The Underground Gourmet

Charlie Rose, Chicken Thief

The chicken hawk in question.Photo: Patrick McMullan
There are those who think the life of the Underground Gourmet is one endless, lavish feast, all swanky press dinners and unbidden “gifts from the chef.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We get the bad tables, the slipshod service, and the gristly cuts as often as our fellow diners. This past Monday night was a good example.

Having repaired to a favorite West Village boîte for a light supper, we’d no sooner relished our primi portions of pasta and sat back awaiting our roast chicken entrée when in stumbled television’s Charlie Rose. Wearing his signature Ralph Lauren Purple Label pinstripes and hangdog expression, and looking hungry and fatigued as if he had just lugged a family of tourists through Rockefeller Plaza in a pedicab, the talk-show host frowningly held a conference with a couple of fawning staff members and then plopped himself down at a table for four.

This is where things get ethically fuzzy: Not more than three minutes later, our chicken — and there is no doubt that it was our bird, ordered at least 45 minutes earlier and eagerly anticipated — was whisked by our cramped two-top and ceremoniously presented to Rose, who proceeded to carve it up as we sat, jaws agape and mouths watering. It was a lovely burnished creature, all crackling skin and juicy flesh, and we had the distinct pleasure of watching him gobble it down like a lumberjack who has recently renounced the Calorie Restriction diet. Finally, because there was really no way of disguising such blatant preferential treatment, the buxom blonde hostess who was personally tending to Mr. TV’s needs swooped over and crouched down in a position that conspicuously blocked our view of the pilfered bird and its wrongful owner, and in a chirpy voice delivered this quasi-apology: “There’s bad news. Your chicken accidentally went to another table, but since it takes twenty minutes to fire up a new one, we’ve decided to give you a mid-course of pasta on the house.” The good news? “If you’re full, you’ll be able to take home some chicken!”

There are exceptions to every rule, and in this case, it seems fair to say that the typical roast chicken takes twenty minutes to cook except when it is for a local celebrity, in which case the roasting time is less than a tenth of that (and shouldn’t a professional journalist be skeptical of a chicken that emerged from the kitchen in less time than it takes to microwave a box of Stouffer’s chili con carne? Frankly, as dues-paying PBS members, we expected more from you, Charlie.)

Even more dispiriting than a celeb-absconded dinner, it must be said, is the sad fact that there are people out there who believe that the UG’s silence can be bought with a plate of pasta (and the sadder realization that they’re right).

“Just send the carbface some pumpkin mezzaluna and get Mr. Rose his protein, chop-chop!” we imagined the Machiavellian hostess whispering to the kitchen grunts. “No one will be the wiser.”

Out of principle, Ms. UG tried to ignore the pasta and a bonus plate of speck and focaccia, but in time, fork made way to plate, until the starchy reparations had vanished and with them the remnants of the Underground Gourmet’s pride.

We don’t blame you, Charlie Rose. Well, yes, we do. But we mostly blame the system. Instead of a chicken in every pot, it’s a chicken to the famous guy’s table first. And the hostess was right: Gorged and bloated on pasta, the UG waddled home with his leftovers. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

Charlie Rose, Chicken Thief