Just finished reading this:
It should be more aptly titled 7 restaurants that maybe changed Manhattan and 2 restaurants that sort of changed the Bay Area, with one from New Orleans thrown in for no apparent reason.
The author, Paul Freedman, is a “professor” at Yale who lives in Pelham, New York.
The book suffers completely from the usual left and right coast, blue state, bias. Within the chapters, it also bounces around from topic to topic in a stream of conscious fashion with no apparent organization. Freedman weaves back and forth into all kinds of unrelated crap like the Civil Rights movement when he talks about Sylvia’s for example, instead of discussing how Sylvia’s itself changed the way we live and eat. He also completely and totally ignores why these restaurants were important for anyone who did not live in NYC or San Francisco.
The focus only varies slightly from the French and fussified, which has always been Manhattan’s problem. Howard Johnson’s is used to discuss fast food, Sylvia’s is the proxy for Southern, Mama Leone’s for Italian, and the Mandarin for Chinese. But there is no indication how these restaurants really changed America, or even more properly reflected America of their time. And if you look at the list, they all reflected America so well that most of them are now out of business, permanently. Maybe that’s what Freedman meant by “history”.
There is no discussion of the historical importance of taverns. Take Walter Staib’s work at City Tavern in Philadelphia, for example. If there is an original American cuisine, apart from pemmican, maize and game, or Southern cooking, then it would have to be tavern cooking. This is completely ignored.
Finally, there is apparently nothing worth discussing that came from South of the Rio Grande even though salsa now outsells ketchup, and has so for a number of years. Can anyone imagine American food today without nachos, tacos or even Caesar salad? Of course it goes without saying that good Mexican food is hard to find in NYC, which may explain the bias.
In short, a ponderous, absurd, poorly written and totally arbitrary turd of a book masquerading as a definitive history.
The Four Seasons