If you thought the Fieri review that Pete Wells published in The New York Times last Wednesday was rough, check out these beauties from the NYT archive courtesy of Buzzfeed. The Wells review link is at the bottom of the stack. I remember several reviews I wrote with particular glee, a perverse schadenfreude that comes from the divine intersection of doing your job properly and being able to really sharpen the knives to an appropriate edge. It’s rarely the case. If I am reviewing a restaurant and have a bad experience I simply say nothing—most of the time. A restaurant I never talk about is probably a clue that I have a) never gone or b) it’s awful. Sometimes both. I can recall several reviews by David Fhima that I treasured for the level of snark in the prose. Same with a North Coast review, and another about the bozo who opened two restaurants (one in the old Goodfellows space, the other in a mall) and told everyone he was the second coming of Danny Meyer. Come to think of it, his chef was the same one who was coking at North Coast when I trashed it. I forget his name but the food at both places was just terrible. There was the one about an old restaurant at the Hilton called Skywater that my editor wouldn’t publish if my memory serves me right. That was one of the worse meals I have ever eaten in this town.
But my rule of thumb is pretty standard: If you are spending a year in the press telling us all how good you are and how amazing your food is, or if you insist on being ‘in the game,’ guess what, you’re in. I don’t savage small little humble boites. Ever. What’s the point? I would rather recommend places than tell you not to go . . . but sometimes a place is so big, so talked about, I feel obligated to tell you to save your money. My opinion on the Wells piece is big enough to write about in our magazine, but suffice to say I think Guy Fieri is as follows:
A good guy that I like and I spend time with when we are in same place for more than five minutes. We have each other’s numbers, we talk, and we are friends. When he was in Minneapolis last time, we hung out and I shot a Triple D with him at Lola. He is misunderstood. This man won a contest on Food Network with his Kewl, on point, big bowl of awesome ‘tude and his number got called. The Faustian bargain went down and he became the Lambo driving rock star with a gazillion dollar empire. All of that was his choice, I am aware of that; believe me, and he is, in a perverse way, a victim of his own mega success. He can’t turn that off or turn the volume down because his fans would have a shit-fit. And his fans are not mine or Bourdain’s or a lot of other peoples. His fans don’t read the arcane food blogs, don’t know who David Chang or Fred Morin or Seamus Mullen or Fergus Henderson are. They don’t care about the new boom in artisanal domestic ryes or have a food crush on the Food 52 ladies. They want Donkey Sauce.
Guy has a huge heart and has done a ton of good with Triple D for the little eateries around the USA who we would otherwise never hear about. He is a devoted husband and dad and generous to a fault. And he is big enough to laugh at the Wells review in the best sense of the word. But there is something very serious about that review. It’s brilliant on several levels. If you open a big restaurant in the middle of the biggest food town in the world, and you are the biggest commercial food star in America, then you are calling for everyone to take their best shot. Wells had to review the place. It’s culturally imperative. The crowds flocking to Guy’s place despite the awful fare (I have not eaten there, but about 20 friends of mine have and not a single person enjoyed it) are an important part of the story, and with all of Guy’s reach and the size of his deals, I am shocked he didn’t make the food sing. His menu isn’t my cup of tea, but making a loaded burger taste good isn’t an impossible task! The best revenge would be for him to take the next month or two and polish that baby till it’s shiny. Then invite Wells to lunch.
I want to own chickens. The city of Edina says I can’t. So does my wife. She says that if I was home more, maybe, but being away as much as I am means that ultimately I would only have the privilege of cooking the eggs and eating the birds if I so chose, and she would be left with the ‘privilege’ of all the maintenance: feeding, cleaning . . . and she’s right too. I can’t shake the bug, though. I spent a day with the Arias family in Portland, Oregon, last week. They operate a fully sustaining urban farm on their half-acre property IN THE MIDDLE OF PORTLAND!
They raise goats and chickens, grow tons of produce, and seemingly know the secrets of the universe. I was impressed. They even make soaps and tonics, and they teach. Krista is a mid-wife and her husband, David, is a somatic experiencing practitioner. Look it up. They have two young children. Together they teach classes on permaculture (they have chickens and goats) and traditional and healing foods. Krista and David are funny, very self-aware, and while certainly passionate about ‘granola-y’ things, they consider themselves a middling by-product of new-age culture. They are developing a system of living called “Lazy Lady Living” meaning:
What you need is inspiration without all the pressure, balance and a system for self-sufficiency that includes others without compromising your own space and autonomy. You need a model that reduces work and expands your sense of peace and harmony. Permaculture is more than a call to small scale and efficient food production. It’s a way of designing community life that is centered in a relationship with the earth and its amazing web of connectedness. It is an un-pollyana-ish solution that embraces the problem instead of resisting it.”
I can’t help but think that this is the way of the future, not for all but for many. I was reminded of this when I visited the set of Twin Cities Live last week and was chatting with Elizabeth Ries. She was filling me in on her local blog. “It’s all about my adventures in urban farming and sustainable food choices,” she said. “I started writing in June and am loving every minute of it. I keep joking that it’s my favorite of all my jobs, and it’s the only one I don’t get paid for.” And I am sooooo jealous. She has chickens.