On Criticism, Adventurous Palates, Live Oak and Restaurants I Want to Try
Recently, I read an online review of a fairly new spot on Oak Street written by a long-time resident of the New Orleans area. It was a critical review – not in the sense that the author didn’t like the place, but in the sense of criticism. We need more of that in New Orleans, and I say that in full recognition that it’s not what I do.
I’ve written about this topic at length, and I won’t belabor the point, but when I started writing about food and restaurants online I was doing it Olympic-style, as an amateur. I figured that if I didn’t like a place, I wasn’t going to go back, and it wasn’t fair to “review” a restaurant on only one visit.
I still feel that way, and fortunately writing professionally didn’t change anything. I’m still provided the freedom to write about the food I like and the issues that interest me. My editors have really never assigned me to write about a restaurant, for which I am grateful.
The thing about criticism is that it’s most useful when you know the viewpoint of the critic. If someone tells you that a certain dish at a certain restaurant is too acidic or “bland” or under-salted, it’s not all that helpful unless you know what that person feels is “acidic” or “bland” or how much salt they tend to like.
Following a critic for a while will give you an idea of how your tastes compare to theirs, and that in turn will let you evaluate how much weight to give their opinion. This is true of all criticism, of course, whether it’s movies, music, literature or anything else.
I now know that my tastes don’t really comport with those of the author of the review in question. I have a more adventurous palate and while I love the classics I relish new experiences too.
Once or twice a year I remind my readers that I don’t really consider myself a critic. I write “my truth” as the kids today would have it and I don’t praise things I don’t believe are praiseworthy, but if you’re looking for something like the review Pete Wells wrote for the New York Times in 2012 of Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square, you should probably look elsewhere.
I enjoyed that review, but honestly it’s not all that hard to write a witty takedown. As a guy who writes about food and restaurants, I struggle to come up with new ways to describe tastes, textures and presentation. But then again, I never get to use phrases like “unpleasantly fragrant,” “texture like week-old fried eggs,” or, “a place to which I would not condemn Guy Fieri.”
I also don’t eat out as much as I once did. Working from home instead of the CBD made it far less convenient to dine out for lunch, and of course the pandemic has limited my dining options further. I know that people are dining out more, because I see how busy some restaurants are when I drive around New Orleans. And I’m actually looking forward to either dining at or getting takeout food from a number of new restaurants, particularly: Cebu Litson, a Filipino restaurant in Algiers Point; Seafood Sally’s, by the folks behind one of my favorite restaurants – Marjie’s Grill; Lengua Madre, an upscale Mexican restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Thalia; Miss River, Alon Shaya’s new joint in the Four Seasons hotel; Yu Yan Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant that replaced Korea House in Fat City; and Mr. Mao, a really interesting place with an eclectic menu that includes dim sum-like carts.
If you’ve been to any of the above, please leave a comment or shoot me an email and let me know what you thought.
Last, but not least, Live Oak Café has reopened for indoor dining – with certain restrictions in place due to the pandemic that you can find on their website. I’ve always liked Live Oak Café. It’s really comforting food prepared well and with a chef’s approach to flavors and presentation. I’m looking forward to having a meal there soon. They accept walk-in diners, but I’d make a reservation if I were you.