jeudi, janvier 11, 2007

Juicy Argentine Beef, Research & Clubbing

[Sorry I've been so behind on the bloggin'! I don't have any particularly good excuse, except that I've been both busy and lazy.]

So, sometime yesterday one of my colleagues started chatting with me about what sort of music I was working on for my dissertation and what kind of people I was trying to make contact with. Then, she said, "I have this friend who's a promoter of electronic music events, do you want me to put you in contact?" DING! Trying my best not to sound like an over-eager stalker (so much of fieldwork is like courtship), I said something like, "YES!...I mean, um, why that would be lovely, thank you." My colleague emailed her friend shortly afterward, I was to find out today if her friend was amenable to being contacted by me.

So today I got the green light from my colleague, along with an email address, and I spent a good hour or so agonizing over the wording of my opening email (again with the comparisons to courtship). It's hard enough to write an opening "researcher to potential consultant" letter in your mother tongue, but it's even more difficult in another language. For example, I had to decide whether to use a formal address (i.e., vous, 2nd person plural) or informal (tu, 2nd personal singular). Eventually I went with the informal, but that then posed a problem of letter closings; pretty much any correspondence in French that involves a degree of professionalism requires a formal letter closing, but French letter closings are unbelievably stuffy and formulaic. For example, a common one translates into "I beseech you, dear madam, to agree to my most distinguished salutations." That doesn't work well with an informal address. On the other hand, a formal letter closing communicates that the recipient is important enough to merit one. In the end, I ditched the formal closings for an informal one that bordered on presumptuous, taking the risk that she would not mind being addressed as a friend, since we were put in contact through a mutual friend.

Of course, that says nothing about the agony of summarizing your PhD project in a way that's both concise and non-pompous on one hand, but also interesting and non-condescending on the other. And how do you phrase "I'd really like to exploit you for my project" in a way that doesn't sound like, well, exploitation? Like it or not (and here's another courtship/erotics comparison) fieldwork involves a lot of asking people you've just met to agree to give you a form of companionship in exchange for little more than the experience of having done it. This is especially true in popular music studies, I think; no Parisian DJ or promoter is going to think their career is going to take off after being featured in some overseas dissertation. Ultimately, I went with something that I hope was honest, but not too off-putting: "I work on this topic that is really close to what you do, so I was wondering if you'd be interested in chatting with me and showing me what you do." Or something to that effect in French.

After finishing that letter and staying late for a bit (I got to work late in the morning), I headed home and got ready for this evening. Greg and I had a date for hot Argentine beef at Unico, and then off to the Rex to see Vitalic perform. Unico is this Argentinian parillada (a purist "BBQ") restaurant that won "best latino steakhouse" on (they sort of make up their own categories). Le Fooding is this back-to-dining movement that seeks to revitalize Parisian dining, but with an emphasis on cheap, innovative and tasty (i.e., the foody equivalent of the search for an authentic "underground" scene). Their selections are often great, although I find their reviews are often cringe-worthy confections of romantic purple prose and authenticity-porn. It's like they hired an American comedian doing a bad and rather bigoted impression of a French food critic.

Anyway, off we went to Unico. One of the greatest things about this place (aside from the food, of course), is the décor. Unfortunately, the photo available from the review of the resto is dark and doesn't really display the restaurant's interior very well (although it captures the ambiance). The place is a garish mix of 70's-era mod design, apparently partially left over from an old butcher-shop. One corner is wallpapered with a green-yellow-white serialist design of iconic wineglass shapes in various rotations. Teardrop-shaped orange blown-glass lamps hang from the ceiling, and the chairs are straight-up Eames (Carla, you'd love this place!). Near the kitchen, there's a nearly-pornographic black-and-white picture of a man's torso+crotch, in case you had any doubts about the waitstaff. All in all, a thing to see.

The menu was concise in the most wonderful way. There are four entrées (appetizers): ceviche, empanadas, salad, guacamole (all with various garnishes and such). There are four choices for main dish: steak, steak, steak and steak--actually it's for different cuts of steak increasing in price from 19€ to 24€. There's three options for sides with the meat: potatoes, vegetables, salad. And then there's four dessert options (I forget). 10/10 (or 20/20 in French) for menu design. If you made it past the cow-anatomy print on the front window, you're here for the meat, so this menu does a great job of slimming down choice while maximizing quality (i.e., fewer options means faster turnover of sauces and cold preparations in the kitchen).

The wine list was the opposite, running pretty much the entire gamut of Argentine wine. After spending ages thinking about and selecting a wine, our decision evaporated when the waiter told us that he could offer us a 2002 of a particular Malbec wine for the price of the 2005 (i.e., 19€). Sold!

Needless to say, the food was fantastic. I had a ceviche to start, which was prepared like a Peruvian tiradito (thin slices) of tuna, with a little shot-glass of lime juice on the side. Greg had empanadas, which were also fantastically delicious, were it not for the fact that I was mesmerized by the ceviche.

The meat was certainly the main attraction here (thus the title of this post). I got this massive square slab of beef, seared to dark-brown on all sides, spooging with blood in the centre (I asked for mine "bloody"), soft like butter, and with a little sprinkle of salt on top. For those who are not a fan of barely-cooked beef, Greg's steak was reportedly delicious as well, and his was cooked to medium-rare. But I do think that well-done would be a waste of a perfectly good cut of meat, in this case. Creutzfelt-Jakob Disease be damned.

Greg and I shared dessert, which was a banana rolled in crisp pastry and fried, with three of the world's smallest alfajores. The alfajores were a bit different from the Peruvian variety I'm used to; the cookies were made of a sort of puffy pastry (rather than shortbread) and the filling was closer to dulce de leche, rather than manjar blanco.

As we waited for our bill, Greg pointed out a distinct downside to this place: bo-ho fashion crimes. Now that this place has been listed on LeFooding, the place has apparently become irresistible for the bo-bo (bohemian-bourgeois) dumpster-chic crowd. Greg alerted me to a woman, preparing to leave, who had jeans with symmetrical tears just under each asscheek, a gold lamé fannypack, a hoodie, and oversized smoked-glass sunglasses. It was as if Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen moved to Paris. Anyway, we got our bill, chatted in Spanish and Portuguese (BR) with the waiter, and dashed for the door. It was already 00h30 (our reservation was at 22h00), and we wanted to make it to the Rex before the métro stopped running.

After a brief stop by Greg's place, we headed over to the Rex. Of course, we should've known. Vitalic is a bit of a hometown hero in Paris, and everybody and their dog had shown up (on a Thursday night, no less) to see him. The lineup seemed pretty long when we got there, but my experience has been that lines at the Rex tend to move quickly. This line, however, wasn't going anywhere. We got there at about 1h30, and stood in line till about 2h30, with no discernible change in place. For a while, we were moving forward because the crowd was getting impatient and pressing in, but we weren't going anywhere. From the snippets of yelling I overheard when the security guards finally lost their tempers, it sounded like the place had already been at capacity when we arrived, and they were running on a "one out, one in" policy. In the meanwhile, Greg was doing a valiant job defending our spot in line against line-cutters. Once it became clear that we had already missed most of Vitalic's set, we threw our hands in the air (not waving them like we just don't care) and headed home.

3 commentaires:

Travis a dit…

Ah, the minute considerations that one has to make in conducting fieldwork. It's so apt that you compare some of them to courtship. It's not only the uncertainty before the request, but also the post-request re-reading, analysis and anxiety that make the metaphor work. Right now, though, I want some Argentine beef. I've been neglecting the foodie in me. (There I admitted it. I feel so much better now.)

LMGM a dit…

If you find an Argentine beef place in Chicago of similar awesomeness, you need to inform me.

As for the fieldwork anxieties: mmyep. I was even doing the whole "I better not seem too eager" thing. And I'm willing to bet that I'll have a "what do I wear?" crisis if/when I see her in person.

scruggs a dit…

I wouldn't give us too much credit, it's not as though Unico was a regular spot for us before Lefooding tipped us off (even if we committed less fashion violations).

research, so it goes -- at least you can speak with your folks on somewhat equal footing. imagine my crisis being a gringo dealing with music producers from favelas in rio!! (I read Orientalism over the summer to boot, which more or less put me into a personal ethical crisis that I'm still coming out of)