My exposure to the world and its trends has caused me more educated and critical than ever before, as Lick entered our economy with the radio show. It’s a good thing the show along with this column are more about telling tales in a characteristic format.
I really don’t know I could live with myself being honest after getting raked through the coals and also the potential fallout a hardworking restaurateur would face. I can count on one hand the number of newspapers whose restaurant critics are real critics. I thought that if I really did have similar or a rating system, I give them another chance and would counter my criticisms with fixes that were suggested. But frankly, poor or even mediocre restaurants are not going to last long, especially with each diner going all “Anton Ego” on Yelp. For those of you unfamiliar, Anton Ego was the restaurant critic in “Ratatouille,” among my top five culinary films ever.
OK, back to my point. As I take you through this culinary 25, I’m probably more sensitive than bear this in mind.
My first issue is using generic LED neon “open” signals that each other restaurant has in their window. Hey listen, I get it that restaurants are a low margin business and costs have to be held in check, but if you put any effort into the design and feel of your place to ensure it is your own, can’t you extend this creativity to your open sign? I’ve counted six restaurants within blocks of each other in my area that have. And this is in the shore in nonchain restaurants that one would think could have more of an awareness of this. It’s only one of those minor things which may make a difference.
I receive a whole lot of press releases directed my manner with requests to pay a “hot new restaurant” and also to pay current ones which could benefit from a shot of publicity. They tout the numerous attributes of the chef’s cuisine and the distance itself. One of these interior features that still pop up on a regular basis is the use of “reclaimed wood” in the dining room or bar area. That is five decades back although I hate to sound like a cool snob here. I jest, but really folks? It’s not a newsworthy attribute and there may be bigger issues at hand that wood will not solve, if it heads up your listing of features before you even mention the food.
I could write the same paragraph when it comes to touting and ingredients. There was a time when having beer on tap was something to brag about but nowadays it’s a given. Crafty cocktails maybe not much, but it’s still not a differentiator. Cocktails made with Kombucha? I am all ears especially if it’s created by San Diego-based Bambucha Kombucha whose amazing (and good for you) flavors result in excellent cocktail mixers. Great for you in a Bloody Mary kind of way. That one was for you Michael.
This next topic has been covered in local and national media but I feel like it needs a little focus. Sourcing local ingredients whenever possible or “farm to table” has been happening forever and hasn’t needed that term attached to it, people simply knew who was doing it. As it’s just so inbred in their way of sourcing ingredients, the European chefs I’ve interviewed laugh during its use in culinary promotion. Their mantra has always been, if you can source it locally and it fulfills the standards of this kitchen by all means use it. Otherwise, you use the technology and transportation of the world and bring it in by the purveyors. In addition, just because chefs source locally does not necessarily mean those ingredients are utilized. Get my point? That said, as a contributor and supporter of local farms, I am good with list local suppliers, provided that you do them proud.
I’ve not run into this that often, but it killed what could have been an overall dining experience that is enjoyable, if it happened. Restaurants have some kind of digital music service that they use for their soundtrack. This soundtrack should offer a vibe. A recent experience had on however they didn’t pay to override the advertisements, a Pandora playlist. The advertisements we heard were a bit awkward in a somewhat upscale dining atmosphere aside from coming across as cheap.
With that, these Lick the Plate freak-outs are really not so bad given all of the positive trends. If they bothered me that I would not continue doing so.
Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and personalities as a pillar in The Coast News within the previous ten years and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More in www.lick-the-plate.com