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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.

  • Bug Menot

    Leslie clearly has no business acumen so she should stick to commenting on food.

  • Scagnetti

    I love reading about dirt and gossip in the restaurant and bar business.

    If all there was to read was about openings, closings, reviews, wine tastings, etc., it’d be as boring as Miley Cyrus.

    Keep up the good work Uncle Nancy!

  • L.C.B.

    I am neither for Ms. L.B. nor Ms. N.N. As critics, they are both being subjective. I couldn’t agree more with Ms. L.B. about food trucks and sushi, anymore than I could agree with Ms. N.N., about picking Neighborhood services as the #1 best restaurant in Dallas.

  • Jerry

    I don’t understand the point of this post. Brenner recently published a list of some wonderful things she likes about the Dallas restaurant scene and she does that sort of thing regularly. You even acknowledge that she has written about some great sushi places here in Dallas But you and her critics only focus on her critcism. Funny, since she’s a critic.

    This sentence really intrigued me: “Since then, she has written many reviews…that focus on her perception of how a restaurant should perform instead of how the restaurant performed relative to its business model. ” I don’t understand the complaint. If she says the Mansion is terrific, but needs to be more thoughtful in its creative choices, is that bad? Should she say, this place caters to boring travelers and does its roast chicken well, therefore it’s fine?

    I agree with some of the comments below. This post was a senseless. But D magazine, with its constant swipes at the Observer, seems to have a business model that includes whining about more interesting and relevant publications. I will now let you get back to your “Most Beautiful Women in Dallas” contest.

  • Jeff Oestreich

    I don’t choose the restaurant that I want to go to based on any “business models” or how they are doing compared to their business projections. haha – Frankly I don’t care at all about that. I look for good food and reviewers help us with that. After you read several reviewers you get to know their likes, dislikes, tendencies and general temperament. And that DOES help understand the context. I’m not a big fan of Ms. Brenner’s reviews all the time – but I DO often find them helpful. So it’s all good.

  • Beda Casstevens

    You just can’t quit her1

  • Jack Jett

    You…perhaps as you just spewed a list of hateful comments about her. It is clear that something about her bugs you. Or do you feel this way because you dislike LA or think every restaurant deserved an awesome review?

  • Beda Casstevens

    Good post, JC. I think Dallas chefs/restaurants aspire to be at the top of their fields. Dallas is no longer a provincial city and has the potential to take its place among the best restaurants in the U.S., and I view Leslie’s critiques as a good teacher with her red edit pencil, striving to improve her students’ work with constructive criticism.

  • Mess Wright

    Which “hateful comments” are you talking about?

    I adore L.A., but L.A. and Dallas are nothing to compare.

    She doesn’t “review.” That’s what bugs me. You cannot say something “doesn’t sound appetizing” and call that a food review.

    See it. Eat it. Then, you can review it.

  • Greg Brown

    Attacking sacred cows? Her fawning review of the very average The Mansion truly revealed to me her old school, “will write good review for sufficient suck up.” Time to retire, Leslie.

  • Milk&Cookies

    I just get a giggle reading LB use the word
    “lovely” in a review. Count ’em up; sometimes
    she describes dishes as lovely 3 or more times
    in a column.

  • Nancy Nichols

    Who is Miley Cyrus?

  • Primi timpano

    Brenner’s review of Old Warsaw was spot on. Most everything else failed to appeal to me.

    Reviewing food is a very specific art of translating sensuous experiences into language. Reviewing the restaurant service and decor is much easier. Dallas is lucky to have the likes of NN, Reitz, and Gubbins as local reviewers, not to mention several excellent bloggers, eg Taco Trail.

  • ClaireM

    Nancy, I saw this on Susie (Priore) Bauer’s FB page. You have encapsulated my thoughts exactly about LB. Thanks. Needed to be said. Claire

  • Annelle Ramirez

    A…….. .. ..Men!

  • JT4242

    Wonderful article – could not have said it better myself. Fortunately, Dallas residents don’t take any of Leslie’s reviews to heart because they are both inconsistent and overly opinionated. In fact, I’m more reluctant to try a restaurant she DOESN’T like as I’ve learned we seem to have nothing in common when it comes to food.

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  • kindallas

    Hahaha..!! Sorry (not really), that made me laugh ;-).
    I always appreciate a bit of humor to lighten the situation.

  • Gene Fairbrother

    Wow!!! Nothing like a couple of pissy women getting their claws out. Can’t wait for the next shot.

  • hr2013

    great article nancy, I agree that she inappropriately “slams” restaurants to be sensationalistic and interesting. Her hubris is quite annoying and she never really gives you a great feel for the actual restaurant’s food or atmosphere. She once slammed a restaurant for not seating her on time on a weekend night and criticized the dishes in such a way that rather then turning me off to the restaurant, it just turned me off to her.
    A critique is critical, but keep it to the important stuff.

  • Allison Salas

    Agreed. Anyone that doesn’t get Tex Mex doesn’t deserve to be a food critic in Texas.