And the answer is: "As a food writer, you have that semi-precarious position of exposing your Absolute Favorite of All Time eatery to a wide audience, thereby making it 'discovered,' to the point at which it will be crammed, and you'll have a tough time getting a table after dying to go there all week," a curious reader recently e-mailed. "Or do you sometimes squirrel away that favorite corner trattoria that has enough business to be quite content, where you are a Local and get extra garlic bread or drizzles of coulis? Do you always have to expose such a place in hopes that it will survive in the here-today, bagged-tomorrow world of high restaurant fame?"
The fact is, the very best part of my job is finding great mom-and-pop eateries that are a real addition to the Denver dining scene. The second-best part is being able to share news of those places with readers. Sure, in an ideal world, I'd love to keep my favorites a secret so that I could eat at them whenever I wanted without having to wait in line, but that's just not what this job is about. Besides, if other people didn't eat there and keep those cash registers ringing, my favorites wouldn't be able to stick around on the off chance that I might appear.
I do have my favorite local joints, all places I've written about and continue to visit, places where no one knows that I'm a restaurant critic. And they still give me those extra drizzles, just as a good neighborhood eatery should give to any loyal Local.
Bowl games: Until I moved last month, I lived within walking distance of Tokyo San (727 Colorado Boulevard), a Japanese noodle-bowl joint that I recently reviewed along with two Tokyo Joe's outlets ("Super Bowl," July 27). Since my kids are bowled over by noodles, we dropped by Tokyo San fairly often -- certainly many more times than the two visits that are standard for most food reviews. This would no doubt surprise the Tokyo San fans who took me to task for my opinion.
Jimmy Fulton -- the only caller with the guts to leave his name and number -- went on at length about how "Tokyo San is the only decent place on that side of Congress Park to eat healthy." He then asked, "Are you sure you had the right place?"
"The credibility of your publication dropped considerably in my perception as a result of your recent article," wrote John Pearson. "I have eaten at Tokyo Joe's several times and Tokyo San literally hundreds of times, and I can assure you that the waiting times, staff cooking, tofu being grilled, etc., references in your article are nothing close to anything I have experienced at Tokyo San...When I turned the page and saw Tokyo Joe's ad, the puzzle became so clear instantly."
When readers make accusations suggesting a linkage between reviews and ads, I have to stick my chopsticks into the discussion. When I decide to review a restaurant, I give no consideration to whether a place advertises in Westword. None. That's the only way to keep the reviewing fair. As it turns out, I've reviewed non-advertisers that became advertisers after my reviews appeared, and I've reviewed advertisers who became non-advertisers after my reviews appeared. Interestingly, when I called Tokyo Joe's to ask some questions about the chain's origins -- I never make such a call until I've already eaten my review meals at a restaurant -- I learned that the company had said it would advertise in Westword only if it was promised that I would never review the eatery. Now, that was a twist.
Every place has bad nights, and I also called Tokyo San to discuss the problems I'd encountered there during the two-week period when I evaluated the place: the long waits when cashiers took our orders and disappeared into the kitchen to cook them, leaving the folks behind us in line waiting; the food that was always overpriced and bland. Tokyo San's owner might have had a good explanation for the snafus, but he never returned my calls (in fact, the most I could get out of an employee was his last name).
For review purposes, however, a restaurant's food, service and atmosphere should speak for themselves. Fortunately for Tokyo San, its many fans -- people who no doubt consider it an Absolute Favorite of All Time eatery -- are more than willing to speak up on its behalf. And that's fine. (By the way, I stand by my grilled-tofu comment -- it looked like chicken but was clearly fermented soybean cake; maybe the cashier/cook was in a hurry and threw it on the grill to hasten things along.) But the suggestion that advertising affects my opinion is wrong, wrong, wrong. Advertising and reviewing can't be connected. Otherwise, this would be just another restaurant radio show.
Bun on the run: My fun find of the summer was Billy Bob's Riverside Saloon, a new joint (and I do mean joint) just off Brighton Boulevard at 3100 Arkins Court that serves Big Ass Burgers ("The Next Big Thing," August 2). That review inspired a charming response, complete with sketches, from "Denver's Happiest Depressed Guy," an infrequent correspondent who just happens to be painting Big Asses on the bus that Billy Bob owner John O'Brien plans to use for some Big Ass activities.
Party on, dudes!
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