The other side of Grub Street: Polling the foodistas
A Denver street dream
A couple of weeks ago, the esteemed folks over at grubstreet.com (the daily internet food organ of New York Magazine) published their 2009 Grub Report -- a survey of the state of our food union (their words, not mine). And while I generally enjoy the work done by those web-crazy kids over at Grub Street (and not only because they once linked through to one of my massive odes to Eric Ripert and an epic meal I ate at his Manhattan fish temple, Le Bernardin), this particular piece stuck in my craw.
Maybe it was all the navel-gazing New York-iness of it -- the indisputable contention that Manhattan is the center of the foodie universe. Maybe it was all the David Chang ass-kissery. Maybe it was just that the whole thing seemed like an empty exercise in left-handed self-promotion being done by some of the biggest food writers in the world. I don't know. But I do know this: by the time I was done reading the piece, I was already answering all the questions in my head in a completely Denver-centric context. Like those ten questions that James Lipton always asks at the end of Inside the Actors Studio(the one's lifted from Bernard Pivot who, in turn, was inspired by the "Proust Questionnaire"), the queries put forth by the Grub Streeters were just open-ended enough to work in nearly any situation.
So I, in the tradition of Lipton, Pivot and Proust, have simply decided to flat-out steal the format from Grub Street and pose the same (or nearly the same) questions to you. I will include the original Grub Street question, the original answers given by their panel of food writers, then my version of the question and my gut-reflex answer. Of course, what I'm really after are your answers -- hopefully better thought out than mine.
So without further ado, I give you the 2009
Grub Report 1st Annual Cafe Society Poll about Food and Chefs and Stuff. Let's begin with...
Grub Street's 1st question: Who are the three most important chefs in the U.S. today?
Grub Street's winners: Mario Batali, David Chang, Grant Achatz
Jason Sheehan's 1st question: Who are the three most important chefs or owners in Denver today?
Jason Sheehan's winners: Justin Cucci of Root Down (because every city needs a place as ill-conceived as Root Down to give it a sense of great and laughable tragedy), Joe Vostrejs and his Larimer Square partners (because the man seems capable of doing no wrong), and that lady who cooks inside the Thai food cart on the 16th Street Mall (because she's awesome and I love her and she is living proof that the people of this city want more street food, like, now).
GS's 2nd question: What is the most important restaurant city in the country right now?
GS's winner: New York (duh...)
JS's 2nd question: What is the most important restaurant neighborhood in the city right now?
JS's winner: Broadway, because restaurant guys have been trying for years to make a go of making a stretch of this street a proper restaurant neighborhood, and if, someday, they can actually reach some sort of critical mass and turn this bum-clogged, puke-sodden and parking lot-less part of Denver into something special, it will prove that we can do (virtually) anything, haters be damned.
GS's 3rd question: Who is the most overrated chef cooking today?
GS's winner: David Chang
JS's 3rd question: What Denver chef do you kinda just want to punch right in the face?
JS's winner: The next motherfucker who tries to open a "gastropub" in this town. Haven't we suffered enough?
GS's 4th question: Which current trend is least deserving of the hype?
GS's winner (or loser, I guess...): Chalkboard menus, burgers, pizza, cupcake restaurants
JS's 4th question: Which current trends ought to be brutally exploited by some smart restaurateur just to piss off all the Mr. Big Pants foodie cognoscenti who make their living talking endlessly about food trends?
JS's winner: A combination burgers-and-pizza restaurant with a chalkboard dessert menu full of cupcakes. Either that, or a restaurant that serves nothing but truffle fries.
GS's 5th question: What is the last restaurant to which you voluntarily returned?
GS's winner: Various
JS's 5th question: Tell me where you ate out last and I will tell you who you are...
JS's winner: LoHi SteakBar GS's 6th question: When and how will fine dining rebound?
GS's answers: All stupid and not worth repeating, with the exception of Anthony Bourdain, who essentially said it was gone, fuck it and good riddance.
JS's 6th question: Why are we even bothering to talk about fine dining anymore, and, show of hands, does anyone (other than the manufacturers of top hats, ascots and monocles) care if it ever comes back?
JS's answer: I'm with Bourdain. Leave me the Palace Arms and screw the rest.
GS's 7th question: What should be the next big ethnic food?
GS's winner: Indian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, real Chinese and regional Mexican
(At this point, JS would like to invite all members of the Grub Street panel to Denver for one big dinner in his neighborhood, where all of the above can be found in spades. He would also be happy to pick up the tab if all of the above will admit that Denver is awesome and the answer to all their culinary prayers.)
JS's 7th question: What should we all eat for dinner tonight?
JS's answer: Anything from a nearby restaurant with less than twenty seats and a name that does not translate well into English. We are incredibly fortunate here, ethnic-food-wise, and we should all take better advantage of the adventures waiting for us right around the corner.
GS's 8th question: What's the best thing you've eaten this year for less than $10?
GS's answers: Again, various
JS's 8th question: The same as above, but add "in Denver" to the end of it.
JS's winner: I'm going to go with the Indonesian shrimp dumplings at Jaya, but that's only because I've got a couple of beers in me and I really, really want another order of them right now.
GS's 9th question: What should Dave Chang do next?
GS's answer: I'm not even going to bother with this...
JS's 9th question: What would America's food writers do if they didn't have David Chang to speculate about endlessly?
JS's answer: Take jobs judging reality cooking shows, leave Manhattan occasionally, pick on someone else for a change.
JS's other 9th question: What should [insert Big Time Denver Chef here] do next?
JS's other answer: Frank Bonanno should open a serious Italian deli. Kevin Taylor should have some faith and take a chance on doing another stand-alone restaurant. Ian Kleinman should finally make the leap and open a place of his own. The guys from Steuben's ought to open a classic American diner and reserve me a table seven days a week. Jennifer Jasinski should open a third restaurant -- maybe a real Spanish place.
GS's 10th question: Which foreign chef would you most like to see come to America?
GS's winners: Albert Adria, Martin Picard, Fergus Henderson and others -- all of which (except for Jamie Oliver) were pretty good choices.
JS's 10th question: Which non-Denver chef would you like to see open a place in town?
JS's winner: David Chang -- if for no other reason than they seem to have such a love/hate thing going with him in New York. Let the poor fucker come out here, make grilled cheese sandwiches, ski a bit and just relax. I also wouldn't mind seeing Jose Andres opening a joint next door to my house and Eric Ripert doing Friday fish fries at the Fainting Goat across the street from my office. A boy can dream, can't he?
Okay, those are my answers. Now it's your turn. Answer one question, answer all of them -- I don't care. So long as you weigh in somehow. Now hit that comment button below; I can't wait to see what you all come up with.
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