Flyover Friday - Wither, authenticity

Eddie Huang, the firebrand restaurateur always willing to get into the debate over authenticity, just recently started up a podcast. Called "Monosodium Glutamate," its very first episode was all about authenticity. I'm inclined to give it a listen, because I will listen to just about every food podcast, but haven't yet because I don't want to start pulling my hair out over who's allowed to make what food and where. I'd just as soon we focused on the equation of quality + history, and stop double-checking the math to see if it = authenticity. This is your real-deal Flyover Friday. 

"Japonais by Morimoto: At the top of the sushi food chain," by Mike Sula for the Chicago Reader

What, the Iron Chef guy, you ask? Surely this is the exemplar of authenticity. Or so you'd think, until you get to uni carbonara with English peas and bacon, or gyoza by way of toasted ravioli. Sula starts out taking a few shots at Morimoto as absentee landlord -- and the excesses of Japanese-style seafood -- but settles into qualified praise by the end. The best doughnuts in Chicago? That's no faint praise.

"A snazzy Eastern addition: XO Prime Steaks plants a flag in Pepper Pike," by Douglas Trattner for the Cleveland Scene

Well, you know you're in for referential ethnicity when the chopsticks are described as a garnish. But hey, that's all right. This place, a steakhouse with Japanese influences operated by someone with a name that calls to mind Eastern Europe, has been around for almost a decade. Who is Rand McNally to argue? A good review from Trattner.

"Winners are many, duds are few at Cafe Su," by Carlos Acevedo for the Des Moines Register

Orange chicken! Yes, orange chicken, and not a mention of irony or fickle American palates. This is indeed refreshing. Acevedo likes Su, more or less, for what it is, not what he thinks it should be or what something else is. It's a somewhat slight review, but covers the restaurant well.

"Is Kansas Town the Macaluso's successor that's finally built to last?," by Charles Ferruzza for the Kansas City Pitch

This one started out with a couple snorts, I'll admit. "Kansas Town," the artistic, modernist cuisine take on comfort food, sounds like something a visiting European artiste would try to foist upon Springfieldians in The Simpsons. Ferruzza has penned an excellent review of this operation, placing in its proper context and with all due honesty regarding not only failure and confusion, but success as well.

"Every neighborhood should have a cozy spot like Cucina della Ragazza," by Steve Paul for the Kansas City Star

Paul's a fan, perhaps even moreso than Charles Ferruzza when he reviewed Ragazza for the Pitch a little while back. Sounds like the chef is maintaining a modest growth plan, and it would appear that the shrimp fettuccine has improved. Still not crazy about the term "ethnic cuisines," especially when drawn into even more stark contrast to Old World European joints. I try to not have an antagonistic relationship with too many words, but this one reeks of unintentional, unconscious, or coded Eurocentrism.

"A hidden gem near East Towne, Takumi showcases pristine sashimi," by Lindsay Christians for Madison's Capital Times

I won't shy away from calling Takumi my favorite sushi spot in Madison. We rarely break away from sushi roll takeout, but Christians' praise of that chirashi bowl sounds exceptional. One thing I've heard more than once is a criticism of Takumi due to its owners' ethnicity (Chinese), something Christians remarks upon -- without judgment, thankfully. I can only say this so strongly to the complainers: BIG FUCKING DEAL. A sushi counter with daily deliveries of high-quality fish is doing it right in my book.

"O.S.S. is your spot for One Stop Sausage," by Samara Kalk Derby for the Wisconsin State Journal

Well all right, SKD on OSS. Things I don't get: how fried cheese curds can see to "have no apparent breading"; going 11 paragraphs in a sausage joint review without discussing the actual sausages; calling every single sausage a "brat"; how anyone could not like Colonial sausage rolls; and any reviewer ever putting to print the sentence, "So what do I know?" I've got more to say on OSS, but I'll say it next week.

"Stone Bowl feeds Milwaukee's hunger for Korean," by Carol Deptolla for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I'm surprised at Milwaukee's Korean restaurant shortage, pleased as Deptolla is that it's beginner-friendly, and as bewildered by the miso soup and mochi balls as she. Tory Miller's gonna be bummed that someone else in Wisconsin is using the "KFC" pun for Korean fried chicken. And while I get itchy considering the "order spicy like a native" topic of conversation, there's definitely something there to discuss; Deptolla is far, far from alone in wishing "spicy" meant spicy.

"Searching for great tacos?: Downhome Mexican at Taqueria Arandas," by Todd Lazarski for Milwaukee's Shepherd Express

There really is nothing like a traditional Mexican taco. Even the mediocre ones are usually pretty solid. Fat, salt, caramelized meats, cool crisp vegetables -- hard to beat. Lazarski's got praise for these tacos, in what sounds like a pretty crowded marketplace (unlike the Korean situation).

"Planter's House is built on a foundation of mixology magic," by Cheryl Baehr for the St. Louis Riverfront Times

There was bound to be something in a Cheryl Baehr review that didn't sit well with me, and here it is: comparing a mixologist in St. Louis to Escoffier is a bridge too far, even couched in the context of a "blank is to blank" analogous relationship. But then, I learned something new in this review: the St. Louis variant on garbage plate, hot brown, or loco moco: the slinger! I think you'll find its application in Baehr's review as apt, and amusing.

"Topsoil Cafe at MOCAD: Sensual leanings," by Jane Slaughter for Detroit's Metro Times

A vegan restaurant in a contemporary art museum, the creepy subhead "sensual leanings," and a somber, almost morose, and barely germane closing paragraph about the plight of migrant workers in Texas? What's not to love about this review, amirite?? It's actually okay, though the three-sentence quotation from a citationless section of Wikipedia could have been left out.

"Pie's Gourmet Pizza Bistro: Excellent small plates, salads and well-made pizzas," and "Miller's Ale House: Casual-dining, extensive range of entrees," both by Jon Christensen for the Columbus Dispatch

Two reviews, six days apart, from Christensen, who I'm starting to picture as a cross between Perd Hapley from Parks and Recreation and Yoda. Loopy, self-evident, passive-voice sentences begin so many of his passages. One of these restaurants is a chain, which isn't Christensen's fault, but his review doesn't enliven the corporate experience very much. The other is a pizza joint that isn't quite Ohio Valley style, but is as close as I've encountered outside of a Serious Eats slideshow.

"French pastries get an American tuneup at Le Petit Paris," by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Omaha World-Herald

A French bakery run by a Frenchman with a last name that includes the letters p-a-i-n (French for bread)? This has to be the most authentic of authentic eateries, non? Au contra ire, as the bakery serves French standards tweaked to American interests. But would the authenticity police cite this fellow for selling out? Or does he get a pass for being European? Authenticity is so freighted by ethnic prejudices and predispositions; I'm inclined to love Baker Hansen's last line: "a pleasant blend of French and American -- in this case, pure Omaha." And I don't even want to hear from the Omaha purists on that.