Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Dinner With Andrew

Yes, we are bored. We're all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you Wally that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? and it's not just a question of individual survival Wally, but that somebody who's bored is asleep, and somebody who's asleep will not say no? - Andre Gregory
I really look forward to the weekly Gusto section in the Buffalo news. It used to come on Fridays, now it’s on Thursdays. Trish likes that better. Me, not so much. It disturbs my wa.

I’m not addicted to the whole thing, just the first half – the half with criticism and reviews. I don’t necessarily use them to make up my mind about anything; I just like criticism as a literary exercise. I enjoy reading the thoughts of the person writing the review. Then, if I ultimately see, or hear, or read the item reviewed I can compare my own thoughts with the reviewer. Got that?
IMG_1989I can’t say that my mind is often been made up by movie reviews because I don’t often go to movies. Too expensive and too time consuming. I will say that Jeff Miers, the News music critic, has prompted me to make a couple CD purchases over the last year or so. I trust his taste in certain kinds of music. A lot.

But of course the center of it all is the food reviews. I enjoyed reading them before I became a professional cook. I enjoyed reading them while I was a professional cook, even when I was the subject of the review. And I still very much enjoy reading them now.

But the review that appeared in paper a few weeks ago, for Miss Hot Café, was different. It had a special meaning. I was at the table with the reviewer when he had the meal that was reviewed.
As a result of our friendship, I’ve been able on occasion to assist Andrew in the preparation of one or another of his pieces. Sometimes with a piece of equipment or a prop.  Other times with an ingredient or some background info. Maybe I’d chime in with an opinion or a fact. He once mentioned me by name in an article on what to make when the weather is cold. My answer was soup.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if I was never invited to join him on one of his reviewing adventures. Put it this way – we IMG_1988first met face-to-face over a bowl of Buffalo’s best Pho. Our views and interests are so similar when it comes to food. We both crave ethnic flavors of a quality that has been absent in Western New York until recently. We share tips on new finds. Great minds, or something like that.

I won’t lie and say I didn’t have a secret wish . . .

When the invite came, it took me about 30 seconds to say okay. Then I found out we would be joined by a fellow (can you say fellow for a female?) member of our local Slow Food Chapter's Board and her husband. A nice chance to get to know them a bit better.

The piece de resistance was where we were dining - a new Chinese spot I'd been hearing interesting things about. Including a "Double Secret Probation" menu right out in the open. While waiting for Trish I discovered a menu online. While I chuckled at some of the food descriptions and occasional outbreaks of "Chinglish", there was plenty to whet the appetite.

If you want to know about the dinner, read Andrew's review. It is spot-on accurate. If this is representative of his other IMG_1986reviews, and I'd bet my Nimoy autographed Search for Spock that it is, you are getting an honest reflection of his dining experience in every report. (Trish particularly like the way he tagged the lack of a liquor license without rubbing their nose in it.)

A couple of things of interest.

As he indicated, there is no question that Andrew was recognized. Big time. He deftly deflected the offers of dishes not (yet?) on the menu.

Andrew asked for our input after we'd had a chance to peruse the menu. I am responsible for the tongue and tripe appetizer. It jumped off the menu when I was at home. Yes, I can be an adventurous eater, but I am always delighted by the way Asian cooks prepare offal. I was not let down by this dish. It wasn’t too spicy for me.

All of the selected dishes were of a higher quality than we are used to in WNY. A shame - we deserve better. One more place showing how the good stuff can come here.

At the end of the meal, our choice for favorite dish was solicited. My pick was the "Big Dish". It was really good, but it won because it was a complete dish. The flavors that that really blew me away were from the whole fish whose photo adorns the review.

That crust was mind blowing.

It was the fish that sucked. Tilapia has always been a disappointment to me - tasteless with a hint of fish tank debris. (What, you never had to siphon a fish tank?) Andrew was too mild in his review. This was worse than usual. Edible only because of that miraculous crust. To again paraphrase Jan Sterling, an eraser would taste good in that crust. The crust mingled cabbage and lettuce at the end was sublime.

One quick note on that dish. The review mentioned that it was a special. It was listed on the sign outside. What Andrew didn't mention was that the specials were only in hanzi characters. Ask your server to translate. (Somebody did draw a picture of a fish though).

Did any of this change any of my opinions about reviewing? Not really. The ratings are still irrelevant. My view that recognition would not allow much to be changed except presentation was challenged. If there was ever a cuisine that lent itself to last minute improv it’s Chinese. The consistency and the high quality of the dishes belies that possibility. If the Chef was that skilled, he’d be doing it all the time – his target audience would expect it.

One thing did come up that still has me seeking an answer. As we were tossing off suggestions for dinner, Cat (Andrew’s wife) stopped us, suggesting that we were selecting items much of the readership would not relate to. It echoed a debate I have often had with Trish, when I planned to make something for an event that she thought many wouldn’t cotton to. I often answer with my version of Andrew’s “I’m not going to order General Tso”.

So where does the reviewer’s duty lie. Stick to relatable terrain or explore strange new worlds? I still don’t have a good answer.

Andrew should invite me along again so I can work on one.



Dia said...

This is why restaurant reviews should never be written on just one visit. There are too many choices on most menus to make an honest assessment of the complete quality of the restaurant's kitchen and service staff. Moreover, for someone like you or Andrew, who know food very well, the fact that YOU might disdain General Tsao is to ignore the fact that for lots of people, this is a much-loved and anticipated dish and if a restaurant is as good with offal as you say, then maybe their General Tsao is positively brilliant.

Scotty Harris said...

For those who like General Tso there are plenty of choices. Isn't it nice that for those who want to experience the joys and varieties of Chinese cuisine it is beginning to appear locally?

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -