Eat Rich

The only real criticism one could make of Zelo would be to note what it is not: a chef-driven restaurant. There's nothing on the menu that articulates a specific vision or taste, and the defining notes tend to be salty, sugary, and splashy. If you're the sort that likes to play fantasy baseball with our local handful of star chefs, there's not much for you at Zelo.

(What's fantasy baseball with chefs? Okay. Don't laugh. First you have to eat out a lot. Then, when you're stuck somewhere like on an airplane, close your eyes and imagine you've got five bonito. Five racks of lamb. Five pounds of Fuji plums. Whatever. You parcel them out to, say, Doug Flicka at Auriga, Philip Dorwart at Table of Contents, Lucia Watson at Lucia's, Tim McKee at La Belle Vie, Steven Brown at the Local. What do you get? That's fantasy baseball with chefs, and if you think I'm nuts, well, get in line.)

Not that I consider the lack of a chef's vision necessarily a bad thing--at least not any more than I think that Mac's Fish & Chips ought to add some sorbets to its menu. Just the way it is, Zelo does a perfect job satisfying a much-neglected need in downtown Minneapolis--I think of it as filling the Fancy, Efficient Date need.

Say you've got the sitter on the clock, two hours, and something between fifty and a hundred bucks to spend. Zelo will sweep you in, make you feel like Puffy Combs and Jennifer Lopez; like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones; like someone contemporary and fabulous about whom the National Enquirer and People care deeply. It will make you feel like the center of the universe, feed you tasty treats and fancy drinks, generally not irk you, and release you in time to get the sitter back before curfew.

Then again, does that make any sense? Does the overclass of supercelebrities even deal with sitters? Inquiring minds have no idea.

 

TABLEHOPPING

GOURMET HEADACHES: Here at Tablehopping headquarters, we've all got headaches from perusing the September issue of Gourmet with detailed attention. What does it mean when Ruth Reichl, the most important restaurant critic in the nation, launches her tenure as editor of the most important food magazine in the nation with a look at Minneapolis restaurants--and then essentially doesn't review any Minneapolis restaurants? What does it mean, what does it mean, what does it mean?

See, we know from the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Reichl did indeed eat in Minneapolis; she went on a whirlwind tour with PiPresscritic Kathie Jenkins to La Belle Vie, café un deux trois, the New French Cafe, Shuang Cheng, the Birchwood, Big Bowl, Lucia's, and Aquavit. Of those eight restaurants, only the last three made it into her review. And of those three, Aquavit is essentially a New York restaurant with a New York chef; Big Bowl is a Chicago-based chain (would you go to Cleveland and review the Starbucks there?); and while Reichl did spend a few hundred words on Lucia's, she hardly mentioned the Minnesota-grown cuisine on which the restaurant bases its reputation, instead dwelling on a peach-and-rhubarb pie.

Out of all our debates, two theories have emerged. The first we call "Gourmet to Minneapolis: Don't Quit Your Day Job." She came, she ate, and all she could find to recommend was food from other lands--New York's Aquavit, Chicago's Big Bowl, and peaches. The second we call "A Good Woman Struggles With a Bad Idea." Under this scenario, Reichl tried to do the impossible in examining as many as four restaurants a day during a whirlwind visit. Since her latest reviewing job was at the New York Times, where she was painstakingly scrupulous--with an annual expense account rumored to be about the same dollar amount as a Kenwood house and an average of five visits per restaurant--Reichl realized she couldn't fairly write about any of the places she rushed through and thus wisely fell back on prior knowledge, specifically her past experience with the New York Aquavit and her knowledge of friend Bruce Cost's cooking (Cost is the mind behind Big Bowl).

Yet neither of these adequately explains why all our local up-and-comers like Auriga, Table of Contents, and the Local didn't even merit an hour of the whirlwind visit. Why? What does it mean? Tablehopping gives up. But you don't have to. Just keep repeating: Why, why, why? You'll know it's working when you bolt for the Tylenol. I guess this is how the ancient Greeks felt trying to figure out why Zeus was throwing lightning bolts with no rhyme or reason. Someone sacrifice a lamb and let's get this over with.

And oh, message to New York: Enough with the Minnesota nice already.

That's our in-joke and you'll never get it, so quit taking it literally. See, Reichl opens by telling the world that "Nobody ever honks his horn at slow drivers in the Twin Cities...." (Why would we? It's so much more effective to pull them over and punch them in the face.) Then she adds that we all say "you betcha," just like in Fargo, and offers that we have friendly neighborhood names like Frogtown and Dinkytown.

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