I tend to leave Fridays to J and his lovely pictures. It gives me a chance, among other things, to go out and do things in the world.
Yesterday, I worked early, but not a full 8 hour shift, which was a relief. Still, by early evening, I was pretty much worn out, and Mom got home too late for any early show of Midnight in Paris, the new Woody Allen film (yes, I never miss Woody Allen. Sue me). Instead, we decided to take a little field trip.
Whole Foods has been slow to expand into Westchester, which strieks me as puzzling, since the high-end grocery chain feels like a perfect fit for Westchester's large number of pampered elites. It's fittingly ironic that their initial touchdown in the county, in White Plains, was the former site of Saks Fifth Avenue, which abandoned the space when The Westchester, an upscale mall prjoect, failed to connect the store to the mall as promised (Leaving them staring at Neiman Marcus and their first arrival in the area). Saks now has no Westchester location... which is also very odd.
Lots of people - including my Mom - might think I love Whole Foods; in truth, I find them exasperating. When I first met them, still living in my Manhattan apartment, I too was blown away by the luxe-ness of the goods, the absurd prices (I don't subscribe to the "Whole Paycheck" humor, but walking out with a small grocry bag with $60 in purchases was a first), and the crowds. (One famous memory is one blizzard-y day when the line in Columbus Circle stretched through prepared foods, past the meat department, around frozen foods and back to seafood.)
By the time I moved to Boston, I tended to use Whole Foods as an occasional backup to my main shopping in more traditional grocery stores. Boston, though, is lttered with Whole Foods - one by Symphony Hall on the edge of Fenway, one in cenrral Cambridge, one by Mass General at the edge of Beacon Hill, just for starters. And their promximity to much of my everyday life made visiting them too easy and addictive.
My Mom joked last night that she could envision a lifestyle where she had the money to only shop Whole Foods. Me... I don't see the appeal. Over time, in Boston I came to realize that what the store sells, really, is a kind of snob appeal: you're not just a grocery shopper, you're smarter, hipper, and probably healthier, the stores seem to say. Whole Foods doesn't bother popular, mass produced foodstuffs of ordinary stores - no, it's all artisanal this, and farm-raised that, organic and expensive and exclusive and hard to find. I always know that, if it comes to it, I will be able to find Creme Fraiche, Clotted Cream, and fancy infused olive oil at Whole Foods. Just not, say, Diet Pepsi. Or Wheaties. And not every department opf Whole Foods can claim absolute dominance - their coffee choices, I've come to realize, are haphazard and incomplete (in part, because they've no use for Starbucks, but they also overlook good small houses like Kicking Horse).
The truth is much of what Whole Foods brought to the grocery experience - the high-end items, the hot food cafes, the luxe presentations - have been adopted widely by competitors. Those with the square footage - like Shaw's in downtown Boston at the Pru, or Stop and Shop in many of its suburban locations - have similar sit down eating spaces, luxurious produce displays, and a lot of fancy olive oil. Even so... Whole Foods continue to have them beat for sheer over-the-top indulgence. As I walked past the refrigerated case devoted to nothing nut rare German and other artisanal beers, I realized that so mcuh of what Whole Foods offers is class confirmation - come here, and you'll know you've made it. I like to think I don't need that kind of reassurance, and I can't be had for a slice of cheese (though a bottle of infused oltve oil and some fancy tortilla chips did follow me home, inexplicably).
Afterwards, Mom and I dined at PF Chang's, a similar experience in upscale mass appeal. Chang's is a fancy chain of Asian eateries, basically, a Chinese restaurant in a sleek dress. Try as they might to dress up the concept (and they're strying a lot less, these days), Chang's is every bit the aitport hotel chain store it seems to be, with a slight Asian twist. Since the economic downturn, Chang's has had to economize a bit,and they tend to feel dingier, and less epcial, if still a slight cut above, say, Applebee's. If it weren't for my endless devotion to Chinese food, I'd have completely given up long ago.
As it is, we endured one of those silly, pointless waits these chain restaurants seem determined to deliver - forced waits with handheld joy buzzer "pagers" and the promises of tables in 20-25 minutes (we wound up at ours in less than 10). It's an artifical kind of buzz creation, mostly leaving grumpy groups and annoyed dates standing around parking lots, and since the downturn began, it just feelssilly. The demand for this kind of dining has softened tremendously, but the urge to seem "special" can't be shaken.
Still, dinner was pleasant, the food reliably good, the air conditioning a nice respite from the beginnings of clingy summer heat. And overall, not that expensive. It's a weird world where luxury comes so cheap.