Flyover Friday - Spinoffs, mashups and a couple throwbacks

I was talking to a dude at a bar recently, and the subject swung around to Chinese food. He was blown away by the concept of the secret Chinese-only menu, and that Madison had at least one joint doing it. Or used to -- I seemed to recall hearing that the split menu was no more (to mixed reviews, if Yelp is to be believed). In the same conversation, Fugu was mentioned, a restaurant that'll be spinning off into a second, more sushi-centric restaurant in Waunakee. There's always something new to figure out, new to experience, or old to re-enliven, especially in this week's Flyover Friday.

"Art, elegance and magnificent ingredients define the American Restaurant," by Jill Wendholt-Silva for the Kansas City Star

An epic review of a dinosaur. Wendholt-Silva is given plenty of inches to impress upon the reader just how big a deal the American Restaurant (I mean, THE American Restaurant, right?) is, in Kansas City. It's harder to go into detail with regard to the menu, when it's both a tasting menu and a quickly-rotated one. But I might rather have seen this as a feature than a review, with commentary from returning chefs.

"At Saki, some OK sushi, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera," by Charles Ferruzza for the Kansas City Pitch

Trainwreck Asian is an easy target for a critic's acid pen. Though a bit sassily dismissive of theatrical Japanese grill operations, this review makes me remember fondly the kind of embarrassing Sakari review from Des Moines back in February. Ferruzza does a much better job. Which in turn reminds me...

"Cafe di Scala's fine cuisine fires passion for more," by Carlos Acevedo for the Des Moines Register

...would you look at that. The Register's RSS feed crapped out at the end of March, and I've been missing Acevedo's reviews since then. Let's look in on his latest, see how things are A bit of a lazy review, an existing restaurant and one that Acevedo visits often, but based only on one visit, if I'm reading correctly. 'S'okay, but if it was a month and a half of this that I missed, well.

"Karben4's food offerings have thought behind them," by Samara Kalk Derby for the Wisconsin State Journal

Paaaaaassive voice alert. Also, is it just me, or is far more time spent talking with or about both the proprietors and the space than about the food and beer? The "friend who hates dark beers" thing should become a meme in beer culture, if it isn't already. That's not SKD's fault, it's just a mindset that illustrates a low level of exposure to more beer than the macros and Spotted Cow.

"20 don't-miss breakfast dishes," by Rick Nelson for the Minneapolis StarTribune

I realize it reads "restaurant review" right there in the header, but to me, this isn't a restaurant review. You can do a roundup review, but you've got to cover more than one thing from each spot. Any article that singles out one dish from a restaurant is no longer a review, whether it's two highlighted establishments, or twenty. (!!) This is a listicle.

"Firehouse Subs and Which Wich offer a wider range of sandwich choices," by Erin Elizabeth Clune for Madison's Isthmus

See? A roundup review. Two spots, and a more or less full examination of each restaurant's menu. In truth, it's a bit of an inspection down the critic's nose; I'm not super crazy about coming in with such explicitly stated preconceived notions regarding chains versus local establishments. As a result, only one paragraph really discusses Clune's thoughts on the food. The rest reads as a travel guide for abashed locavores who might find themselves with no other option than to set foot into a franchise.

"As good as it gets: In a land bereft of quality barbecue, Oak and Embers is a blessing," by Douglas Trattner for the Cleveland Scene

IN A LAND...BEREFT OF QUALITY BARBECUE... It's just more fun to read this headline in movie trailer voice. Oak and Embers -- a pretty great name, I must say -- comes off as a mash-up of barbecue styles, a move I frequently warn against. And when burnt ends come out as sad as they sound, I feel justified. But the rest of the menu appears to have pleased Trattner well enough, so not a total write-off.

"Dishes to dip into at Mango Factory," by Emily Weiss for Minneapolis' City Pages

More cultural mish-mash, though carried off better than in the Pitch review above. I'm getting a headache just imagining the Technicolor acid trip that Mango Factory seems to represent. Nothing described from this restaurant appeals to me in really any way. Tough assignment for Weiss.

"New India Palace creates food fit for a prince in pauper's surroundings," by Cheryl Baehr for the St. Louis Riverfront Times

You guys have seen me discuss the challenge of reviewing Indian restaurants. Baehr does a good job by focusing tightly on a smaller number of dishes but going into greater detail on the sensory effects and the skills of the kitchen with the important ingredients.

"Ani: All-purpose Japanese for a neighborhood that can use it," by Mike Sula for the Chicago Reader

A solid if unamazing review of a solid if unamazing restaurant. Sula's experience with the parent restaurant serves his review of the offspring restaurant well. Comments are pretty funny, too.


"Pilar's Tamales: North of the border," by Noelle Lothamer for Detroit's Metro Times

On the other hand, Lothamer pleads the "too many restaurants" defense for not knowing more first-hand about Pilar's Ann Arbor progenitor. This isn't necessarily a slam, but if you're going to mention a place, you should probably just make the road trip before turning in copy so you can speak a little more knowledgeably. 


"Little Dragons: Selections on menu anything but typical," by Jon Christensen for the Columbus Dispatch

Another secret menu Chinese place, but more importantly: Jon! Brother! This is so much better! The review comes to an abrupt end -- I grant I may be more hung up on the open and close of a review than many -- but yes, this is nice. Noticeably smoother than the this-then-this-then-this format Christensen usually follows.


"The Palace adds flair to serene setting," by Polly Campbell for the Cincinnati Enquirer

Scallop over goetta-fried rice? This is Tory Miller Does Cincy territory here, and I love the idea; it replicates scallop and chorizo in a nicely Midwestern way. But I agree with Campbell, adding caviar seems like saline overkill. I like this review for highlighting how an Eater Young Gun chef can overturn and respect white-linen dining.