The Other Critics

Kauffman Defends His Role as ‘Cheap Eats’ Critic

We didn’t mean to be bad-mouthing the guy the other day when we called out SF Weekly critic Jonathan Kauffman for reviewing yet another small, under-the-radar, not-new-at-all ethnic joint — we’ll go on the record now as saying we’re big fans of his writing. But Kauffman responded with a cogent defense of his role as an alt-weekly critic and champion of the obscure who must, on a limited budget, cover both the high and low, and “write for locals of all ages and all incomes.”

Allow us to clarify that we were never suggesting he only cover the high end, “write week after week about bistros,” or “shadow the Chronicle,” we were merely speaking for a large portion of the food-loving community here who have waited for years for this not to be a one-critic town, hungry for a new voice who’ll not only find some hidden gems, but who’ll also become as relevant as, say, Jonathan Gold is in L.A.

Kauffman writes:

Alt-weeklies… have always seen restaurant reviews as a form of cultural criticism as much as a reader service. These papers tend to hire writers based on their balls-out use of metaphor, not to mention their willingness to use the phrase “balls-out.” …
The high and low, the “ethnic” and the national-magazine-worthy, they all inform one another ― especially in a compact, occasionally insular city like San Francisco…

Besides, who rolls from one white-tablecloth restaurant to the next, night after night, sucking down an endless stream of pork bellies and $15 glasses of Syrah?…Fascination always trumps price, and sometimes good taste, too.

But J-Kauff, we’d never suggest that you stick to white tablecloths — everyone’s throwing those things out these days anyway — rather that you do more to counter and supplement the existing voices we have (primarily Bauer, but Patti Unterman chimes in from her quiet corner, too) when it comes to higher profile stuff, because that creates an important dialogue that we all benefit from. Jonathan Gold started out at LA Weekly primarily on the street eats and small, neighborhood, ethnic beat, but eventually he grew into his role as a professional critic in a major food city, and now he covers most of the big stuff too. He’s the only food critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, and doesn’t San Francisco, also being a focal point for the national food scene, deserve an alt-weekly voice with that kind of traction? We think you, Mr. Kauffman, could be our man.

So far, there just hasn’t been enough balance in your choices as you reacquaint yourself with the broad range of ethnically diverse cuisine that the city has to offer. The two reviews that probably got the most attention and lip service among the “foodistas” were that kind-of-blah take on Frances, which many found refreshing after a flurry of buzz that was all in agreement; and the relative rave about Commis, which was a refreshing counterpoint to Bauer’s diss. We’re glad you covered Comstock, and Thermidor, but you’ve got less than 20 reviews left to write for 2010, and in addition to the few dozen notable restaurants that have opened already this year and haven’t yet received a Weekly review (Marlowe’s a good example), there’ll be more as fall approaches. If more than half of those weekly reviews are devoted to tiny Filipino or Oaxacan places that opened three or ten years ago, the city will be cheated out of having an articulate and informed second opinion on a bevy of new restaurants, both large and small. Besides, what’s the blog there for?

Just sayin’.

Why Do You Review Some Little Mexican Restaurant When You Should Be Tackling Wayfare Tavern? [SF Weekly]

Kauffman Defends His Role as ‘Cheap Eats’ Critic