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Seeking the epicurean epic

Feeding Frenzy
Feeding Frenzy: Across Europe in Search of the Perfect Meal
By Stuart Stevens

Ballantine Books: 1998

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This review first appeared in the American Reporter in 1998.

It's a heck of a premise for a book: Ship a vintage Ford Mustang convertible to England, then use it to travel to every three-star restaurant in the Michelin Guide. All twenty-nine of them. On consecutive nights.

Which is just what New York political consultant Stuart Stevens set out to do, along with one of his best friends, Rat, and a dog she picked up in England.

It's all as confusing as it sounds and, for a good 200 pages (and 19 or so four-stars), it's wonderful fun and a heck of a story. There are blown master cylinders and delicious agneu a la fleur de thym, hunts for transmission lines and baguettes, all served up with a literary flourish any chef could appreciate.

As does any good travel writer, Stevens has a knack for meeting up with locals and using their insights to illustrate the new terrain for us. There's Claire, the nutty expatriate friend of a friend in Brussels. Victor, in Paris, who doesn't know quite what to make of Rat. And a variety of mechanics employed to try to keep the Mustang going. (How successful were they? Let's simply point out that Stevens and Rat were not able to keep to their plan of eating at a three-star every night.)

At the beginning of the book, each restaurant gets a richly detailed description. The decor. The service. The menu. The ambience. And, oh, the food – the food above all. Paragraph after delicious paragraph, Stevens regales us with stories of meals guaranteed to induce our Pavlovian responses.

But Stevens loses interest – either in the trip or the book – about two-thirds of the way through his trip – which is about 90 percent of the way through the book. In fact, once Rat's boyfriend Carl shows up, the whole thing kind of peters out. Three's a crowd and all that, one supposes, but the last ten restaurants certainly don't get the kind of lavish attention the first 19 did.

For God's sake, the last twelve days – ten restaurants – take up a grand total of 32 pages! We're talking some of the best digs in Europe: Bocuse, Pic, Georges Blanc. C'mon – most of us will never see the inside of these places; describe them for us. Live them for us. Don't blithely toss off each like a forgotten Happy Meal at McDonald's.

So "Feeding Frenzy" ends up a bit of a disappointment – after starting off strongly, and hitting its stride, it suddenly all ends, abruptly, with no warning.

Which is too bad, because rushing through the last part of the whole escapade is like hurrying through a dessert of creme brulee after leisurely enjoying a wonderful seven-course meal at Taillevent in Paris.

And you just shouldn't do a thing like that.