Mac’s Rocks!

Mac's Fish and Chips

Please note the apostrophe and extra s although I think Macs rock too. After suggesting that there is no stellar food in Roseville this morning, I found myself in the awkward position of being stranded here, hungry and without a vehicle, due to some peculiarities of scheduling and a disturbing keying incident in Las Vegas. I don’t know why I seldom think of Mac’s.

Mac’s is (in my opinion) the finest dining establishment in Roseville. It doesn’t offer much in the way of breadth to its menu (fish, shrimp, chicken, and chips) it makes up for it by doing that one thing incredibly well. It is the best fish and chips I’ve ever had anywhere, and the ambiance is not to be missed.

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Aurelio’s Pizza

Hamline Center

Looking back now, it seems like my impression of the place isn’t much different from Aaron Landry’s. His review is what started me thinking about restaurant reviews in general, because his seemed more straightforward than most: decent background statement, simple choice of standardized menu items, and commentary that was not overly effusive. Nice.

What interested me most about the review was the fact that this was a place less than a mile from my apartment that I had never even heard of. Decent food in Roseville? What a concept! Then we went to the place. We ordered the same sort of thing we usually do—some sort of combination reasonably identifiable as the house pizza. It just plain sucked. The ingredients were less than fresh, the pizza was greasy, and huge chunks of bell peppers (which I detest on pizza) dominated the thing. How could two experiences be so far apart? I didn’t write anything then (months ago).

We vowed to go back, as Krista explained that most real food reviewers eat someplace at least three times before passing judgment. I can’t say that we’ve eaten there three times—just two—but the experiences (caused by our choice of item ordered) are radically different. Landry always orders a simple pepperoni or cheese pizza it seems; the second time, we just ordered a small pepperoni and mushroom.

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The American Swedish Institute

American Swedish Institute

We were in Ankeny, just north of Des Moines on the way home. Sitting next to the bar in an Outback, staring down a horribly desiccated ribeye, a heated conversation seemed to be progressing about sports teams in the Twin Cities. An older gentlemen opined, “Minneapolis is a fine city, one of the best I’ve ever been in.” A younger kid, who looked fresh off the farm in his tractor hat said: “I went to college in St. Paul, but I never saw much of anything. I pretty much stuck close to my dorm room.”

That’s always been a fear about going to grad school here—when will we be able to see stuff? It turns out that it really isn’t that big of a problem if you just get off your ass. On the other hand, there is just so much to see and do that it seems impossible to cover it all. We hit a new spot yesterday: The American Swedish Institute.

I was motivated by the notice of Stefan Peterson’s photographs. It seemed like a good reason to go. While the show didn’t excite me much, the museum made me think about other issues.

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Subjectivity and the art of the review

On the road this summer, I relied a lot on reviews—hotels, restaurants, the usual. Most reviews are motivated by some sort of axe to grind; seldom do people rush to write glowing reviews of pedestrian hotels, but if they screw something up you can find out through the online reviews. My favorite was the hotel we stayed at in Vegas. Several reviews (many over a year old) concentrated on the broken ice machine. The machine was still broken when I got there, but it wasn’t a solid reason to choose a more expensive hotel.

Restaurant reviews a necessary evil. Like music reviews, they can never really tell you with any certainty if you’ll like it if you buy it. But with enough material to triangulate from, you can make a more informed choice about spending your money. I dislike most food bloggers, more for their horrible writing style than the substance of what they say. The writing is either artificially fluffy, or insipidly flat—concentrating on the most inconsequential parts of the dining experience. What I care about most is the food, not the hipster factor.

I don’t have any confidence in the verdicts that most Northern writers. There is a great phrase I tend to use in describing northern cuisines: “Minnesota spicy” (translation: bland as hell). Subjectivity is a serious issue.

As counterpoint, during our recent trip to Tulsa, there was a guy behind me in line at the Chipotle that ordered his burrito with double the red salsa (I find most of Chipotle’s food to be all heat and no taste to begin with). Then, as I watched him eat it, he poured a constant stream of Tabasco sauce into for every single bite—thus assuring that he wouldn’t be bothered with any of that nasty “food” taste. I find myself somewhere in the middle.

Reviews should always come with the disclaimer “in my opinion” because if the guy at the Chipotle, or a typical Minnesotan, claims that a particular place is great I really want to run away. Contemplating this, in Tulsa, lead me to the conclusion that the most useful reviews always imply some sort of situatedness rather than a holier-than-thou editorial pronouncement about food compared to some mythic standard. Actually, there are no standards, only opinions.

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