Last year, as most Phoenix
writers used this issue to forecast coming attractions, I begged off, because at best, I would eventually end up reviewing what I had previewed. If I overhyped a place on speculation, could I really act disappointed when it failed to live up to my prediction? If I low-balled my own expectations, could I really act pleasantly surprised? So what I did instead was to publish my own resolutions to eat less and exercise more so I would come to restaurants hungrier — and then I also proposed 20 resolutions for restaurateurs
I lost 18 pounds in 2011.
The restaurant industry? Well, let's tally up the score. I'm setting the bar here as low as I can. One answered prayer is a success — that made up six of 20. Slight improvement is a maybe — four of 20. Same situation or worse is a failure — half the 20 resolutions. I'm not a hard person. I accept the six successes and the four getting-theres, and will offer only 10 new resolutions for 2012.
I will again resolve to eat less and exercise more, which means I start every review hungry and friendly. Memo to new restaurants: follow the 10 pieces of entirely new advice below and I will keep that hungry/friendly feeling come typing time.
1) Don't charge for bread. I know we're in a recession, and commodity prices are high. But if you're going to put that old leftist protest song — "You get no bread with one meatball" — on as background music, at least give us some free bread to mop the sauce.
2) Thicker house-made pasta shapes, like the scialatielli at Gran Gusto, or the strozzapreti at Nebo. Diners get more chew in the texture; sous chefs have fewer pieces to cut. It's a win-win! And what waitron wouldn't enjoy explaining that strozzapreti means "priest stranglers"?
3) Enough about starch, let's talk salt. In 2011, bacon was the new salt. This can't go on. You can't have bacon in more than half the dishes, and don't try to sneak in pancetta, speck, smoked pork belly, cheeks, jowls, or any other cured and/or brined and smoked pig parts. I say it's bacon, and I say there's too darn much of it.
4) Craft cocktails. Okay, but St. Germain elderflower liqueur is the bacon of the bar these days. It gets into everything, and it mostly just tastes sweet in mixed drinks.
5) Speakeasy revival. We're a nation into "yestermania," to quote the late George Carlin. But every serious student of the Prohibition era considers it a culinary disaster— the imbalanced cocktails required to choke down bathtub gin or liven up characterless Canadian whiskey, the loss of a nation's worth of brew-pubs and German-food saloons, the lingering stockyard scandals and the specter of adulterated foodstuffs. You want to do the Eliot Ness talk or the Bonnie and Clyde clothes or the passwords at the door in fun, go ahead. But don't recreate the worst food and drink in American history. Some great cocktails were invented in the 1920s, and some great regional foods were popularized, but that was in France.