I decided when I started this column that I'd basically keep the coverage limited to print media. And while it hasn't always worked out that way, I select reviews that are reviews in the truest sense: multiple visits, four-week delay, etc. Sometimes these papers don't hold to the "rules" of the trade, but exposing people to the genre of writing is even more important to me than whether or not a reviewer sticks to the guidelines. And sometimes, it's as illustrative to see what gets into the review as what filter the review goes through before publication. Come, see how the sausage is made in this edition of Flyover Friday.
"Brasserie Zentral in Downtown Minneapolis," by James Norton for Heavy Table
I'm torn on including Heavy Table in Flyover Friday, sometimes because the coverage is more of a first- or brief-look nature than a review, but also because it's not a print publication. But when the review covers multiple visits and goes this deep into the menu, Heavy Table has a seat reserved. Reading the coverage of Minneapolis' Brasserie Zentral makes me want to open a Game of Thrones-centric restaurant. This place sounds amazing, and wow, did that ahi tuna dish visually evoke Le Bernardin. Didn't even need to say it on the menu. (Also, I'm including it in this week's column despite its publication date, which should place it in next week's. It fits my theme this week, and also, see the title of last week's column.)
"La Mulita: Cheap, tasty cantina food," by Jolene Ketzenberger for Indianapolis' NUVO
And here, I struggle with inclusion in the opposite direction: similar to reviews from, say, the Shepherd Express, NUVO's criticisms can be very brief, often one-visit (or one-and-a-half) affairs. But it's a print publication -- an alt-weekly, even, which earns a measure of my loyalty -- and will only get better if readership is strong. So here you go: a light, fun value proposition of a review, not unlike the restaurant Ketzenberger covers.
"Looking for Vietnamese noodles?: Mequon restaurant serves pho, seafood and veggie dinners," by Jeff Beutner for Milwaukee's Shepherd Express
You don't see "tad" as a descriptor in food criticism very often; I have to say, it's very Midwestern. As is, I'm afraid, the slightly awkward description of the customers often seen at Vietnamese Noodles. But how adorable is it that the restaurant resists the convention of calling its "imitation duck" mock duck? (There's also mock beef, mock chicken, and mock fish, for you mock omnivores out there.)
"Red Rock Saloon serves tasty ribs, wings and onion rings, with a side of mechanical bull," by Julia Burke for Madison's Isthmus
Where do I start? Well, there's that excellent second half of the headline, and a fine review from Burke. But this restaurant is in a space that last housed a restaurant -- run by a possible sociopath, you ask me -- that was known for black-filtering at the door. And now we have Burke reporting that the same racist behavior is on display at Red Rock. This is unacceptable, and I'm actually a little surprised that, via the review -- which I understand is not the same as a news article -- Isthmus didn't make more of it.
"The Good Pie is even better at its new Delmar Loop digs," by Ian Froeb for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Lighter news time! I'm all in for Neapolitan pizza, man, and this place looks like it'd be right up my alley. I may be a couple years out of the loop but I was under the impression that domestic buffalo mozzarella was still a pretty rare beast, but props to Good Pie for trying the local (-ish) version whether it actually is or not. As a critic, Froeb deploys adjectives really well, not too floridly, just enough to paint the picture.
"Back in Westport, Blanc still piles it on - not always for the better," by Charles Ferruzza for the Kansas City Pitch
Ferruzza cuts deep at a few passes in this well-written and very mixed review. Nothing is unremarkable; the bad is very bad, but the good is generally really quite good. A missed opportunity to really tidy up the "beer gardens and kindergartens" line, if you ask me, by using the German spelling of the former.
"For a real treat, try China Garden's other menu," by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Omaha World-Herald
The actually-secret secret Chinese menu still exists! In Omaha, at least. I like Hansen's perspective, as she's apparently traveled to China; her descriptions aren't shell-shocked but, rather, encouraging and informed. But does anyone who reads this review doubt for a second that the email came from one of the owners or staff of China Garden?
"Hen House Eatery rules the roost," by Bridget Reinsmoen for Minneapolis' City Pages
"I can't compete with the food trucks" coming from the owner of a 99-year old restaurant is awfully hard to not interpret as "damn kids, get off my lawn!" There's plenty of room for new and old to coexist. I'm less confident about these sprawling diner-interpretive menus in places that can't get away with skimping on sourcing. A truck stop or greasy spoon is one thing; when you're sourcing your chicken and eggs sustainably, your 100-item menu may be less so. (Okay, it's only 75 items, but still.)
"Harvest Pizzeria: For dinner and dessert, creative pies satisfy cravings," by Jon Christensen for the Columbus Dispatch
For a place that calls itself a pizzeria, it seems like their pizza isn't much to talk about. That, or Christensen just got sidetracked when ordering; he barely covers the pies. If the menu covers that much ground, though, I wonder why the owners are sticking with the pizzeria label. It can't do their broader menu any favors with perception, even if the original location for this spinoff is more pizza-centric.
"Bistro 1130's "Mediterranean" cuisine hits a little too close to home," by Cheryl Baehr for the St. Louis Riverfront Times
I had a bit of a hard time with the title, which carried a different message than was intended. But that's likely not Baehr's fault. A good review of an odd spot, this is one where if I were the critic, and I had to deal with that same house sauce on so. many. items, I would have been hard-pressed to not use some variation of "knowing shit from sharmola."
"Distinctive menu and atmosphere make Monk Beer Abbey heavenly," by Molly Abraham for the Detroit News
It's a Molly Abraham review, so we start with the décor. And come back to the napkins later. And then weirdly, we get whacked with an unnecessary and oddly-placed jumble of a paragraph about changes to the other restaurants nearby. I don't know; I guess with a restaurant whose "three words jammed together" name is not exactly mellifluous, the review's got a hill to climb from the start.
"The underground goes Uptown at 42 Grams," by Mike Sula for the Chicago Reader
For a $200 tasting menu, and one that Sula describes as not feeling rushed, this review certainly whistles by. Maybe the pacing didn't allow for much contemplation; perhaps the size of each dish limits the adjectives necessary to describe it; or maybe the fact that it's not an a la carte menu just ties off all the loose ends a review can address. For my part, I left this review wanting a little more.
"The Bird & the Bread: Earthy pleasures," by Jane Slaughter for the Detroit Metro Times
Lord, that cornball menu scheme. But hey, it sounds like it works. I'm particularly interested in the explicitly-stated beer guarantee, whether you pick a beer you don't like or the server picks one for you. An excellent way to introduce your guests to beer/food pairing.
"Gene's Place to Dine: Classic eats, classic setting, classic Cleveland," by Laura De Marco for the Cleveland Plain Dealer
A very weird thing happened on the Plain Dealer website over the last week. A bunch of more-than-glimpses, not-quite-reviews dropped on Cleveland.com in one or two days. Others were definitely too brief to be considered reviews, but a few (covering Salmon Dave's Pacific Grille, Molinari's, Bruno's Ristorante, District) definitely came off as reviews, if one-visit reviews. And then yesterday, De Marco's review -- and it's tagged as a review in the title and URL -- posted, and it's no longer than the others and appears to be a one-visit number as well. Shrug. If it says it's the review, it's the review.