The Covid Diaries – Vol. 9 – The List

Image(Puck’s peeps knock it out of the park)

Day 50, May 5 – Where We Ate

The Great Cessation is winding down. What began in a fit of panic will end in a cloud of failure and despair.

Lives have been ruined, businesses crushed, hopes dashed….but the media and government did its job: whipping everyone into a frenzy so they would buy into the ham-fisted, blunt instrument approach to public health — one akin to “we have to destroy the village in order to save it.”

Both (media and government) are better at getting into messes than getting out of them, so picking up the pieces will be left to the citizens.

And there will be pieces aplenty: 30 million unemployed; an economy in shambles; poverty, disease, murder hornets, you name it.

Las Vegas will be hit hardest of all, just like it was by the Great Recession. (If you don’t believe in Karma, you might consider these double-whammies, twelve years apart, have followed 20 years of unprecedented growth. Yup, Vegas will end up paying double for all the unbridled prosperity it enjoyed between 1989-2009.)

But enough depressive pontification, We are here to celebrate the places that have fed us so well over the past six weeks.

As you might guess, we didn’t let some little old Covid-19 shutdown interfere too much with our gustatory gallivanting. The biggest issue on a daily basis was lunch. Only a few places are open for takeout, so most days it was homemade sandwiches, fruit and cheese brought to work. (I’ve actually lost a couple pounds.)

Dinner found more places open, but even then, we ordered out far less than our habit. (In peak season, The Food Gal® and I easily hit 10+ restaurants a week.)

When we went out, more often than not, we brought our own table and chairs and ate on the sidewalk outside the restaurant with our friends, Deanna and Greg. (They got stranded here, from their Boise, Idaho base, on March 15 and have been toughing it out by working at home and helping us relieve the boredom.)

Occasionally, a restaurant would wave us inside and serve us like the old days — this helped everyone feel as if a little sanity had been restored to a world turned upside down. (These restaurants will not be named for fear the Covid Gestapo is only too eager to hate-shame (or worse) anyone who doesn’t share their misery.)

Dinner was confined to far fewer options than you might expect (good pizza, amazingly was not in abundance throughout this crisis), but if you wanted to drive, lots of quality is/was out there. Very little of it compared to what those same restaurants could turn out at full throttle, but at least you knew a real chef was busting her/his ass to feed you.

We are listing the restaurants in the order in which their takeout menu most closely approximated the quality of what they do when firing on all cylinders. But there are no losers here. Even the most mediocre meal was savored with the appreciation of Lucius Beebe contemplating the nesting habits of a recently-devoured woodcock.

At the end of The List, we’ll have a few choice words for people who continue to accuse us of criticizing the shutdown only because we only want to get back to eating in fancy restaurants.

The List:

Raku

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Both The Food Gal and I forgot our anniversary (on April 29). That is how soul-deadening this has been. Endo-san and Haruko-san bailed me(us?) out big time by bringing their “A” game — from bento boxes to grilled Japanese wagyu — for a meal that, if you closed your eyes, was a dead ringer for any other of the dozens we’ve had there.

Kaiseki Yuzu

Image(Katsu-preme chicken)

Las Vegas’s most beautiful bento — because, if you need to be reminded, the Japanese perfected takeout food when Americans were still living in log cabins.

Player’s Locker by Wolfgang Puck

Image(Chinois Chicken Salad never goes out of style)

All hail to the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant Group! It has the horsepower to do what few restaurateurs anywhere could: bring a murderer’s row (at top of page) of its local chefs together (at its Summerlin location) to produce an ever-changing menu of Puck classics (above), as well as dishes from each of its six local restaurants. Stars like Matthew Hurley, Kamel Guechida and Nicole Erle, the are producing food, bread, and desserts as eye-popping and fork-dropping as any restaurant in America over these past six weeks. With all that talent at the stoves, how could they not?

Tres Cazuelas

We ate on the sidewalk, but the food would suffer very little if taken home. Braised dished always travel well.

Lamaii

Image(Tangy Thai needs terrific Riesling)

Another sidewalk dinner — straight out of Styrofoam — but one that knocked our socks off.

Café Breizh

Image(Napoleon would be proud)

A lifesaver each week, turning out French pastries and breads worthy of Pierre Gatel’s “Pastry Chef of the Year 2019” award.

The Black Sheep

Image(No table? No problem. We bring our own!)

Jamie Tran now owns the restaurant herself, and herself and a helper are staying strong and producing a truncated menu of her standards that are as tasty as she is adorable.

DE Thai Kitchen

Thai restaurants seem to be weathering the storm better than pizza joints. DE Thai hasn’t missed a beat.

Saga Pastry + Sandwich

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I love this place — even if they can’t get those beautiful tiny, sweet, Scandinavian shrimp for their smorgasbord sandwich right now. It’s one of only two reasons that can get me to the restaurant black hole that is Henderson/Green Valley. I love it, but I also fear for its future.

Ohlala French Bistro

Richard Terzaghi is doing it all himself, and what he’s doing is doing his French tradition proud.

Sin City Smokers

Ribs and a pork sammie blew me away the other day on an episode of Las Vegas Food To Go.

L & L Hawaiian Barbecue

Image(The Burly Boyz take on Hawaiian ‘cue)

Best Kaluha pig I’ve had in Vegas. My comments on Spam Musubi are best left for a time when I’m not struggling to say only nice things.

China Mama

I dream about their xiao long bao and Dan Dan noodles. All of the proteins here — from boiled fish to lamb with cumin — are stellar as well. The fish dishes do not travel well, however.

PublicUs

Another lifesaver. Has become our morning go-to for coffee. The tips we leave often exceed the size of the bill…and they’re worth it.

Locale Italian Kitchen

Nicole Brisson has left the building. Before she left, she cooked us one helluva meal.

Rooster Boy Cafe

We would frequent here more often if Sonia El-Nawal didn’t have her hands full servicing customers who can’t get enough of her catered dinners and superb pastries.

Delices Gourmands French Bakery & Cafe

Image(Palm tree perfection)

I like Pierre Gatel’s baguettes better at Cafe Breizh (by the width of a mille-feuille layer), but the bread selection (and pastries) here is a close second on all other fronts, and I would walk three miles for one of their palmiers…and have!

Kung Fu Thai & Chinese

Any place that’s been in business since 1974 is doing a lot of things right. Just the spot when you’re craving some cashew chicken or Yen Ta Fo soup.

7th and Carson

Still one of Vegas’s most boffo burgers. So good we were fighting over the last bite.

Yummy Rice

Simple little rice bowls studded with veggies or proteins. Normally, they serve these in super-heated clay pots – Hong Kong style. Now, the rice caramelizes on the bottom of cheap, to-go aluminum.  Something is lost but the bowls are still damn tasty. A Food Gal® favorite.

Weiss Deli & Bakery

Image(Righteous pastrami on rye)

Jewish food and Las Vegas go together like craps and born-again Christians. Our best bagels are made by an Italian. Go Figure. Weiss is the closest we have to real, big city deli. Bagels, lox, pastrami, rugelach, the works — they have it all and all of it is worth traveling to Sunset and Sunset for.

Valley Cheese and Wine

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Three weeks in a row we’ve headed to the far corners of Horizon Ridge to grab some cheese and wine here. We never fail to blow at least a couple of Benjamins, and we’ll spend twice as much if means keeping this little gem in business.

Ocha Thai 

Always a fave. Always there when we need a Thai fix.

Now, some final thoughts.

Many times over the last six weeks we’ve been accused (by self-righteous supporters of the shutdown) of being opposed to it solely because it prevents us from eating in fancy restaurants.

Here’s a typical (but by no means uncommon) barb tossed my way by those who, over the past month or so, have decided to really, really care about old, sick people dying in hospitals thousands of miles away:

So, just to be clear, if you’ve had COVID -19, have it, or lost somebody to it, John wants you to know that you’re nothing more than an inconvenience to his dining agenda. [B}efore they died, did you tell them to their face that you were glad they were dying, because it meant you could dine out sooner?

My response on Facebook was a little blunt: I told the writer (politely) to go fuck himself.

A more nuanced response would have been as follows:

The only thing I’ve obsessed about during this debacle has been how brutal it has been on working people in the hospitality business. Whether I ever eat another foie gras torchon has been the furthest thing from my mind.

I eat out now because I love restaurants and restaurant people — love supporting them, love watching them thrive. My devotion is like someone who loves a sports team — it is unconditional. But it is also different. Because every day I evince my passion with my time, my appetite, my prose and my paycheck. My life has been a full one; I will eat well no matter what happens.

What I’ve also realized from fifty years of obsessing about food is how important restaurants are to the soul of a community. We are social beings. Gathering to eat and drink has been inculcated into our DNA since time immemorial. You can no more prevent people from talking, rubbing elbows, sharing food, or passing the platter than you can keep the sun from shining.

The idea that you should take a society and shut it down to keep people from breathing on each other is the dumbest thing since the Vietnam War. Unlike the war, however, this policy will ruin tens of millions of lives across the globe.  It is those lives who deserve our sympathy, not people you don’t know — people you’re only pretending to care about because it makes it easier to disguise your fear and makes you feel better about yourself.

You’re right about one thing, though. Because of your irrational fear(s), the Golden Age of American Restaurants is over. The way has been cleared for soulless, antiseptic, corporate eateries to dominate our landscape for years to come. But for as long as I can still chew, I going to fight you and your fright, and put my money where my mouth is to keep places like those above alive.

Image(Big eye tuna from Player’s Locker)

The Covid Diaries – Vol. 4 – Eating Out While Rome Burns

Image(The Curbside Curmudgeon is not amused)

The week just past was a slog and a blur at the same time. It started (on Sunday) with abject despair. And ended with a glimmer of hope.

Day 10, Monday, March 23, Settling In:

He went to work today. He’s gone to work every day. Even with the generous leave being offered by the City (his employer) he’s going to go to work.

Work gives him something to do. It breaks the monotony of the day. Even if he does little but catch up on e-mails, it is time well spent. In the past seven work days his phone has rung exactly twice. Court appearances are now being done telephonically. Depositions are all being cancelled or pushed way back; deadlines are being extended left and right. Business has ground to a halt.

This will have far-reaching effects on the body politic, he thinks, and the fools have no idea what they’re doing to themselves.

He interacts with people at work the way he always has. They all think the shutdown is horseshit too, but no one can say it out-loud for fear of being shouted down by the (now galvanized) health mob.

He finds himself calling it the “lamestream media” as the torrent of overblown cases and melodramatic reporting washes over him every morning.

Sensible voices have been drowned out.

Sanity is always quieter than panic.

His neighbor offers some Spanish Iberico ham as a salve for boredom. He delivers it by coming in through the front door and running away after he drops it on the counter.

“C’mon in and have a drink!” (They are twenty feet away at the dining room table.)

“No way, man..social distancing,” he calls out over his shoulder as he exits at a pace slightly slower than being chased by someone with a knife.

This is a young, smart guy who’s now acting like a fool. Such is what a herd mentality does to people.

The Food Gal® helps make some incendiary salsa. They eat it with chips and slivers of nutty, intense, mahogany-colored ham. This is their dinner. Neither of them has much of an appetite.

Day 11, Tuesday March 24, The Curbside Curmudgeon:

Image(The new awkwardness)

They want the fear to be immediate, even when everything about it seems so remote. There is so much discordant information. Just this morning a doctor tells everyone soothingly that “80% of people will recover with only mild symptoms.” Five minutes later there’s another talking head stating the virus has “overwhelmed” America. At this point it isn’t clear whether guy #2 is talking about actual infection, or the (self-imposed) destruction of the American economy.

If you watch the day-by-day national news, all they do is run a scoreboard of who has the virus and how many have died. Into this limited mix they toss in commentators talking about how the illness will soon be “sweeping the nation” — conveniently ignoring that 99.9% of Americans have been untouched by it. (The math is as follows: 133,000 cases divided by 330,000,000 million Americans equals  .04% of the American population – the number of folks documented as having had the illness. For you math retards, that’s 4 one-hundredths of 1%.)

To keep the math going, the number of dead from the virus as of this writing numbers approximately 2,400 people. Dividing that number by the total population gives you a death % of .0007% of Americans have died from the infection. (That is 7 ten-thousandth of 1% for you numbers-challenged folks.) For the last time: These are a far cry from the numbers used to start this slow-rolling horror show.

Remember 60% infected/3% dead? Conveniently for the gloom-and-doomers, no one else does either. They just want to keep the scoreboard going… as the press would rather stoke the flames than keep anything in perspective.

The whole thing reminds one of weather panic — the constant drumbeat of impending doom pounded day and night to keep you tuned in. The only difference is: when the hurricane or snow doesn’t show (or isn’t cataclysmic), everyone shrugs and moves on. The shrugging and the moving on won’t be so easy this time. As long as New York City remains our media capital, there will be no “fair and balanced” reporting of this disaster. He knows he’s beating this to death, but so is the media, so his critics can go fuck themselves.

The weather is cold and windy. Undeterred, they set out to Trés Cazuelas to show support for Angelo Reyes and his crew as they fight to stay alive.

He has a new moniker: Curbside Curmudgeon. It fits his mood. The cold breeze fights their dining al fresco scenario, but they persevere.

Reyes’ stews and salsas are next-level, and go great in small, fresh tortillas, even cold ones. Eating them outside is a race against the wind, but the chilly weather keeps the wine at the right temp, so there’s a silver lining in everything. This is also the best guacamole in Las Vegas, so the comfort food makes up for the cold:

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Day 12, Wednesday March 25, Anne Frank Would Understand:

His oldest sister posts this meme that’s going around:

https://static.wixstatic.com/media/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg/v1/fill/w_939,h_939,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg?fbclid=IwAR2ON0oE1WW0Kvu4IVW2ttDyhlTYbAy2lp5fdnG5wc8mgxMliRuvbcMdlHs

How true, but being stir-crazy isn’t the worst of this. The truly insidious thing is how any fear — stoked into a panic by government and media–  can empower people to police each other. “Police each other” meaning, in this context,  turning into the lowest, sniveling, holier-than-thou asshole — the type who gets great joy in telling the teacher on fellow students, turning someone into the HOA, or betraying a Jewish family to the Nazis.

Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. Tell humans they have a right to tell others how to behave and a small-but-significant portion of them will take it upon themselves to act as judge, jury, and executioner to anyone they disagree with.

Marché Bacchus — which, you may recall, was the site of some wine buying last week — gets narc’d on by some do-gooder. “People were inside Marche Bacchus buying wine and sitting down!” she screamed to business licensing officials.  “Something must be done!”

Dutifully, the government officials appear to investigate; feathers are ruffled, but assurances given and the whole thing passes. Meanwhile, people are packing into Walmart, Costco, drug stores and supermarkets and no one says a thing. Government policy in action.

Later in the day, the City of Las Vegas, in a show of sanity,  announces liquor and wine stores can continue to sell their wares curbside.

The Gubenator’s office remains silent — apparently content with the thousands of strangers milling about supermarkets all over town.

Image(Coming up – one lonely cappuccino)

The day starts with a lonely cappuccino at PublicUs – sold at a take-out booth inside the front door. A young bloke takes your money turns around and makes the coffee. It is a splendid cappuccino, perhaps the best in town. There are two tiny tables left out front where it can be sipped and contemplated. These would no doubt greatly offend the Covid Gestapo.

The coffee costs, $4; he gives the kid a double sawbuck and tells him to keep it.

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On the way back from coffee, he bumps into chef Donald Lemperle at VegeNation. Like many small operators, ⁦@VegeNation is keeping its doors open by having a single chef do all the work. Vegans are a loyal bunch,”  Lemperle tells him, “and they’re keeping me busy.” This brings a smile to both their faces.

The Food Gal® picks him up and they head to the far confines of Eastern Boulevard in Henderson for lunch. There is only one restaurant (indeed only one thing) that can get him to this whole, godforsaken area of the world: Saga Pastry + Sandwich. Of course we bring our own table and chairs (see pic at top of page)….and then we chow down on superb, sweet Arctic shrimp (tasting like a combination of crab and lobster) and a smorgasbord sando to beat the band.

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They even squeeze in a little chat time with chef/owner Gert Kvalsund. This improves everyone’s mood, as does another cup of joe from Bad Owl in the same shopping center. When this is all over, he hopes people will more readily appreciate how much good sandwiches and cups of coffee can do to improve your mood.

But his biggest fear is just the opposite: that the only survivors of this self-inflicted apocalypse will be standardized food and corporate restaurants.

David Chang agrees with this dire prediction. Strange bedfellows indeed.

 

The List – January 2020

Image(Happy New Year!)

For years I’ve maintained that to do this job correctly, you have to be a little touched, a lot obsessive, and slightly manic about where you eat.

It’s also like being a porn star: something that sounds like a good idea (to dudes anyway) until you have to do it daily, on command.

And like being a porn star, most guys think they could do it, but they can’t.

Let’s go through my month (a very light one by my standards) and see if you could keep up, eating-wise. Keep in mind these dishes are just the highlights — every meal contained much more to eat, some things of which I nibbled at, other parts I devoured wholesale.

It started with a smiley face on a croque Madame on January 1st at Marche Bacchus (top of page).

Then, in rapid succession, over the course of the month, we devoured…

Esther’s Kitchen

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We grow weary of telling you how great Esther’s is….but we will never get tired of James Trees’ cacio e pepe (above).

DE Thai Kitchen

Image(Kanom jeen namya pu AKA fish curry with noodles)

Not to take anything away from our wealth of Thai options downtown, but the food at the teeny tiny DE Thai Kitchen is the best of the bunch. When the fish-crab curry (above) is on the menu, get it.

Kaiseki Yuzu

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Sure the kaiseki menu is expensive (starting at $100/pp), but the small bites/sake bar up front (above) is quite the deal for food this refined, and a good introduction to Japanese food the way it tastes in Japan.

New York Bagel and Bakery

No better bagels in our humble burg.

ShangHai Taste

Image(Through these doors lie dumpling delights)

Screw those over-hyped Chinese chains (Tim Ho Wan, Din Tai Fung), Jimmy Li’s xiao long bao are the bomb and made with love, not on an assembly line.

Serrano’s Mexican Food

Image(This salsa lit me up from my head tomatoes)

There is nothing remarkable about Serrano’s.…except the service and the spot-on Mexican food. It’s also one of the spiffiest holes-in-the-walls you will encounter, with not a grimy corner in site. A real hidden gem in an unlikely location.

Sage

Image(Egg-cellent caviar; unbliniably good pancakes)

We pop into Sage every other year just to make sure it hasn’t lost its fastball. It hasn’t lost its fastball. In fact it may be throwing more heat than ever. New chef Thomas Griese is seeing to that.

Hiroyoshi

Image(I’m urchin you to try this uni)

Every time I eat at Hiroyoshi, I kick myself for not eating here more often. Simply marvelous sushi at more than reasonable prices for what you get. The uni 3-ways will have you dropping your chopsticks in appreciation.

Estiatorio Milos

Image(These prawns give great head)

These Carabineros deep water prawns may be $30 a piece, but sucking sherry out of one of their detached craniums is the best cephalothorax you can get on the Strip.

Moon Palace

Image(This Double is damn Tasty)

Everyone knows David Chang hates me. And I’m no fan of his warmed over, quasi-Korean concepts at Momofuku, either. But I’m willing to give his new joints a fair shot, and Moon Palace (located across the hall from the spanking new Majordomo), is a mini-burger empire whose time has come. Delicious from the first bite, and probably the apotheosis of the American slider.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant

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Sometimes, we go visit an old favorite hoping for the best but expecting less. Despite the great view and good service, this place is become way too touristy for any serious gastronome. The lunch menu was mainly sandwiches; the torchon of foie gras wasn’t as finely-tuned as it should have been, and the burger not worth the pain-in-the-ass trek it takes to get there from the parking lot. Methinks me and The Food Gal® have eaten our last meal here.

18bin

Image(Well kiss my biscuits)

Fingers are crossed that Louisiana native Jen Landry (above) can put this place on the culinary map. The menu seems promising, and the gal has a way with biscuits. If only the physical layout of the joint weren’t so shitty.

Graffiti Bao

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We liked Graffiti Bao, but didn’t love it enough to ever again travel to the far southwest to eat its bread-y, doughy dumplings. It didn’t help that each of the fillings (Szechuan beef, kung pao chicken and barbecue pork were almost indistinguishable in taste. Our Chinese-Korean dining companion was also put off by the burrata offering on the menu (with garlic-chili sauce and scallion pancake!) — a combination that makes as much sense as kimchi on a pizza. “White people trying too hard to be hip Asians,” she sniffed. And she’s probably right.

The Goodwich

Image(Move over Babe Ruth…and pastrami on rye)

The Patty (pictured above) deserves to be in the Sandwich Hall of Fame. It takes a while to melt all of that gooey cheese into the chopped beef, but the wait is always worth it.

Suzuya Patisserie & Cafe

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On South Buffalo,  a mini-micro-climate of hip Asian-fusion eats has sprung to life, with Suzuya, Graffiti Bao and Fukuburger all located within a stone’s throw of each other. Each space (like its surrounding shopping center) is spanking new, with all the polished, antiseptic charm of a mall food court. This seems to bother the patrons not at all, as from the get-go, Suzuya has been packed with customers both Asian and non-, in numbers that would’ve overwhelmed its original cracker-box location, a few miles west. Suzuya’s pastries are very French, but also a la Française as filtered through Japanese sensibilities, meaning: more delicate and less sweet. From the crowds we’ve observed, there seems to be a pent-up demand for this Sino-Franco fusion, as there should be.

Soyo Korean Barstaurant

Image(Who knew everything but the kitchen sink could be so tasty?)

Korean food baffles me. It’s intense, over-the-top, ingredient-heavy, starchy, spicy, gut-busting and soul-warming all in one. Korean food after a Japanese meal is like a NFL team lining up next to the Bolshoi Ballet. I love it but I don’t claim to understand it. If you want to do both, Soyo is a good place to start.

PublicUs

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I love croissants like a bear loves honey. Like a Pelosi loves impeachments; like a Trump loves beauty pageants. The ones at PublicUs might be the best in town. If not, they’re certainly in the top three.

Yum Cha

Image(Shrimply mouth-watering)

Our new go-to for dim sum. Not in Chinatown, but a real find on W. Tropicana with great prices, an open kitchen, a picture menu (great for dim sum beginners) and very attentive service.

Cornish Pasty Co.

(Belly bombs away!)

If you look up “stick to your ribs” in a dictionary, you’ll see a picture of a Cornish pasty.

El Dorado Cantina

That Ass Though Jennifer Lopez GIF - ThatAssThough JenniferLopez Shakira GIFs(Some buns get a rise out of us)

We spent $83 on Mexican food here. For 3 tacos, and bowl of soup, and appetizer and a beer. For eighty-three bucks I want mariachi music. Or Shakira shaking her ass in my face.  Never again.

Cipriani

Image(Baked, Béchamel’d, and beautiful)

I eat at Cipriani so often they ought to name a booth after me. I could eat its baked tagliolini with ham (above) every day of the week and never get tired of it. Like everything here, it is stunningly simple Italian food served by real pros who never miss a beat.  If you want to see what a great Italian ristorante looks like, this is the place. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the gelato. You’ll be hooked from the first bite.

That’s 21 restaurants in 31 days — barely breaking a sweat by my standards.

Remember, I’m plowing all this ground so you don’t have to (kind of like a porn star). My continuing mission is to guide you to only the best of the best, so you will know where best to spend your dining out dollars.

We at Being John Curtas hope these posts are helpful to achieve these goals. But if any of this causes you menu envy, try to remember this German word to help you over your green-eyed hunger hurdles:

Futterneid is a compound noun which is made up of the words ‘food’ and ‘jealousy’. The German word ‘Futter’ translates as ‘animal feed’ or ‘fodder’, but is also used colloquially to describe human food. Futterneid translates into English literally  as ‘food jealousy’, but the more idiomatic ‘food envy’ is a better translation.

The word describes the highly relatable feeling when you simply order food at a restaurant wrong, and then have to suffer through the rest of the meal watching someone else eating something that looks and smells much better than what you have.

Examples:

Er war gestern abend wegen des Futterneids so mürrisch.

He was so grumpy yesterday evening because he was envious of the food.

Danke schoen to @thelocalGermany for giving us a word that is now an essential part of our eating vocabulary.

Prost!

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