Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My 7 Links

One of the consequences of the immediacy and constancy of social media is that content tends to get buried under the neverending avalanche of information. A blog post that is more than 24 hours old won't even be seen in many peoples' RSS readers. Some good writers have given up on their blogs entirely, finding it more convenient and effective to communicate their thoughts in 140-character Twitter bursts, the epitome of ephemera. What any of us were saying last month, let alone last year, often gets lost in the electronic ether.

I'm usually wary of anything that sounds like a chain letter, i.e. "Do this and then ask another five people to do it." But I'm a big fan of recycling, including recycling blog content. I was also honored to have been nominated by Doc Sconzo (one of the people who indirectly inspired me to start this blog) to participate in something called "My 7 Links" started by the Tripbase website, the idea of which is "to unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again."

I enjoyed reading Doc's 7 links. Here are the results of my own dive into the archives:

Most Beautiful Post: When I first started this blog, I had very ambivalent feelings about food photography. I'm a writer, not a photographer. Aside from not having any photographic talent whatsoever, I also was concerned with the dissociative effect of taking pictures - that the obsession with getting the right shot can separate you from the experience of actually enjoying a meal. There's also the "douchebag taking pictures of his food" issue.

For better or worse, I've gotten over it. As much effort as I can put into describing food, much of the dining experience is often visual. So even if you can't taste the food over the internet, at least you can see it. And while I'm still a rank amateur photographer, I've tried at least to get to the point that my pictures will not embarass the people who created the food. I also recently upgraded my equipment, and have learned a bit more about how to operate it, and have been excited about the results.[1]

It still pales compared to the work of genuinely talented photographers like Doc, Ulterior Epicure, A Life Worth Eating, and ChuckEats, but I'm not entirely ashamed of the pictures I took on a recent trip to Portland at Le Pigeon:

foie gras profiteroles

Le Pigeon - Portland, Oregon - August 19, 2011

(continued ...)

Most Popular Post: Last year I was asked to do a small bit for Go, the in-flight magazine for AirTran Airlines, on Cuban sandwiches in Miami. Already recycling even then, I expanded it some for a post here on the blog. I'm still not sure why, but it's proven to be the post that has received the most views of any on Food For Thought:

Most Controversial Post: Negative reviews often generate some controversy, including complaints from the subject of the review. Rarely do they involve accusations that the critic may not have actually eaten at the restaurant, or inappropriately did so in the company of another local chef about to open his own restaurant. It's also pretty unusual for a review to be temporarily taken down by the publisher in order to correct factual errors, and for the critic to issue an apology for those errors.

The good news is the review wasn't mine: it was the Miami New Times review of Route 9, a modest Coral Gables eatery opened by first-time restaurateurs Jeremy and Paola Goldberg. The other good news is that despite the bad review, the restaurant remains a popular neighborhood place and has refocused its attention on the food instead of the critics.

Meanwhile, some of the bigger questions I raised about quality control at New Times, particularly at its Short Order food blog, remain unanswered. There still seems to be no editorial oversight whatsoever, leaving contributors of vastly different degrees of knowledge and capability free to write just about anything. Some are good, some are awful, but they're all getting published under the banner of the only theoretical "alternative" newspaper to the increasingly lean Miami Herald.[2] No wonder so many people are turning to other sources for dining advice.

My take on the New Times Route 9 review, and the bigger questions it raised, took two posts:

Most Helpful Post: Every February, the fooderati descend on Miami for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. An event that used to focus on highlighting local South Florida chefs while promoting national and international winemakers,[3] SoBe Fest has become increasingly centered around celebrity "chefs" better known for their television personalities than their cooking skills.

For those visitors who actually wanted to find a taste of South Florida, I put together something of a guide, ranging from our underground dinners to food trucks to the hideaways and neighborhoods that tourists often miss.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me: I'm still not sure I've ever had such an unexpected, surprising dining experience as my first meal at Naoe. It had just opened, and I knew nothing about it other than this description on OpenTable:
Brand new to Sunny Isles Beach, Chef Kevin Cory specializes in natural Japanese Cuisine at NAOE. Every Wednesday through Sunday from 7pm - 1am, Chef Kevin Cory serves a unique Chef's Choice menu.

It turned out to be one of the most exceptional dining experiences I've had in Miami: a completely omakase format starting with a bento box of treasures rarely served here, followed by some of the most pristine nigiri mostly sourced directly from Japan overnight or straight off the docks at nearby Haulover Marina. There was, and still is, nothing else like it in Miami.

Almost equally surprising was the level of interest that this post, and the restaurant, generated. Naoe is not an easy place to dine at: it is reservation only, it only has two servings a night, it has no menu, there is always a long wait to get your food, and a meal can easily turn into a four-hour affair if you want to try everything Chef Cory has available. But plenty of other people were intrigued, and ultimately rewarded, by the experience, and over the past two years Naoe has been regularly recognized as one of the best restaurants in Miami.[4]


My first visit was recounted here:

NAOE - Sunny Isles - April 26, 2009

Post That Didn't Get the Attention it Deserved: All right. I'm not entirely sure any of it was really deserving of attention. But when New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton dove head-first into the manufactured media frenzy of the KFC "Double Down," announcing in advance his intention to go sample the fried-chicken-on-fried-chicken abomination, and then was caught in the act by Eater, the whole thing seemed ripe for parody.

Which I did. When Sifton didn't give a full-blown review to the "Double Down," only a mere Diner's Journal entry, I wrote one myself, using as much "Sifton-Speak" as I could muster. The introductory "painting of a scene," the name-dropping, the Hubie Brown-esque use of second person, the hip-hop references, the occasional resort to "Yelpisms," the outlandish analogies, and even some of his own words - it's all there.

My post may have been goofy, but the whole thing was goofy, and in any event I had a lot of fun writing it. My grandfather used to say, "We only tease the ones we love."

Post I'm Most Proud Of: There is good eating to be had in Miami, but it is still not exactly a hotbed of culinary innovation. So when I found a couple guys doing some cutting-edge stuff out of the unlikely location of a Sunny Isles luxury hotel's kitchen, I was pretty intrigued. For a time, Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano were running a great dinner series they called "Paradigm" with a changing menu every week. As an offspring of a discussion about the attraction of diners to open kitchens, they made me a proposal: come in for a Paradigm dinner, but instead of being in the dining room, I'd be in the kitchen with them and their crew as they prepared and plated the menu along with visiting guest Chef Chris Windus from BlueZoo in Orlando. I would "help," and they'd make an extra plate of each dish for me, which I could eat standing up in the kitchen during service.

I documented the dinner in a Bill Simmons NBA-draft running diary style, capturing six hours and eleven courses of my "chef's fantasy camp."The food was excellent, but the overall experience was priceless, a unique and memorable crash-course on how a kitchen actually produces these kinds of meals. It remains both one of my favorite food experiences ever, and also my favorite bit of writing that I've done here.

mise en place

Here is the the two-part diary, along with a follow up of "lessons learned":

And here are the folks who have agreed so far to be my nominees as the next recipients of the chain letter:

Chadzilla - one of the guys who made my "proudest post" possible.

Medellitin - chronicler of modernist cuisine, unafraid of a bad pun.

Miami's Restaurant Power Rankings - keeper of lists, occasional breaker of news, and a genuinely funny guy.

Gastronaut Jones - culinary explorer, musician and 21st century renaissance man.

Miami Dish - true local flavor, with great videos.

[1] I'm now using a Canon Powershot S95. It's still a point-and-shoot, not a DSLR, but it is very easy to control settings including ISO, f-stop and shutter speed, and the f/2.0 lens is an advantage for shooting in low light situations. And it still fits in my pocket.

[2]Lately, that has included pieces that more than once recently were practically verbatim duplicates of things that appeared in other publications. And they seem to have no comprehension of the fact that outright copying is still plagiarism even if you identify the source. Or they'll publish a story, including "quotations" from individuals, which are clearly derived from other sources without identifying the source, as if the story were the result of their own journalistic efforts. Witness the recent piece on Chef Andrew Carmellini's plans to bring The Dutch to the W Hotel South Beach, quoting from the chef without indicating that it's taken from the NY Times piece. Reading Short Order invokes a constant sense of deja vu, because a good portion of what you read was just published somewhere else a couple hours earlier. If it's any consolation, some folks are asking the same questions about editorial oversight these days at the Grey Lady herself.

[3]And sponsored by industry giant Southern Wine and Spirits.

[4]As a result of a lease issue, Naoe will be moving in the coming months to a new location on Brickell Key.


  1. I'll have you know, those are the good puns!

  2. And you just made the Cuban Sandwich post even more popular. Hopefully the double-down too.

    A lot of people are very excited about the NAOE move. I hope they are too

  3. Your post has shown the real value of this exercise. Well done! Now, I really have to get to Miami!

    Nice choices for the next round!

  4. I love Cuban sandwiches! Can't wait to try them!