Flyover Friday - The twin goals of food criticism

Good food writing is like that old legislator's line about spotting porn: You know it when you see it. But good food writing is definitively not like porn in that it should depict an experience that the audience can fairly easily replicate. The critic should have a palate and an eye for both detail and diversity, and the ability to communicate the dining experience to the reader, facilitating practical application. Do, and then describe. Limber up, it's Flyover Friday.

"Greenbriar's 'Gunpowder' steak explodes with flavor," by Carlos Acevedo for the Des Moines Register

Here we are, back in Des Moines after last week's debacle. While this review avoids some of the worst of Acevedo's last, it's frankly not much better. It reads like a one-visit review, which I hate, and the tone -- so many exclamation marks! -- comes off as a blog post, and more than a little it's-in-the-bag.

"The last Waid's gets a gentle nudge eastward, toward Afghan dishes," by Charles Ferruzza for Kansas City's Pitch

If it wasn't for the URL, I wouldn't have known until the third paragraph that the restaurant named in the second -- Ariana -- was the one being reviewed. Enough about the old joint this place used to be. It's an good review of an interesting restaurant concept, but one that devotes way too much time to the past over the present.

"Rosso offers great views from Hotel Sorella near the Plaza," by Steve Paul for the Kansas City Star

Man, this "She Who" character who dines with Paul must be a hell of a good sport to put up with that repeated reference. Some internal inconsistency in referring to menu items either in quotation marks or capitalized, but the review covers necessary details and paints a picture of an evening at Rosso. The veal short ribs do indeed sound pretty great.

"Nonno's comes through with superb Italian-American fare," by Samara Kalk Derby for the Wisconsin State Journal

I'm not saying that criticism means finding flaws for their own sake, but when you write a line like "There was simply nothing to criticize," you've got to pause and reflect, and wonder "If this is true, what am I doing here?" I liked Nonno's just fine when I reviewed it, but there are plenty of flaws. And for the record: another one-visit review if I'm reading correctly, and quite a bit of letting dining companions write the review.

"Wayward Kitchen Co. delights from start to finish," by Carol Deptolla for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Deptolla opens with a little inside baseball to illustrate the depth of her praise, a good move. The Wayward menu seems at first blush to be far too wide-ranging, but at the same time, it's shot through with sweet/pungent/savory combinations. I'm as drawn in as the reviewer was, and that's only after reading the menu.

"Allium serves Wisconsin with a European accent," by David Luhrssen for Milwaukee's Shepherd Express

Not sure where Luhrssen gets his explanation for the name of the restaurant, but that's minor. What's worse is the length he's given to review the restaurant. I'd like it if the Express dedicated a few more inches to food criticism; this is, of course, not the reviewer's fault.

"Bella Vino, in historic St. Charles, is a meal worth driving for," by Cheryl Baehr for the St. Louis Riverfront Times

I've been learning a little more about St. Louis in preparation for a beersball trip there at the end of May. One of the things I learned about: the St. Louisian sprawl issue. This review would appear to confirm those reports. Another Mediterranean-ish, wine bar-ish review this week. Baehr has proven herself to be a pretty reliable critic, and this review demonstrates both her palate and ability to communicate her experiences to her readership.

"Grosse Pointe's fine City Kitchen grows in time for eighth birthday," by Molly Abraham for the  Detroit News

One of Abraham's better reviews in my time doing this column. A bit of backstory, a bit of business report, and an appropriate amount of actual food discussion. The new back bar and bar area at City Kitchen sound very pleasant, and it's heartening any time you learn of a bar doing a great, simple, fairly inexpensive burger.

"CAYA Smokehouse Grill: comfort and class," by Aaron Egan for the Detroit Metro Times

Okay, this place appears to be part barely Kansas City-ish smokehouse, part rustic continental European bistro -- an odd combination, to be sure. But something like smoked, pulled butternut squash -- not even the eminently pullable spaghetti squash, but butternut -- intrigues, and indicates that the team behind CAYA is at least paying close attention to the theme. That pastrami pork belly starter is definitely calling my name.

"Dakshin Indian Bistro: a range of flavors from subcontinent," by Jon Christensen for the Columbus Dispatch

These are notes. From the staccato headline to the abrupt open, these are dining notes. All the stuff that smoothes out the rough edges must still be waiting at the ends of Christensen's fingertips. And there's nothing worse for that style than a rundown of a menu foreign to most readers. There are a lot of quotation marks, parenthetical explanations, and it's just. so. dry.

"Eating red: Red Feather Kitchen serves up globally-inspired, from-scratch dishes," by Pama Mitchell for Cincinnati's Citybeat

I find it interesting that this restaurant would name at least two of its salads after trademarked names of key ingredients, like obvious product placement in a big studio movie. But, the praised dishes sound good and the less popular dishes are clearly critiqued. Nothing flashy or amazing to this review, but it works fine.

"Uptown's Coup d'Etat is love at first bite," by Emily Weiss for the Twin Cities' Citypages

"Coup d'Etat in Uptown, Minneapolis," by Jill Lewis for Heavy Table

A duo of reviews for this new Minneapolis spot, befitting its massive footprint. An evocative name like "Coup d'Etat" is a pun magnet for food writers, and neither Lewis nor Weiss can resist. (I'm not sure I could, either.) It's fun to see which dishes have a universal draw, and which generate differing opinions. All told, the Citypages review is more positive, but both manage to elucidate hits and misses helpfully.