Monday, February 14, 2005

My Valentine with Ms. P.

Did you know that pressure to dazzle your date on Valentine's Day cause a large number, possibly as many as "half of dating couples" (yeah right) to break up? Neither did I.

Whatever the merits of that article, it's a relief that my sweetheart doesn't give a whit about Valentine's Day. Sparing me the stress of a V-Day pressure cooker, we instead went for a casual non-V-Day dinner last night at Shiro, a long-established Franco-Japanese fusion joint famous for its sizzling catfish in ginger and ponzu sauce, situated in unpretentious South Pas. That catfish didn't disappoint, and neither does Jonathan Gold, whose recommendation I took. Gold's the best reason to read LA Weekly, no small feat considering that John Powers, David Corn, Scott Foundas and Ella Taylor also write for that publication. But Gold's the man, and his pieces describing his trek to get the perfect boba in West Covina and bun cha gao in Eagle Rock are a joy to read. This week's smackdown on a trendy new place on Melrose is a model of gentlemanly viciousness:
"But Meson G’s gratin is just dreadful, made not with fresh cream but with a heavy, cheesy bechamel sauce, spiked with slippery, half-raw slivers of shiitake mushroom and garnished with green snips of the herb shiso that might as well have been grass clippings, so muted was their scent. The sea urchins themselves were visible but not palpable, like holographic projections of themselves."

I'm feeling the burn from 20 miles away. According to last month's Believer piece on Manny Farber, Gold's Counter Intelligence ranks with Farber's Negative Space, Robert Christgau's Consumer Guides[1], and Pauline Kael's collected volumes as a key text of contemporary pop criticism. I don't think restaurant reviews hold up as a consumer guide over time, since the quality of restaurants often decline over time due to personnel changes or just inertia. But food critics have greater influence on a week to week basis than any other critic, it seems. A restaurant review may make or break a restaurant. One rave review in the New York Times, and you'll have at least a few thousand eager customers waiting to sample the food. And those customers lead to word of mouth which can sustain an eatery for years. By contrast, no single film or record can be "made" by a superlative review nowadays. A terrific notice in the Times doesn't necessarily make your African circumcision movie a hit, and plenty of 9.4 albums on Pitchfork go unnoticed. More important to a film or record's commercial success than good reviews is an expensive marketing campaign, and for indie rock records, the support of college radio DJs. For restaurants, nothing except maybe celebrity attendance beats a good review in a major publication.

Oh, man, what a digression. How did I end up on food critics? What I've been meaning to write is I'm gonna be spending the night with my mistress, Ms. P. Who, or what, is Ms. P? They happen to be my new wheels, the Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2004, and Automobile's 2004 winner for design. Yeah, the Prius is an eco-car, but it's also got the space-age gadgetry that makes it decidedly not like eating your broccoli. It's a hybrid that's fun to drive, and as a bonus, it's beating that bloated Zepplin-mobile, the motherfucking Hummer off its fat ass on the market. You have to be a driver in LA to truly experience just how fucking annoying those monstrosities are.

[1] Christgau's Consumer Guides are fine, but am I alone in finding his annual Pazz & Jop summaries intolerable? Rambling, full of Moses-like pronouncements, random bits of provocations and would-be bon mots barely strung together by transitional clauses, these essays exploring the musical zeitgeist -- which invariably call out the poll participants for their insularity and/or racism -- should be taught in journalism class as prime example of indulgent alt-weekly sanctimony.