I’ve been waiting for a forum to write this article for a while. I guess this is as good as any. New Orleans needs a real food critic. This city is regularly putting out some of the world’s best food, and it’s getting better seemingly every day. Rewind 13ish years ago to August 28, 2005. Man, we were really good at food back then. Really good at French creole cuisine. Really good at red sauce Italian. Really good at restaurant service. It wasn’t a diverse offering, but we were really freaking good at it.
Now fast forward to today. Holy cow! New Orleans still maintains its status as the mecca of creole cuisine, but we are kicking some ass in other styles of cooking too now. Vietnamese is on point. We have a Chinese dim sum and dumpling shop in the Quarter. Mexican is still lacking a bit but steadily coming around. Italian: damn! Italian Barrel, Avo. Paladar 511, now Sofia. And we still have the best of the oldies despite several classics closing in this newly competitive battle royale. If you want the Thursday pork chop from Venezia, it’s still there waiting for you. BBQ has become a strength here. You don’t have to drive out to BFE for The Joint anymore (still great btw), thank you very much Hogs for the Cause. I think you get the point. One of the world’s greatest food destinations is only growing stronger. The bar is high, new restaurants and old alike have to prove their niche, their unique strengths, or gtfo.
Maybe it’s the medium, I know there are some great food blogs out there. But when I pick up a Gambit or read The Advocate or really most other print publications, you get the same benign reviews over and over again. Three beans. Excellent. Wonderful. Insert any other high praise word here. Shouldn’t we be more discerning? All of the aforementioned venues for food “criticism” are catering to their “customers”: the restaurants. Keep flipping your Gambit. Oh, there it is: there’s the ad from the restaurant being reviewed. This is akin to a stock analyst rating an investment banking client as a Strong Buy. We deserve better.
And ol’ Tom Fitzmorris is at the top of this garbage heap. Every time I hear his voice, I can see him over-swirling his wine glass, lifting his pinkie as he prepares for the slightest sip. He probably spits it into a spittoon as he’s making his best “wow” face. If you are there watching this, please walk over and slap the glass off the table. This is not a restaurant critic. This is a shill.
If you believe Ol’ Tom, a crabcake is literally the pinnacle of haute cuisine. Nuvolari’s is really where my wife and I should head for an awesome Italian-inspired date night, Tom? Parran’s has the best “poor” boy in town? How can you say this with a straight face?
Let’s do a little experiment. Start at Tom’s website which is barely more impressive than this piece of shit I built on WordPress with the IT savvy comparable to my four year-old daughter’s. Go to Restaurants by Cuisine, and scroll down to Italian. What cutting-edge restaurants have earned Tom’s discerning high praise? Four stars: Cafe Giovanni, Del Porto in Covington, Domenica, Fausto’s, Impastato’s, Irene’s, Nuvolari’s in Mandeville, Pizza Domenica, Sal and Judy’s in Lacombe, Tommy’s, Vincent’s. Lower ratings: Avo, Italian Barrel, Marcello’s. This list was last updated in mid-2017 according to the site so maybe there would be a totally different list if it were updated today. But I doubt it.
Impastato’s is better than Nick Lama’s rock-star Uptown Italian outpost Avo? Seriously?? Tom Fitzmorris is a business, and I don’t have any problem with that. More power to him for making a living out of his shitty palate and haughty attitude. My problem is that there isn’t anything better out there. It’s all shades of the same BS. Nobody has come along and put Ol’ Tom out of business because they are all running the same business model. Ads. Ads. Ads.
We’re starved for the New Orleans version of Tony Bourdain. Witty and sophisticated, worldly, and above all, brutally honest. It doesn’t matter which medium our “Tony” uses, shit a great blog would be just fine. I like to read a physical paper, but I understand that product is dying a not-so-slow death. It’s the content not the medium that matters. Someone with real taste. Then maybe we wouldn’t have to unwind restaurant empires built by shitty ass-grabbing hacks like John Besh. Say what you want, the first time I read the menu when his flagship Restaurant August opened, I was stunned that such an impressive building was dedicated to a blatant imposter who had word-for-word copied the recipes out of Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook”. I ordered the skate just to see if there was something Johnny was adding to Thomas’ prized recipes. Nope. The menu at August has evolved since then, definitely a more local flair now.
The two best restaurants Besh has opened are Pizza Domenica and Shaya. Literally the only unique food the guy has created. Credit Alon Shaya in both cases. Now a decent critic would write about why Donald Link is so far superior to John Besh. Cochon, Herbsaint, Peche (Ryan I know). Butcher. We are all better off for having Donnie in this city, creating and inspiring. There are others too who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. The aforementioned Nick Lama. Sue Zemanick. Hao Gong at Luvi. Many others.
I’m optimistic that the end is near for the kind of regurgitated ad-starved pandering spewed by Tom and his disciples. There is some serious talent in this city now. Not just chefs, but writers too. It’s hard to break down an institution, for starter’s they have much better connections and access. Years of pimping Parran’s probably pays off. But in the end, I firmly believe that the customers, the patrons, the populace will win. After all, we’re the ones that blew the doors of Dian Xin so hard they had to close for a few days to re-organize and re-staff to keep up with the pent-up demand for the city’s first real dim sum joint. Exciting times, my friends.