Friday, January 25, 2008

Heist, Hype, Hoary, and Lame

“Late night finds me in the parking lot of Take One strip club on Northeast 79th Street (could this be the new restaurant row?).....
Pamela Robin Brandt-New Times 1/24/08
“No longer just a toll-free way to zip from Miami to Miami Beach, the 79th Street Causeway is becoming a surprisingly hip restaurant row...”
As Stewie Griffin might say, THANK YOU!
New Times' Lee Klein hypes Domo Japones, and here's what I like to call the Klassic Klein Beverage Sentence (r) -”An upstairs lounge in the rear of the space provides a romantic nook to partake of sake, cocktails, or wine; a listing of the last encompasses two dozen bottles, with many in the $30 to $40 range.”
37 offhand words about the beverages here, including 18 about the wine. I think that might be another record. But the real laziness comes in the annoying omission of anything to do with sake, which many people, I've heard, enjoy drinking with sushi.
I also love the fact that he says that DJ, Michael's and Grass, all located on NE 40th Street, are on the same 'corridor'. I predict that NE 40th Street will become the Surprisingly Hip New Restaurant Corridor. You heard it here first.
Over at the Herald, Enrique Fernandez, in his continuing million-part series, 'Cuban Food Retreads Nobody Gave a Shit About the First Time', your favorite elderly uncle discourses on 'Cuban Pizza'. Turns out the best Cuban Pizza is in Cuba. (I can't keep using the phrase, 'No Shit' every week, can I?). Well, it turns out, according to my sources, that the best Italian Pizza is in Italy. The best Paella, Spain. The best tacos, Mexico. You may be on to something my friend. And also, according to Tío Enrique, the best Cuban pizza he's had was at a private-home restaurant for Cubans only in Havana. The pie 'rocked'. Eloquent. I can't wait for the next part, 'Other Stuff Nobody Can Get But Cubans', by Anonymous Bearded Old Guy.
Victoria P. Elliot-VPE-First let me say that I'm not a big fan of the star system, but I understand people like to see them. But maybe there could be an explanation of what the stars mean, so that when you pan a place, like Alta Cocina, and give it 2 ½ stars, maybe we would actually know what that means. Can a place get no stars? Ten stars? Just a minor suggestion.
She whines that on her two visits, neither of the owners come by to make sure everything is okay at her table. What, does she need somebody to tuck in her bib? Isn't everyone these days complaining about overwrought, over-attentive service? I praise God when the people leave me alone so I can have a damn conversation. I don't like to plunk down $100 or more for dinner with my constant companion and then have to talk to some guy I've never met all night, just because he brought me my prawns.
About the wine list? “Markup on the 50 or so mainly New World wines, from a $32 Chateau St. Michelle reisling to a $120 brunello from Pogio Antico, seems to be the usual two to three times retail, but it's hard to judge with vintages absent.” Like from ALL OF YOUR REVIEWS? Sorry, didn't mean to yell. Maybe you could ASK TO SEE THE BOTTLE? Sorry. That's why they (don't) call them journalists, folks. And what is “the usual two to three times retail...” Does that mean the St. Michelle is $16 retail, or $11 retail? Not that big a deal, but when you look at the Brunello, the difference between 2 and three times retail is $20 on the retail side. (In other words, Zippy, is the bottle being marked up from $40 retail, or $60 retail. That's a big question when it comes to how much of a rip-off the wine is, or isn't.) And if reviewers keep talking about such exorbitant markups as though they are normal, we will never see ridiculously high wine prices in restaurants come down. Someone needs to fight for the consumer, and stop giving restaurants a free pass on their wine gouging.
I see four very disturbing trends here. 1)Klein reviews a restaurant open barely two months. 2)VPE only tries a restaurant twice before reviewing, and 3)Enrique reviews a restaurant that closed thirty years ago (it's possible-he never mentions when he ate that great homemade pizza). I think a fine-dining restaurant needs three months and three visits before reviewing, to get all the kinks worked out. Then you can fairly judge. And your review is more helpful to the dining public. It's not just an ill-informed, hastily written, meal recap you might see on Chowhound. At least that's how it's done in the bigger cities. Time to step up, folks. Oh, and the fourth thing? I don't call it stealing anymore. It's an homage. So, thank you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why Is There a Press Chops?

When I was younger I always loved the 'Press Clips' column in the Village Voice. Crotchety dudes would muckrake through the media and destroy their enemies from within. Blunders, lies, cozy relationships, crookedness; journalists who were deemed guilty of any of these crimes and many others were mercilessly exposed and pilloried by the likes of the radical-left-leaning Alexander Cockburn, who often wrote as though he were wiping the bile off his mouth with his right hand as he typed with his left. I'm not saying that what happens in restaurant reviewing is as important as real journalists getting things right. I? With today's emphasis on 'sustainable' food, and the push (especially in the media) to change the way everyone in this country looks at the way we eat, maybe it is important enough to be taken seriously, and not sloughed off as mere insipid, genre writing. it? With this column, I'm going to take a look into the weekly shenanigans of our local food pimps, whip myself up into a righteous frenzy when I feel they've used their bully pulpits for naught, and give credit where credit is due when they get it right (just kidding-I'll leave the credit-giving to the rest of the sycophantic foodie tribe). And I promise that all words used in this column will be organic (at least according to USDA standards).

A Look Last Week

January 17, 2008....I'm going to start with the New Times this week, just because it's so easy. (As for Enrique Fernandez in the Herald, he and his bad Julia Child references and abuelito folksiness will have to wait for next week.)
New Times reviewer Lee Klein has another bad burp day, and I don't mean the food. The followup to his bland menu-recitation/sermon (I hesitate to call it a review) of the mega-chain Chipotle outlet, seemingly all done with 'research' off the Internet (including “quotes” from Chipotle's founder), is a review of the Miami outlet of Bonefish Grill. First let me say that I learned something from this review. According to Lee, after writing that his crab cakes were composed almost exclusively of pure lump backfin, comes this piece of edification, “ takes 30 pounds of crab to produce one pound of backfin.” But isn't that like saying it takes 30 pounds of cow to produce one pound of sirloin? No shit! And, although I don't blame Lee for the general misunderstanding of crab meat, 'lump backfin' and 'backfin' are not the same. There is other meat in the backfin that is not lump, dude. I suppose his major 'point', which is that Bonefish has no freezer, therefore it serves never-frozen fish, leaves one to wonder about the journalist in Klein. How does he know that the fish is not delivered frozen (or frozen at sea, etc.), and simply defrosted in the refrigerators? And I'm pretty sure that those shrimp he ate were frozen, too, as most medium-grade shrimp are frozen, often at sea. In fact, if he never saw anything but fillets, does he assume that they're filleting fresh fish at each and every Bonefish Grill? And of course the do-gooder Lee, who won't order Chilean Sea Bass “...because it's nearly extinct..”, has no problem allowing his dining companion to order it, and to then review it! If you have a problem with the fish, either tell people not to order it and move on, or order it (I'm sorry, isn't the New Times paying for Klein and his companion's meal?), and review it. You can't do both.
Also, according to Klein, the wine list exists. Why won't reviewers at least mention a couple of bottles? One, even? One would be nice. Don't most people order wine with their dinner? But restaurant writers here seem to know or care little about wine.
And the review starts out with 'insipid', but ends on 'great meal'. Shill, anyone?
Bill Citara reviews Wine 69, which is across the street from Uva 69, no relation, but I see a trend forming (Michy's 69?). His premise is that Wine 69's owner was bold to open in this neighborhood, but the wine bar is two doors down from Michy's, one of Miami's most sought-after reservations. Within a block or two are also the popular Uva, Dogma, Karma, and the actual pioneer of the neighborhood, Casa Toscana. Did I mention Subway is a block south? And some coffee place is about a hundred feet away, what's it called? Oh, right. Starbucks. Smart move, but not really bold. So let's stop pretending this stretch of Biscayne is desolate anymore, okay? There's a Starbucks for gods sake!
I'm not sure of Bill's wine knowledge, and he doesn't convince with this one. I could go on all night, really, but with stuff like “...everything from Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to French reds and premium Old World wines,” it is obvious that he doesn't know that, obviously, many French reds and premium Old World wines ARE Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. In fact, even the simplest beginner knows that reds produced in Burgundy are almost exclusively Pinot Noirs, just as the whites are exclusively Chardonnays. That's about as Old World as one can get.
But here in the New World, we like to know about the prices of the wines by the glass, by the bottle, and maybe a few words on the size of the pours, so we can decide if there is any value here. Are the flights two ounces, three ounces, or what? How big are the by-the-glass pours? Perhaps a run-down of some of the best buys, or splurges, or unusual bottles? I have to report that Bill failed to give any of that information. That's right. In a review of a wine bar, there is not one mention of any of that. Not one mention of the prices of bottles, or which wines are served by the glass, or the vintage years of the wines he drank. My suspicions are that Mr. Citara knows bupkis about wine. But for someone writing about a wine bar, at least (as Bill says about Wine 69's owner) you have to applaud his Chutzpah.