Tuesday, March 22, 2011

IEM Session #16.1- You Don't Make Friends with Salad

Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines

I am calling the new format of Inhuman Eating Machine (IEM) a singular success. I published seven entries on seven consecutive Tuesdays- unprecedented regularity in the history of this blog. A couple of naysayers claim that there was more drama in the original format. They feel that the new installment plan eliminates some of the tension present in the previous saga-like configuration. I can understand this assertion, but I have to humbly disagree. The new format is here to stay, my friends. Climb aboard the modern bandwagon of my tales of crapulence, lest ye be left behind.

Let me explain why I feel the new format is a good fit for IEM. Firstly, I am a big fan of episodic adventure stories, be it a three-part account of the Brady Bunch in Hawaii, or a season-long story arc about the Ice Princess diamond on General Hospital. Breaking a story up into episodes leaves me coming back for more to see whether or not Vincent Price viciously disembowels Greg, Peter, and Bobby, and whether Mrs. Garret and Natalie get into a nasty three-way with George (Clooney), the handyman. Also, the installment approach is the only possible way for me to publish IEM on a regular basis. It parses my burden into manageable chunks. I have discovered that I can compose one entry per week with little difficulty. I don't want to curse myself, but with the new format, I can sincerely envision publishing a consistent stream of IEM sessions- one stop per week, a new session every 7-8 weeks. If you prefer to get your IEM in one massive dose, I suggest you wait eight weeks before accessing the blog in order to digest the entire session all at once.

From the previous 15 sessions of IEM, one might make the supposition that I eschew vegetables in favor of fat-laden-carbohydrate-and-greasefests. Yes, in a perfect world, I would probably eat fried starch and meat 5 meals a day for the rest of my life, possibly "forgetting" about the existence of the healthier fruits of the earth. In reality, though, I actually eat quite a bit of roughage. Between IEM sessions, when I am usually trying to maintain or lose weight, the bulk of my diet consists of vegetables. On some days, I eat enough vegetables to get the USRDA of said food group for an entire city block. Alas, vegetables just do not satisfy hunger the way bread or grain or Hot Pockets do. I could eat an entire farm before reaching the satiety I feel after downing a single 20" pizza. Lest it be said that I eat vegetables only out of health obligations, I want it to be known that I actually enjoy almost every vegetable. There must be a vegetable I don't like, but I can't think of one. I gladly eat vegetables as a side order or as a main course. I will even eat them when they accompany something far sexier and flavorful. I would happily devour a colossal pile of steamed cauliflower, even if it shared a plate with a chicken fried steak the size of a manhole cover. If vegetables are served, I am glad to have them- and do not ingest them as a mere health regimen component. After 15 sessions of eating foods containing enough oil to run a city bus for a week, I decided to do a session paying tribute to salad- vegetables in their most obvious setting.

Before I moved to the Bay Area for the third time in 1996, I imagined that people here must be eating salads for every meal. I soon realized that, while there are indeed salads available at many restaurants here, they generally play a supporting role, just like in the rest of the country. The salads here tend to have more exotic ingredients than you'd find in Sheboygan, but in most East Bay locales, you can't really make a full meal out of a salad, especially if you are a disgusting pig like I am. It was actually quite a challenge to compile a sizeable list of eateries who seemed to have an entree-size salad, a "big salad," if you will. If you recall, there are two episodes of Seinfeld where the big salad appears. In the "Big Salad" episode, George becomes irate when he doesn't get adequate credit for paying for Elaine's big salad. In "The Soup," Elaine is upset that she can't get a big salad at Reggie's after the gang can't go to their usual hangout (Monk's), due to George's bumbling.

(Outside of Monk's)
Jerry: We can't eat here anymore, 'cause he took a waitress out for a walk.
: What's the difference? Let's go to Reggie’s.

: Reggie’s? I can't eat anything there.

: It's the same menu.

: There's no “Big Salad.”

: They'll make you a “Big Salad.” What do you think, they're the only one that makes a “Big Salad”?

: All right. Let's go, to Reggie’s.

(At Reggie's)

: I'll have the turkey club without the bacon.

: And I'll have the bacon club without the turkey.

: Can I have a big salad?

: A big salad?

: You see?!

: [irritated] Just tell them what you want. They'll make it for you.

: It's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it.

: I can bring you two small salads.

: Could you put it in a big bowl?

: We don't have big bowls.

: All right, just get me a cup of decaf.

: We have Sanka.

With a pedigree like that, how could I NOT devote an entire session to eating salads with lots of stuff in them?

Eating Day: March 19, 2011

TOMATE- 1998 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley- 9:44am- Simple House Salad w/Tri-Tip (Full) $9.50

Photo by Tigerlily

Before I began this session, I found myself more than 10lbs. heavier than usual. I could tell you that I have been eating unwisely lately, due to new obligations at school and work. I could explain that the session occurred only two days after a St. Patrick's Day party where I ate my weight in corned beef and colcannon. Or, I could use the old standby, "I was retaining water because of my period." Unfortunately, the truth is I am just a disgusting individual who finds it hard to stop eating anything that is not nailed down. With my brain more occupied these days than at any time in the last two years, it was very easy for me to take my eyes off the scale and really let myself go, but if I wasn't such a slave to my stomach, I could have kept myself in check. I probably should have postponed this session until I got back to a reasonable weight, but after seven consecutive weeks of posting IEM, I felt I owed it to you all to keep the streak alive. I rationalized my salad gorging by explaining both of the following to myself:

  1. "They're just salads. It's not like I am doing a session on MILKSHAKES!" (Coming soon!)
  2. With any luck, 90% of the plant-based food ingested during the session will exit the premises of my gastrointestinal system with 24 hours of the session.
  3. If the salads don't jettison themselves in the timely manner I predict, I can always starve myself after the session.
The session began on what seemed like the 943rd consecutive day of rain in the Bay Area. I know I shouldn't complain about a little inclement weather a week after Japan was destroyed and irradiated, but I live in California, where seven days without sunshine seems like an eternity. People commit suicide here for far less. On a cold and rainy day, salad was the last thing I wanted to eat, but the die was already cast. I had been planning the big salad session for months and had done extensive research on the subject. It was far too late to switch the featured food of the session. I picked up my friend Lily, who had decided she wanted to come along and videotape my sojourn. She had accompanied me with her camera on two previous IEM sessions. The first time, along with Chris Anderson, she created the epic torta video. Next, she shot the pupusa session. Footage from that session wound up in D. Silva's Inhuman Eating Machine documentary, which recently screened at the SF Indiefest film festival. I am grateful that she has found it worth her while to provide yet another visual document of my mission.

Tomate is located in an industrial district not far from the Berkeley Marina, populated by warehouses and the galleries of local artists/artisans. The cafe is very "Berkeley" in both its design and clientele. The majority of the customers were middle aged or older; mostly clad in earth tones and sandals. There was ambient electronic music playing softly in the background. The bulletin board was packed with flyers for various causes and performances, like every other cafe in Berkeley. The ceiling has high exposed rafters, which is a nice design feature, but very hard to heat, so I was shocked to find Tomate so warm inside. I was even able to remove my coat, which would have been a near impossibility at any restaurant within the Oakland city limits.

The salad came in an 8" diameter bowl; its contents packed about 2" deep. The base was heavy on the romaine lettuce and light on the fancy mixed greens. The greenery was topped with red onions, cucumber slices, radish coins, shredded carrots, tomato wedges, and alfalfa sprouts. You may remember that I have an aversion to alfalfa sprouts, because they smell exactly like fresh semen. Under normal conditions, I would have ordered the salad sans-sprouts, but for this vege-centric session, I felt it my duty to eat everything they gave me. The vegetables were the bed for what I reckon was no more than 3 ounces of grilled tri-tip beef. The meat was juicy, marinated, and still warm, but a little overdone for my tastes. I took the balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side, like I would for all the salads, provided I remembered to make this specification when ordering. Tomate's vinaigrette was quite good- heavy on the balsamic and garlic added conservatively.

This was supposedly a full-sized entree salad, but unless you're a Berkeley goofball, Tomate's offering is not large enough to constitute an entire meal for anyone who has reached the age of majority. If I wasn't in the midst of a session, I would have been furious with the relative scantiness of this salad. $9.50 is steep for any salad, unless it is loaded with fried chicken, seafood, or a whole steak, but charging such a hefty sum for a sprinkling of meat atop what is scarcely more than a side salad- that is an atrocity!

It would become clear throughout the session that "big" means very little when you discuss the big salad. Unlike a quarter pounder, which must actually contain 1/4 pound of beef (weight prior to cooking), "big" is in the eye of the beholder. A gluten-free Berkeleyite coming to lunch after a high colonic and a game of ultimate frisbee might find this salad substantial, but to the right-thinking people of the real world, there is nothing big about the Tomate simple house salad, other than the price.

1 comment:

Chilebrown said...

I like the new format. I do not think you found any salad bars open late on this adventure.Looking forward to the next installement.