Culinary Journey

Arthur Hebert Thursday, September 5, 2013 0
Culinary Journey

Here I sit again, composing a look back at the food scene of Southwest Louisiana. While the chains and the larger independents seem to have flourished, the mom and pops wither on the vine. It depresses me, because I love these hole-in- the-wall places.

I’m afraid we’re losing our food traditions. A few, like Sha Sha’s, Mama Faye’s, Good Times Cafe, and Sonnier’s Meat, carry the torch forward and stick to their roots. However some “meat and three” places are phoning it in, going the prefabricated route.

On the other hand, we have acquired some small chain restaurants featuring ethnic cuisines such as Mexican, Sushi, Italian, etc. I think Rosita’s is the best Mexican around. Romano’s seems to be another Southeast Texas Italian foray.

The surge in sushi grills reflects the Chinese invasion of the area several years back. If I’d been told even five years ago that eight of these would be in the Lake Area, I would have called the person crazy. Of the new crop, I consider Wasabi the best for sushi.

 

We have a few places around that offer Indian subcontinent food. However, that’s on a limited basis. I have yet to see even a counter service place devoted to just this.

It seems that we never see a Thai and will never get another Vietnamese either.

I do see a ray of hope for some artisan establishments in the opening of Botsky’s. Here is a venue with a person who believes in his concept and is ready to put it on the line. He’s not the only one out there — just the latest; and I hope to see more of this.

 

My publisher asked me to tell again the story of how I came to write this column. I was working shift work at the hazardous waste site in Carlyss. On the monthly rotation, I got a week off. I took to going on expeditions to eat at various restaurants in the area. I would then come back and wax lyrical to my friends. That usually elicited the comment “you should write about it.”

I seriously considered it when I came upon a little monthly magazine out of Vinton called Sunseeker. It seemed like a good opportunity. I wrote a piece and sent it to them.

One thing about computers — once something is in them, you can print all the copies you want. Thus, I also sent my piece to the American Press and Lagniappe. After about three months, my sister called me to tell me Lagniappe had printed my latest effort. I sent another in and they printed that. Up to this point, they were gratis. I then set up a meeting with Bob Hartnett that led to the establishment of our long relationship, plus some money for the articles.

 

You may notice I do not call them reviews and I do not call myself a critic. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to follow the path of the large city writers. I do not see myself as the end-all and be-all arbitrator of taste. I am not a god making pronouncements from on high. I like what I like, and I dislike what I don’t like. That‘s my taste.

Everybody has his or her own taste. My columns are about what I like and why and what I don’t like and why. I leave it up to my readers to make their own decision and not follow me like sheep.

I’m a food lover, and I want a restaurant to succeed if it can. However, many things can bring down an establishment: things like money problems, family problems, consistency problems, etc.

My procedure for a column is to visit a venue at least three times, and maybe more, over a period. I also go at various times of the day. Both of these methods are used to make sure the food and service are consistent and that the review isn’t based on a bad day at the restaurant. Sometimes circumstances and deadlines shorten the process.  I sometimes use friends to expand my experience of the restaurant. I report on a dish only if I get a taste of it. If I don’t, and my friend makes a comment, I report it as such.

 

Sometimes I’m recognized. (I’ve been doing this for 18 years out in the open.) I assure you I tell you about that. Smart owners don’t make things special for me, as I report that as their standard, and other customers come in expecting that and leave never to come back if they don’t get it.

If I get a complementary meal, I say so.

When an owner thanks me for writing an excellent review, I repeat my mantra. My writing has nothing to do with it. I merely report on what you put in front of me. It’s your doing.

 

I don’t keep the numbers any more. A quick calculation shows that I’ve reported on at least 500 venues. I suspect I’ve covered more, as sometimes I put two or three establishments in one column, especially if they have limited menus.

I’m also sure the published failure rates still hold true. A total of 33 percent of area venues will fail the first year, and 66 percent in five years.

As for me, I will continue this for as long as I can.

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