Mission Street Food's restaurant memoir-cookbook, which officially launches tomorrow with a party at the Make-Ot Room, is remarkably modest. The word shitshow appears quite a few times, the intro to the recipe section includes the disclaimer "What follows will not impress every chef out there..." and the book begins with a mock business plan whose executive summary reads:
The goal of Mission Street Food (hereafter The Restaurant) is to offer unpredictable eating experiences that make no profit, lose no money, and require a substantial amount of work. The Restaurant will serve a different menu every night, making it impossible to achieve any economies of scale or regular routines, resulting in food waste and short tempers.
In short, Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant is a clear-eyed story of a popup restaurant whose instant fame seemed to plunge founders Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz into a fugue state of delight and panic that never dispeled for the 18 months Mission Street food was open.
In the first half of the book, Myint and Leibowitz take turns telling the story of the restaurant, which began as a one-off street-food experiment cooked out of a Guatemalan food trailer. There are sidebars on the greatness of fried chicken, the varying savviness of MSF's guest chefs, and the Food Pantry at St. Gregory's, as well as a comic telling the story of how some douche got the couple to give up on the trailer and find Lung Shan, the run-down Chinese restaurant that has made dinners at Mission Street Food and its child, Mission Chinese Food, so atmospheric.
The second half of the book is a jumble of recipes from Mission Street Food and its associated projects, combined with Myint's thoughts on blenders (he's pro) and aged ribeye (very pro). There's also an interesting suggestion for battering fish that SFoodie is going to try once we invest in a whipped cream charger (on that subject, Myint is very, very pro) and a fifth of vodka. After the six-volume Modernist Cuisine, Mission Street Food may be the least practical cookbook ever published, but making a meal from the book isn't the point of the recipes. They're as much a part of the story as the memoir, worth reading for their own sake.
Coming from McSweeney's a month after it launched Lucky Peach, David Chang's quarterly journal, the MSF book clarifies McSweeney's approach to the cookbooks it's publishing under its new food imprint: Cookbooks can be graphic novels, editor Chris Ying seems to be arguing, rather than collections of hints for housemakers. They tell stories, and talk about larger ideas. They're books you read with Weezy on the stereo, tapping the names of recipes you'd really like to make (but probably won't) into your Droid.
In between tales of disaster, Myint and Leibowitz slip in a few thoughts about blogging, the media, and charitable missions that traditional restaurants might want to copy into their Droids, too. Without ever using the godawful phrase "creating community," they recognize Mission Street Food as a phenomenon, not just a place to eat. So it's fitting that Mission Street Food is a phenomenon, not just a cookbook, as well.
If you want a copy of the book, you might as well go to the launch party tomorrow -- tickets are $7 on Brown Paper Tickets, or $25 with a copy of the book. That's cheaper than the $30 publication price, and you might get to eat fried chicken and shake hands with the authors while you're there. Not a bad deal.
Mission Street Food book launch
Where: Make Out Room, 3225 22nd St. (at Valencia)