Essential Minnesota

What’s the Difference Between a Flash in the Pan and a Restaurant Worth Your Time? No, Seriously, I’m Asking

And then there's me. In this light, it seems clear enough that I'm the servant you pay—by glancing at the ads that surround this page—to tell you which cook is good, which restaurant is good, which pie is worth eating. I'm not exactly a kitchen servant, but I'm definitely one of the modern conveniences that arose to replace them: I'm more like the employment agency that screens your applicants, and sends out the ones I think you might like.

I do this in a number of ways: I visit a restaurant repeatedly, and, as you noticed, go to absurd lengths to try to find the place's best face. For instance, I just extracted from my file cabinet a copy of the dinner menu from a place I reviewed a few weeks ago, B.A.N.K., and I am now noticing that out of 31 items on the menu, I personally tried 27, while spending more than $1,000 of my employer's money. So, when I tell you that the best things B.A.N.K. makes are their tomato soup, their Caesar salad, their salmon, and their banana chocolate cake, I am not just being a blowhard at a cocktail party—I mean it, from the bottom of my (saturated fat-saturated) heart.

So what about you? Should you go to restaurants other than Alma and Origami? It kind of depends on what you want out of life. Do you want a quiet life of well-made toast, or do you want a lively parade of interesting and various toasts?

I would venture that one of the nice things about having a servant—or, taking into account other local food writers, a handful of servants—who does nothing but scurry around and taste the local offerings, is that it makes your life easier: A well-reviewed restaurant by a critic whose tastes line up with your own is as close as you're going to get to a sure bet in this life.

But of course there are some pitfalls to the reviewing process. Part of the job description of a restaurant critic is that we review the new restaurants. Or, in the now-infamous words of a local restaurant owner, reported in the Star Tribune last January, we review "the new girl in the whorehouse." But what about the old whores, like the one owned by that very restaurant proprieter? Well, if there's no news attached to these not-new restaurants, they just kind of fade from view.

Where does this leave you, Kristin? If you are sitting there wondering who in all the city will provide you the best possible toast, are we, your critic-servants, presenting every possible option? No. We are presenting the newest options. But why does the information have to flow the way it has been? If there's one thing that considering food life between the wars has shown me, it's that our habits of eating are far more changeable than they might seem.

So, I am introducing a new project, which I am calling, for lack of a better phrase, "Essential Minnesota." This might take all year, and 2008 too, but I am hereby soliciting all readers, restaurant owners, eaters, and so on to nominate your own Origami and Alma. What are the restaurants (or other food suppliers, be they coffee shops, bakeries, delis, or what have you) on your short list of places that make life in Minnesota worth eating? And yes, let's make it all of Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities. It might take me longer to get to your more distant nominations, but I'll try. Heck, if you feel that there are places in Wisconsin that are Essential Minnesota (Hudson? Alma?) by all means, send those in, too; if we try hard enough we might even kick off a war of aggression. Relinquish thy cheeses, ye 'Sconnies!

Send in your answers (to dmoskowitz@citypages.com), and I, your humble servant, will visit your individual nominations. If I find something that I feel is worth your collective time, I will write it up, perhaps alone, or perhaps with another of your fellow citizens' nominations. I'll try to run one of these "Essential Minnesota" nominations every month or so, and then we'll see where we are. Will we have a restaurant culture less oriented toward the new, hot thing? Will we have better toast? Will we have servants that serve our, or rather, your needs more precisely? I don't know, but it seems like an experiment worth undertaking. Let the new revolution begin!

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