Sunday, June 24, 2012
I ate at a sandwich shop in Parsippany, NJ that I liked so much I decided to write about it. I was asking the owner a few questions and afterwards told him I would be writing a piece about his establishment. He said, “hey that’s great… you mean on yelp?!” I asked if he liked yelp, and he said it sometimes brings additional business so it’s pretty good. Here’s what I think…
If Yelp was water, I wouldn't throw it on a burning puppy! I'm not wading through a bunch of whiny asses with smart phones trying to figure out what medications were missed the day Buffy69 gave 2 stars to the Hot Fried Chicken Joint I was thinking of going to in Nashville, TN. Come to find out at the end of her tirade she wasn’t given enough wet naps, and thus the rating! Buffy, take a valium wrap it in a wet nap and stick it up your….oh never mind. The dining public is by and large… a sheepish bunch of nitwits at best when it comes to food. A passive aggressive lot of sniveling touch holes who I wouldn't trust with a pack of matches much less a Yelp account and two thumbs!
Once these hapless diners get a Yelp account, all hell breaks loose! Yelp is a collection of self-important self-obsessed ego maniacal pinheads….with few exceptions. I once had the Yelp app thinking it would be handy to have and use when I went to new and different cities. I would try it here and there but noticed recurring themes…“I’ve decided to upgrade them from 2 to 3 stars as they fixed the ice machine this week.” Or “The salsa seemed a bit less chunky than usual and as a result I’m going to give 3 instead of 4 stars.” Um, Yelpers…shut your Yaps!
When you think about it, Yelp is flawed from the very beginning .They take a group of people who watch a show like Hell’s Kitchen or Top Chef for three or four episodes a year and call themselves “Foodies.” They do this despite the fact they think a Five Guy’s Burger is gourmet (I like Five Guy’s…but what it isn’t is gourmet…whatever the hell gourmet means) and Arby’s makes a damn fine deli sandwich. They think adding Oscar Mayer bacon to Kraft Mac-n-Cheese puts them on the cutting edge of haute cuisine and fine dining. They take overused critiques from such people as Gail Simmons or Padma (can’t stand either and find myself using hand sanitizer after seeing them) and try to make parallels between a taco plate and whatever over tortured dish was presented to the judges on Top Chef…Square peg, round hole.
I would have to imagine a full eighty-five to ninety-five percent of these people don’t have any formal culinary education and only a handful of them have eaten two or three times at one, two and three Michelin star restaurants…Voila an Arrogant Foodie A-Hole is born. (Although adding arrogant and A-Hole to foodie is I suppose… redundant) Eating and understanding good food from bad food takes practice, just like cooking and plating good food takes practice. *BLANK STARES* Oh sweet Jesus on a skateboard people ...follow along here…
I know you know what tastes good…but so do the people at Burger King, it’s how they make billions of dollars a year…. But what is good food? Here I’ll give you an example and you tell me which is better:
First up a burger joint called Al’s that grinds an 80/20 mix of beef chuck, hand forms the patty and seasons with salt and pepper just before grilling. It’s served on a toasted fresh brioche bun with a slice of American Cheese lettuce tomato and thinly sliced onions add condiments yourself and served with hand cut fries that were well rinsed blanched in 260 degree peanut oil then drained and cooked a second time in 370 degree peanut oil until golden.
Meal number two is at “Forty on Main” where you will be eating vanilla infused sous vide foie gras that was then poached in a bottle of 1954 chateau lafite. This is served alongside Scallops that were seared to the perfect internal temperature of 185 degrees and topped with an Asian pear and lemon grass foam. For your side you will have Mashed Potatoes that were made with double cream, Normandy butter, grey sea salt from France and a nice healthy drizzle of white truffle oil…
Now, which plate of food is better? At this point if my Chef friends haven’t vomited they are most definitely cringing. And I’m sure a good deal of you have already figured out which is the better plate of food. But you can see where someone with little food knowledge and even less training would be completely enamored with plate number two. It has all the correct buzz words of foie gras, scallops, chateau lafite, France, etc… unfortunately if the taste and technique aren’t there you might as well be eating a shit sandwich on white bread. Give that shit sandwich to a Yelper and they’re likely to bitch because it should have been served on toasted "multigrain" bread!
So Pav….Who are we supposed to ask where to find good food? Well first of all you need to be specific. What is it you want to eat? Don’t just say…something inexpensive. Or, I’m not sure…this will lead to the aforementioned shit sandwich or worse…McDonald’s. Me, I pretty much know what I want to eat in my own area and think about the next meal I want before eating the meal I’m preparing or went out for. That goes something like this…Can’t wait until the tacos get here, which reminds me of that tapas place I haven’t been to in a while…maybe for dinner?
But then again food is pretty important to me. My boss is the polar opposite and food never occurs to him until he is driving by a Taco Bell and realizes it’s 2:30 and he hasn’t eaten. This drives me batshit crazy. Don't be "That Guy/Gal". I can at the very least narrow it down to salad/sandwich, something more substantial or full on dinner and maybe even a cuisine (Thai, Mexican, American Regional etc…). This shouldn’t be hard as you’ve been going to the fridge and peering in making these decisions your whole life and you haven’t starved to death yet.
Ok so now you know what you want to eat who do you ask?! Well I’ll tell you I’ve struggled with this one for a while, but I think I’ve got it figured out. I was talking to an excellent Chef and friend Joshua Galliano in St Louis the other day while thinking this through and I asked him. If I asked you and four other local chefs to give me your top five sandwich shops in town…do you think the lists would be similar?!
“Well, I ‘m sure they wouldn’t be in the same order because Griffiths and Nashan's tastes are different.” (Two other excellent Chefs in St. Louis) I said to him well sure and they might all have a different shop or two on them, but there would be two or three consistent shops showing up on the lists correct?! “Well yeah, I guess that’s fair to say.” If I gave a specific cuisine you think it’d be the same? “Yeah…probably…but it’s not really fair, because St. Louis isn’t a very big town.”
You know what people…neither are ninety percent of the places you’re going to visit or go through. Greater St. Louis has a population of nearly three million people and is the 18th largest metro areas in the country so unless you’re going to NY, LA, Chicago, Dallas or DC… it’s safe to think most places you go to will be the same size or smaller. So if you have as little as a day or two notice you have more than enough time to research where or what you want to eat.
First…get yourself a Twitter account. “But I've got Facebook Pav!” Yeah well, good for you…Go friend somebody who cares. Twitter is best for restaurant recommendations and nearly everything else for that matter. With about five minutes of research you can come up with the names of at least a dozen cooks who are doing interesting food. I do this by checking out the local Food magazine for the city I’m going to (you can google that and they all have twitter accounts). Chances are they are "following" the best cooks/Restaurants in town. Out of those dozen cooks you’re bound to get a response from at least a handful if you ask them what it is you want to eat.
Ask a cook…No I didn’t say chef I said cook. “What does Pav have against Chef’s?!” Nothing…Chefs are first and foremost …Cooks. Not all cooks are chefs but every chef is a cook. Chef is a title of respect when introducing them or something you say “yes” in front of when you’re getting your ass reamed for letting your station get dirty or letting the meat overcook. Ask the people who are making food every day where they like to eat and if they are worth a damn, they will tell you.
But unless you want to hear “My place” as a response, ask them about food they’re not doing …ask a cook doing Mexican food… Where can I get good Thai? or “besides your place, who does the best corn nuts in East Buddha, KS? The caveat to this is asking the right cooks, experienced cooks, cooks who have earned their chops and made their bones. DO NOT ask the 17 year old snot nosed kid working fry station at Western Sizzlin. If you ask him what he likes to eat you may find yourself eating nachos and a Slurpee from the local seven-eleven. The other downside to this is you’ll probably be eating it in the parking lot alongside a bunch of Yelpers declaring the nacho sauce from the can… “A Big Success… 4 Stars”