Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: Cityview, datebook diner, dining, downtown, East Village, Food Blogs, Food Critics, Jim Duncan, Juice, questions, Relish, some other stuff., tacos
well, AMAZING TENS, it’s been a good long while since we have shared screen to screen moments. When our eyes meet over the same words at different times…it’s like a deliciously delayed serendipity.
A lot has happened in the cook’s life over the last tens of months, I worked my buns off at cooking instead of making up words and ended up opening my own restaurant in the lovely East Village of the most amazing town west of the Mississippi and east of the Missouri, Des Moines. Things are going swimingly so far (we are only just over a month in), and we have received our first few PRINT REVIEWS FROM FOOD CRITICS. This is a moment I have been pretty nervous for, as some of you know I have been less than forgiving towards the writers of food article type things. I sat in anticipation, knowing that my restaurant is doing things NEARLY up to my standards (if you are doing things right as a chef/owner/kitchen cat herder the nothing is going to be up to your standard…because of obsessing and raising the mental bar every day.), and also knowing that I have potentially upset a number of people who would be finally maybe writing/judging my true body of word, Tacopocalypse. Turns out, either I am a little paranoid about the whole food reviewer thing (duh), or my crew is really doing the job that I am perceiving that they do. Probably both. All reviews have been very kind and positive at this point. Thank you, we have truly worked hard to make sure that the dining experience is top notch for every person walking in the front door. I know it’s all about personal perception, and the persons perceiving so far have been very happy. Thank you, again.
Here’s the thing about personal perception: It’s personal. Every single individual sees similar situations in slightly (or wildly) different ways. Creating an experience that keeps a majority of the poplulace is a challenge because of this. What keeps one happy can ultimately infuriate the next. It’s some really frustrating shit, the kind of frustrating shit that birthed that keeps restaurant folk on their toes and continually aging faster than the rest of the populace, the kind of frustrating shit that caused this blog. It’s the kind of shit, that if you encounter it for a long enough period of time, you might start finding the humor rather than the stomach grinding pain of it all.
Thank you to all who have visited my new restaurant and have elevated it to a level of medium-ish success with your shining faces, and especially to you critics…I hope that you come back and continue your positive personal perception of what we here are doing.
You know what, I might just start writing this blog again. It feels good. Just hope it doesn’t get me into any trouble…hahaha.
Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: downtown, local, chefs, Food Critics, a-holes, George Formaro, Django, datebook diner, fine dining, Jim Duncan, some other stuff., manners
Yes, we have been absent again after a big push to start things back up
fool time. Full time. BUT DON’T GET SALTY! The weather blossomed into an early spring which caused me, The Cook, to do my job of cooking again. Last time we checked in our main subject of honor had announced her retirement from reviewing the restaurants in Our Fair City to pursue her other, more Francophilic, interests. I, along with my cohorts, have been poring over her increasingly truncated reviews, trying to find something LG-worthy to share. No luck there, until yesterday. Last night I fired up my Android (uggg) powered Google Reader application and among my plethora of news items from Cat Fancy and Milk Chugger’s Magazine I found a little post from our beloved DD concerning what she will not be missing upon her leaving the eating scene of the DMZ (Des Moines Zone).
First I would like to state that a person whom after nearly 14 YEARS of writing about a dining scene publishes one of their final articles regarding said scene and chooses only NEGATIVES to outline her nearly 14 YEARS of writing about said dining scene maybe shouldn’t have been writing about our city to begin with. After all of that time and all those hundreds of reviews all she has to say to the diners, restauranteurs, chefs, cooks, and servers is THREE NEGATIVE STATEMENTS ABOUT WHAT SHE WON’T BE MISSING ABOUT WHAT DES MOINES HAS BEEN DOING WITH FOOD OVER THE LAST NEARLY 14 YEARS. What will she not miss? Read Here. We have all spent a long time reading about her complaints, and I personally think she could have come up with a better list. (on a little tangent, I can’t help but think when she took the job, nearly 14 years ago, she was in another city with a less French Name and saw an opportunity to live in the “Midwest Riviera” but upon arrival found the dread of gloppy soup, iceberg lettuce, and giant wasteful portions to be so oppressive that she decided that if she has to do this 13 or 14 more times, she is out of here)
So what do we here at the world’s most dangerous food blog (about Des Moines) think that the list should have included? First off, it should be a POSITIVE list that doesn’t read like an elementary report card that says “Your kid will never learn, they are hopeless and you should just give up for there is no hope for change.” Maybe after blah blah blah years said food reviewist could find at least three things to miss about Our Fair City and those whom bring you publicly consumed food? Here are three-ish things that, after our NEARLY THREE YEARS of writing about the DD, we would expect to see in a list written by her, if she wasn’t being a constant “negative nancy.” (btw, just because your job title includes the word “critic,” it doesn’t preclude you from making positive statements) So here it is, the….
Three-ish Things We Feel The Datebook Diner Should Miss About DSM Dining
(if she wasn’t being such a negative-pants)
- The growing of French cuisine in Des Moines. Back when DD started out in Des Moines there were very few choices for French dining. Over the years French has come and French has gone, but our current state of French Dining in the city of the monks finds us a plethora of French-based restaurants. Bistro Montage, Django, Tartine, La Mie, Baru 66…these are all places that should bring joy to a Francophile’s heart.
- The Farmers’ Markets. The Farmer’s Market isn’t a wholly French concept, but it is French enough for a Francophile to come enjoy. On Saturday mornings you can walk through the market, sample prepared foods, buy fresh baked breads and locally grown produce and meats, and see some of our more ambitious Chefs of des Moines chatting with local farmers and picking out the freshest goods for their menus. It is my understanding that the DD never really liked the Farmers Market (at least the Down town iteration) and kept visits to a minimum. The Farmers Market is the life of our Dining Scene during the summer…but maybe now that her job isn’t reviewing food she will stop down more often.
- Watching A City Grow. You get a job reviewing restaurants in Chicago, New York, LA, SF, any larger city and you get to jump right in to a dining scene which has been thriving for many decades. If you took a job doing the same thing NEARLY 14 YEARS AGO, you were in a very special position to watch what was once a chain restaurant hell with a few local choices, most of which probably served gloppy soup, to what it is now: A growing community of chefs and restaurateurs whom are constantly working to raise the bar in the dining scene. We have a respected culinary program just to the north in Ankeny (Iowa Culinary Institute/DMACC) and the students of that program are staying in town with increasing frequency, seeing an opportunity for growth…or even of a fast rise to ownership. It’s a much different world from the day George Formaro was baking bread on South Union to this day after Chef Formaro and his cohorts at Orchestrate worked for over a decade to change the face of what and how we eat (even if he has been damned for portion size). Things are much different now, and are growing at an increased rate. DD had the opportunity to watch all of this from the inside, yet it doesn’t seem to matter in the context of her career in DSM.
- Influence. Maybe she should miss the somewhat misguided influence she wielded over the dining public? Her words have had noticeable impact on the lives of restaurants. In fact I have watched a few close with a quickness after a Datebook Diner review (not that a few of those few weren’t warranted). Whatever.
There are many more, but alas, I am out of time and have to go do my actual job. Keep following along, there are only two more weeks of our current DD’s reign of terror…then it’s time for to pick on the new guy/gal.
Filed under: restaurant reviews | Tags: des moines, hugs, Food Critics, food, Cats, datebook diner, Bathory
I regret to inform you that the most popular person featured in this blog is stepping down from her food reviewing post to concentrate on other Frenchness. I mean endeavors… In true DD style, I will just repost her words for you.
From the Des Moines Register Datebook Diner Blog from March 6th, 2012:
I’m Ready to Pass the Plate!
At one point, after I had mentioned that I had been writing the column for 14-plus years, one kid raised his hand and asked, “So, when will you stop being the Datebook Diner?”
Interesting question. But what it reveals is that even a third-grader sensed that 14 years was a really long time to be doing this job.
And he’s right. In fact, I’d been thinking it was time to move on for a little while now. While it’s hard to give up a gig that combines two things I love to do (eat and write), it’s time for me to—in the lingo of people who move on from jobs—“pursue other opportunities.”
As much as that sounds like a cliché, it’s true. I’ve recently published a cookbook (The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day), and I need to continue in my efforts promoting that and possibly following it up with another book.
I also want to focus on more healthful dining, both in my career and my personal life. And let’s face it, that isn’t easy to do when you’re the restaurant reviewer—it’s not the focus of most restaurants.
Finally, I simply think it’s time to let someone else give a fresh perspective on the restaurant scene.
My last review will run next month.
It’s been a pleasure.
There you have it, folks. WEM managed to squeeze in a few jabs about how long she has been subjected to the grueling lifestyle of a food reviewing person, pimp out her new cookbook in yet another Register forum, throw a subtle punch about how unhealthy it is to dine in DSM (damn portion sizes) , and then claim that she thinks it’s time for someone else to bring a fresh take on the scene.
Who should that be? Any ideas?
Winnie, we are going to miss you here at Locally Grown. In fact, we may have to change our whole format back to what it was intended now that you are not going to be around…especially Ace Editor Bathory (here’s a picture for old time’s sake)
Next month will be her final review. I hope there is at least one during that time that is worth an old school picking apart. Keep your fingers crossed.
Filed under: restaurant reviews | Tags: des moines, Food Blogs, Food Critics, a-holes, datebook diner, some other stuff., Datebook, le bonne Femme, Trevor fisher, Kula Grill, Prison Slop, Jersey shore, Kittens
Hello, Tens. I have once again made a small clearing in the haystack of my precious-esque time to bring you a little gripe regarding a poorly performed food review job-type-thing. It has been a while since I have had a complaint about food writing that I deemed worth the energy to spout forth towards your internerd browsing ocular apparati, a fact to be taken not-so-lightly when the news about to be broken to you is finally broken to you in the next paragraph, just after this upcoming title thing. I present to you:
The Great Datebook 2 For $20 Debacle Of Ought 11
Let me re-start by saying that the staff of the Des Moines Register (save for the Illustrious Datebook Diner, who is most likely too busy planning her cooking-book promotional tour of the Greater DMZ this fall to stop by the Farmers’ Market and visit my booth) and DSM Register published Juice magazine have been more than amazing to me during the last few weeks of my fledgling foray into chef/ownership. Thank you to all who have become friends and regular stoppers-by. This debacle has nothing to do with you. Unless one of you happens to be Trevor Fisher. If one of you happens to be TF, please accept my light backhand slap to your face for your writing infractions and continue on with your taco liking.
(Finally) The story: This past Friday I was enjoying a sub-standard breakfast during the course of an unplanned “ride of shame” brought on by hanging out with a very good chef-friend until the wee hours, when I spotted the day-old-doughnut Datebook in the newspaper rack at the never-to-be-named restaurant of choice. It has been a number of weeks since I have peeled apart the pages of DSM’s # 1,2,or3 weekly events magazine, so I said “What the heck.”
I opened up directly to an article written by TF (who I don’t know or recognize, is this guy a regular contributor?) entitled “Two for $20″ which is meant to outline a good place to get lunch/dinner/a meal for two human adults for around the $20 price point. TF chose/had chosen for him the task of reviewing American/Bosnian cafe Kula Grill. Here is a link to the original article, in case you are into that sort of stuff.
TF opens up with the standard review fare, and the writing is solid (no Matt Miller-isms here), then we get to the food. Now, before we go forward let me axe you a question. If you were going to review food from a cuisine of which you had no knowledge whatsoever, in the Year Of Our Gourd 2011, the age of Interdork Information Searches, for an ACTUAL PRINTED PUBLICATION WITH A SERIOUS DISTRIBUTION, would you not at least do some research as to what the basics of said cuisine entail so as not to be the one bringing the pointed stick to the gun fight? Not TF. TF don’t need no posse of information, as shown by this excerpt from said infractuous artice:
Possessing no knowledge of, or experience with Bosnian food, we deferred to the waiter, who suggested the goulash if we craved genuine homestyle Bosnian. When in Sarajevo, right?
Un-f’ing-believable. This is just stupid. But it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what comes next, which is the description of Kula Grill’s goulash:
The first thing you notice about Kula’s goulash — mashed potatoes and hunks of beef smothered in a thick gravy — is it resembles prison-cafeteria slop.
What? Seriously? This is printed in our #1 newspaper? NOBODY along the chain of writer-to-printer read this and found anything wrong? Nobody said “um…why does TF know what prison cafeteria slop looks like, and why is he invoking its visual vehemence in the confines of a restaurant review?” Maybe the summary line softened the blow?
Sounds gross, looks worse, tastes great.
Clearly, TF should forego the attempts and restaurant reviews and slip directly into a comfortable marketing executive position.
The rest of the review is of equal tragedy to both the restaurant and to the credibility of TF’s writing career. If you haven’t read it, check it out for yourself.
As a restaurant professional, if I were to read a review of this caliber in a print publication of the food I was serving to the public, I would probably
A. Call my lawyer to ask for legal advice
B. Call the editor of the register and lodge a formal complaint, and request the reviewer be tossed from the nearest window accessible from his/her cubicle.
C. In the words of N.W.A., Start some shit.
I can not believe this review written by someone who possesses even less candor and skill than even the most amateur of amateur food blogists was allowed to be printed in an actual paper. I would expect those words from maybe a cast member of Jersey Shore.
Trevor Fisher, you have just landed yourself an award from Locally Grown. I just can’t remember what we used to call it.
Filed under: Dining Tips, Local Food Commentary | Tags: chefs, fine dining, food, Food Blogs, Food Critics, local, some other stuff.
It’s refreshing to see that so many of you have such strong opinions regarding the desired credentials of the people who have been charged with the task of influencing your opinion with their…opinion.
Some of you have tried making a distinction between Food Writers, Food Critics, Restaurant Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Entertainment Writers, and Yelpers, BUT you can toss around words like Foal, Mare, Colt, Filly, or Stallion, but a horse is still a horse. If you choose to review food or a restaurant (professionally or on a user-reviewed site like Yelp), you are really trying to throw yourself into the same stable as the rest of the neighing nay-sayers. This is one of the reasons I don’t “review” restaurants here, and if you took a look at the first Locally Grown post which i re-posted last week, you would maybe understand where I am coming from.
Do we need restaurant reviewists? We do. Do we need sweeping food review reform? Probably not. Unlike the policies force-fed to us by our elected officials, the word of a reviewer can and should be taken with a little subjectivity. Ok, maybe my coffee intake has overtaken my ability to turn a sensible sentence.
We DO need people who are willing to venture out to new dining spots and share the story of their experience with others who may not be able to get out as often to try new spots, or may not have the financial or time resources to spare on an unknown venture. There is nothing wrong with being careful with your wallet/purse or your tastebuds, and you careful diners have to be thankful for those who would help you avoid making a dining experience into your own personal tar baby.
In this case a review can be a valuable asset. BUT the problem is trust. Should you trust a particular reviewer or publication? Should you put the fate of your hard earned money and free time in the hands of a stranger? Have you ever been disappointed by a restaurant after reading a glowing review? I have. Hell, I have even gone to work at a particular kitchen because of its popularity within the reviewer crowd only to be fully let down.
What does all of this gibberish mean? (it’s funny, you would think that stepping away from the bottle for a length of time would make for more coherent posts) I will try to sum this up one more time:
LG Tips For Successful Ventures Into Unknown Dining
- Friends - First and foremost you should have, or find, a friend or colleague whom has similar taste as you, and has an adventurous spirit which propels them into the dining world.
- Social Media – Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to your advantage. You can begin networking with like-minded diners from your area and find some hidden gems that would have otherwise escaped your grasp.
- User Review Sites – Yes, read reviews on popular web search sites in addition to user-reviewer sites such as Yelp and the like. Yes, I warn you about trusting these sites…but not all of the reviews are from deck stacking restaurant staff or disgruntled diners/former employees. With a little reading and research you can find some trustworthy folks. Right, Jordan?
- The Print Press - The Physically Printed On Paper crew are a good resource for finding newly opened or soon-to-open spots. Your local newspaper (sometimes) has an entertainment staff with ears to the ground listening for the faint footsteps of an approaching restaurant opening. You can also get a valuable history lesson on the dining scene from people who have been dining…professionally…for a number of years. You can also be misled by someone with years of “beef” built up with the local Restaurateurs and Chefs. Approach the words of the “pro” with the same caution you would use as the “Yelper.”
- Food Bloggers – Local food bloggers are a valuable resource. These people have invested the time and money in their own web presence and generally take their writing serious. This is another avenue which you have to explore carefully, read their blogs and get to know their taste. If they have written about a restaurant you frequented, compare your experience with theirs. If there are discrepancies contact the blogger and open a discussion. Most bloggers are more than helpful when it comes to explaining what they have written about.
- Insiders - Do you know someone on the “inside?”
ShirleySurely you know someone who works in a restaurant (this seems elementary to me as all of my friends know someone who works in a restaurant). This doesn’t really pertain to chains, those folks IMO and experience know nothing about the local dining scene. I am talking about insiders who work at places like Django, Alba, Centro, 801, and the like. These folks usually have worked at a few of the local spots and know the food and service provided. Pick their brains, even when dining at their restaurants. I know this sounds a little tacky, but I am sure anyone reading this has the ability to wind a yarn around the situation.
The message here is such: You have to do some research, spend a little time poking around. Your money and time is valuable, and Our Fair City has an almost inordinate amount of restaurants vying for your financial attention. Don’t trust just one source, there is no “Food Guru” (although one guy tried convincing you of this) which can espouse every bit of knowledge you need to make a decision. Don’t trust a “star” system, trust your own taste and ingenuity.
My last bit of advice is DON’T TRUST ANONYMOUS INTERWEB REVIEWERS. If you don’t have the cajones to attach your real identity to your opinion, it must not matter that much to you. These people are what I often like to refer to as “Culinary Cowards” (not to be confused with Culinary Cow) are often just talking a bunch of crap. Go back to AOL chat rooms with your BS, CC. We don’t need you here.
Now get out there and eat (Local)!
P.S. feel free to ask me for dining ideas (FB Sam Auen, Twitter @VegChefDSM, Email email@example.com). I HAVE most of the information you need at my disposal
Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: a-holes, Food Blogs, Food Critics, New York Times, Noah Ellis, Red Medicine, S. Irene Virbila
OH, I love it when restaurateurs take their fate into their own hands! They might be undermining themselves, they may be poising themselves for a “Person Of The Year” award from local diners, or they might just be kicking out another paying customer. Such is life, when making decisions regarding your own fate compounded with the inclusion of another person/group of people you can only predict the outcome to so many decimals. That is what makes life interesting, and in this case:
In this episode of Restaurant Life we encounter an uh…encounter betwixt a Restaurant Owner and a Restaurant Critic who are at odds as to whether said Critic should be seated. This scenario may sound VERY familiar to you tens of readers who experienced “Wini-Gate” in all of its Meh-ness.
Here is the tale as told by the New York Times:
December 22, 2010, 6:04 pm
<!– — Updated: 6:29 pm –>
Restaurateur Ejects Los Angeles Times Critic
By PETE WELLS
If you are an owner of a restaurant that keeps a critic waiting for a table, you could spend the rest of the night trying to make it all better. Or you could just throw the critic out on the street.
Noah Ellis chose the second route when the Los Angeles Times critic S. Irene Virbila came into Red Medicine last night. Mr. Ellis recounted the episode on the restaurant’s Tumblr, and posted a photo of Ms. Virbila that he snapped just before expelling her. Here’s how he explained making that call:
Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs — we don’t feel that they should be blind-sided by someone with no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.
Ms. Virbila told Daily Dish, her paper’s food blog, that she and her party had been waiting 45 minutes past their reservation time when Mr. Ellis walked up, carrying a camera. Her editor, Russ Parsons, told Daily Dish that Ms. Virbila was unsettled by the encounter and by having her picture taken without her permission. Most of all, he said, “She was upset because she has worked extremely hard for more than 15 years to maintain her anonymity in the L.A. restaurant scene.”
He also told Daily Dish that the Times will continue with its plans to review Red Medicine. The blog did not state whether he intends to have the review carried out by Ms. Virbila or by another critic.
6:25 p.m. | Updated In a phone interview with Glenn Collins, Mr. Parsons said that Ms. Virbila preferred not to speak about the incident. “She would rather let her writing speak for itself,” she said.
He confirmed that the paper intends to have the restaurant reviewed, either by Ms. Virbila or by another staffer. “We may dress her up in a clown uniform,” he said with a laugh, “or enlist one of Ruth Reichl’s makeup artists.”
This is the part I have found to be the most profound, and is almost the thesis statement on which this blog was founded on one year ago:
Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: a-holes, Food Critics, La Mie, ten easy steps, Wini-Gate
Well, Tens, I can honestly say that Wini-Gate has come to an anti-climactic end. I am calling it, time of death 9:36 December 9, 20 ought 10. I can only hope that everyone involved, and those who have injected themselves into the situation, have learned two valuable lessons: 1) Watch what you blog about if you are high-ish profile or employed by actual publishers and 2) Restaurant owners are mad as hell and are [possibly] not going to take it any more.
- Food Criticism isn’t the Truth! Food Criticism is a goddamn Amusement Park!
We have also learned that being an a-hole customer is just that, being an a-hole customer. You show up at closing time, you may be poking the snake. If you think that you are cutting it close or have a question about closing time, use that “stupid phone” in your hand, swipe your greezy finger across its beautiful super amoled screen and “Lougle” search for a phone number. Touch the number that magically appears and, if your phone is as stupify-ing as mine, it will automatically dial the restaurant. Ask the human on the other end of airspace, assuming that humans aren’t obsolete by the time you decide to actually dial a phone number to contact said eatery, what time they close and if you are close to arriving and they are almost closed, ask if they mind serving you at such a late hour (not that 8pm is late for anyone under 70 years old). If they opt to continue closing, they may have a suggestion (other than growing up and having some kids) as to where else you could experience the feeling of food in your mouth at such an hour.
Here is a quick guide:
Locally Grown’s Steps To Avoid Closing Time Scorn
- It seems close to closing time for the restaurant you chose to visit.
- Look up the Inderdork site or phone number for the restaurant.
- Call. Do Not Email. Email will more than likely be not returned in time.
- BONUS TECHIE STEP: If you and the restaurant are both on Twitter or a similar Social Media outlet, send them a message, you will get a pretty immediate answer (although not as effective as calling the restuarant for this purpose). Some eateries have gone past the point of just having a Twitter account and are actually using it to COMMUNICATE WITH THEIR GUESTS. This is also a good option for those of you who thought emailing was a good idea in step 3, probably due to a societal based fear of actual human interaction.
- Ask what time they close.
- If they are within 15-20 minutes of closing ask if they would be willing to acomodate you and your party. The smaller your party, the better the chances of success. Unless you are Wini and you are trying to eat at La Mie.
- If they are unable to fit you in to their closing time frame (although they really should as a general good neighbor rule), ask for a suggestion of a different location.
- Thank them for either staying open to serve you, or for their help in finding an alternate dining establishment.
- Do not give ultimatums or act like an a-hole.
It is really that simple to avoid feeling the chapped hide of a Pony Express rider when dining late in the DMZ. Or anywhere.
Wini-Gate is over. If you want updates, subscribe to her comments section. Her readers have gone beyond the call of whatever.
Speaking of dining, I have to get going to beat the noon rush for a downtown lunch…