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Eat It

“I don’t get drunk in front of people. I get drunk alone.”
—Recovering alcoholic Leo McGarry, “Bartlet For America,” The West Wing

I might be more qualified than ever to tell you whether the Mets will sell you worthwhile food in the coming season, and not just because I took them up on their graciously issued invitation to come to Citi Field’s usually exclusive Delta Sky360 Club the other night and sample their “All-Star Dining Line-Up”. I don’t eat the way I used to, which was early, often and with quiet abandon. That was, I’m confident enough to declare, the old me, prior to my recent decision to stop eating as if auditioning for a role in a series of “before” pictures. The new me — the “after” me — is still in the process of developing.

It hasn’t been fifty days since I broke off my engagement to the Entenmann’s company and its cohorts in the sugared edibles aisles of your local grocer. If there are diminished profits followed by massive layoffs in the Ring Ding sector of the economy for the first quarter of 2012, you’ll know who to blame.

There are many rivers to cross as I attempt to do what I’ve never really attempted to do, namely shed a number of self-detrimental habits along with a to-be-determined slice of myself. It’s been less of a “hardship” than I would have guessed (“hardship” is in quotes given that a real “hardship” is when people don’t have enough to eat…or the Mets don’t have a center fielder). Perhaps my latent maturity made this lifestyle direction a relatively uncomplicated turn to take. It also hasn’t hurt that baseball season was still almost two months away when I swore off sugar and commenced steering clear of sodium.

When there’s no baseball, there’s no reason to go to Citi Field. And when I’m not at Citi Field, I’m not at liberty to avail myself of what I’ve treated for three years as my own personal tasting menu.

Despite the many dissatisfactions I’ve detailed as regards my lukewarm-at-best relationship with Citi Field since it opened in 2009, I’m pretty sure you’ve never read me complain about the food. I’ve adored the food at Citi Field. I may not have been enamored of the prices nor consistently impressed with the performance of the personnel hired to handle the transactions in which my money was exchanged for what I was about to consume (or the guidance those working stiffs received from their supervisors), but geez, the food has been mostly terrific. It was as much a revelation in Citi’s inaugural season as the obstructed outfield views and shocking lack of team identity around the premises.

I complained plenty about that stuff, but not the food. The food was enough to get me out of my seat in the middle of a baseball game more than once. It was enough to get me to arrive early so I could partake from the many solid to spectacular choices the ballpark’s various stands offered. Heading to late, eternally lamented Shea, I’d think about which starting pitchers I had yet to see. Heading to overpriced, imperfect Citi, I’d wonder if I should stick with the concession whose specialty I enjoyed so much last time I was there or try that other place I hadn’t been to in a while.

My solution was generally, “Why not both?” It wasn’t cost-effective, but that’s why they planted so many ATMs in the new park. It wasn’t health-effective, but shut up, I reasoned to myself, I’m at the game. If I’m at the game, it’s all right. It’s the game. It’s Citi Field. They destroyed my beloved Shea Stadium for this place. The least they can do to make it up to me is allow me to graze in peace.

Believe me, I can cook up rationalizations for eating at the game as many ways as Citi Field can French-fry potatoes. And knowing that, amid my new outlook on life, I found myself a little apprehensive that another season was starting at the home of countless variations on French fries.

I’m in this personal reset mode in which I’ve embraced what I previously ignored while rejecting what I never seriously attempted to avoid, and it’s worked incredibly well to date. Like everybody else in Spring Training, I’m in the best shape of my life (even if that represents a bar set approximately as low as Jason Bay being on the verge of his best Mets season yet). What’s been most crucial is I haven’t been tempted to stray. Sugar doesn’t tempt me. Sodium doesn’t tempt me. Sitting still doesn’t seem automatically preferable to standing up and getting moving. I thought I’d feel “deprived,” but I realized pretty quickly what I was depriving myself of for years was an improved state of well-being. That’s what I’m after for the long haul.

Natch, the Mets put out a spread Monday while I’m trying to reduce mine.

I could’ve said no to the invite (which, ironically, I received while out on one of my character-building walks), but that was no answer. Aside from my quasi-professional responsibility as quasi-media to cover a press event from which we bloggers had been excluded in earlier iterations, the All-Star Dining Line-Up would provide a simulated game for me. There’d be all this great Citi Field food. I wouldn’t have to make the rounds from Taste of the City in center to World’s Fare in right to behind home plate in Promenade. It would all be in one room and there’d be no cashiers.

Just a test of my will.

• Could I handle a little Citi Field food when a lot could easily be on my plate?

• Could I overcome the (utterly non-professional…not even quasi-professional) instinct to load up on complimentary noshes because they were complimentary — semi-consciously squaring my account for all I’ve spent on Citi Field food since 2009?

• Could I keep my default response to social situations — eat if there’s food — in the past where it belonged?

• And could I get back to looking forward to games like I normally would be as a season approached without trepidation that the concessions would be calling to me as Todd Hundley once upon a time claimed the upper deck at Coors Field whispered to him?

The overall conclusion I reached to each of the above was yes, though not so resoundingly that I’m changing my nom de plume to Will Power. My new take-it-or-leave-it ethos generally prevailed even though at spreads like these, my M.O. has tended to be take everything I could find. There was lots to take, yet I didn’t take very much…though before the night was out, I took more than I knew I should have.

The first item to land in my mouth wound up there courtesy of my co-blogger, who was unaware of the inner dialogue raging in my soul. Jason arrived before I did and was already working on a small dish (all the dishes were small, which leveled the playing field in my favor immediately) from his Citi Field favorite, El Verano Taqueria. These were Vegetarian Tacos. “Want one?” he asked innocently. I had been inside the Delta club all of thirty seconds and hadn’t yet sorted out how I’d apportion my sampling, so I just went with good old dependable “sure.”

One tiny soft taco. It was fine. Jason left another tiny taco on his small dish. My impulse was to grab it since he wasn’t going to bother with it. But I didn’t.

Big victory over a little taco.

And if you’re scoring at home and are a vegetarian, try the regular-sized order this season at Citi Field. It consists of soft corn tortilla, roasted Portobello mushrooms, zucchini, corn and Poblano peppers, according to the press kit. I know a vegetarian who came to the park from out of town the last two years in search of a veggie burrito and each time “settled” for an eggplant parm hero. I think this is a reasonable alternative.

Now it was time to pick a vendor for myself, so to speak. My first choice was easy: Daruma. I’d been their noisiest proponent at Shea when their sushi was confined to Field Level, and God and/or Bob Mandt help the Loge, Mezzanine or Upper Deck ticket holder who attempted to explain to the guards that all he or she wanted to do was buy his/her California rolls and return to the level from which he/she emerged (confession: just typing “Loge, Mezzanine or Upper Deck” makes me misty even as my residual disgust for Shea’s concession caste system remains). Since they became ensconced in World’s Fare, I’ve been an occasional patron of Daruma, but not quite as fired up about it. Choice and accessibility will do that.

But in these surroundings, everything looked fresh and exotic. A nice lady in a kimono greeted me and gave me the rundown of what the Daruma chef had prepared. I must confess that though I enjoy sushi, I don’t know much about it (I’m the same way with pitching grips). I told her I’d go with whatever she recommended on the non-spicy side — I’ve never liked spicy food. She provided me with five colorful rolls. Each was sensational.

Visit Daruma at least once in 2012. And smack anybody who dismisses sushi as not real baseball food. It’s the perfect baseball food. That’s probably why the current major league campaign is beginning in Tokyo this very morning.

There was a brief pause in the research as Dave Howard took to the microphone to officially welcome everybody and introduce one of the chefs, who in turn introduced a bunch of other chefs. In my quest to perfect the Mets experience, I thought this portion of the program would have been enhanced by Alex Anthony bringing them out as if they were trotting to their carving stations. We would have cheered every one of them, especially if one was named Jose. Otherwise, for all their good work and the pleasant demeanor they displayed if you asked them a probing question like “uh, what’s this?” I didn’t know who these people were and didn’t listen to what they were saying. To be fair, I knew who Dave Howard was and I didn’t listen to what he was saying, either. I wanted to get back to the sampling.

When I did, I found myself at a table offering food you’ll find served in the Empire Suites. Lightning will have to strike to put me in one of those babies this year, so I figured I should try something I won’t likely be near again. I went for the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken: “Buttermilk marinated fried chicken, traditional macaroni and cheese, Southern corn bread.” Now that’s a recipe for personal disaster, except we’re talking about a plate the size that would fit on airline tray if airlines still served meals. The chicken was a small, boneless piece of white meat. The macaroni was a dollop. The cornbread was a cube. It wasn’t ungenerous, it was just sensible in an environment where there was so much to try.

It was, however, incredibly delicious, so my recommendation would be to get yourself attached to an Empire Suite soon and demand your host furnish you with the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken. And that brilliant macaroni.

At this point in the festivities, I’d tried three separate dishes and was 90% full. I get full so much faster now than in my unenviable past when I filled up with so much more yet was never compelled to fully call it a night until I was “satisfied,” which was a false bottom. I was never satisfied. The stuff I ate just made me crave more of it. Six-and-a-half weeks of the new me has revolutionized my intake. I barely wanted any more to eat.

But I plowed ahead regardless. Which was stupid, I was pretty sure Monday night and was certain by Tuesday morning. My reasoning was, “C’mon, you schlepped all the way out here for an eating event, how can you not eat a little more? I mean it’s just a taste, right?”

I fell for an offseason version of “It’s the game.” I’m not proud I did, but I chalk it up as a learning experience (and how many times has Mike Pelfrey done the same thing after four-and-a-third innings?). Mind you, I didn’t go on a tear. They didn’t have to call in a second wave of sous chefs on my behalf. I just noshed a little more than I should have. Because it was there. Because this was an unusual opportunity. Because I figured I should have enough to report back on. Because I was having a good time.

The food deserves its due, but I can’t say I enjoyed eating most of it as much as I did the first few items. That’s on me, not the chefs. So please give your consideration to trying the following on one of your visits to Citi Field (all of which were served in miniature Monday evening):

• The Fried Flounder sandwich at the Delta club should you gain entry. It’s lighter than the Catch of the Day version, which even in my old President Bartlet eating guise (“what’s next?”) I’ve always considered a touch too heavy to fully relish. This one would have made a good last bite for the night.

• The Smothered Swedish Meatball, also a Delta specialty. Pretty good as a novelty, though I don’t require a surfeit of smother. I tried it because two or three of my fellow bloggers raved about it. I was full by the time I indulged.

• The NY Cheese Steak Sandwich, from Caesars Club. I wasn’t crazy about this one, probably because it came covered in cheese and guilt. I picked at its insides and left most of the baguette. Too salty.

• The Pastrachos, described under the Brooklyn Burger logo as “fresh fried corn tortilla chips, chopped New York pastrami, Swiss cheese sauce, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and scallions.” It was a case of me recognizing something that appeared to be nachos and wishing to greet an old friend. But I’m not friends with nachos anymore. I broke off a piece and tasted. It was OK if you’re into that sort of thing.

• The Harvest Veggie Burger, which I wouldn’t recommend even to the vegetarian I mentioned above.

• Keith Hernandez’s Mex Burger. Oh, like I’m going to Citi Field in March and not at least trying the slider version of the Mex? I forgot it was a little tangy and contained bacon, but it would be unMetropolitan to turn one’s back on it altogether. Like Keith in his prime, it produced a well-struck double down the line.

But I didn’t take a Tootsie Pop. And I stuck to my no-sugar pledge despite the presence of Fried Pies from Box Frites and a whole array of expertly crafted desserts, including Mr. Met Cake, though that might have been for display purposes only. Though the sight of Carvel helmets bearing the 50th Anniversary logo made me realize I’m going to have to scoop one off the Promenade floor because Carvel is also in my rearview mirror, I didn’t miss dessert…which is a switch from my tendency to never miss dessert. And I survived not trying the intriguingly dubbed Flash Fried Beer Battered Shrimp Skewers, the Reuben Quesadilla and the 7-1-Ate Special (clever!), all of which I can’t picture having resisted when I was posing for those “before” shots.

Bottom line for you: It’s all good, though it won’t be as financially fortuitous as Monday night was for the likes of Jason and me. I forgot to inquire how much any of this would be sold for in real life, but you can assume the Mets and Aramark will ask a nice price for it. But they mostly give you a pretty good portion for your money, so if you can swing it, go for it. You’re getting this appraisal from someone who’s planning to be pretty picky about what he picks at Citi Field. If I didn’t think the food selections were worth everybody’s calories or cash, I’d advise just bring a sandwich from home.

Bottom line for me: I felt bloated by Tuesday morning and annoyed that I gave in partially to old habits, but this isn’t a passing fancy, so what doesn’t kill me doesn’t kill me, or however that goes, and I’m kind of thrilled that I didn’t leave there severely infatuated with the food to the extent I’d be obsessing on it until April 5. Don’t get me wrong: it was mostly very good and I’m greatly appreciative that we were invited. But I was reminded that I rather like not feeling dependent on an excess of food for a burst of fleeting happiness.

No, I’m dependent on the athleticism and skills of 25 youthful millionaires to provide me enduring happiness. That’s much healthier.