Thursday, November 22, 2007

Another Hatchet Job From LAT's Leslie Brenner?

(Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning restaurant critic for the L.A. Weekly and a critic for whom I have much respect, it should be reported at the outset, also is most critical of the new Michelin Los Angeles guide. I'm not going to withdraw my criticism of Brenner, but out of fairness to her, I'm going to quote here, in brief, from Gold's comments.

Gold writes, "I'm not dismissing the Michelin guide because so much of it reads as if it were translated badly -- from the French, I would say, except that whoever werote the thing seems to be as ignorant on the subject of French cooking as he is about the Indian or Italian kitchen. And as somebdy who has put restaurant guides together himself, I can forgive some of the errors; it is hard work pulling these things together, and something inevitably gets misplaced along the way. I even have to admit that I agree with most of the guide's assessment...

What bothers me is that the guide was so evidently put together as a fly-by-night project
showing neither knowledge of nor much respect for Los Angeles, that the usual Hollywood banalities are recycled like so much fryer sludge at the biodiesel plant, and that there is so little imagination at work."

With this in mind, when I wrote this blog on Nov. 22, I may have been too critical of and dismissing of the Brenner article in the L.A. Times. I'm not removing the blog, because Gold does say he agrees with most of Michelin's assessments, even if he doesn't like the tone of the book.

Here is what I wrote in the first place, unchanged:

A little more than two years ago, Los Angeles Times food editor Leslie Brenner so severely trashed the elegant Belvedere restaurant in Beverly Hills' Peninsula Hotel that it drew the special negative attention of the Los Angeles Business Journal, which did an article about how destructive her review had been.

This week, Brenner, who usually leaves the actual restaurant reviews to S. Irene Virbila, a Times writer who is eminently fair, is at it again, this time trashing the new Michelin guide of Los Angeles area restaurants. In a story yesterday in the Times Food section, Brenner begins with a foolish statement, and then compounds it.

"The famous red guides for restaurants in Europe published by the French tire company may have lost their luster in recent years, even as the company embarked on a plan to expand to cover the world," she writes, "but nothing could have prepared this food-loving Angelena for what's in the pages of the just-published Michelin Guides Los Angeles 2008. In short, it's amateurish, confusing and barely credible."

The only "barely credible" writer here is Brenner, and once again, there is the smell of an ulterior motive. What it may be, I don't know, but something is clearly wrong.

Brenner's slashing review of the Belvedere, replete with such mistatements as that the room in which the food was served was "stodgy," charged that service in the restaurant was "haughty" and indifferent, that the food was disappointing, and that the man in charge of wine service knew little about wine. As I said at the time, it was an "insulting review," and since I had recently been in the restaurant twice myself, I didn't think it was true. The restaurant had just received outstanding ratings from two other restaurant guides -- Zagat and the Mobile Review.

Now, Brenner has gone after a legendary rater of restaurants new to Southern California. She had dredged up everything negative she could find about Michelin, and put it out to Times readers.

It sounds a little like Brenner has some grudge against a European company. Maybe, she has recently been in Europe and didn't like to see how valuable the Euro has become against the dollar. Maybe, there is another reason.

But I'd like to know it, and senior editors of the L.A. Times ought to examine this writer's work. There's something not right about it.

"For whatever it's worth," she concludes, "Michelin Guide Los Angeles 2008 gives its one-star rating to 15 restaurants: Asanebo, Cut, the Dining Room at Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel & Spa, Joe's, La Botte, Matsuhisa, Mori Sushi, Ortolan, Patina, Providence, Saddle Peak Lodge, Sona, Tre Venezie, Valentino's and Water Grill. Three restaurants get two stars each: Melisse, Spago and Urnsawa. No restaurants received the three-star rating.

"I'm betting that Angelenos are too smart to care."

On the contrary, all the restaurants mentioned receiving star rating have solid reputations. Los Angelenos are too smart not to welcome the coming of Michelin to this area, and they will not be so dumb as to consider Brenner a reliable reviewer.


Forty-four years ago today, then a young reporter with Life magazine, I was standing on the steps of the Widener Library at Harvard University when someone came past and said that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

The loss of the young president hurts us still.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Brenner's incompetence is astounding. Several of her recent articles on restaurants are so poorly written and researched that she clearly sounds more petulant than uninformed. How can the LA Times regard her as a senior editor? I am not sure if the damage her articles inflict upon the restaurant community are intentional or just collateral damage of her ignorance and laziness.

11/29/2007 12:33 PM  
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