Saturday, December 16, 2006

just checking

December 16

This evening my friend Birdman and I decided to follow Jennifer Leuzzi's advice and check out Tsukushi. Birdman, aka biology professor and paleontologist David Krauss, is a Japanese food expert, owing to the fact that he's an Upper East Side boy whose father loves sushi, is a very good student, really smart, and compulsive when it comes to acquiring information about things that interest him.
So he has been gathering knowledge on all things related to Japanese cuisine for a very long time and knows a lot about it.
I also think he's what food scientists and others these days are calling "super tasters." Super tasters have many more taste buds than most people, and thus detect more nuances in the sweet-sour-salty-bitter-umami aspects of food appreciation (the rest of what we "taste" in food actually comes from other senses, primarily smell, although our sense of touch comes into play, too).
Then again, Birdman is different from typical super tasters in that he really likes bitter food, something his kind is supposed to shun.
Anyway, he also is obsessed with eating, and he seemed very satisfied with Tsukushi's food — you walk in, sit down, order drinks, answer their questions about allergies and food preferences and they bring out whatever food they want to serve that evening. We determined that it would be a good fallback from Sakagura, the underground restaurant nearby that reminds me of a Steven Segall flick whenever I go there.
Birdman's my go-to man for many issues dealing with nutrition, physiology and other natural-science topics.
Not long ago he made a cocktail-napkin diagram of a trans fat for me (or more accurately a trans fatty acid). He explained that the "trans" means that the hydrogen atoms on opposite sides of a double carbon bond are catercorner from each other, rather than next to each other (If they were next to each other they would be cis fatty acids instead of trans ones). The position of the hydrogen atoms affects the structure of the fatty acids and how our metabolism processes them. We evolved to handle naturally occurring trans fatty acids, but some of the artificial ones, created through partial hydrogenation, apparently confuse our bodies and make them do bad things. I guess the random attaching of hydrogen atoms to different parts of polyunsaturated fatty acids can make them all kinky-shaped.
Tonight I brought up high-fructose corn syrup, something that has been, as far as I can tell, irrationally demonized.
Some people complain that high-fructose corn syrup is so cheap to make (which it is) that manufacturers add it to all sorts of processed foods to make them taste better (which they do). Thus many calories that provide no nutrients other than energy find their way into our diet. So, okay, I can see why people take issue with that. But some people out there accuse HFCS (as they call it, perhaps to make it sound more dangerous, like CFCs, which are very ozone-unfriendly chlorofluorocarbons) of being unnatural and evil on a microscopic level. How high fructose corn syrup is less natural than refined cane or beet sugar is beyond me.
And then the other day a guy promoting a line of healthful sodas told me that we don't absorb high fructose corn syrup fast enough and so it goes directly to fat.
That didn't sound right to me, so I mentioned it to Birdman, who looked up from his food annoyed.
"That makes no sense," he said, and it occurred to me that, indeed, there's no way that simple sugars — fructose, sucrose, what have you — could be absorbed more slowly than the complex carbohydrates in brown rice, multi-grain bread etc.
That settled, we paid our bill and finished our early evening at Pershing Square.
Pershing Square is dead on weekend nights — and last call was at, like, 9:30 — but they stock the place with attractive bartenders and servers, have several beers that I like on tap and are close to subways.

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