04 May 2007

My chance to critique the NYTimes food critic

A friend of mine from Washington, DC, forwarded to me an interesting article. A New York Times food writer ran an article on April 29 about the food scene in Minnesota. As I am writing this blog entry, there are 50+ reader responses to the article. Many of them agreeing with the writer’s picks, and many taking indignant exception to -

1. Restaurants not included in the list;

2. Disagreeing with restaurants recommended, or

3. The whole concept that our Minneapolis food scene needs to be validated by a reporter from the New York Times. (Though the article’s headline refers to the ‘Twin Cities’ food scene, there are no St. Paul restaurants mentioned.)

My reaction was somewhat different. First of all, I was pleased that not only had I eaten at all but one of the writer’s picks, I agreed that some of these are among the top restaurants in our city. Second, while I think our Twin Cities restaurant scene has improved immensely, I don’t think we are a top tier restaurant city. The indignant protests about the many fine restaurants that we do have are understandable. We’re not a hick town. But in my opinion, Minneapolis and St. Paul are not in the same league as Chicago, New York, DC, Miami, San Francisco, and L.A. for restaurants.

Anyway, my friend invited me to react to the restaurants listed. It’s an invitation I can’t resist.

20.21 – I’ve only eaten there once. My wife and I went for lunch one day while visiting the Walker Art Center. We thought the food was very creative and very well prepared. It also was ridiculously expensive for lunch. We would go back for a special occasion. But it’s not one of our favorites.

Chambers Kitchen – This is easily on my list as one of the best restaurants in Minnesota. I love the food, the ambiance, the location, and the attitude. See my blog entry for more.

Cue at the Guthrie – This also is on my list for one of the top restaurants in Minnesota. I’ve been here for lunches, dinners, and cocktails. I keep coming back because it’s always impressive. I’ve got a blog entry on this one as well.

112 Eatery – This restaurant gets a lot of rave reviews locally as well. So I’m not surprised it showed up on the NYTimes list. I’ve only been there once. But I was not impressed, and I’m not likely to return. I thought it was expensive and mundane. The space is unexceptional, and the service was inattentive. It’s got lots of fans. I’m not one of them.

Spoonriver – Now here’s one on the NYTimes list that I just plain can’t agree with. When it opened, my wife and I were curious. But we walked by on our way to Cue and looked in. The Times review comments that the restaurant is a ‘rail-car width’ venue. Sorry. It looked totally unappealing, cramped, and unattractive. But the reality is I’m not a Brenda Langdon fan. I’ve eaten at Café Brenda. The food has been good enough. But the attitude is totally unappetizing. I get the feeling of this haughty, healthier-than-thou, organic snobbishness that puts me off entirely. My brother and I ate there once for our annual birthday lunch. He ordered a diet Coke. He was coolly informed that they do not serve diet Coke at Brenda’s. (Oh, by the way, they do serve sodas at Cafe Brenda. Just nothing as prosaic as Coca Cola.)

Well, excuse me. When attitude and political correctness takes precedence over customer preferences, then that’s a place I don’t need to spend my money. Sure, the people who go there generally recognize that it caters to a particular brand of food politics. But I disagree with it, and I choose not to patronize it, and I can’t recommend it.

To the Times reporter who wrote the article, I say, “Thanks for stopping in and thanks for your opinions.” For a traveler passing through, you could eat at these restaurants and be impressed (unless you wanted a diet Coke at Brenda Langdon’s restaurant). Come back again someday and try some of the other neighborhood restaurants that your other readers suggested. We may not be a top tier restaurant town yet. But we’re trying, and we’ve got a few more places that deserve notice outside of Minnesota.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Steve. You really have a knack for this and I love reading your blog. We need to get across the river and try some of your favorites.

Have you been to Signature Cafe over in Prospect Park? We think its swell.

Good to see you in DC.

Lani