I don’t believe in opinion, but I do believe in food. Whatever that means. Hence my decision to join Yelp and incentivize my own writing of, effectively, two- to three-paragraph pieces of gastronomically themed writing. I’ve quite enjoyed getting a handle on this short form, despite never claiming brevity as a strength. Or maybe because of that. I’m with Tyler Cowen when he says, in his Ethnic Dining Guide, "Restaurants manifest the spirit of capitalist multiculturalism. Entrepreneurship, international trade, and cultural exchange all come together in these communal eateries."
Some principles I’ve thought up while crafting my first seven writeups of eateries in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara:
- If a writeup runs over three paragraphs, I’m not making it dense and/or concise enough.
- If a writeup runs under two paragraphs, I didn’t pay enough attention when I ate at the place.
- The food makes up half of what’s important about a restaurant — at most.
- Objective evaluations of food don’t exist — or if they do, who would want them?
- If a writeup has not reached beyond topics of taste, service, decor, and suchlike, that writeup has failed.
- My tastebud chemistry ain’t transferable.
- The words “good,” “bad,” and all synonyms thereof have the same place here as they do in any critical endeavor: none.
- At no point can I consider food separate from other varieties of world cultural product, including but not limited to music, film, literature, and visual art.
- “Authenticity” has neither any particular relevance, nor value, nor even meaning.
I aim to iterate toward making these restaurant writeups interesting enough reading that they can work as blog posts in and of themselves. Here’s my review of Blue Owl in S.B., which users have so far voted “Cool” once and “Funny” once:
This place cleverly hacks Santa Barbara nonsense laws — or at least the particular Santa Barbara nonsense laws that prevent food trucks from parking on streets. Where, y'know, food trucks park. The proprietor sets up her stand outside at 11:30 (more like 11:45 when I went) and uses Zen Yai's kitchen to whip up a few different dishes, including egg-topped fried rice, shrimp sandwiches, "peanut butter burgers," and trip-tip sandwiches with oyster mayo.
These dishes all but force you at gunpoint to eat them — and fast. Those with health concerns, know that they're as good for you as anything so compulsively wolfable isn't. Not to say Blue Owl tries to pull a Jamba Juice; I distinctly recall the promotion pretty naked playing the whole "food for after you've burnt the evening drinking" angle. They serve dishes in the Roy Choi tradition, meaning they taste apocalyptically buttery even when/if they don't actually contain butter. Not that they could fool anybody — I mean, even decadent ancient Rome couldn't dream of peanut butter burgers.
People told me Blue Owl operates firmly on the take-your-shite-and-leave business model, but the woman in charge offered us a seat at one of Zen Yai's tables without hesitation. Plates, utensils, and water, too. We had ourselves a mini-restaurant going. I still feel like I'm languishing in the provinces when I eat food-truck food in a brick-and-mortar because of the quaintness fetishists around here — remember when the Kogi truck came to town and we all waited in line for hours? -- but this stuff oughta hold me for the months before I move down to Babylon.