Before visiting the exhibit at the New York Public Library celebrating the lunch hour, I never realized just what an American institution it is. Growing out of our busy Industrial Revolution and a need to keep lunchtime to a dull roar, restaurants, foods and customs quickly took root.
It was interesting to discover that people on all levels of the food chain (if that isn't too awful a pun) had to eat lunch in a hurry. However, very quickly, there grew a large span between the haves and have-nots.
The book Food: the History of Taste by Paul H. Freedman takes several paragraphs to compare two NYC restaurants featured in the exhibit catering to the well-heeled crowd. He praises the still-running Four Seasons restaurant for an early attention to seasonal offerings. Freedman lambasts Forum of the 12 Caesars for not adhering to the Fall seasonality of wild game, for instance, and offering year-round such "Epicurean Trophies of the Hunt" as venison and peacock (!).
I'm all for seasonality, but I think Freedman misses the point. Forum of the 12 Caesars, apparently making a virtual reappearance on Mad Men, was the very symbol of American achievement and indulgence replicated in an ancient Roman format. The servers dressed in togas. Oysters were carved by sword. You could order what you liked, whenever you liked. Yeah, yeah . . . they'd be getting it out of the walk-in freezer. But the point is, if I had been able to go there with my parents back in the day, they'd be getting it out of the freezer for me. There's no question that I would have preferred Forum of the 12 Caesars. As a kid, it would have seemed "fancier" in the figurative sense and even today, it would have been fancier to me in the indulge-my-fantasy sense.
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