wisehands

Non-Stop? How about: Please Stop?

122 posts in this topic

...this [Graffiato] is owned by someone who isn't at all focused on quality or building a following of regulars. Rather, seems like a place hell bent on chef/owner "brand-building" while squeezing beer-induced rowdies coming out of Verizon and, of course, all the Top Chef fans/tourists in town.

And, of course, a Georgetown Mexican concept will be next out of the chute less than a year since this one opened. I'm not optimistic.

This would be an interesting discussion: compare what Mike Isabella and Brian Voltaggio have done since their appearances on Top Chef. Both have opened restaurants in the area, but seem to be taking a different approach to their post-Top Chef careers.

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Maybe I missed it but, if not, can't believe noone started a thread about this City Paper cover story. I never saw Spike Mendelsohn on TV nor have I ever been to any of his restaurants here. So all I really know about him was from the thread here devoted to his adventures. Just made my first visit to Graffiato last week. Suffice to say, this story had me shaking my head by the 2nd paragraph. For anyone that cares about hard work and quality food and service as the first priorities with a restaurant, there's so much wrong about this, on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin.

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<sigh>

It's the same phenomenon as young film makers whose primary esthetic comes from comic books and tv shows that were popular when they were growing up. It's self-referential and shallow. Mike Isabella can't be bothered to actually go to Mexico before he opens a Mexican restaurant, he will merely borrow ideas from other places in the US. It is to be hoped that he's eaten at Oyamel frequently enough that he won't be serving dishes blanketed in melted monterey jack. José Andres' concept embraces authenticity: he sent Joe Raffa to Mexico to study with Diana Kennedy before Joe took over the kitchen at Oyamel, and Kennedy has come to DC more than once to oversee the Oyamel kitchen around the Day of the Dead celebration.

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<sigh>

It's the same phenomenon as young film makers whose primary esthetic comes from comic books and tv shows that were popular when they were growing up. It's self-referential and shallow. Mike Isabella can't be bothered to actually go to Mexico before he opens a Mexican restaurant, he will merely borrow ideas from other places in the US. It is to be hoped that he's eaten at Oyamel frequently enough that he won't be serving dishes blanketed in melted monterey jack. José Andres' concept embraces authenticity: he sent Joe Raffa to Mexico to study with Diana Kennedy before Joe took over the kitchen at Oyamel, and Kennedy has come to DC more than once to oversee the Oyamel kitchen around the Day of the Dead celebration.

Unfortunately just another example of style over substance and the masses will come running with his PR machine running at full steam.

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As has been true with many others, I've had my impossibly creative and funny titles for new topics edited many times thus revealing how uncreative and not-so-funny they actually were.

The newly edited title of this one, which I started as "Non-Stop? How about: Please Stop?" made me laugh the most of any. With thanks to the Editor-in-Chief. ;)

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<sigh>

It's the same phenomenon as young film makers whose primary esthetic comes from comic books and tv shows that were popular when they were growing up. It's self-referential and shallow. Mike Isabella can't be bothered to actually go to Mexico before he opens a Mexican restaurant, he will merely borrow ideas from other places in the US. It is to be hoped that he's eaten at Oyamel frequently enough that he won't be serving dishes blanketed in melted monterey jack. José Andres' concept embraces authenticity: he sent Joe Raffa to Mexico to study with Diana Kennedy before Joe took over the kitchen at Oyamel, and Kennedy has come to DC more than once to oversee the Oyamel kitchen around the Day of the Dead celebration.

It sounded more like the 'research' itinerary was based around fun places to visit and see friends than to actually study American takes on Mexican cuisine (no Chicago? really?).

But it'll be in Georgetown and it'll kill because now those people won't have to commute to Lauriol. And it'll be just slightly more authentic cuisine than Mie and Yu. That part doesn't kill me so much because I grew up on American Mexican food and I actually would love to see someone around here try and step that concept up a bit. Even via small plates. But it's hard to look at this rapid expansion as anything but grabbing the cash while it's there for the taking.

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As has been true with many others, I've had my impossibly creative and funny titles for new topics edited many times thus revealing how uncreative and not-so-funny they actually were.

The newly edited title of this one, which I started as "Non-Stop? How about: Please Stop?" made me laugh the most of any. With thanks to the Editor-in-Chief. ;)

Yours was actually much wittier.

As much as I agree with thought, Don's is a little heavy-handed. A "Family Guy" title when yours was early Simpson's.

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Yours was actually much wittier.

As much as I agree with thought, Don's is a little heavy-handed. A "Family Guy" title when yours was early Simpson's.

Thank you--that's high praise, Simpson's reference notwithstanding. Especially since Don is a Writer and I'm just an Enthusiastic Poser. :)

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We went to the Living Social Bandolero "pop-up." ($120/seat) I wasn't really impressed, some of the flavors were meh. The highlight was probably the blue crab taquitos, which were not rolled, but mini crispy folded taco shells. They were pretty flavorful. The food at Graffiato is much much better than what we sampled here. I think the meal was worth half of what we paid.

Spike was there getting his VIP treatment. He graced us lowely ones with his presence in the lounge where we waited for 40 minutes for our table guzzling free champagne. I'm sure he was there for the free champagne. I saw him go up stairs towards the dining room, but he did not eat there. Must have had a a VIP table elsewhere, looking down at the dining room from above.

There was a tequila cocktail served with every course, it was very generous but the cocktails were really not good. After the main dinner courses came out a cucumber mezcal low ball. It appeared to be a pallet cleanser, but tasted like terpentine.

Mike is a nice enough guy. He always shows his face at Graffiato and chatted it up with our table at the pop-up. One of our diners mentioned how they didn't like the Mezcal drink and he brushed it off saying... "to each is own." i guess he didn't want the constructive criticism from the people actually there to support his new venture.

I have never really disliked Mike like I do Spike. Mike is what he appears to be on the surface. Doing his thing and not really caring about what people think/say. That is good and all until he gets in over his head and forgets how he got to where he is. Without Bravotv, he wouldn't be as well known, and he might still be at Zaytinya. No way could he have opened his own place. He is quickly slipping out of my mind.

I guess he can thank Toyota, GE and Ziplock for putting that $$$ in his pockets. That is a sad state of affairs.

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Whatever...whatever...(added as one who despised Isabella on both his runs on TC, although he appears to be a good cook) but it's just a tv show...why shouldn't he capitalize on it, to forward his cooking career? If people don't want to eat there, they won't-there are many other options (thank goodness we live in a place where this is possible)....

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We went to the Living Social Bandolero "pop-up." ($120/seat) I wasn't really impressed, some of the flavors were meh. The food at Graffiato is much much better than what we sampled here. <snip>.

Wow. And, wow! That bolded bit (my bold) makes me think I really got the wrong idea about Graffiato with my one, admittedly limited experience. And, normally, I'd go back again to rectify that. But I don't think I will in this case.

And, hey! The topic title changed again! :o For whatever it's worth, I thought version 2 had more verve.

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And, hey! The topic title changed again! :o For whatever it's worth, I thought version 2 had more verve.

[it did have more verve, but I don't want to be mean to anybody. Honestly, I have nothing against the guy.]

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I don't know. The line between meanness and direct but constructive and useful critique can be a very fine one. Per your norm, your review of the place walked that line incredibly well but with some dingers that made it interesting...and gave it verve. ;)

I don't know either one of the gentlemen, but it seems to me that the difference between Mike Isabella and Spike Mendelsohn is that Isabella can cook, even if it's just as a line cook (after all, he was Chef de Cuisine at Zaytinya which means he was in charge of a kitchen cranking out many hundreds of covers per night). How can that not be worth at least *something*? Mendelsohn, on the other hand, has no discernible talent that I'm aware of - look at the plates he holds up in his silly hat, grinning: hamburger and fries, neither of which looks like anything of substance. I'm not saying he "can't" do it, only that I've seen absolutely nothing that proves he can. My guess is that Isabella is probably a decent line cook which earns my respect; Mendelsohn is nothing of the sort. A night-and-day difference between the two equally famous PR-propped media figures. If I had to guess, there are probably 100 line cooks as good as Mike Isabella in this town, and what's so terribly bad about being a Top 100 cook in the city? Answer: nothing at all. But there are quite possibly 1,000 cooks, or more, in this area better than Mendelsohn which means that he's an absolute nobody. Maybe I'm wrong on one of both people, but I'm just going on what I see. Show me one single thing that Spike Mendelsohn has ever produced that even remotely resembles something of quality - I haven't seen it.

Isabella appears to have some substance - I've had decent plates of food under his tenure at Graffiato; Mendelsohn has demonstrated absolutely nothing - nothing whatsoever. "He's a nice guy," certain restaurateurs have told me. Yeah, well, so what? So are social workers. But you don't see them on TV, being famous under the spotlight.

It's about time certain people come out and say that they are not worthy of licking the bottom of Frank Ruta's boots. This is what I was going to write about on dcdining's blog two days ago (Monday), but I really don't want to make my living tearing other people down. If you think these people are so "nice and humble," then please show me where they've come out and said something like "Yeah, we're getting all the limelight, but the true talents are the ones you don't hear about - the ones you need to be educating yourselves about." Have they ever said such a thing? If so, then please point out where. If you show me, I'll issue a public apology and take all this back. But from what little I've seen, they haven't, and it's about damned time that they do, and for them to acknowledge that folks such as Eric Ziebold, Frank Ruta, Cathal Armstrong, Haidar Karoum, Ron Tanaka, Scott Drewno, Vikram Sunderam, Koji Terano, Michel Richard, Kaz Okochi, Todd Gray, Logan Cox, Brian Robinson, Shannon Overmiller, Barry Koslow, Gerard Pangaud, Roberto Donna, Enzo Fargione, R.J. Cooper, Joe Harran, Tony Conte, Nick Stefanelli, Tom Power, Tarver King, Johnny Monis, Sudhir Seth, K. N. Vinod, and a whole host of others stand head-and-shoulders taller than they ever will. And once again, if I'm wrong, then please tell me, and I'll be the first to admit my mistake.

But until then, it's time for them to sit down, shut up, and stay in their place which is pretty damned low on the totem pole. "Being famous for fame's sake" is all well and good, AS LONG AS you take that fame with the proper dose of humility and acknowledge that you're not worthy of being compared to these true hard-working geniuses. Because guess what, guys? You're not.

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...to acknowledge that folks such as Eric Ziebold, Frank Ruta, Cathal Armstrong, Haidar Karoum, Ron Tanaka, Scott Drewno, Vikram Sunderam, Koji Terano, Kaz Okochi, Todd Gray, Michel Richard, Logan Cox, Shannon Overmiller, Barry Koslow, Gerard Pangaud, Roberto Donna, Enzo Fargione, R.J. Cooper, Joe Harran, Tony Conte, Nick Stefanelli, Tom Power, Tarver King, Johnny Monis, Sudhir Seth, K. N. Vinod, and a whole host of others...

Slam dunk. Just reading this list of names evokes so many sublime dishes past...and immediately makes me wonder how soon can I get to wherever they are cooking now, especially the ones who don't have a personal PR machine cranked up full throttle. That defines the difference to this foodie between a star and a mere celebrity. Thanks, Don.

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i guess he didn't want the constructive criticism from the people actually there to support his new venture.

In my experience, with only two exceptions out of many, no restaurateur/chef/gm ever wants anything but praise. They're always fishing for compliments.

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Slam dunk. Just reading this list of names evokes so many sublime dishes past...and immediately makes me wonder how soon can I get to wherever they are cooking now, especially the ones who don't have a personal PR machine cranked up full throttle. That defines the difference to this foodie between a star and a mere celebrity. Thanks, Don.

Holy mama, that is one awesome and inspired rant. Applause and approval.

Thank you, ol_ironstomach and durwoodx, for you kind words. Here are some comments about this on twitter:

From @amgenco:

This seemingly unprovoked rant says more about @DCDining than@MikeIsabellaDC/@chefspike. Reads like finger-wagging old man spite. Petty.

"Petty" means "of little importance" or "trivial," and I think Mendelsohn's and Isabella's meteoric rise to fame are anything but "trivial." "Spite" means "a desire to hurt, annoy, or offend." I suppose this may be more true than "petty," but my primary goal with this wasn't to hurt, annoy, or offend; it was merely to point out that a dose of humility is in order when comparing these two gentleman - especially Mendelsohn - to chefs with considerably more talent who don't get the same publicity ... not so much to tear these two men down; rather, to hoist the true talents of these many great chefs and cooks up to where they should be. The "finger-wagging old-man spite" comment about me was, ironically, spiteful, but I don't care.

From @ad_mich:

@DCDining now you're just poking the hornet's nest.

I suppose I am - it's about time someone in the media had the cojones to do so.

Lastly, from @spikemendelsohn himself:

@DCDining @MikeIsabellaDC what a waste of time do u actually think you know anything about us??

A waste of time? Do you know how much of *my* time you've wasted with your asinine, vacuous publicity campaign? Do I actually think I know anything about either one of you? Absolutely not - certainly not personally. You two may be the nicest people on the planet. I do, however, have some familiarity with the food you're producing at your restaurants. And please don't say "us," because Mike Isabella - even though he may well take sides with you on this issue - has at least proven capable of putting forth some fine dishes, and other than the fact that he sits there in front of the camera, grinning, doesn't seem to have very much in common with you; I've seen nothing whatsoever from you but greasy burgers and fries. If you have any modicum of talent, other than knowing how to put on a hat and smiling for the camera, then please show me - I'm willing to be educated, and I'll be the first person to come forward and say, "I was wrong about Spike Mendelsohn." But the burden of proof is on you, my friend, and from what I've seen thus far, the difference between you and chefs such as Eric Ziebold, Frank Ruta, Cathal Armstrong, Haidar Karoum, Ron Tanaka, Scott Drewno, Vikram Sunderam, Koji Terano, Michel Richard, Kaz Okochi, Todd Gray, Brian Robinson, Logan Cox, Shannon Overmiller, Barry Koslow, Gerard Pangaud, Roberto Donna, Enzo Fargione, R.J. Cooper, Joe Harran, Tony Conte, Nick Stefanelli, Tom Power, Tarver King, Johnny Monis, Sudhir Seth, K. N. Vinod, Jeff Heineman, Hamilton Johnson, Gillian Clark, Carole Greenwood, Gerard Pangaud, Massimo Fabri, Harper McClure, Eddie Moran, Cedric Maupillier, Victor Albisu, Edan MacQuaid, Robert Weidemaier, Ris LaCoste, Ethan McKee, Peter Pastan, Drew Trautman, Danny Bortnick, Johnny Monis, Paul Pelt, Todd Wiss, Cesare Lanfranconi, Pedro Matamoros, Michael Hartzer, James Claudio, Rob Weland, Antonio Burrell, Justin Bittner, Will Artley, Bobby Beard, Graig Glufling, Eric Bruner-Yang, Bart Vandaele, Kyle Bailey, Janis McLean, Julien Jouhannaud, Peter Smith, Andrew Markert, Fabio Trabocchi, Ed Witt, Joe Raffa, Michel Laudier, Yannik Cam, Enzo Algarme, Patrick Musel, John Engell, Brian Wilson, Nate Waugaman, and a whole host of others that I've forgotten in ratting this list off, is that you're insulting and denegrating their hard work by posing in front of the camera, grinning, holding out a greasy platter of hamburger and fries, while they're toiling behind the line producing kick-ass meals and supervising kitchens putting out something more than junk food and bad pizzas. You should be ashamed of yourself - not just for putting out a bad product, but for also having the audacity NOT to acknowledge the greatness of these individuals who come way, way before you in the pecking order of things. Just do us all a favor and come out and say it, and then maybe people like me will shut up and applaud you for your fame. Nobody denies your fame and fortune, my good men, but when that fame and fortune comes at the expense of other, greater people, then it's my job to stand up for these artists and craftsmen, and stand up for them I will. With no regrets.

Cheers,

Rocks

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I don't know Spike or Isabella from Adam. And, admittedly, the City Paper article left me scratching my head. I've worked for and with a number of people on your lists -- some of them are abiding sources of inspiration whose example will guide me for the rest of my career. Some of them are friends. Some of them I may dislike, personally or professionally. Privately or publicly.

But: as a cook, as someone deeply invested in this industry, in the craft -- as someone strongly opinionated and entirely willing to express an unpopular opinion, even when doing so proves detrimental to myself and my career -- I have to say that I find this histrionic rant to be in extremely poor taste.

I just don't understand why this is necessary.

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Wow Don...you couldn't be more off base.

These people run businesses. They're under no obligation to fawn over you or over other chefs...they're out there to make money by selling food.

If people like their food and eat at their restaurants, they'll be successful. If people don't, they won't.

Are you mad because they haven't paid their dues, like some of the music insiders that rant against the success of American Idol contestants? Are you mad because they haven't licked YOUR boots?

Sorry you don't like them or what they represent..but it's not like they've been screwing people over like Donna. They're just doing everything they can to make their businesses a success. Good for them.

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I just don't understand why this is necessary.

The short answer is that this is a public forum about DC food, so everthing from "who's your favorite chef" to "which area McDonald's bathroom is the SEXIEST" falls under "necessary."

The difference as I've seen it between Spike and the chefs that Don named is that, whether you love the work those chefs are doing or not, they're letting their food speak for their talent (or lack of it, if that's your opinion). Spike is letting his talent speak for his talent. See recursion.

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These people run businesses. They're under no obligation to fawn over you or over other chefs...they're out there to make money by selling food.

Where does anything Don say criticize the business model? No one's arguing that they're very good businessmen. The question is whether or not they're good chefs.

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When have they stood up and said they were greater than the chefs on Don's rant? When have they said they're better than others? I can certainly understand being frustrated when mediocre restaurants do well while great places go out of business, but turning anger against the places that make money isn't the way to go.

And no, the question is not whether they are good chefs...Don wasn't attacking their food so much as attacking them personally.

As Don said:

"You should be ashamed of yourself - not for putting out a bad product, but for having the audacity NOT to acknowledge the greatness of these individuals who come way, way before you in the pecking order of things"

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There is delightful, albeit obvious, irony in generating publicity for this website by denigrating people as media whores.

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No argument that I'd rather eat at nearly all of the Chef's establishments you name above than Graffiato, Good Stuff, or WTP.

BUT:

"You should be ashamed of yourself - not for putting out a bad product, but for having the audacity NOT to acknowledge the greatness of these individuals who come way, way before you in the pecking order of things"

The pecking order of things according to whom?

Take other industries, for example: Is an American Idol winner remiss for not acknowledging Elvis, Buddy Holly, B.B. King, Diana Ross, John Lennon, etc etc etc while promoting their new album?

How does one / would one properly "acknowledge the greatness of individuals who come way, way before you on the pecking order of things", anyway?

Or, should folks in similar positions to Isabella and Mendelsohn decline any/all media requests and refrain from promoting their enterprises (which probably collectively employ hundreds of Washingtonians) in an effort to be properly deferential to a list of "superiors" determined on a whim, no matter how different their styles of cuisine may be?

Just thought of an interesting question: Say the Association of Independent Restaurants receives membership applications from Chefs Medelsohn and Isabella - are they accepted?

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