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Star System Fails Again: Leslie Brenner Hands The Grape Two

I’m going to make this quick and clean: Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner doesn’t understand Dallas. Don’t shank me, let me type. I am not being mean; I am expressing my opinion. I have no vested interest in The Grape or The Commissary, two restaurants she has reviewed recently, but in both cases I felt she wrote dismissive evaluations using a damning-with-faint-praise attitude.

I’m also picking The Grape and The Commissary as examples because they both recently received 2 stars. I agree the service at The Commissary is still laughable, but Brenner failed to mention (or count as a plus) the fact chef John Tesar charges $6 for a burger cooked sous vide before finished off on the grill.

However, that doesn’t bother me as much as her parental attitude towards The Grape. Brenner just kicked a faithful old dog that is still learning new tricks. She ends her report with “And because there’s clearly some talent in the kitchen, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix what’s wrong on the plates.” In other words, do the plates my way and you’ll be a great restaurant.

73 comments on “Star System Fails Again: Leslie Brenner Hands The Grape Two

  1. Evaluating food, wine and or anything that can remotely be argued is a complete fail..

    It’s all opinions people..just have your own and move on…

  2. Dear, dear “Wheeler.” If you’re going to mount a passionate defense of Brenner’s work, you might want to double check before hitting the “Submit Comment” button, when your last line reads: “So in fact, the majority of the reviews *I’ve* written have been ‘very good’ or better.”

    Might want to check the IP address that “Wheeler” is posting from, Uncle Nancy.

  3. Judging by the 50+ responses so far… My guess, is that wheeler is actually wheeler X 8… MONKEY!!!! MONKEY!!!! MONKEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I don’t read the DMN, LB, online or whatever, don’t care. But, I do appreciate Sidedish for keeping me up to date on the banter from the “other” dining reviews. Keep up the good work. And, I will continue to visit the restaurants I want to visit, for the reason that I want to visit.

  5. Wowwwwww.

    You should have corrected it to “Duh, I mean the reviews I’ve *read*…” That would have sounded much more beleivable.

    No shame though “Wheeler”. Nancy’s boy Tesar is on here posting about himself all day so if you can’t beat ‘em…

    Freakin A, this blog is better than TMZ.

  6. @”Wheeler” – Thank you for making my day. Absolutely priceless blunder.

  7. Sparky – nice try, but there is no 5×400 matrix out there that allows a critic to give 3 stars to “bar food” and 2 stars to “fine dining”. The food is either 3 stars or it isn’t. Zagat, NYT, LAT, Michelin, etc, etc don’t give 3 stars to “bar food”, they give 3 stars to food, regardless of genre, if it is deserving, in their opinion. The food at Hully & Mo’s is barely above frozen Swanson. No one asks how good the “bar food” is, they ask how good the “food” is. “Bar food” is not a separate micro-sub-category. There is an absolute standard, which is to say that indeed a taco stand can be 5 star but only if it is truly magnificent, as any 5 star dining experience should be. To say that Hully & Mo’s is “pretty good bar food”, so here’s 3 stars, is a complete cop out because in reality they are not rate-able because the food is below rating standard.They are not serious about food and should not be “rated” against a true chef driven kitchen. A constructive example is Franklin’s BBQ in Austin. Until recently it was a truck diner, but no matter, the bbq is otherworldly, even if it is served on paper plates. It is a truly unique and memorable 5 star dining experience. Hully & Mo’s is not 3 star food. It’s zero and yet our divine reviewer chose to give it standing by rating it as “food”. Her rating did not say 3 stars for “bar food” it just said 3 stars. So when she says The Grape is 2 stars, she’s saying Hully & Mo’s is better, no matter how you choose to spin it. She’s ridiculous and an embarrassment.

  8. The real question is: Does Dallas deserve Ms. Brenner? Yes, keep me amused by her north-of-Alpha Rd. snobbery. Apparently the $30k millionarie has transmogrified into a food critic!

  9. I’m not saying I like the plagiarizer Ms. Brenner, I’m just telling Nancy to attempt a moment of grace, and not throw “understanding Dallas” around as if this is a good thing

  10. I think it’s good to point out that the DMN’s ratings are much different than other papers or mags. However, The Grape is more than a Dallas restaurant. Sure, it’s not as hip as the latest Stephen Pyles or Tristan Simon creation. However, it really sums up the Lower Greenville and East Dallas neighborhood restaurant experience. It’s not trying to be the most inventive place in town, but it really captures the essence of what is great about East Dallas. It’s too bad that Leslie doesn’t take into account the whole experience of the place. In my mind, we need less trendy places in this town, and more neighborhood spots like The Grape and Lucia.

  11. @runDMC – last post here on this page, so forgive me if I don’t reply again, but: you’re missing the point of reviews if you believe that the “star” system is across the board. NN said it herself — you have to rate a restaurant on what it’s trying to do. One can debate the merits of the “star” system as a whole (just as local wine critic Jeff Siegel decries the Robert Parker-esque numeric rating of wines) but if you accept the premise of having one, you can’t expect it to apply across the board. It’s not fair to expect a, say, Twisted Root to compete against Fearing’s. Or Javier’s against Taco Joint. It’s not the way it works.

    And please tell me that Wheeler = LB. That would make my week.

  12. If there is one thing I know about the restaurant business is you quickly become irrelevent when people stop talking about you and from what I can tell, The Grape has nothing to worry about. The Grape restaurant provides a one of a kind experience, it always has. There is nothing like it in Dallas. That has been the case from day one. Brian is a tremendous Chef with a gut wrenching dedication to his craft. After reading the review in the DMN, I can’t wait to go back. She professed a great deal of enthusiasum for most items tried. Let’s not forget that LB is a stickler for wine service and she quickly brushed over the perfection of wine service execution she recieved. I for one can say Courtney and Brian have taken on a huge task to further the greatness of this Dallas icon, which they certainly have. Their commitment to this fickle industry as well as their generosity to give back to the community by donating their time and energy to help local, worthy causes has always made them stars to be commended. Two stars, three stars, 4 stars..Who gives a shit! This is a great restaurant serving great food and wine with pride, creativity, and dedication..period. Keep up the good work, I for one can’t wait to try those ” Fried Green Tomatoes!”

  13. This is a question for Nancy:

    It seems like the problem is that DMN uses a very subjective star system while papers like the NY Times uses a more “objective” star system. Since the Times is that which all other star systems seem to be judged against, I feel like the confusion arises there. Of course, all food criticism is inherently subjective but how stars are regarded and awarded is another story.

    As far as The Times is concerned, isn’t it pretty much impossible to achieve above a certain level based on the style of your restaurant and concept? For example, a little Chinese place that gets two stars in the NY Times is going to be packed forever. Hell, one star is good for a casual place. But no matter how amazing they make a Foo Yong, they can never, ever achieve even 3 stars. It’s like the caste system. You are relatively limited based on birth status.

    Here, we have the “relative-to-what-you-do” system of BS ratings where a crappy Thai place and Dean Fearing’s (I’m not a super-fan but gotta respect the dude) can get identical star ratings.

    I feel like you might have some perspective on this to add to the discussion. I decry the DMN version of a star system to anyone who’ll listen, so in that regard, I agree with you. I think we are just thinking of very different alternative solutions here. I believe in star systems that are designed with some rigid limitations, if there is such a thing.

    So my question is, do you think the star system needs redefinition or should be done away with?

  14. Oh Hospitality Instructor, I am so glad you ask. About one a year I try to cure the ailing DMN star system. Two years ago I proposed what I felt to be a brilliant solution. It is designed to allow the crappiness of your Thai place shine in its own category at just a glance. Unless you are color blind. Here it is:

    http://d-m.ag/q199Pk

    It is also worth a read for some of Brenner’s explanations of how she grades different price point restaurants. Craziness,

  15. Brenner sticks to calling it like she sees it, unafraid to draw tons of ire. Some of her reviews I agree with, some I don’t. Regardless, I highly appreciate the fact that she remains principled despite facing pressure – so I’ll continue to let her help me decide what new place to try next.

  16. In my opinion, the star system is as much about the restaurant’s expected performance as it is about the execution of that performance. Not all restaurants aim for five star. This is why there was massive controversy when some forgotten restaurant got only four stars and not the five it was aiming for. And I agree that giving what is ordinarily a four-star restaurant two stars is a pretty severe downgrade that is almost certainly unwarranted (if the reviewer understood what we expect when we see the stars in her report).

  17. After BBQ-Gate and her catty replies to Daniel Vaughn I lost all respect for her. By her logic, any professional critic can copy and paste anyone’s review from yelp, urbanspoon, chowhound, blogs, etc.. and claim it as there own with nothing more that a few tweaks here and there.

    I won’t say she isn’t smart, she is. She is a good writer even if some of her statements come off as written for snarky shock value (IMO). BUT when you rip off someone elses hard work, don’t give a proper reference to your source material and then write them a snooty reply stating that no credit was deserved since it was just used as a starting point! Starting point my @$$! It’s just wrong.

    http://eater.com/archives/2010/12/03/dallas-food-critic-sources-best-of-list-from-a-blogger.php

  18. Stand your ground, Nancy. You’re completely correct. Trashing for the sake of trashing is an old trick, used to jumpstart an inexperienced critic’s reputation. Master critics, like master sushi chefs, develop with years of experience. There’s really no substitution for seasoning. Please keep up the good work. Between Yelp and today’s brand of foodless food writing, you’re a breath of fresh durian essence.