When introspection about your review clouds the real story
In the last issue of Snack Cart, I offered a rave about Kevin Alexander’s piece for Thrillist reflecting on if he had actually killed the restaurant that he said made the best burger in America. For that piece, Alexander went back to Stanich’s, a small family place in Portland, to talk with the owner about how the resulting attention caused him to close down. Shortly after Alexander’s piece, which analyzed the responsibility a food writer bears, went viral, the Willamette Week revealed a new side of the story.
Reporter Matthew Singer dug into the history of Stanich’s owner. Stanich is facing huge fines and penalties stemming from a horrifying 2014 incident where he assaulted and choked his wife. Singer implies that Stanich’s struggles to get out of his own downward spiral led to the closure of Stanich’s as much or more than any attention from Alexander.
Alexander had alluded to Stanich’s personal problems, but kept them off the record and downplayed them, saying that they were “the type of serious things that can happen with any family, and would’ve happened regardless of how crowded Stanich’s was.” In a statement issued later, Alexander admitted that he knew about the specifics, but blew past them. It seems kinda clear from what he told Willamette Week he still wanted to focus on his own role in this.
Criticism of Alexander flew in from all sides. My initial impulse was to rise to his defense. I like him, and these kinds of journalistic pile-ons set my teeth on edge. They are so predictable: Someone messes up. A number of holier-than-thou people dive in, tweeting things like “more reporters, fewer writers.” The truth is that most folks who take a superior attitude in these situations are one mistake away from being the center of this kind of shitstorm themselves. In short order, someone else messes up and we all move on to feeling superior than them. In many cases (including ones that have happened to friends of mine), it doesn’t feel proportionate to the mistake.
However, Alexander and his editor chose to ignore important information. Based on everything we know, this was an active choice by both the writer and editor. A straight whiff would have been more defensible. Helen Rosner’s point that a white dude chose to ignore the story of a woman’s abuse is impossible to dismiss. Alexander really messed up here, as did his editor for not holding him to account. It’s a shame, because I think Alexander’s self reflection was important and shouldn’t be dismissed. He brought this criticism on himself when he set out to write a follow-up piece. No one really knew about this during his first list, and I think even if they did he might not have been criticized for not digging deeper into a simple list of the best burgers in America. However, by presenting this story as the deeper dive behind the list, he set expectations that he was going to deliver the dive. At that point, it becomes indefensible to not really interrogate why the place closed or to skip over the various issues he heard in passing, even if that story doesn’t match the larger point you are trying to make.
So what did kill Stanich’s? After reading all the coverage, it’s hard to tell. Like many human stories this one is messy, sad, and complicated.
I was pumped that Kevin Alexander tweeted the last issue of Snack Cart, and I hope that he emerges from this episode stronger. He made some amazing points in his essay, and we would be dumb to dismiss them because of his error. Alexander made a bad mistake, but he’s still one of my favorite food writers and I hope I get a chance to link to his work again soon.
The wine world was in a tizzy (the wine world is seemingly always in a tizzy) about a Daily Beast interview with famous and influential sommelier Bobby Stuckey. Stuckey trashed natural wines, as well as hard-partying and Instagramming younger somms. According to my sister, wine Instagram has been on FIRE, with most of the younger generation flying into a rage at the old man yelling at clouds. Esther Mobley at the SF Chronicle covered some of the backlash. I think Stuckey is generally right that many people don’t seek mentorship or know enough about the history of their craft, but that’s not exclusive to wine. Stuckey’s main critique is that new somms don’t care if a wine is good but do care if it’s got a good story or is scarce. I think there's a grain of truth in that, but it's also true about plenty of old school wine people. Also, natural wines are good in different ways. Their weirdness is what is appealing! Stuckey lost me when he said “But I’m like, hold on, let’s think about this”. It's a personal tic, but in my experience anyone who says that is about to make a point that they haven’t really thought about.
I couldn’t get in to Netflix’s Final Table. It seemed to lack the zaniness that sticks with Iron Chef to this day, as well as the young-chefs-hungry-to-prove-something aesthetic that makes Top Chef awesome. Brittany Martin, writing in LA Magazine, also calls out how it seems to, more than most other food shows, reflect the power dynamics that shape the larger restaurant industry (and world, obviously).
Do you want to read an 800 word feature on the state of craft beer in China? OF COURSE YOU DO.
Drew Magary, writing for GQ, published a sort-of oral history of Anthony Bourdain. He interviewed dozens of people who knew him about their memories of his life and death. Magary manages this form well, using small snippets and asides to paint a picture of a complicated person. Magary seems to be trying to answer the question why we all felt so damn sad about Bourdain’s death.
Amy Qin, writing in the New York Times, tries to explain the Taiwanese term “Q”. It describes the spongy chewiness you see in fish balls, bubble tea, or rice sticks. No one is quite sure how the American letter became a Taiwanese culinary term, though Qin looks through some theories. Speaking of Taiwan, VICE looks at the nine best foods at Taipei’s famous night market. Is this #SPONCON directly targeted at me? Yes, but I don’t care.
Louis Peitzman at Buzzfeed confesses his deep love for Bon Appetit’s test kitchen chefs and video hosts. Peitzman talks about how he’s addicted to their various cooking Youtube channels. He points out that as long as there has been cooking TV, we’ve been tuning in for the hosts as much as for the actual instructions.
The San Francisco Chronicle has a new restaurant critic, and it's a fantastic choice.
The Outline’s Casey Johnson, who is really great at parsing what technology means to us culturally, breaks down the instant pot. She looks at the various forces that drive us to become obsessed with kitchen gadgets that will supposedly make everything easier.
RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS: Canadian journalist Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall has written a book on hangovers, and Vox interviews him to find out what we know about them and how to cure them. Turns out, we don’t really know very much about them at all!
Glamour published a lovely and raw essay from Lyz Lenz, about how cooking became a prison as her marriage fell apart.
I don’t really understand how anyone in New England can try and rebut Amanda Mull’s claim that our biscuits are terrible. However, our cornbread is considerably better.
I may be an old man, but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Restaurants are getting too loud. First, the CBC highlighted the phenomenon. But frankly, this Atlantic article is more interesting. Kate Wagner dives into the history of restaurant interior design, and why loud restaurants might actually be more profitable.
Fascinating story from New Food Economy about the battle over bison-and-fruit bars. A Native American run company, Tanka, resuscitated the ancient snack for the modern health-conscious snacker. Then, a white husband-and-wife ultra-marathoning team co-opted the idea. I’ll let you guess which one got the $100 investment from General Mills. It’s an interesting look at the dark side of the hipster brands at Whole Foods, which might not be as pure as they seem.
There is *NOTHING* like a fantastic obit of a long-time bartender. This one, of Carlyle hotel bartender Tommy Rowles, doesn’t disappoint.
I’ve never heard of Topic, but this lovely essay by Mayukh Sen shows they know how to give writers the space to do amazing things. Sen reflects on the tradition of funeral cookbooks, a Thai tradition where guests are given a small cookbook containing the deceased’s favorite recipes. Sen talks about his own father’s recent death, as well as highlighting the death and food traditions in cultures around the world.
The true meaning of Hanukkah is apparently that latkes are a lie. Yoni Appelbaum dives into the history of how various traditions got twisted into the current fried delicious treats. As I observed at a latke party last week, “The best part of Judaism is that most opinions about holidays are allowed because everyone just loves to argue.” (A friend immediately replied, “I’ve never heard that.”).
Friend of the Cart Daniela Galarza writes a detailed and *kick ass* feature for Eater on the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) cookware brands. A new class of startups are taking on Le Creuset and All Clad, taking lessons learned from other brands like Warby Parker or Casper. These tools look fantastic, but I still turn back to this Mark Bittman article from 2007 as the ur-text on equipping a kitchen. I look forward to dragging my future children to Chinatown when they get their first apartment and making them buy a set of metal mixing bowls and a $5 paring knife.
Noah Cho’s monthly column for Catapult is quickly becoming required reading. His most recent, about his love for Shin packaged ramen, is fantastic. If you haven’t taken the hedonistic step of adding kraft cheese singles to your new ramen, you haven’t seen Shakespeare the way it’s meant to be played.
A Twitter thread containing more than you ever needed to know about food product placement in movies.
You don’t get a headache after you eat Chinese food. No one you know does. It’s a weird and racist myth.
It’s not a food magazine, but Esquire’s best new restaurants list still matters a lot. This year’s is excellent, highlighting a lot of Snack Cart favs including Atomix in New York and Celeste in Boston. Also, something is really going on in Minneapolis.
Make sure you never miss an issue. Subscribe to Snack Cart Today. Weekly-ish, though honestly it might be monthly at this point.
The Continental Bar, a sort-of iconic East Village dive, is closing. Gothamist points out that it was always kinda shitty and run by an asshole. It may have been problematic and terrible, but then again so were my early 20s when I went there often.
The Times profiles the rise of interesting and inventive regional Chinese cooking in Forest Hills. Perhaps this is just me feeling nostalgic, but this reminds me of a Times story ten years ago about where to eat in Flushing that sent me scrambling around food carts and delving deep into confusing malls. What I’m trying to say is, who’s coming with me?
Thrillist profiled Panna II Garden, a restaurant you have seen on Instagram even if you didn’t know it. It’s that Indian restaurant with a million Christmas lights, which has become absolutely mobbed by tourists and scensters.
Vice profiles Ligaya Mishan, who consistently does some of my favorite writing. She admits what we’ve all noticed for a while, that after the election of President Trump she's tried to make her column a celebration of immigrants as much as it’s been about food.
Pete Wells reviews The Four Seasons. I was a bit confused, and wish Wells had clarified that the restaurant Four Seasons moved across the street from its historic space (Where The Grill and The Pool now live). Wells may have skipped the context because he spent about half the review justifying the fact he was reviewing it at all. Owner Julian Niccolini has been involved in a number of assaults and sexual assaults, and despite the fact that he is keeping a low profile, Wells admits there’s a strong case not to review the place at all. I can see the argument why one might still review a place as high profile as The Four Seasons, but I’m quite conflicted about it. If the ethics of a place are to be factored in, there’s still not a great formula for it. Wells hasn’t cracked the code, because I can’t remember anything he wrote about the food.
New York’s Afghan community is just starting to coalesce and define itself. Ligaya Mishan profiles 32-year-old Mohibullah Rahmati, who runs a stall at Smorgasburg and is trying to get his vendor license for a new food truck. Rahmati gets up at 4 am every day to prepare mantu and kofta, which he serves alongside flatbreads from his brothers’ bakery. God, food truck vendors work SO HARD.
Pete Wells loved Misi, the new spot from ultra-hot chef Missy Robbins, but Ryan Sutton definitely does not. He tore into it, saying the pasta at this temple of pasta is terrible. It made me think back to Wells’ review, where he said that it was more a vegetable restaurant than a pasta one. At the time I thought it was a positive thing, but maybe it was a backhanded compliment?
Sutton gave a rave to the new Bushwick Mission Chinese. He uses it as an opportunity to meditate on chef Danny Bowien’s celebrity and to remind us all that even if he is fronting French luxury goods, he’s still an insanely talented chef. The star of this review is the gif at the end -- why don’t more reviews include gifs?
Wahlburgers is opening in London this spring, in what I assume is an effort help British people think “Eh, maybe it’s better we let them go”.
Maria Cramer profiles Mario Bailote, who opened a Portuguese pizza parlor in the middle of one of the toughest parts of Roxbury. Bailote is trying to walk a fine line of being attractive to newer residents as well as not alienate the existing neighborhood. The line: “Dealing with the city’s cumbersome permitting process was hell” jumped out. That can be a huge barrier for tough and dedicated people like Bailote. I need to swing by this place and try one of those pork sandwiches ASAP.
No one likes you, Harvard. No one.
I’m beginning to suspect that the team behind Trillium are great at making beer but lousy at business. First they mess up creating a tasting room, setting them back years, then they finally open a great tasting room and alienate employees and customers by screwing over the staffers there.
Devra First reviews Pagu in Cambridge, where chef Tracy Chang has fused Asian and Spanish flavors and ways of eating into a fun, wordly and fantastic experience. First loves it, giving it three starts. Pagu is a place where every time I am reminded of it I think, “oh right, probably the best place in Boston”. I’m really confused why First is only just now reviewing it. It’s been around for two years.
Never mind, food lists are good again. Boston Magazine editor Jacqueline Cain rounds up the 15 best restaurant bathrooms in Boston.
I have a deep love of Lyonnaise food, which is the best food France has to offer. So I was sad to learn that a Lyonnaise restaurant opened within walking distance of my old apartment. Bad for my soul, but good for my arteries. MC Slim JB reviews the new Bar Lyon for the Improper, and while one or two things are misses, the majority of the menu is terrific. $23 for quenelle de brochet is a steal, especially if they are as good as he says. Make a trip to the South End on a cold night this year -- you won’t regret it.
Jacqueline Houton, writing in the Improper, explores a really neat idea: what fancy ingredients are hard to get, even for the fanciest chefs?
Bad things continue to happen to that bad guy! (Mike Isabella’s restaurant group is filing for bankruptcy).
A fried chicken and oyster restaurant is coming to Shaw… *loud crashing, you look up to see a Josh shaped hole in the wall as he sprints towards Shaw*
Laura Hayes at the Washington City Paper takes a deep look at the food in Ward 7 and 8. There are only a handful of sit-down restaurants and three grocery stores total in a community of almost 160,000. It pretty much goes without saying that these neighborhoods are much blacker and poorer than the rest of the city. Hayes looked at the factors that caused this crisis, as well as interviewed a number of residents about what kind of restaurants they would like to see there. Hard to tell if her questions started the ball rolling, but a day or two after Hayes article was published, Lyft announced a program to give free rides to grocery stores for Ward 7 and 8 residents.
John Kessler, writing in Chicago Magazine, blew up the Chicago food scene with an article saying that Chicago has lost its mojo. He points fingers at diners, restaurant groups, and basically everyone in the city. The story set the Chicago food world abuzz, probably because everyone can find something in it that makes them say, “ Shit, well, he has a point.” Helen Rosner (now a New Yorker in multiple ways but formerly of Chicago Magazine) calls it dead on but criticizes Kessler for leaving out Chicago’s segregation and institutionalized racism. Ashok Selvam, writing in Eater Chicago, calls out Kessler for ignoring the race issues as well. However, he’s also very critical of Kessler’s generalizations about immigrant communities. He points out that Kessler calls out the lack of great “immigrant restaurants,” mentioning a few areas where he hasn’t seen anything exciting. Selvam correctly points out that Kessler completely misses a huge number of places and neighborhoods that don’t fit his preconceived notion of where certain kinds of immigrant restaurants should be. It would be like saying “there’s no good Italian food in New York anymore” after a boring weekend in Little Italy. I’ll add that in a year where one of the best meals I had was at HaiSous, I think Kessler’s assertion that there aren’t any great second generation immigrant restaurants is off the mark as well.
Also, how can Kessler say that the Chicago food scene has lost its mojo when a new restaurant is opening promising all black food (metal!) and non-alcoholic CBD cocktails *nervously tugs collar*.
Maybe a better defense of the Windy City is a pop-up restaurant from a young chef hoping to open the city’s first skater bar/Lao restaurant. It’s selling out in hours and has a vegan laab recipe that sounds mind-blowingly good.
Travellers in the know know that Rick Bayliss’ Tortas Frontera in O’Hare is probably the best airport food in the country. I have friends who will transfer in Chicago rather than go direct just to have some. What my friends may not know (I didn’t!) is that all of the pork comes from a single farm in Indiana. Fooditor profiles farmer Greg Gunthorp, who is trying to revive traditional, sustainable, and humane ways of farming.
LAist says what we all have been thinking: In-and-Out fries are garbage. You can order them extra crispy but it doesn’t help that much. I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS.
Holy shit there is a new Langer’s. In all honesty, the hipster fast casual concept lends itself really well to a deli, which is basically the original fast casual.
Good Food had a great interview with Nik Sharma, the author of A Brown Table, a popular cooking blog. He has a new cookbook out, which documents his journey from India to America. It’s partly about food, partly about embracing his identity as a gay immigrant. According to Instagram, he apparently went to grad school with a friend of mine! Small world!
I am *loving* this new L.A. taco series, where they profile young and up-and-coming Latino chefs. They need to find a new headline format, but interviews with Jonathan Perez of Macheen and Frank Mendoza of El Sushi Loco are great pictures of the kind of passion and dedication it takes to build something out of nothing.
Street vending is legal! I’m skeptical this will stop harassment of vendors by the cops, but it’s an important step.
Chicken ramen will be the new “it” thing. Count it. Unless it already is already and I’m behind.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
Hotel rooms are empty spaces yearning to be filled—with work, with sighing, with sex; cool, perfect voids screaming for completion. - link