A Bone to Pick with Andrew Zimmern

I was going to tell you about my most memorable dining
experiences of this past year, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. There is more pressing business at hand: Andrew Zimmern’s recent blog post.

I have only met Andrew – who writes about restaurants for
Mpls-St.Paul magazine – a couple of times, but he seems like a nice guy. Once,
when we happened to be dining at the same restaurant, he sent a couple of
glasses of champagne over to our table
– a classy gesture. But in a
recent blog post, Zimmern says some things about my colleague, Ann Bauer, and
me, that kind of hurt my feelings.

I don’t mean the
part where he says that I have a "workmanlike style honed over many years
churning copy at the Star Tribune." I’m not sure how to return that compliment,
except to say that Andrew is the perfect restaurant critic for a magazine like
Mpls-St. Paul.

No, the part that bothered me is when Andrew wrote that Ann
needs to get out more, and that The Rake should send us to the restaurants that
are "really making some noise," like La
Belle Vie
and Heartland, which have both been around for years. And then
he suggests that Ann and I need to be "more conversant with the local dining
scene."

That’s an interesting suggestion, coming from a guy who
seems to spend a lot of his time out of town, eating sheep eyeballs on camera.
I’m a little curious as to how Andrew finds time to check in on "two dozen
other restaurants in town that are kicking ass every meal period." I’m in town most of the time, eating out
about five nights a week, – looking for good restaurants that don’t make a lot
of noise – and I can’t name that many places that are that consistently
excellent.

He did confess that he still hasn’t made it yet to Heidi’s,
Meritage or Nick & Eddie, but I would be curious to know whether he has
made it to very many of other new restaurants that we have written about in the
past year: including Saffron (my nominee for the best new restaurant in the
Twin Cities), the Blackbird Café, the Chindian Café, Pagoda, Keefer Court, Ngon
Vietnamese Bistro
, Shiraz, Café BonXai, Mysore, the Hyderabad House, and Vinh
Loi. Some of these have been reviewed by Andrew’s colleagues, but it looks like
Mr. Zimmern himself isn’t getting out as much as he should. Or maybe he is
spending too much time at the usual suspects. He did make it to Cafe Ena but wasn’t impressed – I suggest he give it another try.

I made it to a lot of other very worthwhile restaurants this past
year: Peninsula, Brasa, the Grand Café, Cosmos, Relax (the former Yummy), Yum!,
Tanpopo Noodle Shop, Obento-ya, Cave Vin, Tam-Tam’s African Restaurant, Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21,
First Course, Little Szechuan, Hoa Bien, Evergreen, Vincent, the Colossal Café, North
Coast
, Kum Gang San, Victor’s 1959 Café, Sapor, Babalu , Cheng Heng and the
Namaste Café – and I am sure I am forgetting a few.

I don’t spend a lot of time going back to places like La
Belle Vie and Heartland, because they have been around for years. And besides,
I have had some wonderful meals at La Belle Vie, but I have also had moments
where I have found myself wondering just exactly what the point is. Tim McKee
and Josh Thoma are very talented chefs, but their menu, with its truffles and
porcini and Barkham blue and branzino (sea bass, flown in fresh from the
Mediterranean), doesn’t exactly engage the place where they are. It’s a cuisine
they could create anywhere, as long as their customers have enough money – but
maybe that is the point.

I’m more inclined to restaurants like Heartland, at least in
theory. I like and admire Lenny Russo, who is a very engaging guy, and has done
heroic work to support local farmers and promote local and sustainable eating.
His menus always sound wonderful – how can you resist a dish like Minnesota elk tartare with preserved tomato
jam, Wisconsin turnip slaw and rosemary-shallot dressing?
In my limited experience, it’s always good,
but it doesn’t always taste as exquisite as it sounds. Maybe it’s time for another visit, but I
wish he used more garlic. Or something.

Zen philosopher Alan
Watts
warned against eating the menu instead of the meal. That’s good advice.
Charlie the Tuna had something similar in mind when he made the distinction
between "good taste" and "tastes good." Lucky for us, our readers just want to know what tastes good.

Tomorrow: my favorite tastes and restaurants of 2007. I
promise.