March 30, 2006

The Chowhound's Perp Walk

The Chowhound's Perp Walk

Jim Leff, after bringing us ricotta pastries from Modern Pastry in the North End, taking a chowhound sniff at the pad thai provided for WGBH’s pledge-week volunteers and, yes, anchoring our show last night, taught us how to order Mexican food. It was Robin’s birthday on Sunday, and Friday is Julia the awesomely capable intern’s last day, and we generally all like each other anyway, so we found a restaurant with a tequila menu and so far Mary hasn’t asked us about the meal we put on her card.

The last round of tequila was on Jim.

But before any tequila showed up, Jim took a look around the restaurant. He poked behind the bar. He noticed that there was only liquor on most of the tables. He was like an advance man with the Secret Service, checking the exits; he calls it the perp walk. Jim, in the world of chowhounds, is known as a closer. If you find him the restaurant, he’ll tell you what to eat.

This is a kind of black magic. Based on design choices in the dining room, he decided that the place had no eye for detail — don’t order anything that relies on a good sauce — but probably had someone competent at the grill. Then he tasted the salsa and changed his mind. All I can say is that I ordered tuna and ribs last night, and they were certainly grilled by someone competent. Jim picked out Robin’s first-ever margarita, and from the look in her eyes after the first sip he got that right, too.

We rate potential radio guests from one to ten — to keep us honest there are no sevens — and Jim, holding down the table last night, earned himself an eleven. He spoke of playing trombone with a Portuguese nobleman who summons Jim with quill-penned letters. He told us about his obsession with the island of Tristan de Cunha, parked halfway between Africa and South America. There are potatoes on Tristan so good you eat them fresh like apples. There are five surnames. Every year and a half Jim receives a letter from Mr. Glass, the chief islander. Jim wants to retire there.

I have, in a little notebook, a list of things we were supposed to email Jim about for more details. In no particular order: Bulgarian brass, eating in New Haven, some kind of pre-samba Brazilian music, rare recordings curator Allan Evans and someone named John Thorne at Amherst.

I no longer remember why we’re supposed to get in touch with John Thorne, but I’ll bet he’d make good radio.

Update, 3/30 5:15 pm

Sent Jim a link to this post and he responded only as follows:

you forgot the penguin guano

Jim Leff, email to Open Source, 3/30/06

I assume he’s talking about Tristan de Cunha.

Related Content