Filed under: Local Food Commentary, restaurant reviews | Tags: datebook diner, des moines, des moines city council, Jim Duncan
About a year ago, on a day not unlike today (but with about 16 inches more snow on the ground) I awoke to an interesting message in my inbox. A very close friend of mine had, via FaceBook, posed the query “If Star Bar was a dude would the [Food Critic Name Withheld] eat its ass?” Now, had I been a coffee drinker, this statement would have resulted in a mildly injurious explosion of steaming black fluids from my nostrils. Lucky for me and my trusty editor and feline companion Bathory (who was napping on my chest at the time of the reading) I had not sunken back in to the coffee pit. So as I lay on my couch, cat perched on my chest, laughing wildly at the very disturbing visions forming, playing, and fading in my head I decided to finally point my T-mobile G-1 with Android towards the interweb and address a real problem in dining today: Restaurant Critics. Here is the foundation for all that has been written within the confines of this particular blog, the first official post from Locally Grown dating back to January 2010. Enjoy.
Critical Of The Critics: Des Moines’ Finest Complainers
It has come to my attention through the observations of more than a few local restaurant goers/owners/staffers that the local food scene, albeit struggling in the wake of the country’s financial crisis, is lacking only a few things: better food critics.
Cityview’s “Food Dude” always seems to be fair and accurate, and is willing to thumb his nose at convention by reviewing anything from fast food chains to sushi. (I have been tickled by his reviews of Popeye’s Chicken and Wendy’s – and not in a bad way). His recent review of Sake21 was touching, he could have really slammed that place but instead chose careful words that are more of a parental caution than a fog horn. I have rarely heard a bad word from industry people about Mr. Duncan (every food writer has an enemy somwhere in the business). My only real complaint here is that he doesn’t stay up to date on new spots, and doesn’t seem to get “out there” to the people due to Cityview losing some ground to the more young-person-savvy Juice.
When it comes to Juice, they believe that less is more. What I mean here is that less skill and experience must mean more to them. Often the restaurant reviews read as if they were written by 10th graders from a poorly taught journalism class. I will go as far as to call most of the reviews bullshit, giving no real information or true objective opinion. The readers don’t really care what your date was wearing or where you were headed to, or that you ordered the same thing as the table next to you and it reminded you of something you had at a similar place in Omaha. Juice, you just need to get a real food writer and let the music geeks write about music, or the um…crafting geeks write about crafting. Scratch that, crafting geeks should just stick to knitting and stop trying to BS the public by writing. Maybe you could have Ms. Wagemann from your parent Des Moines Register to contribute. She seems capable. I think.
On to the Register. The illustrious datebook diner seems to wield the brunt of the power in the food critic community here in the Metro DSM. This is a shame. I have seen her reviews make or break restaurants. People listen to her, and the people she is writing about don’t always deserve the fate she tries to dish out. Ms. Moranville seems to have the power to either completely trash talk a new spot, talk about how the East Coast is doing something that whatever restaurant she is reviewing isn’t doing and how much better the East Coast is than here, or to compare every bar-and-grill-type place to Star Bar. If you are an Orchestrate restaurant or (in the past) a Jeremy Morrow venture then you are golden. If you are anyone else (besides Star Bar), then beware of the wrath of Winnie. Take her recent review of Saints in West Des Moines. She begins by comparing the place to Star Bar, then ends by comparing the place to Star Bar*. Redundantly delicious? She also ran an interesting article about Vegetarian Dining in the city which featured a few variations on the old Butternut Squash/Sage/Butter song and dance, then panned Cafe Di Scala for their Butternut Squash Cappelaci dish. (I will be writing my own expose on Dining Vegetarian Style in Des Moines next week). She doesn’t mention that they have been doing the dish seasonally (as many other spots are doing currently), or that it is totally hand made, or that they probably listen to John Lennon albums while hand forming each pasta hat, adding to the love in the dish. That doesn’t count. Also regarding this fascination with the food comparisons to “big cities,” one of my cohorts said it best. If you want New York Food at New York Prices then go to New York. We think Des Moines should continue developing itself into what Des Moines should be, a place with access to some of the greatest fresh ingredients in the world with some established and up-and-coming Chefs using these ingredients to full potential. We don’t really give a sh*t about the price of pasta dishes in NYC. Doesn’t really matter. This is Des Moines.
Ok, let me sum this up as it is late and my own deadline is coming up (bed time). Food Critics of Des Moines, if you want to go in to a new spot and bombard it with overwrought criticism, go for it. The owners, chefs, managers, and other staff of whatever place you blast can read your review and try to adapt your philosophies into their restaurant to please you while your readers just avoid the place all together. Or maybe you could lighten up, encourage businesses to grow, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, then review a different restaurant (thanks Easy-P). Those are real people that you are undermining out there, they have worked hard to open a restaurant (there is nothing easy about opening your own business), and deserve a fair shake.
We need to be more critical of our “critics.” Readers, go out and try our local places for youself. Trust your own taste buds. They have gotten you this far, haven’t they?
*I do like Star Bar, I just don’t feel as fuzzy about it as Ms. Moranville.
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