The Flywheel Effect Of Eating, Drinking, and Smoking.
Food and wine pair well together, but only a cigarette can add a third dimension of gluttony.
Going out to eat in a restaurant used to be pretty cool a year ago. You’d swing open the doors of a crowded Cheesecake Factory, and maneuver past the confused elderly to get your name on the waitlist before them. Then, the only decision you’d need to make before sliding into an oversized booth and tearing open a steaming rod of brown bread, was whether or not you felt like browsing the magazines at Barnes & Noble or grabbing a cosmo at the bar until your buzzer buzzes. A year ago you wouldn’t scan the dining room like Robocop, profiling other diners as potential contagion threats, and searching for emergency exits. Now we’re forced to type in our credit card numbers to secure the reservation online, and let a stranger shoot their laser at our face before remembering to scan a QR code to browse the wine list. And after an evening of guilt riddled parking lot dining in these uncertain times, we’re in disgrace if we don’t tip our helmet donned server as if they had just returned a lost wedding band.
Going out to eat anytime before 1995 was extremely cool. I can only speculate from film and TV because, in addition to being the year that California banned smoking in restaurants, it was also a year where the coolest dining experience I personally participated in was visiting my local Chili’s. Chili’s, if you don’t know, is a restaurant that transitioned from splashy suburban cantina riding high off baby back ribs, to a neutered airport grab-n-go during the course of my lifetime. 25 years ago, it was a place where people actually wanted to hang out at, maybe even get hammered. A simpler time before they were forced to post how many calories were in the Awesome Blossom.
The Awesome Blossom at Chili's was ranked "Worst Appetizer in America" by Men's Health magazine in 2008 for the unusually high totals of calories and fat, with 2,710 calories, 203 grams of fat, 194 grams of carbohydrates, and 6,360 milligrams of sodium, with as much fat as 67 strips of bacon.
I remember walking past the bar in that Chili’s on the way to my quiet table offering a view of the handicapped spot. Peeking through the tchotchke glazed wall slats, I’d see college chicks clinking happy-hour margarita goblets, and ceiling mounted 19 inchers playing football or MTV’s The Grind. Back then, fajitas weren’t the only thing filling the foyer with the sting of sweet smoke.
I wasn’t old enough to partake in any restaurant smoking myself, so I’m forced to go off of what I’ve seen on television. Carrie Bradshaw holding her Marlboro to Big’s mouth while his hands lay indisposed, cross-contaminated with uncooked veal. Don Draper lighting up between rounds of oysters, Roger telling his server to not let him see the bottom of his martini glass. Scar Jo bopping down to the Park Hyatt Tokyo lounge for a Lost In Translation puff and a handful of mixed nuts. Pure, unadulterated, carcinogen-permeated pleasure. I hated smoking as a teen, but when I’d watch movies where a post-orgasmic gal lights up in bed, curtains flapping in the open window as the big city hums along, I wanted to know what that felt like. On its own, the refractory period is a glorious affair, but you can make the world around you come to a screeching halt by smoking while refracting, knowing full-well those flapping curtains are forever sullied with that unmistakable stench. The closest I’ll get to that feeling nowadays is plopping down on the couch with half a Xanax between my teeth, and the Thanksgiving issue of Bon App still in the plastic.
When I moved to LA in the mid-2000s, there were a few dive bars here and there that would still let people smoke inside. Some of them had an understanding with the police, some found a loophole in the law, and some of them just said fuck it, it’s the only reason people still come here. Spaceland in Silverlake had an indoor smoking section encased in glass like you’d see at an outdated airport. The Tiki Ti crammed 50 chain smokers into a bar the size of my master bath. After one Singapore Sling, your underwear would smell like a carton of Pall Malls. But eventually, the jig was up. America’s carpets and curtains began healing again, the war on smoking indoors was over, and despite looking hotter and having more fun, the allied forces of cig were inevitably outnumbered by the lily-livered gum chewers. I paid my respects and accepted the new normal, and then I discovered Koreatown.
My friends and I stumbled upon the (now closed) all you can eat Korean BBQ hall called Tahoe Galbi. Judged on our physical appearance by the host, we were whisked past the dining room of families slurping thinly sliced flaps of brisket and bowls of unidentified pickled things. Once we finally made it around the corner to the indoor patio for young people old enough to drink, we’d be seated between rosy-cheeked businessmen lining up soju empties, and proto-K-Pop stans mostly keeping to themselves. After a few tall beers in short glasses, I noticed that some patrons around us were casually smoking cigarettes. Reeling with excitement, I took my last deep breath of the night and sparked up a Parliament, tucking my cig hand under the table if a server came by to replenish the potato salad. Eventually, I felt safe to openly puff, and the layers of stress began sizzling away like flaps of still-frozen beef on cast iron. None of the staff told us that smoking was allowed, but they also never told us to stop. After a few more rounds, our server came by for a check-in while simultaneously dropping an ashtray on the table without saying a word. I felt like I just got accepted to the Stanford School of Smoking. That day I learned what “When you’re here, you’re family” truly meant.
When I learned that Tahoe Galbi, in addition to serving frosty beers and bottomless banchan, operated an illegitimate smoking section, it quickly shot to the top of my own private yelp page. Tahoe took an already gluttonous dining experience and added a third dimension of indoor smoking to thrust it into rarified, yet polluted air. We all know the pleasures of eating can be elevated by combining and contrasting flavors, textures, temperatures, or colors. The charred rib eye, much like Beyoncé’s solo work, is simply better when served alongside a bold red or neat bourbon, steak’s Kelly, and Michelle. French fries or a slice of pepperoni taste great on their own, but their circle of life is merely U-shaped until ketchup and Coca-Cola complete the circuit. I began implementing this Flywheel Effect by introducing a lit cigarette to my already satisfactory cold beer and hot meat operation. My left hand would pilot the metal chopsticks, plucking bulgogi squares from the hot grill, dipping them in salt and sesame oil before chowing down. My right hand’s ring and pinky fingers held the shot glass of cold soju with lemon, and my middle and index fingers cradled a dangling cigarette. If we’re adhering to Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat formula for mastering the elements of good cooking, then this had it all, and more. The grilled meat (already 50% fat) is dipped into sesame oil and run through a mound of table salt. The acidity from the lemon and the Walgreens-rubbing-alcohol sting of soju washes away the caked-on layer of grease in my mouth better than any squirt of Dawn of Palmolive could. What propels this ceremony to elite levels of gluttony is your brain knowing that there will be as many plates of meat in the kitchen as you require to reach culinary climax. Lastly, a pull off that cig between bites and sips adds a new cog to the flywheel. This is living and eating like it’s your last meal because it very well could be.
If we’re looking at gastronomic pairings dimensionally, then the 2d version of flywheel eating consists of the two most popular states of matter; solids and liquids. The combination of Food and Drink is perfectly enjoyable, a timeless side-scrolling sequence, but our mouthworld becomes immersive when introduced to the third most savory state of matter: that g⛽s. Unless you’re the type of person who likes finishing their sous vide spot prawns in the smoke of lavender and elderflower, you probably aren’t implementing a ton of condensation at your sauté station. For our flywheel to spin correctly, we can’t be inhaling wafts and wisps. Our cigs need to sing from the diaphragm like a Paramore acapella to ensure that our lungs are sufficiently saturated with smoke. Repeat this process until you begin slightly levitating out of your seat, and you’re able to see the physical manifestation of people’s auras around you. Unless you’re Italian, exercise caution while attempting this style of advanced eating.
That was a big gas slapper my g!
might pick up smoking off the strength of this literary masterpiece