t very good, but he was my hero. His name was Chef Tell and he made all sorts of (to my young eyes and palate) exotic and fancy foods. I remember shish kabob was a favorite and you can see what a boss Chef Tell was at preparation here. I begged my mother to make the food that Chef Tell made. I wanted sirloin tips skewered with cherry tomatoes and peppers so badly I could taste them. Chef Tell probably served them with rice pilaf, as cous cous was probably not yet available in this country.

I don’t remember liking Julia Child, but apparently she was a childhood favorite as well. I do remember buying my mother a copy of “The Silver Palate Cookbook” in probably 1987. I don’t remember ever once having “Chilled Shrimp and Cucumber Soup” nor even “caviar dip” (which includes cream cheese). This book now sits on my shelf, and I’ve never prepared any of these dishes either. My closest brushes with the “fancy foods” of the eighties were lobster (from Red Lobster), chicken liver paté, and medium- rare T-bone steaks with my grandfather. Come to think of it, he ate more like the sixties.

I thought that my chances of regularly enjoying the Yuppie foods that graced the tables of the cognoscenti, the Seavers, the Keatons, The Strattons of my childhood had passed into obscurity. I mean I’m not gonna cook that shit, I’ve had those ideas beaten out of my conscious will through years of working in more “contemporary” restaurants (a thoughtless position that I’m strongly reconsidering).

It didn’t really occur to me when I saw it that it would dredge up so much nostalgia, but I knew what type of restaurant it was at first site. I knew from the font, from the first time I gazed upon the metallic geo-scrawl of a nameplate that crowned the wall rising above a heavily-foliaged veranda. This restaurant is a relic. The type of place that might unabashedly serve cultivated mushroom caps stuffed with seafood and bechamel, or a fancy stuffed baked potato, or a molten chocolate filled cake. I always knew that I would someday eat at Perry’s on Fremont.

And what awaited us on that patio was exactly what we might have expected. Families, the men in rugbys and polo shirts, the women in conservative floral print dresses, kids in their easter- egg colored gear, laughing under a giant Japanese maple (these people knew it was cool before it was really cool). The bar looked like a pickup lounge for Tom Selleck or Jack Lord, funky and Modern (note the capital M). I had a Manhattan, Leona had the “Champagne Perry” both truly wonderful, the Manhattan large and strong, the Champagne Cocktail bracing and refreshing. The menu informed us that the owners had previously owned a burger joint further up the road and that they had opened Perry’s in 1984, the same year  that The Police released Synchronicity.

I had the burger; it seemed to be their specialty.  Only one burger was offered, with blue cheese and bacon; weren’t fancy burgers invented in the eighties? It was delicious. The meat was hardly pattied, formed would be a better verb, the result was tender beyond my realm of understanding. The bun was… 80’s, soft, toasted, large, yeasty. What more could I want, toasted onions? Leona, at my urging, had a salad that included asparagus, chicken, hard boiled egg and lemon vinaigrette. It was the quintessence of simple and modern. It lacked salt and acid, yet was perfectly acceptable.
I was passing out by dessert, on account of the five shots or so of whisky I had consumed. But Leona insisted. So I chose the molten chocolate spice cake. What a revelation. So, this is what the college professors, the marketing exec’s, the TV advertising account representatives of the 1980’s were enjoying at their dinner parties. And probably still are. Asparagus, chicken and eggs found what they were looking for, were completed by: warm, runny chocolate and spice.
Say what you like, the ground work for “cuisine” in this country was laid in the nineteen eighties. Yuppies have become (to me anyway) the butt of every joke concerning nouveau riche pretension, but a friend of Leona’s put it best, “the yuppies were seeking authenticity”. Authentic to what, I honestly don’t fucking know, but my nostalgic yearning has been fulfilled.

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