Critic Slammed

Michael Hoffman
Double-chop Porterhouse
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2007/02/22 08:39:54 (permalink)

Critic Slammed

NEW YORK (AP) -- One of the city's most prominent restaurateurs took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on Wednesday, accusing the newspaper's chief food critic of lacking the bona fides to do the job.

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    mr chips
    Filet Mignon
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 08:47:20 (permalink)
    This sort of thing has happened here in Portland several times and usually the owner of the eating establishment is as off-base as the gentleman in this article. Bad an/or overpriced food is generally found out and the fact that the Times critic was not alone in his criticism says volumes to me about the probable quality of the place.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 10:01:15 (permalink)
    Jeffery Chodorow and his group are in full panic mode. His two dozen restaurants have been doing terribly financially, and his group has plunged millions into new ventures, hoping to cash in on the fame that came from that silly fake reality show. Some of his restaurants are very good (particularly Asia De Cuba), but it seems to me that the prices have doubled over the last few years. His public ripping of Frank Bruni is laughable. Notice that he's got nothing to say about the content of the review, rather he complains that Bruni has an agenda, but he curiously doesn't say what that agenda is. If Bruni had a personal vendetta out for Chodorow, he would have focused on the restauranteur's felony convictions. Whining about a bad review is in really poor taste. Doing it in a full-page ad in that critic's paper is pathetic.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 10:09:48 (permalink)
    Still, in the restaurant owner's defense, what gives Bruni the expertise to be a food critic? I've been reading The New York Times nearly every day for 14 years, so I've seen many of his articles. Until the last year or two, if memory serves, none were about food. He was a reporter who covered the European political scene. Does the guy have any formal training in food? Has he attended culinary school? I'm not sure what the requirements are to be a food critic, but if I ran a fancy restaurant, and someone with no food background panned my food in a paper like the Times, I'd be mad too.

    However, in this case, it was the prices, not the food, that were panned, and I think Bruni was correct to do so. Who in their right mind would pay $150 for a steak?
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 10:39:29 (permalink)
    Michael Bauer(SF Chron Critic) has some interesting thoughts in several entries on his blog about the role of Restaurant critics.
    Mr. Bauer periodocally get slagged for working his way up from the newspaper side
    but he grew up the son of a Small Town Kansas Butcher and comes at things from a different angle.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 10:42:27 (permalink)
    Originally posted by danimal15

    However, in this case, it was the prices, not the food, that were panned, and I think Bruni was correct to do so. Who in their right mind would pay $150 for a steak?

    It wasn't just the prices that were panned. It was the food (although not all of it) and the prices, and the decor....the whole place. Here's the full review:

    February 7, 2007
    Giving Luxury the Thrill of Danger

    IT’S a rare and less than propitious moment when dinner out begins with a server asking: “Are you scared?” But that eerie query set the stage for a recent meal at Kobe Club, and it was prompted by one of this bizarre steakhouse’s many design oddities.

    Hanging upside down from the ceiling in the nearly pitch-black dining room are sharp, gleaming samurai swords, about 2,000 of them. The server volunteered that number, appended with an assurance that the blades, firmly anchored, shouldn’t cause any concern.

    The food and the bill should. Although Kobe Club does right by the fabled flesh for which it’s named, it presents too many insipid or insulting dishes at prices that draw blood from anyone without a trust fund or an expense account.

    For the most part it feels like a cynical stab at exploiting the current mania for steakhouses in Manhattan by contriving one with an especially costly conceit and more gimmicks than all of the others combined.

    Unsurprisingly, it’s the work of the restaurateur and gimmick maestro Jeffrey Chodorow, who scored big in years past with China Grill and Asia de Cuba but hasn’t had as much local success of late.

    Kobe Club occupies the Midtown space once inhabited by Mix in New York, Mr. Chodorow’s cheeky, ill-fated collaboration with the French chef Alain Ducasse.

    Mix wasn’t even Mr. Chodorow’s flashiest recent failure. Who can forget Rocco’s on 22nd, scene of “The Restaurant,” where Mama’s meatballs were sauced with acrimony and eventual litigation? Or its short-lived successor in that location, Brasserio Caviar & Banana?

    Brasserio Caviar & Banana — the name really does bear repeating — tried a grill-from-Ipanema approach and foreshadowed Mr. Chodorow’s fascination with sharp objects. Meats came on disturbingly, dangerously long skewers.

    As its name suggests, Kobe Club pays tribute to the fat-marbled beef of pampered wagyu cattle, beef correctly termed Kobe only if it is from a particular area of Japan.

    The menu at Kobe Club advertises genuine Kobe beef, along with Australian and American wagyu, and encourages discerning carnivores to compare and contrast these different sources by making small cuts available and assembling a “samurai’s flight” of four-ounce tasting portions of Australian, American and Japanese wagyu, plus six ounces of American prime beef, for $190.

    For $295, there’s an “emperor’s flight” of four ounces each of Kobe fillet and strip loin and 10 ounces of Kobe rib-eye. Although tempted by this imperial excursion, intended for two, I confined myself to more restrained, strategic samplings.

    They were enough to establish the kitchen’s usual competence with steaks, grilled and seasoned only with salt and pepper, the right call. Anything more would distract from the glories of a steer well fed.

    At Kobe Club these glories were more evident in the Australian than in the American wagyu, and they were most evident in the Kobe, which has the densest marbling. Kobe does for steak what o-toro does for tuna, showcasing a holy communion of flesh and fat, inseparable from each other and impossibly silky on the tongue. It’s rapturous. At upwards of $5 a bite, it had better be.

    Kobe and wagyu never come cheap, so the jaw-dropping prices of many steaks at Kobe Club — $35 for just four ounces of American wagyu fillet, $150 for 10 ounces of Kobe rib-eye — aren’t entirely unwarranted.

    But even diners who steer clear of wagyu, thereby missing the whole point of the restaurant, don’t get off easy. A 12-ounce prime fillet is $48, an organic chicken entree $32.

    What’s more, servers seem intent on plumping up the tab, whether by omitting any mention of a tap when asking about water preferences or rushing to replace cocktails and glasses of wine that are suspiciously shallow on arrival. Surrendering to that hustle is all too easy: extra alcohol helps blot out the environment.

    And blotting is essential, not just because of the swords. In one corner there’s a broad screen with an image of roaring flames, a seemingly inadvertent and decidedly unfortunate allusion to the television Yule Log.

    Strings of leather that look like fugitive shoelaces dangle here, there and everywhere, creating sinister-looking canopies and screens. Black-painted bricks in some areas and chains along one wall bring to mind a torture chamber.

    If Akira Kurosawa hired the Marquis de Sade as an interior decorator, he might end up with a gloomy rec room like this. Will the last samurai to leave please turn on the lights?

    Will someone else prune the tables of their crazy-making clutter? Oversize ornamental plates leave too little room for anything else, and although salt, pepper and steak sauce are already present, a gratuitous chemistry-set tableau of gray, pink and black specialty salts arrives with the steaks. The steaks themselves sprout toothpick flags identifying the country of the beef’s origin.

    The menu is as tricked-out as the presentations, detailing 13 available steak toppings (classic béarnaise, lobster béarnaise, wasabi-and-shiso béarnaise, ad infinitum) and four kinds of mashed potatoes. The potatoes appear among a predictable profusion of sides, many given a vacuously luxurious sprinkling of truffles or truffle oil, just to tip the restaurant’s slavishness to trendiness off the charts.

    The appetizers, entrees and desserts alternate steakhouse stalwarts like Caesar salad, Dover sole and cheesecake with less predictable fare, some of which, like a starter of salmon cured in sake, reflects the restaurant’s quasi-Asian bearings.

    And there are winners, to be sure: you can’t throw this many swords without occasionally hitting the wagyu bull’s-eye.

    The wagyu and Kobe beef tartare, prepared tableside, had a lusciousness in sync with its $32 price. Fried Malpeque oysters benefited richly from a smothering of creamed spinach and lobster béarnaise.

    But more of the food was disappointing, sometimes even infuriating, be it a rubbery roasted pork chop, perhaps left too long in its brine; limp iceberg lettuce, propped up insufficiently by blue cheese; those mashed potatoes, gluey; or a crème brûlée in dire need of a crunchier hood.

    And some of the food was alarming. A clam in an underwhelming cold seafood platter had a metallic tang, while an American strip loin had a sourness that didn’t taste like aging or, for that matter, like anything anyone intended.

    On the night when the server assured me of my safety, as I put my coat back on and headed toward the door, I suddenly found that I couldn’t leave. Something was pulling me back, but what?

    A delayed appreciation for the restaurant’s triple-decker crab cake? A yearning to retrieve a toothpick flag? A need to make peace with the check, which had come pinned to a wooden board by a dagger?

    No, it was one of those leather strings, which had wrapped like a tentacle around me. Scary indeed.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 11:07:49 (permalink)
    It appears that Chodorow still hasn't figured out that Manhattan is not Miami, where shock value and a jacked-up price bring in the beautiful people and the press is part of it all.

    Attacking the critic is always a bad idea. There might be a brief blip, but in the long run I expect New Yorkers will stay away from this place in droves.
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    RE: Critic Slammed 2007/02/22 15:08:24 (permalink)
    Ahh - I see.
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