Greetings! Now that we’re settling into a weekly rhythm, building a foundation, it felt okay to justify a little time spent upgrading the aesthetic of the newsletter. The unfinished, hand-painted lettering is a callback to a super-DIY email ‘zine for girls I used to publish when I was in middle school (yep! on AOL) called Smudge. The pink you may recognize from the original Love List. Never forget where you came from, eh??
I got some feedback last week that some folks prefer it if I mix up the length of the newsletter — some weeks short (five-ish items) and some weeks longer (around ten items). Others piped in to say they missed the longer-form opinion stuff. I’m listening! Let’s keep the list short and sweet this week because there’s a lot to say about each. As always, tell me what you think. xo
1. to see
I was able to see Roadrunner on Sunday, the limited-release documentary about Anthony Bourdain. There was an article in the New York Times that day about how some are lamenting the use of A.I. to mimic Bourdain’s cadence in one of the film’s voiceovers. And while I do think there is an interesting conversation to be had about disclosure and consent as deep fakes become more prevalent, if that’s the main conversation you are having about this movie, then it’s my opinion that you’re missing the point entirely.
Petty squabbles about nuance aside, as a whole, Roadrunner is mostly a tribute to Bourdain. It is not a movie about death as you might think, it’s a movie about life — an extraordinary life that moved and inspired countless others, including my own. It was intimate without feeling invasive and explorative without feeling like an excavation. I didn’t feel dirty or guilty like I was reading someone’s diary. I left feeling a little sad — mostly because I miss him. And while Twitter can quibble about whether or not Tony himself would have liked it, the tragedy of it all is that he isn’t here to tell us either way. So this movie can’t be for him, really — this movie is for the people who loved him. If that’s you, then see it.
2. to (not) eat
Continuing that thought, it’s important to flag that Bourdain was an emblematic hero during an era in food and restaurant culture that spawned a lot of fallen idols — Peter Meehan, David Chang, Mario Batali, Danny Bowien, Adam Rappoport, etc. And while Bourdain eventually became a “Me Too” crusader, his bad-boy nonchalance also helped define and romanticize a powerful era of men colonizing both food journalism and the professional kitchen.
Like now, it was a cliquey culture that was notoriously proliferated with problematic behavior. Unlike now, it went largely unchecked. I moved to Atlanta during these years. It was early in my career, and I experienced that same insularity and sexism as I struggled to be taken seriously both as a female writer and one who was writing primarily for other women. Things that were relegated to being feminine were often treated as frivolous and second-tier: tolerated, acknowledged, but not embraced or taken seriously.
These days, I do feel like things are improving (I didn’t say great, but improving) for women in food, and that largely — speaking to my own Atlanta community — restaurants are exemplified by good people who want to make good food for nice guests who have eager bellies and wallets.
Most of the time.
I visited a new restaurant over the weekend that’s being lauded as buzzy, cool, and inventive. But what I experienced was a bunch of dudes who haven’t outgrown an era of culinary elitism that is just so… tired. It was a kitchen concerned with pleasing only itself.
All creative work is driven by a little bit of conceit, but here, ego was the appetizer and entrée. And it wasn’t just on the plate, it radiated through the whole place.
The primary thing that colored my experience was being helped by one of those stereotypically pedantic, gatekeeping bartenders we’ve all had the displeasure of dining with. You know the ones. They embarrass you should you dare to order something they find grotesque, like a lemon-drop martini.
It wasn’t busy. My boyfriend asked friendly, earnest questions about the drinks that were met with condescension and impatience. A woman near us with dietary restrictions asked perfectly fair questions of her own and was mansplained by the bartender as though his tolerance was wearing thin for having to help such noobs. The undercurrent of pretense, however misplaced, was palpable.
I know how often service folks deal with unfair abuse from bad customers, but neither we nor our fellow diners were being rude. Curiosity should be encouraged in a place that wears its experimental nature on its shirtsleeve. Instead, the barkeep decided I was a hoity-toity bimbo before I ever sat down, treating us like the restaurant was a club we could never possibly hope to get into.
I love to be greeted with innovation and creativity in all its imperfection, but my excitement for trying something new was obliterated by how genuinely self-conscious the restaurant made me feel: like my boyfriend and I were dumb, like we were lame, and like what we wanted was wrong.
It took me back ten years to when I was an eager young writer, sitting at some hip gastropub where I desperately wanted someone behind the bar to treat me like I mattered — and instead being ignored, hit on, or quietly mocked.
I have written a lot of chef, bartender, and dining fluff over the years. It’s a well-documented fact that I generally have no interest in biting the hand that literally feeds me. The point here isn’t to villanize one restaurant — there are pedantic shitheads in every industry, after all — but to flag an example of what we still haven’t learned.
Restaurants make you feel good. They provide escape. Community. At least, that’s the hope. The way this place fell so very short feels like a startling setback. I thought we had moved on from establishments characterized by losing sight of their customers’ feelings: penalizing their longing to belong and learn. How naive.
I still tipped over 20%.
3. to shop
Since my attempts at relaxation by way of dining out haven’t hit, I’ve got broader aspirations: vacation. My heart is set on sandy beaches and sunny days with zero itinerary. It was in this planning state I came across the Australian brand Business & Pleasure, who make great-looking beach chairs and cabanas. *Add to cart.* Oh, and did you think my obsession with SPF stopped at sunscreen? Ha! Give me a hat and a swimsuit with some sleeves, baby.
4. to listen
Leon Bridges has a new album, Gold-Diggers Sound, out Friday. I got a sneak peek and y’all! Pin this one to stream on Spotify or hit your local record store. Named for the L.A. hotel where he’s lived and worked for the last few years, the whole thing hums in that sweet, melodic buzz you tap into after approximately two drinks at a swanky bar. Its vibe smacks of the swag you emanate when you know you’re coming back to a mint on your pillow: the magical, transient nature of a place away from home where the unspoken agreement is to be whoever we want to be, suspended in time, swaddled in a plush robe. His best in a long time.
5. to try
I recently saw a TikTok about a CEO who organized her iPhone apps by affirmation. Corny, but awesome tbh. As someone who emails affirmations to her inbox so I can see them every day, this really clicked for me.