Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

In the spirit of year-end top 10 lists and holiday giving, here’s my Christmas gift to cilantro: the top 7 things at Cosi in 2007 that are (perhaps) more annoying than cilantro.

7. The tagline, “Simply Good Taste”

6. The use of the word traditional in the Traditional Cheese Flatbread. (In case you were wondering — traditional cheese is mozzarella cheese.)

5. The way the soup guy stares at me when I order a tomato soup, rather than ask what he’s really thinking, which is “What size (eye roll) of tomato soup would you like (eye roll) ma’am?,” until I say say, “Um, small?”

4. The worst incarnation of lunch salad-ready factory farm chicken ever known to man, and at a premium price.

3. The inconsistency in flatbread salt level. It’s immeasurably better when well-salted.

2. The very very small print on everything (especially the overhead salad menu) rendering it impossible to determine what you might want in advance, giving you nothing to do while you wait in line, except strain your eyes in vain.

1. The expression “Nothing Says holiday like eggnog (we don’t know why either).” Ick. Is there anything more annoying than cold calculating corporations trying to seem ironic or hip or coolly ignorant? No, there isn’t. It’s very annoying. Furthermore, the reasons eggnog say holiday are obvious:

i. Eggnog is served always and only during the holidays.

ii. Does nothing, in fact, say holiday like eggnog? What about mistletoe, snowflakes,
Christmas trees, menorahs, turkey, ham, family, red and green together, peppermint sticks, the calendar months November and December, presents, mulled red wine, Santa Claus, reindeer, etc., etc. These take nothing away from the eggnog/holiday association, (in fact my coworkers have confirmed that eggnog is on their top 5 list of holiday word associations) but would question the superlative “Nothing” says holiday like eggnog.

iii. People love eggnog, even if they don’t love eggnog. It makes you feel warm and nostalgic. The corporate suits have absolutely, deliberately chosen eggnog as the symbol of the holidays to make you (the consumer) associate warm, nostalgic feelings with them (Cosi) and, you know, buy more stuff, and then backed away from this deliberateness by suggesting the eggnog reference is innocent, accidental, organic. We could all learn a lot from Starbucks.

See you in 2008, earnestly back to the business of hating cilantro.

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One of the nice things about hating cilantro so much is that it serves as a convenient benchmark for dubious or relative hatred of other things. Do I hate midtown? Yes. Do I hate it as much as cilantro? No, not even close. But, when the two come together, a funny things happens: somehow, neither seems as bad. You can feel the universe working in some sort of sick harmony, if only for a frenzied 20-minute at my desk lunch.

When my new (and dear, vegan) coworker suggests taco salad as a reasonable midtown lunch choice, I don’t have to think twice. Hale and hardy as early winter midtown soups may be, they get a little old. The taco salad offers a cornucopia of foodie wonderland ingredients: farm-to-table (farm’s in California, but I hear sustainability is going out of style) iceberg lettuce, canned supermarket black beans, anemic diced tomatoes, hormone and/or antibiotic treated sour cream, flavorless but high-fat pre-shredded “cheddar” and “jack” cheeses, overly acidiulated “guacamole,” and then there’s that beautiful brown slice of Tex-mexamericana, the fried taco salad shell. Well, obviously I couldn’t say no. Hell, it’s Thursday.

What’s more, as new coworker described said taco salad and it’s “delicious” “tomato and basil” component, I was intrigued. This is where I made my fatal error, which I only realized too late. No self-respecting vendor of authentic Tex-Mex midtown cuisine would bastardize the genre’s standards so much as to put basil in a taco salad — this isn’t Little Italy and it’s not Thai either (a cuisine that interestingly holds my greatest friend and greatest foe herbs in equal esteem). But, I didn’t second guess.

I walked into the “Bagel” shop on 48th street with authority, heading straight to the Tex-Mex section (south of salad bar/bagel/panini/, east of sushi and make your own udon) like I’d been doing it for years. “Taco Salad, black beans” was all I had to say. The guy knew what to do, like he’d been doing it for years. It’s when he started spooning on the tomato/basil concoction that it occurred to me, “You know Erin, that probably isn’t basil in there. Your sweet but innocent coworker meant miscellaneous herb when she said basil, not basil as you understand it.” But, I figured, any opportunity to keep trying the stuff — who knows when the magic day I quit hating it will be. Plus, this didn’t exactly promise to be the best meal I’d ever had in my life, although it would, of course, come close.

Well, as I eat my taco salad, yes, right now, the cilantro really isn’t too noticeable. It’s more a sporadic annoyance between inoffensive if underwhelming bites. I can see a tiny piece sitting on a tomato dice right now. Ok, that tomato piece has been discarded, that’s one that won’t sneaking onto my palate of hate.

The total effect of the dish is actually to fit perfectly in its time and place, which is all you can really ever ask for any dish, ever. In that sense, it’s the perfect midtown lunch. A basically neutral, but protein rich, combination of textures and flavors that don’t distract or get in the way of the busy workday. The slight annoyance and, in this case, depth of flavor the cilantro provides, reminds me of where I am, the most annoying and crowded area of Manhattan. It’s only fitting that my lunches here should contain errant or apropos cilantro (cilantro is never apropos to me, but it is to various cuisines, like Tex-Mex, maybe my new favorite) in sparse but consistent quantities and manifestations.

Today’s lesson: Cilantro isn’t basil. Basil does not go in taco salad. When you hear “basil” and “taco” in the same sentence — buyer beware.

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