we are so lucky to have such a dynamic food journalist…

i rarely read the houston press restaurant reviews mostly due to the fact i grew tired of reading about taco trucks, vietnamese & greasy ass burgers but this week’s review of voice restaurant was just another reason to continue NOT reading the press.

i sometimes wonder how a food journalist finds their way into criticising professional and hard working people?  i can think of a few but i am not gonna “stir the pot” anymore.

the section about chef kramer and his staff’s efforts in the kitchen was positive but the entire review fell victim to the negative attitudes towards portion size & cost.  voice is a very beautiful restaurant, possibly the nicest in houston (americas, the woodlands is also up there) and it takes a lot of time, effort & money to operate a hotel/restaurant.  those nice chairs your sitting in cost money.  the china, flatware & stemware are very expensive and too often need to be replaced.  i am dumbfounded by the comparison of proper angus beef to “kroger select” meat we are so accustomed to reading about in the “burger tours” and adventures in “pho & bahn mi land”.  im sure for the price of that $15 dollar “lunch box” you could get enough burritos, tom yum & tortillas to last you for a few days and im not even gonna start on the description of sous-vide – the fear of the unknown and the lack of knowledge played a large roll in that section of the review.  i do agree with one point he made about the need for the maillard reaction (a chemical reaction to amino acids and sugars de-naturing) which provides that “seared” flavor.  this process does nothing for the actuall level of moisture in any protein.  it creates flavor when the protein hits a hot surface with partiular lipids and that is why traditionally we sear things.  this process is often refereed to as “sealing in the juices”, which is the biggest lie in all of meat cookery.  your not locking in juices – if that happened you would end up with protein full of blood and melted collagen.  test it for yourself.  get a piece of pork, chicken or beef and sear it (shit cook it well done) and then place a paper towel on the protein to see if any moisture is present.  i guarantee you will have moisture. 

sous-vide applications are commonly used to acheive a desired texture and when combined with traditional techniques such as searing, charring or grilling the sous-vide technique can not be stopped.  it allows you to get the best from both worlds, texture & flavor.  my favorite quote isthe disadvantage is that meat cooked uniformly to medium rare is boring”.  thats a bold statement – especially in houston.  it is used for many more reasons than simply cooking.  it allows the chef to streamline his production area.  it also offers the chef(s) a more precise product and in a more consitant manner.  there is much more to the technique than meets the eye.

i think perspective was totally lost in the review.  please don’t get me wrong, i love chicken fried steak & cold beer (shit, im from tomball for crying out loud) but it’s not all that’s out there…

in fact growing up in tomball i thought a night a goodson’s cafe was as good as it got but i only thought that because of the lack of diverse influences i grew up with.  im not referring to my wonderful parents – im referring to the lack of diversity in the papers and periodicals that they were reading.  it wasn’t until i moved to new england that i learned how one-sided the food community in houston is or was. 

journalist need to realize the influence they have on people in houston and whether not that is a good or bad thing – it still exists.  this kinda situation reminds me of when i have guests say they just flat out don’t like a certain protein, vegetable or herb and after a bit of investigating i usually reveal that they unfortunately had a bad experience with that particular food and it has forever stained their future to ever try it again.  mr keller wrote about it and explained very well and used an ingredient that is widely frowned upon, foie gras.  he explains that sometimes a chef is too concerned with the physical price of foie and cut it too thin resulting in a one-sided textured mess. 

now, what if you are in a restaurant and about to try foie for the first time and you get served a crunchy & burnt piece of liver with a big nasty vein in it i assure you that your not going to be impressed and will probally hold off on one of the world’s incredible gastronomic pleasures for a long time.  doesn’t sound very fair, does it?  some people may read this review and automatically have a negative connotations about voice.  i think it’s time we begin to enhance houston’s dining scene by getting out there and expeiencing it for yourself.

all in all, i think the review was good for the food and if the only real problems are the price of refills, portion size (compared to those establishments who consider more is more) and wine suggestions we all should feel very lucky to have a restaurant & chef so talented and admired as chef kramer (not to mention is very impressive staff) in our growing city!!!

i feel sorry for mr walsh because he didn’t experience the voice that i and a lot of others have.  that sucks.  i think their could have been more focus on more positive experinces that voice offers. 

i will take my two sliders & parmesan fries at a cost of $14 and like it!  i really hope that houstonions get out there and make their own decisions!!!  that’s what it all about…

here is the review:

http://www.houstonpress.com/2008-07-10/restaurants/voice-tastes-great-less-filling/

 

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About greensandbeans

this blog focuses on the trials & tribulations of the culinary evolution and explorations in the kitchen. it is also an open forum to discuss food ideas, techniques & most of all to expose the "happenings" and discoveries that are occurring in our very own backyard. "feedin my dreams by eatin greens & beans"... cheers, randy rucker
This entry was posted in chefs & restaurants, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to we are so lucky to have such a dynamic food journalist…

  1. dubonnetkid says:

    i read the review and also wished Walsh would have recieved the same intense wonderfu meal that i had experienced. On the other hand the price bit especially the one about the ice tea is somewhat valid. Any hotelier will tell you that the restaurant is an amenity to the guest. it is a hard pill to swallow especially if you are a restaurant guy but it is true. you cant get away from the fact that hotel rooms make 60% profit and restaurants make 15% and thats only if they run thier rig correctly. so should that amenity gouge? charging refills for tea is like mcDonalds giving people free mayo packs and charging for ketchup. which is exacly what they do in spain.
    being new, briliant and different is all well and good but still have to abide and respect the forum you work within, no? besides that tea does not pay for those chairs. chairs are a capitalization, different line item.
    and what about the wine deal? a pinot noir to stand up to a strong fish like snapper? strong? really? then it comes out oxidized. how is that not a valid critical point? great service is arguably more important to the common diner than the food.
    the thing about reviewers is this; if thier opinon is negative, they dont know what they are talking about. If thier opnions are positive, they are freakin geniuses.
    its a day in the life piece and if that day i was off then i deserve(although dont want) honesty.

  2. Pingback: Randy on Robb on Voice « she eats.

  3. the price of tea should not be apart of the overall review, in my opinion. yeah, it sucks to have to pay for refills but there is a cost to everything enjoyable. bad oyster or mussel = two days of hardcore pain but to never explore their wonderful traits again, no way.

    reminds me of high school (when and if i attended class) and there has to be somebody to throw the party, get the beer & usually that person always pays for it. lead or follow… sometimes you have to pay the price in order to enjoy everything that comes with it.

    i know if my wife/girlfriend enjoys something – i will do whatever it takes to make sure that she gets it especialy if i have to do something that i dont want to. period! mikey houser said it best…

    “They tell me it takes sorrow, boy
    To help you feel the joy
    They say it takes poverty
    To let you love a toy
    Now you can’t have the good
    Until you’ve shared the bad
    Don’t let it get too sad
    No, not this time, time”

    even if that means paying too much for tea or having to deal with the humiliation of buying tampons! sometimes you just don’t sweat the shit that doesn’t matter to prolong happiness.

  4. dubonnetkid says:

    Are you comparing oysters with tea? Tea is a caffeinated refreshing beverage, an oyster is a transcending bivalve that screams brine and mineral terrior ushering you to a different place and time. One is worth the risk of gastric hell the other should be priced fairly.
    I’m not saying nothing high priced is worth it. I’m saying price things correctly.

    I have to say it is somewhat irresponsible of you to say that tea doesn’t matter or even worse that price and value perception don’t have a place in a restaurant, even a great one. Price, service, technique, tables, chairs, music, tea, coffee, uniforms, quality produce and protein, menu font, HVAC, flatware, language, color schemes, architecture, hostesses, wait staff, busboys, artwork, valet, crystal, everything-Everything matters in the sum of a great restaurant.

    and why no response to the other?
    “A Pinot noir — with red snapper?” I questioned him. “Why?” He said it was the classic recommendation for a strong-¬tasting fish like red snapper.
    When the waiter went to pour our wine, he walked behind me. I turned around to see that the red wines available by the glass were sitting on a shelf. The Burgundy bottle didn’t have much more than a glass left in it. It was warm and oxidized. It had obviously been sitting there for days. It tasted awful

    Does this fall into the same category? Are you saying that inept service is worth enduring for the sake of “grand cuisine”? Are they not linked?
    Would you put up with that in your place?

    Harsh comments that are a matter of taste and opinion or are flat out incorrect, I totally agree with you but undisputable facts and mistakes made? It is a journalist’s job to correctly portray their experience. Sometimes it sucks but that’s the deal. Not everything can be a puff piece.

  5. Pingback: Like clockwork at Tasty Bits

  6. tastybits says:

    Dubonnetkid: thats all fine and good, but does a review of a restaurant like Voice *really* have to involve so much talk about hamburgers?

    http://www.tasty-bits.com/index.php/2008/07/12/like-clockwork/

  7. puff piece? really? writing about tacos and low quality meats (I am not referring to the cut of meat) that have been cooked so long it becomes sludge. there is your puff piece… of course, an experience like being on the side of the road where it is worn down to raw earth due to the many work trucks pulling in & out all day leaving clouds of smoke & dust everywhere, next to a metal unit that only has two wheels, is overgrown with grass & weeds, smells like a dead cat & the vision of fruit flies clustering around the condiments or anything with an exposed opening is a perfect setting for an incredible review because that situation can only get better & hopefully never get worse!

    1. i didn’t compare oysters with tea. give me a break. i was making a reference to having to take the good with bad. i’ll pay for my tea to receive highly executed and thoughtful food.

    2. i never said, “that tea doesn’t matter or even worse that price and value perception don’t have a place in a restaurant, even a great one”

    3. i never used the term “grand cuisine” or do i ever plan on using it.

    4. i understand that the service you receive can influence the outcome of your evening more than the food but that’s why in america is have the discretion to tip or not to tip. i think you had every right to point out the fact that your taste buds simply did not agree with the wine suggestion or even the wine. pinot w/ snapper? possibly. if it was light in body and accented by the plates garnishes. i think a rose could have worked…

  8. dax says:

    Well said Sir. I have found that, sadly, Mr. Walsh seems to like playing the Bad ass sheriff in town, and not the “Let’s go houston” foodie we all hope our journalists would be. I would never ask anyone to be dishonest, and say shit was good when it isn’t, blah, blah, blah. But some of our friendly journalists really like to hold hard working professionals over the old fire, and see if we survive. Which is just fucking mean – this is our livelyhood, one that we care passionately about. If you, as a “journalist” can help me improve – and improve the scene in houston – right on. Lot’s of guys are trying to pull Houston out of the goddamn big-as-yo-face stupid serving sizes of mediocre crap – really they are. Why? because they love food, and they love serving it to people, and they love changing peoples expectations of what a certain product can be. Enhancing an evening with a loved one, or your buddies. These are the little rewards we get in between busting our ass. I, sometimes, have a hard time seeing the line between constructive criticism, and just down right trying to take tables away from those reviewed. which is just mean. And sucks in so many ways.

  9. Tiger says:

    Randy, I agree with very much that you said, and I love this blog.

    Robb Walsh is a pretty good writer, but I don’t think he has deep enough knowledge to really review a fine dining establishment. As you said, he’s well enough versed in casual cuisine and many ethnic cuisines, although it’s easy enough to find factual errors in many of his reviews. I think he’s a good fit for the Press; they are, after all, the alternative weekly, and their target audience is more interested in the newest trendy noodle house or upscale BBQ joint than they are in cutting edge cuisine.

    But I did find it unnerving to read that Voice charges for each iced tea refill. To a chef it’s a trivial point, but to a patron it reeks of arrogance; our restaurant is so special that you will pay for what is universally free in other restaurants. It sounds as if Voice’s issues are in the front of the house, not the back.

    One thing I love about dining in Houston as opposed to many other cities is the incredible culture of customer-oriented focus in high-end establishments. (Thank you, Tony Vallone.) Here, the insolent, “you’re lucky to be in our establishment, peasant” attitude is thankfully missing, and restaurants that tolerate this from their staff end up disappering (Aries comes to mind.)

    As much as I applaud what Voice brings to the culinary scene in Houston, it’s gotta fit into the dining culture here, and that culture does not include sending customers home feeling taken advantage of. Silly, arrogant decisions like charging for tea refills will sink a restaurant here as quickly as faux pas in the kitchen.

  10. thanks & im glad you dig the website. some information that is not disclosed is the cost of refills could be a policy of the hotel or managing group. now, the continued discussion of iced tea has made me thirsty so you will have to excuse me. i hear voice in the hotel icon pours one mean glass…

  11. Randy (and Misha) — I agree with almost everything you say. Walsh’s palate is limited. He doesn’t understand many cooking techniques that don’t involve a grill or a smoker. He is a food anti-snob.

    But I believe Robb Walsh is the great American populist food writer. So I should say a few things in his defense:

    1 – His budget must be fairly low. He works for the Houston Press, which almost certainly gives him a small budget for eating out. That would explain why he rarely eats at fine restaurants — and why he eats business lunches and bar snacks instead of 8-course tasting menus. His view is shaped by his budget (which resembles the budget of many of his readers).

    2 – Walsh’s greatness is all about understanding the interplay between cultures and the every-day food in those cultures. Walsh can write a far more insightful article than anyone else about Mexican taco trucks, Hawaii’s tradition of cooking with Spam, or the cultural history of East Texas barbecue. Nationally, most food critics ignore that sort of food. Walsh doesn’t. That does not make him a diverse food critic. It just means that, when he does go to a restaurant like Voice, he is going to be able to write much more intelligently about the sliders at the bar and the service than he is about the kitchen’s more creative techniques.

    In short, I don’t much trust Walsh’s view of anything at Voice EXCEPT the sliders. Fortunately, most of Voice’s potential customers will trust Alison Cook more than Walsh when it comes to fine restaurants. But even though Walsh’s range as a food critic is restricted, he remains my favorite American food writer because he is so insightful about foods that few other paid critics will even touch.

  12. Ribbonstage says:

    well said Tiger and anonyouseater; if i was any good at expressing myself through words thats what i would have said. Any body read Walsh’s article on the history of TexMex, super cool! i think over all we are very lucky to have both Allison and Walsh. Two very different styles and agendas both very talented and accomplished.

    randy, i dig the blog as well
    but why hate on taco trucks? they are just as important and valid as Voice to having a diverse, respectable Houston food scene. Some do smell like dead cat, but some are tasty!
    carne asada is not a crime
    http://saveourtacotrucks.org/

  13. neverfull says:

    i am enjoying the dialogue here. i just wanted to add that my last visit to db bistro moderne in NY (also a hotel restaurant) was during lunch. i had the $30 fois gras burger and 2 diet cokes. each diet coke was $4.50 or $5. i was a little shocked that i spent $10 alone on soda (and probably could have had a decent glass of wine for a little more $) but this is the norm at most high-end restaurants in the city. will i return? of course.

  14. ribbonstage. “glad you enjoy reggie’s show”…dave chappelle from the nutty professor

    i dig on taco trucks (i have the link on the site already). please, please, please do not misconstrue my response to the review as an attack of mr walsh’s talent as a writer. i dig on his style and think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit! i was simply responding to what he passed his judgment on. tiny burgers, crab cakes & iced tea are just not the reasons that come to mind when i think of dining at voice, or any place for that matter that is practicing great technique, have high senses of integrity in the quality of ingredients, both local & sustainable, they bring thru the door & like myself and many others have been consumed by the beast of always being better than you where yesterday…

    i dig on tex-mex and food anthropology (spend enough with chef jj and you will soon know more than you can even handle)- I just want to make sure we as houstonians understand that VOICE is just as, if not more important than THE TACO TRUCK in this city.

    we all know houston has great tex-mex, taco trucks & burger joints – that will never change! i just wish that we could shed some new light on some of the exciting things that are happening directly under our noses!!!

    i received an email from a chef (not to be named) in another major southern city and he said. “Why do we always have to hear about the same cities time and time again?” “I would like to see journalists write more about the craft or the artistry.”

  15. chefkramer says:

    Randy-
    Thanks for all the feedback on the Robb Walsh review. We all agree the ice tea was a mistake and is not the standard here at the hotel, shame on us for not maiking sure our staff all knew that. We are a high end restaurant as Randy said, and our product, atmosphere, china, glassware etc. far exceeds what a 7-11 can offer. So if my prices are higher than some grocery store so be it. Hope to see some of you folks at Voice soon. Keep on blogging.

    Kramer

  16. Rubiao says:

    I completely understand your point about the review and get why this would be frustrating to a chef trying to illuminate a brave new culinary world in a city he clearly cares deeply about. We are a giant city packed to the gills with wealthy people, not necessarily liberal, but certainly we have adventurous people here. And we should have restaurants like Voice and chefs like Kramer. But we should also have reviewers like Robb Walsh in the free alternative weekly paper, given out at taco joints and bars throughout Montrose.

    I would not expect a Christian apologetic to deliver an unbiased review of a Christopher Hitchens book. I would not expect Andy Rooney to be a big supporter of progressive art. Rush Limbaugh probably doesn’t like Naomi Klein’s work. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t have interesting information to impart to their readers. You’ve got to read between the lines. If you are price insensitive, I think you read that review as enormously positive. If you are not, you know not to order the iced tea. It cannot be expected that you review a 1 dollar taco and a 50 dollar sous vide venison course with the same criteria.

    On the other hand, that Stanton’s comment was out of line. I like a good bacon cheeseburger as much as the next guy, but to suggest stopping by a grocery store to pick up a burger before heading downtown for a nice meal (of mini-burgers ironically) was a cheap way to give a shout out to a personal favorite. All in all though, I think the review will drive business. Maybe not the kind of business you want, but a few people who would otherwise not be eating at upscale restaurants downtown might decide 20 bucks for lunch in a beautiful environment every now and again is worth it. You then wow them with the sliders, and the next time they expand their comfort zone a little. And that is how the culinary scene that bloggers find so lamentable in Houston is expanded. By no means an easy task, but you aren’t in an easy business. The question is, do you really want those people coming in, ordering the sliders, and just having a glass of tap water for lunch?

  17. pickledapplebutter says:

    Yeah, got to agree Homes, got that right! That Walsh dude is a dud. Disses my boys at Voice and gives the nod to those white-stocking outfits over at Da Marco, Reef, T’afia, Masraff’s, Mockkingbird, Bice, Mark’s, Hugo’s, Indika, Damian’s, that French Schmidt weasel at Hotel Derek now long gone, even the f-ing new Tony’s. Not to mention those burger joints, taco trucks and bbq shacks along the roadside. And then the guy has real cajones…likes pizza enough to write about it. She-it! Then he disses Bank first, now Voice, and Catalan, and Arturo’s….the man’s got a tumor. He even crazy enough to say the old Tony’s was nuts, focused on glad-handing and not the food/wine apparatus!

    One piece I gotta give you kudos, man. Not many get the maillard thing, not even five star chefs and I don’t expect Robb will either. Moisture ain’t moisture flavor. That’s it. I did your experiment. Burnt, down cold.
    Thanks for the inspiration you give us here in the kitchen….throwin plates for a reason!!

  18. Jody S. says:

    Interesting blog post and comments… good read Randy!

  19. MarkinMemorial says:

    Those disparaging Walsh for his review of Voice should back and read Walsh’s review of Bank, the Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant that previously resided in the Hotel Icon.

    http://www.houston-press.com/2004-08-19/dining/sushi-pudding/

    It pretty much disproves the negative characterization of Walsh here. He can appreciate and adeptly review an expensive restaurant that serves shaved salmon with chili tapioca as well as he can review a taco truck’s tacos al pastor. Note particularly, Walsh’s curmudgeonly gripe about “water sommeliers” who push overpriced bottled water and sneer at those who order tap water – very similar to his gripe in the Voice review about $2.50 refills on iced tea. Walsh is all for haute cuisine – what he rails against is the unnecessary pretentiousness that is often found in many restaurants that serve such cuisine. Concommitant with that is often high prices, not just on entrees with understandably expensive ingredients and preparation methods, but the price on everything gets jacked up as well – such as charging $2.50 every time you ask for an iced tea refill. I think Walsh believes, too, that when the prices are so high at such restaurants, the service should be superior, which means not condescending to guests or bullying them into unwanted upsells of overpriced bottled water, or trying to sell them on the most expensive wines, regardless of whether they complement their food choices, as happened to Walsh at Bank (despite the bad service, Walsh still strongly recommended Bank). Interestingly, poor wine service is another area where Walsh’s experiences at the old Hotel Icon restaurant, Bank, and the new Hotel Icon Restaurant, Voice, closely parallel. At Voice, his waiter suggests red burgundy with fish, which turns out to be terrible, and Walsh sees the bottle and realizes the waiter was just trying to get rid of the dregs of the bottle.

    There is something going on here- ther person criticizing Walsh seems somehow personally affronted that Walsh is “criticising professional and hard working people”, so much so that he insinuates that because Walsh does like to sample ethnic restaurants and dives that his opinion on Voice can’t be valid. There is nothing wrong with Walsh’s palate. This is not a case of him missing the point of the restaurant by focusing on the bar food and lunch. The poster, who I take to be possibly in the restaurant industry, doesn’t like Walsh criticizing the service he got, so he tries to downplay the validity of Walsh’s complaint. Here’s a fact that chefs seem to forget – a restaurant is a business, just like any other. People don’t just judge a business on the quality of the product, but on the quality of the service, and the value of the product as well. A meal portion so small that it is unsatisfying is not good value at any price, but especially not at as high a price as Voice charges. And diners don’t just pay for the food, they pay to have an experience, to have a nice time. Snotty waiters tarnish that experience, the feeling that you’ve been ripped off tarnishes that experience. As Walsh himself concludes: “it’s hard to put up with the ungracious attitude — no matter how good the food is.”

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