Landing with an extravagant thud in mailboxes everywhere right now is that annual testament to the state of specialty foods industry, the Dean & DeLuca holiday catalog. It's surprisingly appealing for being, in the end, just another catalog. It doesn't even rate as conventional food porn -- no oversized, gleaming, so-close-you can-taste-it art like a cookbook, or the Williams-Sonoma catalog. Probably adding to my enthusiasm is the fact that I don't spend long lunch hours the rest of the year at D&Ds in New York trying to decide if I can afford either a 1 oz. slice of pate or crackers. There's still distance and mystery; maybe even a little excitement reminiscent of the Sears “Wish Book” era.
And this is a very expensive wish book. Organic smoked salmon shaved paper thin, squat perfume bottles of syrupy balsamico, Mille Crepes cakes, chocolates and nuts and marrons glaces and spices, and the cutest marzipan pigs you've ever seen. Many things cost more than $100, the standard D&D gift basket is $1,000. (What verb is correct for the way one "reads" catalogs like this....Scan? Eat? Shop? Absorb? I hope it's clear, by the way, that I don't actually buy anything.) The catalog pulls you in, sends your eyes greedily over each page scanning for details.
And there’s no point to an ironic little discussion about the lure of packaging, which here includes but goes way past the world of the round D&D tin. The packaging rocks. You want to pay for it. Because the catalog is a collection of offerings from savvy D&D buyers, the packaging is all beautifully different. In sheer variety it's like a trip through Fortnum’s at Christmas hamper time: Smithfield hams, Provencal calissons, wine labels, all filling the book with a cornucopia of font, color, design. Not to mention the catalog also wants to sell you the hardware from its tableaux: adorable pots de creme or a chocolatiere, for example. Buy some delicious tete de moine and the Girolle that shaves curly cheese ruffles off the top. Get it all! Gimme gimme!
Chicagoans may in particular enjoy the sight of an entire fatty lobe of foie gras glistening naughtily on page eight. Send one to your favorite alderman if you have a spare $120 plus the mandatory next-day delivery charge.