In this week's Las Vegas Weekly column, I took aim at the strange spectacle that John Curtas, Max Jacobson and Al Mancini made of themselves unveiling their book naming the city's 50 most "essential" restaurants. The reason I did so was because it was an only-in-Vegas event; it is very abnormal for serious food critics to be personally handing out awards to restaurants or posing for photos with chefs.
Food critics typically try NOT to draw attention to themselves, hoping to approximate the experience that real diners would have. It's a simple concept. It's also one of the guiding principles of the Association of Food Journalists.
Well, holy hell. The blowback has been fascinating. I ended up in a Twitter feud with a fellow whose work I had really enjoyed, admired and promoted until he came at me on Facebook not with a measured, mature response but with the ridicule and haughtiness that are his standard.
It went downhill from there until these moments of professionalism:
What brought all that on? Well, this blogger/Tweeter believes that food critics will be recognized anyway so they ought to soak up the sun. That critics all over the country do what they can to guard their identities so that they can be a proxy for the public is a "ruse" to him. (Aside: These are the extent to which food critics work to protect their identity in other places.) The entire rest of the food criticism world are populated by "idiots" and how clubby, provincial Vegas does it is the only sane method.
Beyond this classless fellow's inability to disagree respectfully -- he asked someone who wanted us to stop arguing why she had to "step on [his] balls" -- he also claimed he was recognized in Vegas restaurants after just two months of doing his blog. That's simply too ridiculous to take seriously; restaurants on the Strip are actually some of the easiest to slip in and out of without being noticed as a reviewer because they're huge, the staff changes so frequently and they see thousands upon thousands of different faces every month.
Only a select few critics warrant the sort of effort that would go into figuring out who they are and tripping alarms when they're around, and this vainglorious blogger is absolutely, positively not at that level. As I've said, I admire(d) his work and believe(d) he could get there some day. But not now. Neither, incidentally, am I. I have absolutely no problem going to restaurants without anyone knowing who I am, and I've been responsible in past years for selecting eateries for the Conde Nast Traveler Hot List.
So this rang false to me, and I called it. Either it's untrue or this fellow's doing something to draw attention to himself. Those are the only choices that make any logical sense. Either way, his completely deranged response showed a person who has little self-control. I'd hate to be his waiter.
Meanwhile, fellow Las Vegas Weekly scribe John Curtas, the city's eminent foodie, responded with a more mature version of that guy's commentary. And here is what he said:
For better or worse, the days of the stealthy, journalist/critic are gone. The best I can do is tell my readers when I pay for a meal and when I don't...and then call 'em as I see 'em after that.
Steve makes a good point about sucking up to publicists -- something I refuse to do...much to the dismay of many a flack in many a Strip hotel. If I suck up to anyone, it's to the hard working chefs who put out the world class food that has made Vegas famous in the culinary world.
We all know that the second part's not true, though. We need look no further than a passage in "Eating Las Vegas" in which Al Mancini talks about giving Nove at the Palms a very bad review and then being spotted there and allowing the chef to fawn all over him until he changed his view. Just because the chef takes extra care for him and, perhaps, tailors things to Mancini's particular palate, doesn't mean that he'll do the same for you. In fact, he won't.
It's a conundrum, no doubt about it. But there are two legitimate points of view. My side is that food critics ought to err on the side of trying not to make spectacles of themselves. The effort to conceal identity is honorable and, if it even works half the time, it's worthwhile.
Meanwhile, oddly, there was this sighting of me, courtesy of Mr. Curtas' Facebook:
Sorry, pal. I was right here at home last night, after doing the first wave of Thanksgiving Day shopping. I've still yet to go to Lakeside Grill. Perhaps we can go together and carry on this argument there. I bet we get awesome service.
P.S. Big kudos must be offered to the Weekly for even printing my piece given that Curtas is the resident food critic. I bet you all a dollar that neither Mancini's Las Vegas CityLife nor Jacobson's Vegas Seven will print anything seriously critical of the book.