Turnabout Is Fun to Read

“We thrive on negative journalism, which is fun to write and to read.”
—Anton Ego, Ratatouille

This quote—an elegant expression of the sometimes addictive power that comes with reviewing restaurants—sets the tone for a recent and much-blogged blast of backlash directed at Minneapolis-St. Paul supercritic Andrew Zimmern. The specific details are grounded in the Twin Cities food scene, but the broad strokes—critic versus creator, egotism versus objectivity—are universal.

It’s rare to see a chef savage a critic, so the original anti-Zimmern Rake magazine post makes for a fascinating read. Penned by Mitch Omer, proprietor of the well-respected Hell’s Kitchen restaurants in Minneapolis and Duluth, the post isn’t self-defense against a negative review. It’s a surprise attack on Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel and chief food writer for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Omer’s charges? Among other offenses, Zimmern is “inaccurate and tremendously negative,” “a self-professed Alpha Male of food writing,” “smug,” and “pseudo-objective.”

Omer’s evidence? A copious pile of quotes from Zimmern and Omer’s own experience as a restaurateur and chef.

Is he right? Omer’s post is such a writhing mass of serpents that it’s impossible to describe it with any one word. That said, there was at least one point that connected for this Twin Cities–based food writer. Omer quotes Zimmern’s writing thusly:

Most of this year’s crops are conundrums wrapped in half-baked concepts. Crave is a fancified Green Mill and not as good, Picosa is missing identity, Bank under whelms, and Amazing Thai fails to rumble me. Black Bamboo, Café Ena, Harry’s, Fogo de Chao, Spill the Wine, Café Maude, Wasabi, Bulldog NE, Bagu, Toast, Manhattan’s, and Landmarc all fail to rouse me from my desk.

Any given restaurant is an ever-changing, multifaceted ball of personalities, food, and atmosphere. It’s tough enough to do a restaurant justice with a timely 600-word review; to summarily dismiss 16 with a weary shrug does a disservice to readers and restaurateurs alike. Speaking from specific personal experience, Maude, Ena, and Bulldog NE—at the minimum—offer engaging and often delightful menus that merit repeat visits, if not high praise. Amazing Thai is an oasis of decent, more-authentic-than-usual Thai food in a region that sorely needs it. And Picosa ... well, anyway. I digress. Omer’s attack, for all its shambolic savagery, is a rare public assessment of a powerful local critic. It’s gripping, offensive, and thought-provoking reading for the new year.

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