Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's weekly online chat:
Reader: I went to Chew Man Chu for brunch this past weekend, and wasn't overly impressed. I was surprised though when I read your review. I agree with the overly simplified American versions of Asian classics, but no bells? I didn't expect that.
CLB: I hardly expected this place to land so low on my scale, either, but it just seemed to get worse every time I ate there. Didn't like the concept, but some of the food was aggressively bad.
Reader: After reading your no-bell review of Chew Man Chu, I remembered an old review of Trust, a restaurant I loved (Now El Vez), which you gave a no-beller . . . Do you ever feel partly responsible for restaurants closing post no-bell reviews?
CLB: I don't take responsibility for restaurant successes when they thrive, and I can't take responsibility for their demise, either. I highly doubt people who like a place are going to read my contrary review and suddenly think: Hey, he's right - I really didn't like the place.
Reader: Craig, after reading your review of Chew Man Chu, it seemed that your biggest problem was not a lack of authenticity, but simply a lack of good food. My question: Do you think there is a place for inauthentic/Americanized versions of ethnic food, and if so, do you have any "favorites" here?
CLB: You hit the nail on the head. This was all about execution. But if you think about it, Buddakan has made a mint for the past decade by Americanizing Asian food. And there others, mentioned in the review - Nectar, Chifa (though that's South Americanizing), and even Susanna Foo, who in her own way pioneered the Americanization of Chinese food, albeit more elegantly by adapting her flavor memories to the ingredients she found here. Not dumbing it down.
Reader: I agree that you can't take direct credit or blame for a restaurant's success or failure. That said, I'm sure you'll be happy to know that KooZeeDoo looked WAY busier on a post-review visit than I'd ever seen it. We went for a special tasting menu, still being offered until mid-February: Bread Soup, White Beans with tripe, Squid, Goat Stew, Honey Cake. All of it was delicious, but the goat was especially great.
CLB: I'm glad to hear they were busy, and deservedly so. KZD is one of the more exciting new restaurants to open here in the past few months, but its menu might be just a little too adventurous for some folks to try without a little nudge. In this case, a good review may be all they need to get the momentum to get where they're headed anyhow.
Reader: I noticed your review of Village Whiskey a few weeks back. I certainly had the same experience you talked about: good flavor-lousy service. After touring the area for an hour for a table, we were met at the door by a bouncer who stonily told us there was no room inside. A bouncer - at a restaurant! When we finally got in, we were ushered to a counter top in the back, very uncomfortable. Yes, the food, when we were finally served was very good, but, Never Again!
CLB: I wouldn't say I had "lousy service" at VW. That's not the same thing as an extraordinarily long wait, which was really prewired into the DNA of this spot simply because it's so small. The bouncer, if that's what he was, is a new addition. I guess people are going a little overboard on all that Pappy Van Winkle.
Reader: Is the pizza place Steven Starr has proposed for next to Parc to be like Stella or is he going for a different style??
CLB: Very specifically, he told me it was going to be more of a NY-style pie, with a crispier, sturdier crust for more toppings, etc. He mentioned Patsy's as a comparison. Also, this will be exclusively take-out and delivery, an interesting concept to see him tackle. There has been some talk of a westside location for Stella, but we'll see.
Reader: As the dreaded Valentines day is coming up, many restaurants put out pre-fixed menus. Do you have any suggestions that would be a good choice for V-day, pre-fixed or not?
CLB: I'm sorry to say you chose the right word: "dreaded." I'll have to say "no" to any specific V-day recs. My only idea is to go share a flaming marshmallow s'more shake over at the Franklin Fountain once you're done with dinner elsewhere. That hot-cold chaud-froid thing - now THAT's romantic.
Reader: Any word on Carluccio's in the old Shank's space, 10th & Carpenter? I walked by and the brown paper was off the windows, revealing tables set with flat/glassware, etc. No menu/hours posted.
CLB: Funny you should ask, because my colleague Michael Klein JUST showed up with a Carluccio's menu. His picture of fresh pappardelle with black truffles on top looks just delicious. The downstairs dining room will not be recognizable to the old giambotta Shank's crowd. More on this, with photos and menu, to be posted on Klein's "Insider" blog later.