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UFFC 326: Tasting Las Vegas vs The Strip Podcast

By Chuckmonster on Tuesday, 23rd November 2010 7:26pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 18

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This. Is. How. Ard. Co. Sell. Coming to you. Live. From The In. Ter. Nets. Where tonight. A Rager. Full. On. Fuck You To Your Face Fighting on The. Twitter.

In the Red corner... THE CHAMP. Steve Freiss. Podcaster. Journalist. All around internet ass kicker. His record 73-1, his only loss coming at the hands of This Ain't Iowa podcast.

In the Blue corner... The Challenger. Tasting Las Vegas, a new comer to the Las Vegas blogosphere who likes to stuff bacon in his Trombone. Take lousy photos of food. And write about it.

At issue, the age old question as to whether or not "Food Writers" should remain anonymous as a service to their readership. Friess accuses TastingLasVegas of jaking it, TLV fires back with all caps and a coupla finely brulee'd Fuck Yous.

With any luck, this will go on for at least three more hours, so grab a popcorn and some Patron®!



Tagged: uffc   twitter fight   



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Comments & Discussion:

Whomp whomp!

CATFIGHT! REOW! http://ow.ly/3eC2E

#vegasnerdfight

This is just one of many reasons you are awesome, Chuck.

I'm still in shock. And I know I may step on some toes here, but I have to side with the foodies here. Now I have plenty of respect for Steve Friess and what he does, as y'all already know, but he admits he doesn't even attend most food events! He is an accomplished journalist, but he hasn't grown with Las Vegas' food scene like John Curtas has.

http://www.lasvegasweekly.com/news/2010/nov/23/strip-sense/

And btw, the above linked article is the source of all of today's drama.

http://www.lasvegasweekly.com/news/2010/nov/17/curtas-qa/

And all Friess had to do was read the above linked article from his own magazine to see how Curtas, Max Jacobson, and Al Mancini put the book together.

All Mike was trying to do was stick up for "Team ELV". And IMHO they know what they're doing.

@atdleft by the very admission of there being a "Las Vegas Food Scene" one needs to grow with, you prove your argument to be horse shit foie gras on toast. Join the scene, or you can't cover the scene? Lame.

To a large extent, yes, actually.

Steve Friess is highly respected for his intrepid entertainment reporting. Would he be where he is today if he hadn't gotten familiar with the lay of the land on The Strip? And if he didn't bnuild any relationships with such movers and shakers as Steve Wynn and Holly Madison?

IMHO what Curtas does with his food reporting is similar to what Friess does with his entertainment reporting. And no, I don't think either is in the wrong.

I'm sorry. I know this is a sensitive subject, but I'm just calling 'em as I see 'em. I'm not out to hurt anyone.

Well, Steve isn't a food writer. His not showing up at culinary events isn't a huge shock, it's not often what he writes about. On the other hand, he's basically calling these guys frauds.

John Curtas of the Eating Las Vegas blog also called out Steve in a Facebook entry, saying the anonymous critic thing was a myth that was blown up in the New York food scene in the 90s. I also thought we all knew this. I mean, even in the Pixar movie with the cooking rat everybody knows who the food critic semi-villain. :b

TLV Mike is giving a very Bronx reaction to this whole brouhaha, but in spite of the poor sportsmanship he does have the high ground.

One day, I was at Society Cafe with my lovely wife ordering brunchfast. The manager (Oliver something, whom I met two weeks earlier on the opening day tour with RogThom) walked by, nodded his head in an "I remember you" kinda way and walked into the kitchen. He returns from the kitchen with Chef Canteenwalla two minutes later. They beeline right past me and straight to John Curtas' table where the three of them exchange tons of handshakes, hugs, quips, jokes and very hearty laughter for a coupla minutes. The Chef heads into the kitchen. A few minutes later, out comes Curtas' lunch which he promptly takes flash photos of. The next day, a stellar review of Society Cafe is posted to ELV, and a somewhat lousy one is posted to VT. We ate in the same restaurant at the exact same time. Yeah, the pancakes looked gorgeous on the plate but were virtually devoid of flavor. No exterior crunch, no melt in your mouth fluffiness. Nada. For the only place at Encore one can get breakfast, I guess I expected a little yummy in my tummy razzle dazzle. Nuh-uh.

I absolutely completely refuse to believe that the food I ordered was cared for as much as John Curtas' soup + entree. It may only be .3% difference in caring (more likely 300%), but there certainly is one - the chef came out purposefully to hug and kiss the reviewer. This behavior is beyond the myth of anonymity, this is a public display of affection. I can only wonder what the staff reception would've been should Curtas had worn his Mr. Roarke costume. I've seen enough Top Chef to know that the order for the Judges Table will have an exponentially higher concentration of effort.

I remind you, that this isn't conjecture or heresay based on what may or may not have happened 20 years ago in New York City, this is fact. The reviewer and the chef snuggling, mugging and guffawing like long lost college chums. I saw and experienced this with my own eyes, ears and mouth.

Since that time, I've been trapped in an elevator (!!) with Chef Canteenwalla on two (2) occasions Hunter was there at Mandarin the last time this happened. Neither time the Chef addressed me, nor did I address the Chef beyond a cordial 'allo among strangers. I've reviewed his food three times, two meh and one positive. I could've given the guy my Twitter handle, business card, email address, hugged and kissed his ass for a bit or introduced myself by saying "hey, I'm the guy from VT who thinks your food is bland." But I didn't. I don't want him to know me, nor do I want to know him... I just want him to serve good food to me and the millions of people who read VT for conflict-of-interest-free guidance.

I'm not "calling these guys frauds" but I think that Steve is onto something here regarding the way too cozy relationship that food reviewers have with the chefs and restaurants they review. Seeing all those pics of the chefs and the reviewers mugging, swooning and spooning each other raised my eyebrows about how objective this book can be.

Re: TLV, I sincerely hope that he will take the long view to see what Steve is talking about (right or wrong) and figure out where his priorities lay - drinking the Kool Aid or building a bond of trust with millions of strangers all over the world. Personally, I opted for the latter, which is the reason why you just read this extremely long comment and repeatedly visit the gigantic website thereto attached.

^^ Preach it, brother!

Chuck-

First off, thank you for allowing me to post my disagreement here. I've known other bloggers who have shut down the first hint of dissent, so I commend you for allowing me and Mike to explain the other side of the story.

Even though Vegas has grown so much, in many ways we still have more of a "big fish in a small pond" situation when it comes to the who's who of the city. And because there often aren't as many as six degrees of separation, there are often accusations of reporters/bloggers/reviewers cozying up to the powers that be that they're supposed to cover. We've heard all the rumors about Robin Leach. I still hear folks talk sh*t about Jon Ralston. Hell, I've even heard folks talk sh*t about Steve! (But again, I don't think either he or John Curtas is in the wrong in what they do.)

Now you were at Society that day. I wasn't. I won't even try to deny whatever happened there.

Is John Curtas perfect? Nope. In fact, there have been quite a few times when I disagreed with his review of a joint. But do I think his integrity has been compromised? Hell to the no!

I can tell you this. So far, I've had a similarly good experience dining at almost every restaurant Curtas gave high marks to. (And so far, my experiences at Society Cafe have been positive.) And of the ones he poo-poo'ed, I also didn't like about 90% of them. And I know TLV has had his own disagreements with ELV. Of course, we also need to remember that to a certain extent, food can be a subjective experience. What you find spicy and delectable I might find oversalted and overdone, or vice versa.

And so far, Curtas hasn't been afraid to call out those he thinks is underperforming, even if he personally likes them. I remember when Daniel Boulud was open at Wynn, and Curtas didn't hesitate to say he found some dishes underwhelming, even though he LOVES DB's New York restaurants and admires him as a chef. He's also good with Jet Tila, but that hasn't stopped him from saying he didn't like a number of the dishes at Wazuzu at Encore. Perhaps the reviewer is becoming famous on his own accord, but I definitely wouldn't say he's allowed the fame to affect his reviews.

Chuck, that's interesting. I guess to me, the detail that has always mattered is...

1) Does Curtas ever post negative reviews? (Answer: Yes)

2) Does Curtas post negative reviews because the chef did not come out and kiss his ass? (Answer: Not Sure, but I'm guessing no, since a lot of Chinatown places don't kiss his ass and he's as big a proponent of the places down Spring Mountain as I've seen in the valley.)

Unfortunately, Vegas is a fame and celebrity whore's paradise where "connections" and "juice" are everything and being known in just the wrong shade of grey gets you cut off.

To expand on my own thoughts, my favourite restaurant review is "Check, Please!" on KQED (PBS San Francisco) which is a bit of a mix of anonymous and not-so-anonymous. The food critics are a forever revolving door of Bay Area locals who try out the other two's choice restaurants and have opinions about them, and on another visit the station sends a film crew to record beauty shots of food and a reel of the kitchen at work while the owner talks the place up. It allows the establishment to try and put their best face forward, while at the time they were being reviewed they did not know who the reviewers were (given that they are ordinary people and not food critics.)

I have thought this kind of setup would be great for Vegas, but too much of the high-demand restaurants are cornered in one place (The Strip) and most locals avoid it completely.

I had totally forgotten about that elevator ride w/ Canteenwalla... I think that I did say I liked his restaurant (in a sort of 'you were great in the game on Sunday' kind of way) but if memory serves he was kinda a dick and didn't really respond beyond an inaudible grumble... and that was the end of the 'conversation'.

It certainly wasn't a 'look who we are' moment, though the opportunity was there if it had been desired. My memory jives with CSM - there was no biz card exchanging going on in those two minutes... just like pretty much all the other minutes spent cruising around town. Actually, I've given out so few RV biz cards that I stopped printing them as they were just being wasted.

I'm fine with being anonymous - it suits my personality not to have to talk to anyone I don't know. The only time I might pull out a card is if I'm trying to get an interview, in an effort to convince the person I'm not a (total) crackpot. Otherwise, I'm just an average schmuck with a camera and a notepad.

These sorts of outbursts really make me wonder what it's like to be 'inside the bubble' and by that I mean living in town and interacting with these people (chefs, entertainers, hotel execs, PR people) on a regular basis. Not in a 'I'd like to be in that position' kinda way, just in a curious (or maybe suspicious) kinda way. It's a relatively small club and membership has it's benefits if even half the stories I hear about exchanging propaganda for freebies are true.

It can be a lot of fun going to opening parties but the whole thing is very hollow - if you think these people are your friends, you're insane. They're quite literally on the clock the entire time they're telling you how great your last piece on xyz was.

As for this particular showdown, I agree that this sort of insider vs. outsider reckoning is something that anyone that writes about anything has to come to terms with eventually. Watching this thing unfold, it seemed to me like the actual exchange got so heated so fast that I'm guessing both sides may have choice tweets they might opt not to re-post if given the chance.

Of course, in this instance it spilled over on to each person's blog via followup posts and it's hard to imagine now that they'll ever patch it up... which is kinda a shame. I've only spent a little bit of time with Mike but he seems like a funny, fun, smart guy. I consider Steve a good friend and I know for a fact that he's a good guy. Hell, I advertise on both of the shows and their sparring posts are showing next to each other right now in Vegas Mate.

I think that most of the time, if you're being honest with yourself, it's pretty obvious what the right thing is to do as a writer.

Lastly, having met TLV, I can't imagine him in a wig. It would simply look ridiculous beyond words and I don't recommend he start trying to pull that one off.

xoxo

M-

"Not Sure, but I'm guessing no, since a lot of Chinatown places don't kiss his ass and he's as big a proponent of the places down Spring Mountain as I've seen in the valley"

Correct. Most folks in Chinatown have no clue who John Curtas is, yet he constantly reminds everyone that the best Asian food in Vegas can be found at quite a few holes in the wall there.

Hunter-

Thanks for providing some rational thought tonight. I suspect I got a bit too angry last night myself. I really don't want to rehash any of the controversy or drama here, so I'll just say I think Curtas has done plenty to prove his integrity and I look forward to seeing what TLV Mike will be doing in the future.

To me ,when the fact is that sometimes the reviewers are comped and the meal is free, that's where the integrity issues come in to play. I believe that in the case of Mr. Dobranski and Mr. Curtis, this is sometimes the case.

Yeah, I can understand why that might give readers reservations.

When it comes to Vegas writers, I don't know of a single one that's never taken a freebie, though most of us disclose in an effort to allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

hey guys... i'm just coming to this thread now, but i'm not opposed to a rational debate over the practicality of being anonymous food critics and the influence of stardom on food criticism. What set this fire ablaze was MD's ridiculous claim that he was being recognized in restaurants in Vegas as a blogger and food critic after just two months and with no published photo. That simply defies all logic and reason, a clear case of self-aggrandizing to support a questionable point. He also seems to believe that Michelin inspectors are well known when they come in, but I've been gathering comments from several sources in the food world who insist they had no idea whatsoever when the inspectors were there. No doubt any information I bring to this discussion will be instinctively rejected by the blogger in question, though.

To me, it was MD who was endeavoring to question the integrity of the entire food criticism world, to say that an enterprise like Michelin is really a fraud, to claim to understand what constitutes ethical journalism. He points to people like Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni who actually STOPPED DOING FOOD CRITICISM when it became too difficult to be unnoticed. It was a constant concern to them. They certainly didn't deliberately make spectacles out of themselves. The NYT's Sam Sifton has taken a different approach, but he still attempts not to be spotted, and there is honor in the attempt because many times it's not that difficult. There is probably NO city easier to sneak in and out of restaurants unnoticed as a critic than Las Vegas; the staff sees so many thousands of people each month, it takes some doing to be noticed.

With MD, there was little room for the sort of rational debate I have actually been having with John Curtas and Al Mancini, neither of whom tried to speak down to me or suggest that I don't understand journalism. Neither of them started the conversation, either, with something so difficult to believe that the prospect of a reasonable, fact-based debate was dim from the get-go.

If I am comprehending what MD has said, he believes that notoriety does not influence a review, that being noticed and being doted on by chefs and waitstaffs is fine and unavoidable. That's just ridiculous and false. As Chuck's experience attested -- and it happens to be a lovely, encapsulating coincidental moment that puts the entire argument to rest -- two tables at a restaurant on the same hour of the same day experienced different service and food quality. Period.

BTW, how does MD explains why Chuck -- who is far better known in Vegas Internet circles, has perhaps more influence over the Vegas-going public than any print publication or reviewer and whose photo is online in several places -- doesn't get recognized when he eats out on the Strip. Yet he does? Seriously? Oh, that's right. Chuck and I, we're just too stupid to know we're being recognized. Got it.

Not disagreeing with you at all, Steve, but many chefs do employ maître d's and waiters who recognize Michelin inspecters. Sometimes they're not that shy, either, leaving a contact number that happens to be Michelin's headquarters in France. The scenario is well-documented by the BBC documentary about Gordon Ramsay's rise.

With that said, they do usually pepper the same establishment more than once with different inspecters.

Just saying.

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