Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Hash House a Go Go: the Voice of Dissent
When you cover your front door with praise, you set the bar pretty damn high.
The Hash House seems to be almost universally loved, in- and outside of San Diego, for the gigantic portions of comfort food that draw lines out the door on a daily basis. Good press has been heaped on the restaurant from every corner. Not all of it is undeserved. The order of corned beef hash (of course) that I tried was good. It wasn't greasy and the potatoes were wonderfully crisp and fluffy, although the huge cubes of chewy corned beef were not in keeping with the delicate bites of leftover boiled dinner that I usually associate with a truly great hash.
Other details, like the non-functional branch of rosemary stuffed unceremoniously into most of the restaurant's dishes, revealed a lack of refinement that seems atypical of a popular restaurant in an area peopled with discerning guests. Then again, efficient service and consistent plates of food despite relentless crowds indicates an enviable degree of professionalism.
But, I'd rather defer to the countless opinions on Hash House that came before mine and offer, perhaps, a little meta-criticism. I feel as though I am in the minority for holding the opinion that the Hash House would be better if the portions were more reasonably sized. There is something about being handed an entire serving platter or cast-iron skillet filled with food that gives me pause. But, if the banner on the front of the restaurant is to be believed, I'm pretty much alone in that.
There is something irksome about the culture that surrounds the Hash House: the restaurant fills to capacity and people cue up to purchase more food than they could ever eat in one sitting, often wasting considerable portions in the process.
The fare is incredibly rich. "Benedicts," for instance, feature multiple biscuits and heaping piles of mashed potatoes. Much smaller portions would still open up a can of caloric whoop-ass that would level even the most intrepid gourmand.
And, I guess I'm really talking about gourmandism here. The line between indulgence and gluttony is exceedingly fine and much of it is violated when things become wasteful. The discerning gourmet would be better served by a portion of food so perfectly sized that every bite brings a new level of satisfaction, but the process is not quite so daunting that it becomes an exercise in futility. The very idea of Man vs. Food is sort of an effrontery to good taste.
Consider, by way of explanation, an overzealous hot fudge sundae. Perhaps it contains bananas, nine scoops of ice cream, six different toppings, and a Matterhorn of whipped cream. Long before it's eaten, it's become a parody of food. The pleasure is gone, melted down into a nondescript swirl of flavors and textures. At that point, you've gone too far and it's not fun anymore, it's like a culinary satire of haute cuisine.
I don't, strictly speaking, wish to impugn the Hash House a Go Go. I enjoyed the ambiance and cuisine at the restaurant. When I return, I'll bring two friends and split a single entree up between the three of us. But I still believe that the Hash House would be more entitled to greatness if the food were just a bit humbler. As it is, it's almost like it's compensating for something and I would be more impressed to see the food sell itself in a more dignified manner.
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