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Mouthing Off

Here's the beef: Ivan Utrera's letter to the editor published in this issue is itself filled with so many "ignorant criticisms" that I feel compelled to reply. Utrera, the president and CEO of Rodizio Restaurants International--which isn't quite international yet, since the only location so far is in Denver--writes to complain that he "barely recognized our restaurant" in my October 24 review, to which I reply: That is why I have a job. Many of the problems I encountered were the kinds of things management may not be aware of, such as poor service, misinformed employees and production mistakes.

My review was not, as Utrera claims, "months old," which he can determine simply by looking into his computer system and retrieving my receipt. I ate there on October 8, two weeks before the review appeared. Sadly, his notion that the "breakdowns in service she experienced rarely exist now" is a bunch of hooey. Part of this service problem, as evidenced by Utrera's other comments about my getting the cuts of meat wrong, was that the waiter who brought the skewers around was reticent to share much information with us--and what he did offer was difficult to understand. He was the one who told us a certain cut was filet mignon--a statement he made twice, because the first time he spoke so low we couldn't understand him; he also informed us that the bacon-wrapped item was pork--which is why my table marveled at how ungreasy it was. And the souvenir menu I was given that evening and took home was no help; it lists both fraldinha and file de frango, even though those cuts were supposedly discontinued in August. Furthermore, the "lardy film" I found on most of the cuts was not the layer of fat that Utrera points out is wrapped around each cut; we trimmed that off ourselves. No, the "lardy film" I referred to was the lardy film.

Utrera says he thinks I came looking for "Carmen Miranda and foods indigenous to the rainforest," which makes me wonder: If the owners want Rodizio to be yet another "family steakhouse," as Utrera claims, and not be thought of as Brazilian, as his letter implies, then why do they put the servers in costumes? If they don't want people to revel in the unique culinary style that the Pampas region of Brazil offers, then why are all the dishes on the menu listed by their Brazilian names? I wasn't disappointed at all to find out that the food from the Pampas is "much like that found in this country's Midwest"; I was disappointed to find that the foods at this restaurant were much like those found in a college cafeteria.

As to Utrera's comment that Rodizio was not intended to be the "second coming of Cafe Iguana," I have two words: No kidding.

Utrera has a loyal employee in Lindsay Reder, who also sent a letter rebutting my review. Like Utrera, Reder specifically mentioned my article's incorrect price for a dessert--which happened to be a price I'd been quoted over the phone. There were other similarities in the two letters, too. "Almost all customers I talk with have quite positive comments," Reder says. "I am aware of negative feelings by some patrons, but every restaurant does not fit the bill for every customer."

Reder is so fond of the place, in fact, that s/he even eats there when off duty: "I recently took my family to Rodizio Grill to eat dinner on a Saturday night," the missive continues. "When we arrived, there was about a 45-minute wait, and people were still pouring in. I can't comment about the service Wagner received--I wasn't there and don't know who served him--but our waitstaff that evening was quite good, understanding they had fifteen other tables as well. They helped make our meal an enjoyable experience. Every slice of meat that came to our table was good and authentic food of Brazil. Obviously, people have different tastes in food. Most at my table really liked the buffalo; another didn't care for the ribs. I believe the way the food and the seasonings were criticized was harsh."

And that's not all: "I feel the review was unfairly severe," concludes Reder. "Printing such an untrue criticism could seriously hurt the business."

Well, unless the amount of time between Reder's "recent" meal at Rodizio and his/her letter was greater than the two-week gap between my dinner there and the publication of my Rodizio review, apparently business isn't hurting too badly. A 45-minute wait? Waiter, my sword.

Letter-writers are clearly on a roll. Vincent Baldassano wrote regarding my October 17 Mouthing Off column about Minnie Rhodes's cinnamon rolls; he was concerned I might be sending people to an "unlicensed food-production facility." Or, even worse, suggesting that "the mayor of Aurora eats at a restaurant that may not be licensed in his city." No way. Rhodes operates under a legitimate, if peculiar, state regulation. As outlined in the "In-house Policy and Procedures" of the Tri-County Health Department, a private household that qualifies for the category "Special Food Service Events" can prepare food on 52 separate occasions each year without coming under the scrutiny of any government agency.

Rhodes falls within these guidelines because she donates all the proceeds from her baking to her church (that makes it a "Special Food Service Event"), which she can document, and her cooking sessions average fewer than 52 times a year. "I don't bake every week," she says. "Sometimes I go for quite a while without getting a call, and then I'll get a bunch of calls, so I'll bake them all on the same day, sometimes from 3 a.m. until it's dark out."

This is the same health-department provision that makes it okay for churches and schools to have bake sales. Granted, that's not quite what Rhodes does--she even sells to restaurants--but the health department says she's within the law. "This woman is definitely close to the edge, but she's not going to get any trouble from us," says a Tri-County spokeswoman, who adds that she hopes Rhodes "maintains a clean kitchen so that no one gets sick."

Since I've seen Rhodes's kitchen and I've worked in quite a few restaurants--and have gotten food poisoning from review meals at least twelve times since I was hired as Westword's restaurant critic four years ago--I can say that I'd rather eat what comes out of her kitchen than out of anyone else's, including my own. And if you're wondering whether I still advocate buying cinnamon rolls from her, you bet your sweet buns I do.

Some of my correspondents are more succinct than Reder or his boss and less curious than Baldassanno. One recent e-mail, for example, tagged simply "You stink" and addressed to me via Westword, consisted of these five words: "Who would read this stuff?"

Well, apparently one Virginia Nichols, who used the Internet to greater advantage when she commented on last week's burger review, "Born to Bun."

"I enjoy reading your restaurant reviews," Nichols writes. "What I particularly enjoyed about your review of My Brother's Bar, however, was Q. Crutchfield's photo. I've lived here for nineteen years and have always heard about MBB's great burgers and classical music. As a mostly-vegetarian-some-fish-person, however, I never thought there was anything on the menu for me. Crutchfield's photo pictured Jim Karagas with the board menu, and my close inspection deciphered a very respectable selection for vegies! My burger-loving husband and I headed over for lunch the next day. We've now found another restaurant in which we can blissfully enjoy our favorite foods together. I took your suggestion and downed a few microbrews with my Ragin' Cajun grilled tuna sandwich and had a most relaxed afternoon.

"Again, thanks. If you ever want some feedback from mixed families (carnivores/carni-omnivores/omnivores), write to me. We love to eat out and do so several times a week."

Hey, I can use all the feedback I can get. Especially when it comes from someone like Nichols, who added this insightful P.S.: "I was dismayed by the negative responses received following your Barry Fey article ["Prime and Punishment," the Brook's Steak House review in the September 5 issue]. I was not at all offended by it, but then, I think the old F-word has a valid role to play in the English expression of language. I enjoyed your retort."

And I enjoy helping any readers bridge that vegie-carnivore gap in order to hold their marriages together. Although the vegie part rules out the foie gras at Tante Louise (see review, previous page), there are other options out there.

Including, for example, the non-meat dishes at the cozy Saucy Noodle restaurant, 727 South University Boulevard. Friends stopped in there last week for some cold-weather carbo-loading and found themselves making a surprise salute to comedian Morey Amsterdam, better known as gag-writer Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Amsterstam died last week, but his memory lives on at the Saucy Noodle, in the form of a menu item called "Morey Amsterdam's fried ravioli." A $5.95 order of the appetizer--which has been on the menu almost as long as the three decades the eatery's been open--brought four of the big, cheese-stuffed pillows with a side of superb marinara sauce (red clam sauce is another option) that was just the thing for smothering the pasta...as well as drowning sorrows over losing a longtime TV icon.

Who's your Buddy?

--Kyle Wagner

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