Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oakland hipster slams restaurant in RECORD TIME, so John Birdsall is now obsolete

Flora, a cute little restaurant in downtown Oakland, has been open for approximately four hours, so of course it has already been declared DEAD AND PASSE AND LAME by a snide local hipster who has better taste in restaurants than you, because you live on the wrong side of the Caldecott Tunnel and work in an office and are probably wearing Dockers.

Kevin Cook, food writer at, hasn't actually been to Flora, but he has read another writer's blog about when she went to Flora earlier this afternoon, and he has already had it up to here with the restaurant, which he vows to never visit again, or ever, since he's never actually been in the first place.

Based on seven pictures and a 193-word review, Cook declared, in the comments of course, the following:
I will never understand why a place like flora attracts anyone. I don’t care how new the kitchen staff is–making a decent vinaigrette shouldn’t take any practice or time for a professional. Tuna melt? Come on, this place sounds like an upscale togos for the walnut creet office worker lunch crowd.
To recap: Kevin Cook does not understand why Flora does not throw in the towel and shut down and admit it's over, already, since it has managed to ruin its reputation in the four hours it has been open by making a bad vinaigrette and, uh, serving sandwiches, to people who work in offices. And possibly live in Walnut Creek. Ew.

This is the glorious future of food criticism, which shows why reviews printed on dead trees by so-called professionals who secretly love sandwiches and Contra Costa County and cubicles are now obsolete forever, oh holy god I want John Birdsall back they laid him off I didn't want to tell you but there it is The End.

(Seriously, the East Bay Express laid off Birdsall and six other staffers, including Kara Platoni.)

A Better Oakland: Flora opens tonight! (Updated with pictures)

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chow eyeing Jack London Square in Oakland, even as food hall shrinks

San Francisco restaurant Chow is interested in a location in Oakland's Jack London Square, the East Bay Express reported Wednesday, even as the square's developers struggle to attract other food tenants.

Meanwhile, the developers have cut way back on the restaurant and food component of the so-called "Harvest Hall" at the center of the Jack London Square expansion, I reported Friday. It was going to be 185,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants, food stalls, produce shops, meat markets, a cooking school, exhibitions and other food attractions.

Now it's two-thirds offices, with only the lower two of six floors dedicated to food. Apparently this was allowed under the entitlements approved by the city council a couple of years ago.

The changes were put forward after the developers closed on $200 million in construction financing for the first half of the development. Office is easier to fund these days than food, particularly if you are taking a Slow Food approach.

Business Times: Oakland's Harvest Hall will be mostly offices / Developers line up $200M to begin (free link)
East Bay Express: Back to Square One

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Truffle inflation reaches crisis levels in Alameda

OK, seriously, NO ONE tell Daniel Patterson about this because he's going to start smashing aromatherapy bottles and taking hostages at Centerfolds or whatever.

It's not even been two weeks since the food writer/chef railed in the New York Times about the evil evil evils of so-called Truffle Oil which, hey, not only is completely unrelated to truffles but which also fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Today, from the City of Alameda, where the food has been getting more interesting as the island's military history recedes further into the past, we are presented via the Express with a new gastropub called Hobnob.

Where you can get, no really seriously, Truffle Fries, for FIVE DOLLARS.

Truffle. French fries. In a bar. For five. Dollars.

What could possibly be fishy about that?!

The Express' John Birdsall, a heavily armed food media don, is an impatient man with no time for surface narratives, and he obviously has no problem with this. To wit:
Look no further than the truffle fries — a dish that successfully balances fancy with the familiar profile of good old bar food — as proof of Amy Voisenat's ability to read Alameda. Forget some decadent fantasy of pommes frites sprinkled with shavings of black truffle. Voisenat's vision is a pile of skinny fries with a firm grasp of the ordinary, even lacking, as far as I could tell, the tossing with Parmesan and herbs the menu described. [WTF? They couldn't even deliver on herbs and powdered cheese?? For TRUFFLE FRIES? --ed.] They did, however, come with a ramekin of truffle aioli — really good truffle aioli: pale and soft and with bright acidity, a playful bite of garlic, and the delicious, dog-bed funk of truffle oil.

It was a dish that didn't seem like much on first dunk, but revealed a subtle and unpretentious sense of refinement the more you ate. And if all that truffle stuff seemed weird, I imagine you could ask for ketchup and just go on yakking. [We need to have a long conversation some time about word choice, John. Soon. -ed]
Truffle Oil has been a seductress to some of the nation's top chefs, like the chef de cuisine at Per Se.

And know she's going to instigate a bar fight between Daniel Patterson and John Birdsall, in Alameda, with broken bottles and EVERYTHING, and it's going to be awesome.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 09, 2007

Alice Waters at Cody's tomorrow night; will get you high, kill us all

Alice Waters biographer Thomas McNamee will be at Cody's San Francisco tomorrow night, 7 pm, which means Alice will certainly be remote-controlling his every last word and gesture and will effectively be present herself. Should be awesome.

The reading starts at 7 and the tentative agenda is:
  • 7:05 pm Welcome and inconsolable sobbing from Cody's owner Andy Ross.
  • 7:10 pm McNamee hands out Waters' famous PCP-laced tarts to lucky first 20 guests.
  • 7:15 pm Reading begins with chapter on Waters' CIA training in Santa Barbara and how she came up with genius ruse of creating hippie restaurant in Berkeley to lure, spy on SDS and Black Panthers and free-thinking professors.
  • 7:22 pm Visibly intoxicated John Birdsall arrives.
  • 7:23 pm Waters "security detail" of Trotskyite drug lords moves to eject Birdsall, not realizing he has concealed a chef's knife under his apron.
  • 7:24 pm McNamee's batteries run out just as he was getting to something interesting on arugula, crowd becomes frantic.
  • 7:25 pm High off organic Columbian cocaine, Waters' "security detail" panics when a foaming-at-the-mouth Birdsall unsheaths his bloody knife. In the ensuing chaos, they spray the entire crowd with standard Chez Panisse-issue Uzis.
  • 7:26 pm Ross reminds survivors there will be NO REFUNDS on unsigned books.

See you there!

Cody's Stockton Street: Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - Thomas McNamee

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Drug dealers bankrolled Chez Panisse; Waters dropped LSD; hippie waiters stole wine, smok--zzzzzz ......

So according to this totally uptight Bloomberg money writer dude in snooty old "London," the new book on Alice Waters says her earliest investors were Marxist drug lords; her high-as-a-kite waiters stole $30,000 worth of wine and she personally almost went on a kill-crazy Zodiac-style rampage while high on LSD.

Channeling her longtime mentor Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, who invented gangsta rap after a stint in the Chez Panisse kitchen, Alice says something totally deep about the whole amazing scene and how everything is, like, connected:
"They (the drug dealers) were the only people who had money ... The only sort of counterculture people who had money. We couldn't get it from a bank. God knows."
Thankfully, we in the Bay Area don't get our "book reviews" from a Republican New York smear machine like Bloomberg any more than we get our dietary advice from "scientists" with "advanced degrees" from "accredited universities."

We have our own, totally unmedicated John Birdsall at the Express to speak truth to power, and he's not going to play the Man's little games. Tell him a story about drug-crazed restaurateurs who are frothing at the mouth as they hand satchels full of drug money to the criminal waiter gangs doping up patrons and plotting a communist revolution, and he'll calmly yawn, call your tale a boring, "incurious" "surface narrative" written by an obvious sellout and of course not mention any of this in his book review because it doesn't matter.


Thanks to the Express' Weatherman Chris Thompson for telling us which way the reactionary wind is blowing.

Bloomberg's story about drug deals, LSD and other things that put us to sleep in the Bay Area: Inside Dope on Chez Panisse, Complete With LSD, Stoned Waiters

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 23, 2007

Alice Waters used biographer to get even with Jeremiah Tower. Supposedly.

The East Bay Express' lunatic chef, John Birdsall, can often be found ending careers and asking searing questions like "What's up with that, Bay Area?"

But when he's not knife-blogging, the guy actually writes some enlightening restaurant reviews and, now, a deliciously dishy book review about Alice Waters. So there's no need for John to hunt me down and skin me alive like a game hen.

Birdsall hungrily tears into Waters' latest biographer, Thomas McNamee, for being Waters' idiot parrot man, writing a bio that was not only authorized but suggested by Waters, that does not investigate deeply but instead seems "content with surface narratives."

Alice Waters It's no coincidence, Birdsall thinks, that the book lashes Jeremiah Tower, who was none-too-kind to Waters in his recent book California Dish. Birdsall writes:
It's tempting to think of this book in part as Waters' answer to Tower, whom McNamee presents as rather pathetic. Come to think of it, Waters may have chosen McNamee to tell her story precisely because she sensed he wouldn't probe too deeply.
Full review: Shallow Alice

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Women chefs and the 'stainless steel ceiling'

The Chronicle's list of five 'rising star' chefs includes just one woman, and John Birdsall at the East Bay Express thinks this highlights a "stainless steel ceiling" in the industry. He says the business hates women and gays and any man with a complete set of fingers.

But it sounds like Birdsall didn't read Jan Newberry's interesting and well-researched piece in San Francisco Magazine on this very topic a month ago. The awesome picture of Melissa Perello alone warrants a clickthrough (update: now it's gone! But she was running in a field looking very freeeee), but here are some salient excepts:
Laurent Manrique, executive chef of Aqua, didn’t receive a single résumé from a woman when he was looking to hire a new chef de cuisine last December, and Perello says that when she left Fifth Floor, no woman working in the kitchen there was prepared to take her place. Other restaurateurs, like Gayle Pirie, 42, of Foreign Cinema, and Elisabeth Prueitt, 43, of Bar Tartine, say they’d love to hire more female cooks, but few apply.
And this:
However unpleasant the (macho kitchen) antics can get, most female chefs say they take them in stride. Nor is the problem that they’re hitting the glass ceiling, something women in other industries complain about. “San Francisco is a great city for women chefs,” says Michelle Mah, 31, chef at Ponzu. “Everyone here accepts that if you cook great food, that’s all that matters.” Rachel Sillcocks, 29, sous-chef at Healdsburg’s Cyrus, agrees. “The opportunities for women aren’t any less than they are for men.”
Newberry's philosophy for why there aren't more women executive chefs is basically this: They are smarter and less ego-driven than men.

The reason there were more women executive chefs 30 years ago is that they weren't as aware of the downsides of the industry, they didn't have food TV and Kitchen Confidential. Now that the trail has been blazed and been found wanting, Newberry posits, women are availing themselves of supposedly "lesser" opportunities that allow room to breathe, like the pastry station, wine cellar, catering and private chef gigs.

In other words, the only way you can say female chefs are hitting a ceiling is with a macho, patriarchal view of what constitutes success. You know, a view like Birdsall's.

I hasten to add, this is Newberry talking. I would never accuse Birdsall, powerful Godfather of a food media machine, of judging women on attributes other than merit, like appearance.

And in all sincerity, I am by no means saying Newberry's article is the final word on gender relations in the kitchen.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Crank. Eeee!

I hereby declare this crankypants Thursday. Maybe it's the VD hangovers?


The first thing that's pissing people off is small plates, and the fact that restaurants that sell food in the small plate format STILL think it's OK to bring a dozen small plates to the table at the same time, or in an otherwise unpredictable sequence, even though the small plate trend has been with us for some time now.

Close Michael Bauer readers know that this has become almost an old saw for him, and if you carefully read old mid-1990s reviews of places like Thirsty Bear and Cesar you can see that service was a very early thorn on the small-plates rose. Even Cesar's Chez Panisse service culture couldn't help but "border on rude," in Bauer's words.

Now, food writer Catherine Nash informs us that at least one small plates place still doesn't seem to get it -- Circa brought her 10 small plates within 5 minutes, earning a downgrade to "let down" from "loved it."

The things we have to put up with ... sheesh!


Speaking of the Chronicle, former Contra Costa Times food critic John Birdsall has declared a jihad against one of the Chron's food writers from his new qaeda at the East Bay Express.

Taking a break from writing like a crazy person and barking orders at the elected government of Berkeley, Birdsall put Valentine's Day to chillingly effective use, sending orders through the Internet to his agents in Bay Area food media that the Chron's Marlena Spieler is never to work in this town -- ever -- again.

Happy Valentine's Day, Marlena! John Birdsall thinks you're "probably a really nice person!" And he's declared a fatwa against you to prove how much he cares!

With a long bloody chef's knife possibly next to the keyboard as he typed, Birdsall explained that the fatwa is no big deal, just probably related to Spieler's horrifying, detached, painted face as depicted by Chronicle graphics fiends, and the human charcuterie the Chron recently attached to her severed head, plus perhaps the just slightly terrifying hellscape of acid-trip iconography inserted next to her copy to set the mood.

Plus, Birdsall knows a way better writer at his old newspaper, and this other one who has a buzz cut and everything, plus she's a chef and we all know good chefs automatically make great food writers! She's already won over the entire Express editorial staff (by giving interviews?) and they wholeheartedly endorse her, if only to get out of the broom closet where they ("we") are still cowering in mortal fear of Spieler's VDay visage!

(To be less unfair, this other writer actually has a blog you can go read and that at first blush appears half decent.)

Oh, and apparently scary Spieler lives in Australia or Newfoundland or something instead of the San Francisco Bay Area. Whatever -- hasn't Birdsall heard of the Chronicle Foreign Service? It's sort of like the BBC, but without the accents, and underwritten by Hearst instead of British taxpayers. Apparently Bronstein thought it up when he realized there was no other way to get international news in San Francisco.


Having had enough of all this crankiness, particularly of the "hit piece" sort by writers from a certain SmartMoney magazine, Michael Bauer defends his former dinner dates Tim and Nina Zagat against charges of grade inflation, saying that while Tim and Nina might awkwardly fight about the check in front of him, they put out an "influential, useful guide" that's no worse than Chowhound or eGullet. Even if 70 percent of Zagat Guide restaurants now get a once-coveted rating of 20 or better.


Covers, actually, isn't feeling particularly cranky. It's actually been fun summarizing all of this mud, plus I'm still glowing from a Valentine home dinner of lamb, Van Der Heyden 02 Cab and Recchiuti chocolate purloined from its rightful owner.

But if I had to complain, I'd put my crank in the form of a question, you know? Because have you noticed? On CNET's food blog? How about every third post ends in a question? Do you think they're trying to drive up traffic? Or more just trying to get the readers to do all the work?

Labels: ,


More in the archives: