August 10, 2011
The Weekly has long rejected stars when it comes to ranking restaurants, just as it has refrained from reviewing restaurants at all for at least a couple of months so they can get the proverbial wrinkles ironed out.
The reasons are real, albeit at times subtle: All too often simplistic stars supplant the carefully considered and detailed observations that come with them. Comparing a noodle house like Chopstix, where dishes run $6, to a spot like Bernardus' Marinus on the same evaluation rubric is like judging John Waters and Disney movies with the exact same criteria, when they are clearly different animals with different raisons d'etat.
Josh Sens, food critic for San Francisco magazine whose "Childhood Dreams, Adult Ambitions" piece on the new and super-improved Carmel Valley Ranch ran in the Weekly this winter, gets that. And he articulates it better than I ever could with his current piece "Cursing the Stars" about his own system at SF mag.
"I regard them as crude instruments ill suited to the function we assign them, blunt tools that dull the nuance of opinion, battering subjective musings into hardened 'facts,'" he writes. "As a dining public, we turn to stars as shortcuts, but they do us all a disservice, misleading readers and, often, mistreating chefs…
"Add to these flaws the fact that stars can carry a force strong enough to spin a restaurant off its axis, and you’ve got a clear imbalance in our foodreviewing culture, in which the glare of symbols outshines the subtleties of the written word. That bugs me."
Click that s***: It's worth checking out.
Two other things that caught my eye of late:
• Anthony Bourdain's adding another Travel Channel show. For folks like me who watch a total of maybe three or four programs with regularity (OK, for the record: 60 Minutes, SportsCenter, The Daily Show and No Reservations)
It doesn't start till Monday, Nov. 21, but that doesn't mean we can't start anticipating what will be called The Layover right now, especially after I spent a rather rewarding one in Chicago this Monday.
"Proving that layovers are opportunities for travelers to mingle with locals, crash parties, dine on local cuisine, and explore cultures, the weekly series gives Bourdain just 24-48 hours to hit the 'must see' places, people and foods," his press peeps tell me. "From New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami to Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Rome, Montreal and Amsterdam, he will provide viewers with insider tips that only the most seasoned travelers would know."
Bourdain's hype on it go like this: “We go to spots that I personally think are cool and fun for all budgets. In every case, these are places where I either did go, or would visit even when the cameras are off. The Layover is a reflection of what I’ve learned over time. It’s about telling a story that viewers can recreate themselves.”
• The New York Times' Mark Bittman** nails it again with his piece "Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables."
"The food industry appears incapable of marketing healthier foods," he writes. "And whether its leaders are confused or just stalling doesn’t matter, because the fixes are not really their problem. Their mission is not public health but profit, so they’ll continue to sell the health-damaging food that’s most profitable, until the market or another force skews things otherwise. That “other force” should be the federal government, fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good and establishing a bold national fix."
More Bittman brainwaves, from the TED Conference's days in Monterey: