Hey, Restaurant Critic asks a city’s anonymous restaurant critic about the art of, well, reviewing restaurants. This just in—it’s a difficult job, people. The weight gain. The terrible trends. Those wigs!
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl has been covering the restaurant scene in the Twin Cities region since 1996, of late for Minnesota Monthly. Pass the wasabi mashed potatoes! Over that time she’s earned a crazy 10 James Beard Foundation Award nominations for wine, culinary, and restaurant writing. (She has also contributed for Wine & Spirits, Bon Appétit, and Saveur). We asked her about her city’s charcuterie trail, staying in shape, and how overcooked broccoli creeps her out.
Let’s talk about Minneapolis-St. Paul! You moved there from New York City for college and stuck around. What about the Twin Cities’ food world made you stay?
The food scene here is fantastic. I truly believe we have the best dairy in the country. The whole country! But it’s not why I stayed. Minneapolis is a very literate city, and people care about long-form journalism. I stayed because Minnesota paid me to be a writer. I love food and restaurants and restaurant culture. I have since I was a 13-year- old dishwasher, a 14-year-old shellfish-shucker, a 15-year-old salad maker, and so on—a chain of work which culminated in life as a 19-year-old line cook and part-time pastry cook. But I love reading and writing even a little more. The food world here is great material, but it was the average Minnesotan reader that made me stay.
What should the rest of the country know about the Twin Cities restaurant scene?
It’s completely underrated. I think we’re pioneering a fascinating, original cuisine out here. We’re going to be known as a place with an authentic regional cuisine—like Lyon or Louisiana. And the coastal tendency to see us as fly-over land is only going to help us!
I’m in town for 48 hours. My bank account is full. Go…
Well, La Belle Vie, of course. It’s the white tablecloth spot. Do cocktails in their bar. Then go on the local charcuterie tour: Haute Dish, Victory 44, Clancey’s butcher shop, Travail, Heartland. Then spend one full night with Scott Pampuch in the kitchen table at Corner Table. Now you know Minneapolis like a stone cold insider, and understand that we’re the Lyon of the USA.
How do you avoid being recognized in restaurants? And if you are recognized, what happens usually? Does this change your opinion?
I make reservations under different names. I have credit cards in different names and a lot of wigs which I wear or don’t wear, depending on my mood. If I’m recognized, typically the servers will trip all over themselves trying to refill my water glass after every sip. Sometimes you just want to shake your head: Do you people have any baseline of what good service would be, or is it just a continuum from oppression to neglect?
Is there a menu item or ingredient or preparation you just cannot deal with?
Overcooked broccoli creeps me out, as do overdone omelets, and too much tarragon gives me the whim-whams. But, I enjoy eating everything else—from gizzards to chicken feet, so I do okay.
How do you avoid gaining weight?
Same as anyone, I try to walk and take the stairs. I think the great advantage of being a restaurant critic is it shorts out your natural instinct of politeness. When someone brings brownies that they slaved over to the office, I happily act like a jerk and say no. It’s really the only thing I can do if you people don’t want to carry me around in a piano box.
What’s the worst trend you are seeing in the Twin Cities restaurant world?
The overuse and abuse of the word sustainable. If the word means everything, it means nothing.
What other critics do you read/respect?
I adore, adore, adore Jonathan Gold. Do you know the MacArthur Genius Grant people? I think he deserves one! And I love John T. Edge, and always look forward to reading Jon Bonne and Michael Bauer.
If you could review restaurants in another city in the world, where would it be?
Like every critic in America, the one job I pine for is the International Herald Tribune, baby! Unfortunately, they’ll give it to Jonathan Gold first, and I’m okay with that.
You have also written extensively about wine. What is your golden rule for wine consumption?
The most important thing about any glass of wine is: Does it make you, individual consumer wherever the hell you are, happy? Way too many people drink wine like Robert Parker Jr.’s going to swoop in and bestow approval. “Good choice, young lady, you’re smart and sophisticated!” God put wine on earth to make us happy, if it’s not making you happy, find another bottle. Robert Parker Jr. would rather you had a nice night than tried to impress him, anyway.
And congrats on the James Beard nomination. Your 10th! Are you coming to NYC for the Awards?
Sadly, not coming. Too much travel this spring! I just got back from Bordeaux and have two little kids, so something had to give. When I’m in New York I always try to have at least one lunch at one of the biggies: Le Bernardin, Daniel, or Jean-Georges. Street food is wonderful, but there’s only one Le Bernardin!
You grew up in NYC. What are some of your fondest restaurant memories?
Oh, so many. Going with Greek neighbors to Greek restaurants and getting the off-the-menu bounty. Going with my dad to Windows on the World (he worked in the building) and eating coconut shrimp in a big chair by a big window. I thought those shrimp were the greatest things in the world! Crunchy, sweet, and the perfect kickoff to the office Christmas party.
What are some of your favorite restaurant’s in America’s answer to Lyon? Chime in in the comments.