October 13, 2009 | 8:47pm
Back in the day--and I'm talking way back in the day--there was only one word to describe a place where a stranger could stop, sit down and, for a franc or two, get himself something to eat. That word was restaurant (based on the word restaurer and taken, like everything else would be forever after, from the French). The first one in the Western world that welcomed the public and had some similarity to the restaurants we recognize today? It was in Paris--a soup restaurant opened by a smart fellow named Boulanger in 1765. Many other smart fellows followed in Boulanger's footsteps, offering hearty and fortifying soups to the masses--sometimes sold out of carts on the street, sometimes under roofs on some of Paris's less savory rues. There was the Grand Taverne de Londres--Paris again, in 1782--which is now thought to be among the first restaurants to offer such little niceties as tables, chairs, menus and fixed operating hours. It was opened and operated by Antoine Beauvilliers who was (surprise, surprise...) a food writer of some renown. Yeah, that's right. Time from the appearance of the first official restaurants to the appearance of the first smart boy who thought to make a buck writing about them? About a decade. Beauvilliers would later go on to cut the path that nearly every food writer who came after him followed--he wrote a book about proper conduct in the kitchen and the formalized rules of cookery called L'Art du Cuisinier. In it, he viciously took apart Careme--who was the world's first celebrity chef, more or less--by insulting the massive pieces montees for which Careme had become famous. A nice little slap-fight followed, with Careme claiming that his culinary art provided "food for mind and heart," and Beauvilliers shooting back that "the cook's job was not to please the eye but the palate; not to fill one's leisure but one's belly pleasurably," at least according to Stephen Mennell's All Manners of Food. Basically, Beauvilliers called Careme a dandy and a ponce, thereby also becoming the world's first restaurant critic. Careme retaliated by becoming fantastically rich and famous and then dying young--a classic tactic of the French.
This week, we're talking not just about any kind of restaurant, but that most American variation on Boulanger's invention: the diner. What, precisely, must a restaurant do in order to be called a diner? Perhaps more to the point, what must it not do in order to be? These are the questions that I debate with Paul Yi, owner of the Silver Creek Diner over near Park Meadows.
Why him? Because Yi is a man who knows diners. And the one that he opened last year to serve the egg-and-bacon and cheeseburger needs of his neighbors is a damn fine one.
We've also got plenty of other stuff in store this week, including an interview with Frank Bonanno and Dylan Moore'stake on cheeseburgers and beer. And I even manage to get back to Jing--Charlie Huang's Greenwood Village temple of luxe--to see how things are going there under the command of new chef (and Westword Steel Chef victor) Jay Spickelmier.
Look for lots on the table in the new Cafe.