Rick Nelson Star Tribune reviews
[This post was split from this thread on the Minneapolis-St. Paul board: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/778835] Some thoughts on what others have posted.
No, I never made it to Heartland before the move.
The Star Tribune's four star review. I wondered about that, too. My guess is that, at this point, Rick Nelson is severely handicapped in honestly reviewing restaurants. That's no slam on Rick, but it is what it is. Nelson knows all the chef players and probably knows many of them (and/or their families and friends) have bet the bank on new restaurants. He also knows that a bad review from him -- because he is the only major food voice at the state's newspaper of record -- is likely the kiss of death.
[That's a problem the Star Tribune needs to fix.]
Earlier, I raised the issue of the beautiful and likely very expensive renovation of the space. Somebody poured a ton of money into the place. And, my guess is that Nelson's review was tainted by wanting the restaurant to succeed.
But given the other bad reviews posted after mine, that four star rating stands out like a sore thumb. And to call Heartland a "game-changer?" [http://www.vita.mn/story.php?id=10877...]
it isn't *just* rick nelson. . . russo is up for the regional beard award as well. it isn't like he's some hack. though perhaps with the new space, there may be some amount of growing pains going on, or times of day/week that are inconsistent due to less experienced folks in the kitchen. that's what i think everyone is trying to ascertain by comparing the range of experiences folks have had at heartland.
nelson and other critics visit restaurants several/multiple times before a review in order to *not* have a review be skewed (for good or ill) by a single meal. nelson was critical of some of the more seasonal and vegetarian offerings in his review and warned of inconsistent service and and "earnest" but somewhat unappealing desserts--it isn't as if he gave a straight rave and said there wasn't room for any improvement. he also couldn't psychic-ly foresee your disappointing dinner when he wrote his review very shortly after the new space opened-- or base his review off of one bad meal, when he had several that were good.
SarahInMinneapolis states " Rick Nelson is severely handicapped in honestly reviewing restaurants. That's no slam on Rick, but it is what it is. Nelson knows all the chef players and probably knows many of them (and/or their families and friends) have bet the bank on new restaurants. He also knows that a bad review from him -- because he is the only major food voice at the state's newspaper of record -- is likely the kiss of death."
If we are to believe that is a true statement, what reviews can one find truthful and unbiased? In no way am I discounting the miserable experience that she had at Heartland, but because one's experience differs from a restaurant critic's, does that mean the critic is unethical? This is a small town and I would guess that most chefs and critics would, at some point, become acquainted. Probably doesn't stop either one of them of doing the job they were hired for.
In no way did I imply that Rick Nelson is unethical. Re-read what I wrote. There are "probably's" and "likely's."
I was surmising. And, I was pointing out that he's a human being, like the rest of us. Full of biases, and in his line of work, those include wanting "name" chefs to do well. [Those biases exist in any line of work.]
Any time Nelson wants to step into this conversation he is more than welcome.
It's a conversation worth having. I should also note that I think Nelson is the strongest part of the Taste section. There's so much insipid stuff that I know I can easily find online, plus reruns of stuff I've read the day it was published in the NYT, which, almost shockingly, runs days if not weeks later. [Don't even get me started on the Taste videos.]
The Taste section is a mess. I have never been able to figure out who the heck they are writing for. Older people who don't go online? Foodies who don't read the NYT? New cooks who don't know how to make a popover?
There are better options, not the least of which are The Heavy Table or MN Monthly (Dara and DeRusha but not the others).
But I digress.
I stand by my original Nelson point. His four star review of Heartland was weird -- and ratified by others who have had recent bad experiences at Heartland.
1) "He also knows that a bad review from him -- because he is the only major food voice at the state's newspaper of record -- is likely the kiss of death." I'm not sure what this means. State's newspaper of record? There are other papers, as well as magazines, that do food reviews. A critic's job is to critique, good and bad. If you're claiming that Nelson can't do a fair review because he knows most chefs, that's like saying a small town Sheriff can't arrest folks because he knows most of them. Sorry, that's hogwash.
2) "Full of biases, and in his line of work, those include wanting "name" chefs to do well." ??? Do movie reviews want big name directors to do well? Is it better for a big name to do well than a little name? So you're surmising that Nelson thinks its preferable for a big name chef to succeed, so give him/her the more favorable review, but be harsher on the newcomer? Really?
3) "Any time Nelson wants to step into this conversation he is more than welcome." Uh, I don't think it's Nelson's role to step into a Chowhound conversation because an armchair critic disagrees with his reviews.
4) Taste section - It might not be the NYTimes Food section, but then again the Strib isn't the NYT, and Minneapolis isn't NYC. After having lived in NYC, Philly, Los Angeles, and Ann Arbor, the Strib's Taste is by far the best food section after the NYT's Food section when considering the papers from those other cities. By far. (Unless things have changed in the last several years at the Inquirer, LA Times, or the AA News).
5) "There are better options, not the least of which are The Heavy Table or MN Monthly (Dara and DeRusha but not the others)." We can agree to disagree on Dara. Personally, I greatly dislike her writings. I don't like her columns and I find myself disagreeing with most of her reviews. I'll take Nelson's reviews over Dara's any day of the week.
At the end of the day, we all have different tastes, and reviewers are not exempt. There are many respected movie reviewers that love movies that I seem to not like, and not like movies that I do. I've found the movie reviewers that tend to run similar to my tastes, and so read them if I need an opinion. Ditto with food critics - there are those that seem to run similar to my tastes, who I gravitate towards, and those that run counter to my tastes, who I avoid (like Dara).
Lastly, the star rating is a tricky beast - what's the metric? Clearly a 4 Star restaurant in MSP wouldn't register a blip in Paris. So the question is, is Heartland a 4 Star restaurant for MSP? We can name the top restaurants on one hand - LBV, Piccolo, Bar La Grassa (forgetting any? I Nonni, perhaps?) . And yet, I've read folks on Chowhound make claims against those three as being amongst the top in MSP. Should Heartland be on the list with those three? Personally, I think so. Many others do, as well. And some don't. Everyone's a critic.