From May 28 until June 2, visitors to the first-floor atrium at Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue, weaving through perfumed salesladies at a trunk show for Gold Skin Care, will find Sarah Magid, an organic baker from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, selling her most popular item, a "Goldie"—a cylindrical chocolate sponge cake filled with buttercream that retails for $8.
"People see it and say, ‘Oh my God, is that a Twinkie and it’s … organic?" said Ms. Magid, a former fashion accessories designer for companies including J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, and Coach. When she started making the confection two years ago, she dubbed it a "Tweenkee," but she eventually changed the name in less direct tribute to the Hostess pastry, and perhaps a nod to the phrase "golden oldie." Enthusiasts include staffers at Women’s Wear Daily and Ed Bucciarelli, the CEO of Bendel. "They just laugh and then they eat it," Ms. Magid said. "It brings a sense of humor to the food."
Not everyone is amused, however. Such gourmet gimmicks are increasingly common in New York’s rarefied circles, where dining outside the home has become a prolonged and occasionally wearying exercise in wit and detachment. We have entered an era of Ironic Food, with chefs taking working-class staples, citifying them into nearly unrecognizable form and serving them with a wink and a smile to the upper crust.
At BLT Market, Laurent Tourondel serves "pigs in a blanket": prime cuts of beef and pork cuddling in a delicate puff pastry, served as a complimentary start to a meal. Daniel Boulud, Olde Homestead and the Wall Street Burger Shoppe have all done burgers of varying degrees of unaffordability. And at Graydon Carter’s Waverly Inn, the once-mocked $55 plate of truffled mac ’n’ cheese has become one of the restaurant’s defining dishes.
Combined with the brigade of Park Slope mommies pouring "evaporated cane juice" (a.k.a. sugar) down their children’s throats, it’s enough to send anyone scurrying over to the nearest Dollar Menu.
DOLLARS FOR DONUTS
The undisputed king of the ironic-food trend is the formidable Thomas Keller, owner of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, currently purveying his whimsical concoctions to the jaded international business set at Per Se in Columbus Circle. Both restaurants have been awarded three stars from the Michelin guide; Mr. Keller is the only American chef to have received this double award.
The man was taught by French-born classicist Roland Henin, but he insists on playing with his food. The "donuts" in his "Coffee and Donuts" dessert course (part of the $275 prix fixe) are nothing like the hefty, sugar-bloated dough rings that make Homer Simpson drool; they are delicate puffed pastries dusted with cinnamon. The "coffee" is semifreddo, with a splash of cappuccino. Mr. Keller’s "Steak and Eggs," meanwhile, nominally a working-class staple for truck drivers in greasy spoon diners, is made with handpicked Araucanian hen eggs, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, russet potato rösti, watercress leaves and his handmade "steak sauce." Another signature dish, appropriately called "Tongue in Cheek," is made of braised beef cheeks paired with a sliced calf’s tongue.