Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Response: An HFF Manifesto

Apparently unbeknownst to me there are other people reading this blog. This is a good thing. It's also made my very aware that these random strangers might not "get" what's going on here.

Steven is an attentive reader who took umbrage to my Oliveto write-up.

I will now respond. Italics represent the content of Steven's comment.

"Oh right, Alice Waters. I hear she's an uncut eight inches." In the face of such wit, it's tempting to respond with another ad hominem attack.

This is sort of a weird use of the term ad hominem. The size of Alice Waters' penis and its circumcisional status is irrelevant to her abilities as a chef. And while it might have mattered to Bertolli when he was blowing her, it also has no relevance on his abilities as a chef. I don't believe I was making that assertion. I'm sure there are many fine chefs who have large uncircumcised genitalia.

However, it can't be denied that working under Waters earlier in his career gave Bertolli an immeasurable amount of fame and exposure and aided greatly in his ability to open his own successful restaurant.

In a post in which I am speculating (rightly or wrongly) that perhaps Bertolli's restaurant doesn't deserve all of its accolades, I think that suggesting a (probably) figurative submissive sexual relationship with Alice Waters is a fair one to throw out there.

Flippant and tasteless, perhaps. Ad hominem? Hardly.

Besides, if you read this blog you know my love-hate relationship with California Cuisine and its sacred cows.

Lastly, if you have photos DISPROVING the rumored size of Ms. Waters' penis, please show them to me and I'll promptly remove that comment.

You're an idiot.

Come on, you can do better than that. At least criticize my sexual prowess or something. There's a whole lexicon of insults out there.

But I think I can do better.

We'll later see that this was an overly optimistic statement.

Unlike you ("I should probably give Oliveto a second chance") I can judge Oliveto on the basis of more than one visit. I've had a few bad meals there. Many good ones. And a few excellent ones. I've eaten at enough restaurants to know that it deserves the praise it gets.

Notice here where he implies that I haven't eaten at enough restaurants. Interesting. You obviously like Oliveto. A lot of people do. That's not a bad thing. There was a lot to like about that place. My goal is to get people to question why that is. Which I succeeded in getting you to do and you have defended it competently. I don't think it deserves the praise it gets. But I'm not saying that I know one way or the other. How do you know what anything does or does not deserve?

It balances excellent cuisine with appropriate prices. It's impressive and imaginative without being pretentious and exclusive.

I thought the prices were inappropriate and the food unimaginative. I guess we'll agree to disagree here.

To be fair, Oliveto might not be the best fish restaurant in the Bay Area. But that's my point. It's not a fish restaurant. From your description (more than 50% of your comments are positive) it sounds like most of the food was at least OK.

Actually I would say that more than half of my food was good. That's my whole point though. Excellent ingredients competently prepared should be the baseline for any restaurant of Oliveto's stature. I want to see where restaurants push beyond that. I don't care if you aren't a "fish restaurant." You're doing a seafood dinner and I'm going to judge that seafood dinner by the same standards that I'll judge your meat. Same standard as movies, plays, art galleries, blogs, etc. If you're putting something out there for public consumption it's going to be judged by people who don't give a fuck if you are or are not a seafood restaurant. Because I can play the trombone doesn't mean I can play the saxophone and I would fully expect to be torn a new asshole by critics if I gave a saxophone recital and sucked.

I actually can play the saxophone, but that's neither here nor there.

And that's despite the fact that Oliveto is a meat restaurant. You know that, right?

No? Really! That's amazing. I wondered why Bertolli ceased working the kitchen to open his own charcuterie and sausage-making business. Running a meat-focused restaurant makes a lot of sense...

Of course I know that you shrill, condescending, impotent douche!

That is an example of ad hominem. The fact that you're an impotent douche has no relevance to your abilities to criticize me.

They are one of the world's greatest meat restaurants.

This would perhaps be an overstatement. And it's an overstatement that calls into question your own objectivity.

And that's another principle of this blog. You can't pretend to be objective. I'm calling it like I see it (completely colored by my tastes, mood, and opinion) based on that visit. If I go back and something's changed, I'll comment on it again (I've changed my tune on Wood Tavern and Maverick, for instance). I have my tastes, I'll admit. Italian is one of least favorite of the major cuisines. And I think that California Cuisine is a viable but creatively bankrupt institution. That's clear to anyone who reads this blog. So the deck was already stacked against Oliveto. But I don't see anything wrong with that.

But to say with a straight face that Oliveto (or any restaurant) is one of the world's greatest in any category is showing your hand a little too early, I think.

So, again, to spew up so much vitriol based on one unrepresentative experience is more than unfair, it's rude.

I really don't think I spewed that much vitriol. Other than my profane, swaggering bookends, I think most of my comments were well reasoned and substantiated.

The point is, I'm exaggerating to make a point. The women at my table didn't actually eat everything on the plates (though they ate more than their fair share). And they probably weren't as attractive as I might've made them out to be. Oh well. Does what I write have to be factually accurate for it to be true? I'd say no.

Besides, I can attack Oliveto more strongly than I might other restaurants. Oliveto is a successful institution that is immune to any potshots a little opinionated blogger might throw at it. That's the style of this blog. That's the point. Language that one might consider "rude" (who says we have to be nice? who made that rule?) forced you to have both an intellectual reaction to the content of the post and a visceral reaction to how that content was expressed. It forced you to jump to the defense of something you love with a zeal and indignation you wouldn't've had if you'd read a more "polite" review.

You claim that "David Bowie, Martin Scorsese, and Dr. Dre are it for decades-long enduring creative thinking." It's hard to continue reading your review after that.

It's really hard to take your criticism seriously if you thought I was being serious.

I mean, have you heard of Miles Davis? Prokofiev? Graham Greene?

No I haven't. Who are they? Are they as awesome as Dr. Dre? I hope so. Dr. Dre is pretty awesome though.

In the (paraphrased) words of Homer Simpson: If they're so great, how come they're dead?

Your presumptiveness is interesting. Would you respond in a similar way if I told you I had a master's degree and season tickets to the symphony? I would hope not, because that's not relevant to the topics I discuss here.

And I think that Paul Bertolli continues to be pretty creative. I've had stuff at Oliveto that I've never had anywhere else, cooked with consummate skill. Can you ask for much more?

I can because I haven't had that yet. But hopefully I will. I'll make it back to Oliveto sometime soon, I'm sure.

Oh, this isn't much fun. Let's go ad hominem again:

"The bisque tasted like lobster, cream, and cognac. Which I guess makes it good if you like those things." Idiot.

I'm not sure what makes that statement idiotic. I don't like lobster all that much. It's not that I think it's bad, it's just not my thing. I imagine someone who likes lobster more than I would like the bisque much more than I would. But why didn't you make a note of my point that the two servings of the bisque, served at the exact same time tasted markedly different?

I could tell you that my assessment was corroborated by a professional chef friend of mine who was dining with me. But that shouldn't matter, right?

"I was personally offended by the cioppino." Pretentious boob.

I have every right to be offended. I don't have the right to expect anybody to care.

Though you're using ad hominem correctly now. Kinda. That's pretty cool.

To be honest, I enjoyed reading your review. I think you write reasonably well. But I think you want to show off more than you want to be thoughtful. I suggest you visit a restaurant at least twice before reviewing it. And tone down the wild generalizations and pronouncements. They're just silly.

I don't think I could get a greater compliment than that right there. Thank you.

Of course I want to show off. That's what I hope makes this interesting and different. If I toned stuff down I wouldn't been able to engage in such a great virtual dialogue with you, would I? I think I'm being a whole lot more thoughtful than you give me credit for. I imagine you equate "rude" language with "not thoughtful-ness" like most people of a certain demographic do. Not to make presumptions or anything. I'm serious. Reread the review.

Edward R. Murrow is an infinitely better journalist than Hunter S. Thompson, but Thompson's a helluva lot more interesting to read. And there's a lot more truth in some of Thompson's rants and madness than in Murrow's reporting. Both men did important work. Both are admirable.

With the exception of Wood Tavern, I haven't been to a single restaurant before it's been reviewed in all the local media. I'm not really reviewing a restaurant for the same purpose or with the same intent as those reviewers. I'm don't even consider what I'm doing to be reviewing a restaurant. I'm writing an essay about my experience. If it means that someone who reads what I've written decides not to go to a restaurant, so be it. But it's not my intention to tell people what to do or where to go. Knowing my tastes and opinions, people can take away what they will from what I write.

And that's a beautiful thing.

So there you have it, Steven. I hope that cleared things up for you and for other casual readers. I appreciate your kind words and am glad you're enjoying what I'm doing.

But I'm not going to tone things down or stop being silly. Because that wouldn't be any fun at all. I take what I do very seriously, but that's not to say I'm very serious about what I do.

Here's to ruffling more feathers.



Zack said...


typewrighter said...

it art provokes a response, then art has done its job.

well done.

James said...

I'm curious as to why he placed Prokofiev in between Davis and Greene... If he really wanted to show off some musical knowledge he might have added Babatunde Olatunji or something other than jazz, classical, jazz... or composer, composer composer... loser, loser, loser