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My Five Cents: Let’s Talk About Leslie Brenner and Dallas

nickelYesterday, Leslie Brenner posted an item titled: “A Wasabi-Filled Dose of Revisionist History.” She writes about the just-released menu at Toko V, the new restaurant opening tomorrow in the upstairs section of what used to be Marquee Grill. The news release describes the restaurant at “Asian cuisine and crafted cocktails in a sleek, modern setting.”

One look at the menu and Brenner writes:

…there’s a section on the sushi menu called “classic rolls.” Among them: caterpillar roll, spider roll and Philly cucumber roll. Where I come from, classic rolls are things like tekka maki (maguro tuna roll), keppa maki (cucumber roll), futomaki (a thick roll with several different fillings), negi toro (Tokyo leek and tuna), eel and cucumber roll and salmon skin roll.

Now we’re to understand that a cucumber roll filled with cream cheese, crab and salmon is a classic?! Don’t tell anyone in Japan — or even in Los Angeles!

Okay, Leslie. We also won’t tell Japan or Los Angeles that you live in Dallas. Instead of flying off my chopsticks and pointing out how I feel Brenner is more of a mean-spirited, uptight writer than she is  an insightful dining critic, I will write about the city of Dallas and the ongoing restaurant business, with the accent on business, and how Brenner relates to it.

Jump hard. Now.

[The government is closed so I couldn’t get recent data from the Census Bureau. Instead, I will use some loosey-goosey numbers from the 2000 Census Data to help me make my first point.]

The population of the greater Los Angeles area is close to 13 million. The Asian community makes up 10.7%. Let’s lowball the math: there are approximately 1.3 million Asians who live within fifty miles of LAX. I mention LAX because many Asian people land there. Their limousines deliver to them to their homes in Beverly Hills or to offices for business meetings. Japanese and Chinese concerns are heavily invested in the entertainment business. The most powerful studio in Hollywood (well, Culver City)?  Sony Pictures Studio owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment. My point: there are a lot of educated sushi palates in Leslie’s hometown. And a wealth of right brain creative-types.

In 2000, Dallas–I’ll even throw in Fort Worth and the twelve counties that make up the Metropolitan Statistical Area–had a population of 5,487,956. The Asian community made up 3.8% (196, 118 people). Despite the low percentage of Asians (don’t write me because I do know it has grown significantly in the last decade), I am astounded by how many Asian and sushi restaurants there are in Dallas. Especially when you compare it to the number of Italians in Dallas and the shortage of Italian restaurants. (We’ll save that for another day.)

When someone decides to open a restaurant in any city, the smart ones pay attention to the area’s demographics. We bitch about the number of steakhouses in Dallas but we already know the obvious:  the people who live here and the people who visit here love to eat steak. The history of our local cuisine was created by cowboys, Mexicans, farmers, ranchers, and homemakers. We are a city in the Midwest and, even thought our ethnic populations are continuing to increase, 70.41% of the local population is steak-and-potatoes white. We don’t make many movies here; we roll in information technology, electronics, defense, banking and finance, and energy. And a wealth of left brain analytical types.

Let’s get back to Leslie Brenner and why I feel she is an ineffectual dining critic and how she relates to the reality of the city she now lives in: Dallas. (BTW,  I’ve lived in both cities. I was a high-end caterer in Los Angeles. I am not shooting from the hip here.)

Let’s start with her snotty remark about sushi. We have innovative sushi restaurants in Dallas, but they aren’t on every street corner. From reading her reviews, Brenner seems to have found several spots that satiate her superior Los Angeles/Japan sensibility.  In the press release both Brenner and I received, Toko V did not claim to be a sushi restaurant. They’ve hired Chef David Chau, who was most recently head sushi chef of Steel Restaurant & Lounge, to work with Andre Natera on creating a menu that will, hopefully, appeal to their customer base and make money. Before anybody slams their menu concept, how about we stand back and watch how it performs for the company’s business plan. If Toko V really takes off, and the customers demand tekka maki, then I am sure Chau will adjust. That’s how smart restaurants respond. Especially new restaurants that start slow and build as they go.

Brenner landed here in February 2009. I printed this interview. Since then, she has written many reviews (if you’re still reading this I don’t need to link to examples) that focus on her perception of how a restaurant should perform instead of how the restaurant performed relative to its business model. Her criticism is not constructive; it’s based on the-world-according-to-Leslie.

Leslie, think about your readers. Write to them. Journal your experiences and throw in a zinger every now and then. Lighten up and let Los Angeles go. You hit town when the restaurant business was struggling through dreadful economic times. The last year and a half has been exciting. Creative chefs and restaurateurs are attracting international attention. I urge you to understand a business before you drop kick it to West Covina. If you don’t, I’d advise checking the want ads in the The San Gabriel Valley Tribune.