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Anonymity bites

I received a comment from a lady named Jenn that may deserve it’s own post. Here’s what Jenn said:

Misha, I’m not sure if I can take your reviews as a guide for restaurant going, y’know? Cafe Annie last night was a bit of a disappointment… service was incredibly disappointing (we had to ask for a wine menu, then actually had to ask for the wine we had ordered to be brought out!!!), food was fine but not exceptional. On the other hand Glass Wall last week was AWESOME. It’s almost like Ruth Reichl’s infamous “favored patron” vs. “normal person” experiences. Though I do like reading what you write just to get a take on what it must be like to be one of those people who the chef comes out to visit while you dine…

And my reply:

Jenn – I don’t know if you should take what I write as a definitive dining guide, if such a thing exists. I am not a reviewer, in fact I work for a software company. Food is a hobby for me and this is as much of a journal of personal experiences as anything.

There are other things you have to keep in mind. I don’t care about service and I don’t drink, so my restaurant experiences are very different from people who find those things important. I know a grand total of 4 chefs in Houston and that’s only because they have blogs and all 4 of them have spent significant time at the Tenacity dinners. They currently work at Rainbow Lodge, Voice, Textile and Beaver’s. I have also met the folks at Feast, but that happens when you go to a restaurant a dozen times or more.

Finally, every time you sit down for lunch or dinner is different. It’s very difficult for a restaurant to have a 100% consistently good kitchen (consistently bad is another story). My whole point about Cafe Annie was that I never found it especially impressive, as you found yourself. The two business lunches I had were within 30 days of each other and each time I ordered pan seared fish, which was exceptionally selected and handled. It could very well have been prepared by the same line cook (who may become the best chef in Houston in the future), who only works during lunch and has since rotated to a different station or maybe even another restaurant, like the Glass Wall. I’ve had a number of meals at Cafe Annie and the Grove and in my opinion Robert Del Grande minds the business more than the kitchen. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t go to his restaurants unless someone else is paying at this point. That sort of thing works quite well for a business meal.

As for Glass Wall, I have only been once. The chef used a coffee rub on a steak that burned pretty badly. I thought it was a poor choice, unless you have a kitchen that knows how not to turn things into charcoal on the grill. I haven’t been back for a variety of reasons. The place is too loud for a business meal. They don’t serve any vegetarian food for a dinner with my wife. So I haven’t been back. It doesn’t mean its a bad restaurant, it means that through a confluence of factors the one thing I ordered there once wasn’t great.

I don’t know if any of this helps, but that’s all I have right now:)

Having said all that, I do not believe anonymity is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s an important part of food reviewers ethics guidelines, but bloggers aren’t food reviewers. I do this for fun.

I have a singular goal – to have a superlative dining experience with every meal. If that requires buying the tasting menu, because it’s the most expensive item on the menu and may cause the kitchen to pay closer attention to what it puts out, then that’s what it takes. I want the “A team” cooking every time I eat and I am willing to pay for it.

If that means ordering overpriced specials that sound like they don’t belong on the regular menu, then I’ll do that. There is a good chance the chef took a chance on a dish and put special care in sourcing the ingredients. Sometimes it blows up in my face, but it’s worth the risk. I take the lumps and move on.

Sydney 158 Live scallop crudo at Icebergs on Bondi Beach in Sydney

This scallop crudo was one of the very best things I’ve eaten last year – impossibly fresh and sweet, with an almost crisp texture. Even the freshly opened live scallops at sushi bars somehow don’t come close.

Sydney 144

Would you expect something like this from a place that caters to people more interested in the view than the food?
(the rest of the food was painfully average)

Sydney 155

Sometimes it requires knowing the chef personally. They spend their days cooking for people who only go to the restaurant because it impresses their clients. Many of their customers care more about how they are served, rather than what they eat. I am sure they get requests for steaks and burgers more than they would like to admit. I want the people making the food to know I am there only for them and I will eat things they would not dream of serving their other customers, if they think it tastes good. That requires a personal relationship. It’s no different than becoming familiar with a sushi chef and ordering omakase ten times in a row before he gives you the bits he usually keeps for himself.

There is nothing wrong ab0ut the way I approach eating. If everyone did the same, restaurants would be very different than they are today and many of the best chefs would be much happier. So go ahead. Tell the chef you are really into food and you’ll eat anything he puts in front of you. You’ll be one of his very best friends for the next hour.

January 11, 2009   5 Comments