This post originally appeared in Amanda Kludt’s “From the Editor” newsletter, a weekly recap of the most important intel in food and dining each week. Subscribe to Eater’s newsletter for more.
Pete Wells Goes Locol
This week, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells awarded zero stars to Locol, a feel-good chain with a social mission from two celebuchefs out of the West Coast. People were…not pleased. The idea of the chain: bring delicious and nutritious, affordable food to underserved communities, and hire people within those communities to work there. Pete’s point: the social mission is pointless if the food is garbage (or, in his words, “institutional-quality”).
Some argued that you can’t judge a place like this just based on the food because it’s so much more than just the food. Meanwhile, founder Roy Choi responded that Wells wrote something “he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle.”
My take? It can (and should!) absolutely be judged on the food, but he seemed to dictate the star count on food alone. And to me there are better uses of Wells’ time and column inches than telling his relatively affluent readership that they shouldn’t spend $5 at this mission-minded chain based on limited visits to one location (then again, being sassy and controversial seems to be his January strategy). For a more complete and eloquent take, I’ll direct you over to my colleague Matt Buchanan.
Opening of the Week: Kuneho
Who’s behind it? Paul Qui, a much-beloved star of the Austin (and national) dining scene before his fall from grace following an assault arrest and subsequent visit to rehab.
What is it? Some would say it’s a new restaurant in the old Qui space, which the chef closed when he returned from rehab. It serves Japanese bites, sushi, fried things, and more, and has a “new look.” Less generous commentators would say this is a savvy rebranding to a) garner new press that does not revolve around his altercation with his girlfriend (in which he allegedly “threw her against walls and doors,”), and b) operate a restaurant with clean search engine results. Change the name, alter the menu, paint the ceiling black, and voila — new year, new you.
Where is it? East 6th Street in Austin, Texas.
When did it open? January 4.
Why should I care? There are two interesting quandaries with this opening. For media: How do you cover a chef after a dark personal incident? When do you (if ever?) stop bringing up the fact that he admittedly knocked his girlfriend and her son over? Do you treat this as an exciting new opening or a cynical rebranding? For diners: Do you take personal actions of the chef/owner of a restaurant into account when patronizing it? Where do you draw the line with your dining dollars?
- Intel: Clare Smyth, the first female chef to earn three Michelin stars in the UK, announced her first solo restaurant in Notting Hill; elsewhere in the UK, Jamie Oliver is shuttering six of his fast casual restaurants, blaming Brexit; Eater Young Gun Ryan LaChaine opened his much-anticipated Houston restaurant Riel; the Austin ramen kingpins behind Tatsuya opened an izakaya; Cambridge welcomed Japanese-Spanish Pagu; teeny tiny Ridgewood Vietnamese hit Bunker just got bigger digs in New York; and the new Tartine Manufactory coming to downtown LA will now feature food from Arizona’s famed pizzaman Chris Bianco
- Eater LA found Los Angeles’ safest diner: it’s the police academy’s coffee shop, and everyone is packing.
- Chef Daniel Boulud has been immortalized in tile in a mosaic in one of the newly revealed 2nd Avenue subway stations in New York.
- Here’s our roving critic Bill Addison on what dining trends (black walnuts! chawanmushi! crab rangoon!) to look out for in 2017.
- You may not think you know what a chit peg is, but you do.
- My favorite bar in LA just closed. I don’t know what to do.
Social Media Interlude
From our newest Instagram account across the pond: @eaterlondon.
- Thrillist’s look into the current restaurant bubble was all over the social feeds this week, striking a chord with many in the industry. The supposition: Rising labor costs, rent increases, a surfeit of similar restaurants, and pennypinching customers have led to a dramatic increase in shutters. To me, it’s a course correction we’ve all long seen coming. That said, the writer Kevin Alexander’s stats say independent restaurants were down just three percent in 2016. I’ll be interested to see where that number goes this year. [Thrillist]
- Seattle restaurateur Renee Erickson is calling on chefs nationwide to “do something” on Trump’s Inauguration Day. She will be closing her Bar Melusine to host, at her own expense, a party soliciting donations for the Anti-Defamation League, and is asking others to do the same. [The Seattle Times]
- In 2018 the New York Botanical Garden will break ground on a $28 million Edible Academy with classes, workshops, lectures, events, other programs that emphasize hands-on education. Cool stuff: greenhouse, terraced amphitheater, dedicated classroom building, expanded outdoor gardens. [Edible Manhattan]
- Speaking of restaurant bubbles, the Washingtonian is asking if DC has already reached peak restaurant. The Michelin Guide is coming, hip restaurants keep opening, the district’s restaurant-tax revenue increased by more than $41 million from 2011 to 2015. But (!) DC doesn’t have the population to support all of these new restaurants, and there’s a shortage of labor and higher labor costs. But maybe that’s okay. [Washingtonian]
- The new wine director at LA’s Republique is perhaps the most powerful Latina sommelier in the country. [LAT]
- Top Chef filmed an episode on a plantation (and coincidentally kicked off a black chef that ep), and Tom Colicchio addresses the social media critiques in this interview. His take is that plantations are part of the history of Charleston and that (separately) the show isn’t more diverse because the industry isn’t more diverse. /shrug. [Esquire]
- Lastly, please do not miss Spencer Hall’s take on Popeye’s. [SB Nation]