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The Hard Truth

Celery, I can forgive. Bad French, never.

I've often been accused of having a bias toward certain foods. Barbecue, American diner classics, specific types of very cheap Mexican grub. I've been told that I have a weakness for any restaurant that attempts Irish cuisine or the native specialties of upstate New York. Even my own darling wife tells me that I've never been to a French restaurant I didn't instantly fall in love with.

And this is all true -- to a point. Of course I have biases. Anyone who claims to be telling you the unvarnished, unbiased truth about anything is either a liar or trying to sell you something. I do dearly love me some barbecue. When I'm not eating for work, I live on short-order Americana. I believe that any fool who tries to translate the boiled-bacon, potato and cabbage cuisine of my forebears for a modern audience is a noble fool who deserves every inch of my patience for his madness. And my fondness for places that make sweet pizzas, chicken wings, white hots, dirty-water dogs with hot sauce and fish fry on Friday nights comes from my notion of comfort -- the tastes of a home I miss right up until I return there, then want to flee immediately. My biases are plain. I've been talking about them from day one.

"Yes, I'm totally biased," I wrote in my debut Bite Me on July 18, 2002. "Anyone writing about an experience as subjective as a meal who tries to claim otherwise is lying. But at least I'm honest about my biases. Across the country, there seems to be some sort of an unwritten rule that critics should never say things like 'I loved this' or 'I hated that,' a laughable practice that deprives me of some very useful words. If that's the way the rest of the team is gonna play, then I'm taking my kickball and going home. The truth is, I love and hate things every day, and if I come across a fish taco, a Chateaubriand or a beef pho that makes my heart race and my palms sweat, I'm damn sure gonna tell you folks about it. By the same token, serve me a dish that is an insult to its ingredients, and not only will I hate it, but I will also hate the chef who made it, the server who put it in front of me and the restaurant under whose roof it was made."

Just as I hated my meals at Brasserie Ten Ten, which were mediocre and French -- a double play that puts the restaurant in its own special circle of hell. Not being a fan of celery or always giving the benefit of the doubt to the Irish is one thing. But French food is something else. It's special. Like sushi, like meatloaf, like really good country-fair pie, Le Cuisine exists in its own universe and is defined by its own arcane rules, deserving of the utmost respect. These rules can be bent, occasionally even broken, but never ignored.

"There are many culinary sins," I wrote back in 2002, "the least of which is putting diced celery into a good chicken salad, the worst being ennui. Any kitchen that's just coasting, treading water or getting by on the power of a good name alone is going to get it in the neck from me every time." And let me add to that any restaurant -- but especially a French restaurant -- that no longer seems to care. Burn my frites, wreck my eggs, shortcut my sauces, disdain my trade -- that's all fine. Selah, my brothers. Go with God. Because I no longer want anything to do with you.

Location, location, location: Last week, Michael Brenneman and Jeff Selby -- the guys who turned the old Tramway Tower building at 1100 14th Street into the Hotel Teatro back in 1999 -- announced that they'd sold the hotel, which recently won a host of awards from Travel + Leisure magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and Zagat, to DiNapoli Capital Partners out of Los Angeles. Generally, I don't care about hotels. What I do care about is restaurants inside of hotels. Among other things, DiNapoli owns the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, which contains a very well-respected restaurant, so I was curious whether anything will be changing with the two restaurants that now call Teatro home: Prima and Restaurant Kevin Taylor, the latter being one of the few places in the city that actually does haute French right.

"They're very experienced hoteliers. They bought it because it is doing so well," Maureen Poschman, who's handling PR for the deal, told me, referring to DiNapoli and Teatro, respectively. "And I haven't heard of any change to the agreement the restaurant group has with the hotel."

When I got Kevin Taylor on the line, he elaborated. "I think they're very happy that the food and beverage is leased," he said. "And I think they're happy that they got one of the city's four-star restaurants in the deal. Nothing is changing. We couldn't ever hope to be in a better group."

So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll still be able to go to Restaurant Kevin Taylor and get my pavé, my confit, my little lobster thingies with blood-orange gelée; that I'll still be able to go to Prima for egg ravioli and to make fun of the squid-ink pasta. And so help me, if three months from now they're serving breakfast burritos and deli sandwiches out of these spaces, I'm gonna be pissed.

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