Friday, July 24, 2009

Where I've been and what I've been doing

Hey, all -- thanks for your patience while I've taken a nice, long summer blogging break. After 4.5 years of FM/DM, I'm due, right? I mean, who wants to keep doing the same thing after it gets old, right? Besides, you didn't really miss me, did you? Most of you know the news from the past few weeks:

* Greg Hardesty is shooting for a Sept 1 open date for his new place at 49th and College
* Cafe Nora closed
* Eli and Nicole sold H2O Sushi
* Ambrosia announces a 2nd location downtown in the old J.Gumbo's space

*Nicole Taylor's pasta shop is open and pretty awesome
*IMA very quietly stopped allowing Friday night movie patrons to bring their own beer or wine (but you can buy it on site, natch)
* The farmer's market season is in full swing. (Why can't we have better markets? Cheese, cured meats, olives, rotisserie chicken with potatoes covered in drippings?)
* I cured and dried my first bresaola. Next up: Saucisson sec.
* Did I mention the two weeks tasting wine and laying by a pool in Bandol? I'm now a certified Mouvedre-head.

So, why the break? I'll be honest, with FM/DM, things were getting a little nutty. My inbox was regularly full of PR requests, press releases, review requests, and demands for links. Frankly, I dislike how many restaurant owners and wine people were pressuring my friends and colleagues to get me into your restaurant to cover your new menu or wine dinner. Add to that a general dissatisfaction with fine dining here in Indianapolis and the last few months would have been a piss-and-moan factory around here anyway. The disappointing food scene, the poor quality that diners in Indy demand, and all the new food blogs celebrating how great everything is, ugh.

Lots of people are talking about food here but few have anything useful to say. Everyone has a food blog, column or newspaper section. And while people love to read about food and restaurants, too many blogs are poorly written ego-fests with glowing "reviews" of crap I wouldn't feed a dog. (And yes, I'm well aware that FM/DM has at every turn been one of those things :-) But come on, people, can't we do better?! Can't you offer some analysis? Some useful information? Why doesn't anyone work to have something original to say? Not every restaurant is great and we should be telling people about it. No one but customers -- that's us -- is going to hold these owners, chefs, and managers accountable. No one is going to demand that they be better. And until "just good enough" is no longer the norm, it won't change. (Come on store owners, don't you realize that every high end eater in this city orders from Artisinal or Murray's for every dinner party? Doesn't that bother you? Do you *think* there might be a market if you were expand your cheese selections beyond the boring and bring in better quality and different stuff? Every time I go to a dinner or party and something is truly original and different, I found it came by mail from outside Indy.)

Mix my rant well with a general boredom about food in our fair city, a frustration of the limited selection and quality, and a fascination wtih microblogging tools like Facebook and Twitter (@feedmedrinkme) where I've been posting quite often, and the result is a long blog silence from me.

What's next? Well, I'm still a blogger and the fabulous Noah Coffey and Shawn Plew once again have asked me to share some expertise at the BlogIndiana 2009 conference. More on that in another post. I'm still a big eater -- although, frankly, there are so few restaurants I even want to go to anymore, I don't go out nearly as much. I'm lucky to have a large circle of friends who tend to cook, eat in, and share incredible wines. I'm working with an incredible team to lead one of Indy's excellent fine dining societies (Viva la Chaine!) with incredible events. Take heart, I'm even more of a food snob than ever. Best of all, I'm working on a cool new chapter for FM/DM -- one that will engage all of you, I think, and be something pretty different. So, stay tuned.

Ultimately, FM/DM will be again what it was four years ago -- my own personal blog, one that I post to when I'm in the mood or have something to share. I know -- and appreciate -- that many of you have been emailing (read: hounding) me for the latest scoop, but I'm going to tell you, I might not have it. And if I know it? I might not share it. I'm going to move back to blogging for me, which is the real reason any of us who blog do it, right?

Thank you thank you thank you to all the subscribers who keep hanging in, all the kind folks who've emailed just to make sure I'm OK, and friends who've patiently waited it out and said "thank god, she's not talking about that damn blog all the time!" I look forward to many, many more pleasant meals with FM/DM -- and the creative juices will be flowing again soon.


Kirsten said...

A return with a bang and some clatter - I love it!

Any blog should be what the writer wants it to be, not what hounding readers demand. (They're not paying you, after all.) Blogging offers me a personal space to consider what I love about food, what's positive and exciting, mostly because my work has a lot of less-happy topics. And, like you, what's exciting is often what's at home.

And, for you, blogging seems to be evolving, which is exciting, not the least of which because your home-cooking is adventurous and full of exploration. I'd love to read accounts of your many journeys, on the road and in the kitchen/curing space. The bits and pieces that you've posted on FB and twitter have been so cool, so intriguing.

Cheers to your time off and to you new direction!

JennJenn said...

Well, what I want to know is--What was your breaking point?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! As usual, a very interesting perspective… There are so many tv shows about food now, I think that some people have a false perception about being in the know about food and what it is to work in a restaurant or how much work it takes to master the art of being a chef, etc… I imagine there are people on their couch on the verge of flipping a house and thinking this is a great idea when the real property managers are laughing at them.

I am sure there is a counter point as well. I am a musician and Guitar Hero is an annoying anti musician tool, however it has turned plenty of kinds on to a great catalogue of music and motivated kids to pick up a real guitar. Sometimes the ground floor introduction to food, music etc can be painful to watch!

Trying to connect the dots that there are people that are passionate enough about blogging and writing about eating dog food , maybe one could assume that their passion for writing and food will motivate them to dig deeper and set the bar higher? Then again, I could be very wrong.

Looking forward to the future of FM/DM.

Allison said...

Missed you!

Nick Schmuck said...

I just wanted to write a quick note to throw my hat into the ring of people who are happy that you are returning. While some blogs are crap, and deserve the typical criticism of being run by ignorant, self important, uninformed fat-headed people who could learn a thing or two about humility, in certain cases this does not apply. I think that you have realized the pitfalls of blogging and are doing what it takes to transcend them. In this city where the tempering of the economy has only served to beet the industry into submission, I was afraid the silence on FM/DM only signaled that another one of Indy’s venerable culinary “establishments” had gone by the wayside. But you’re back, and that’s good news for at least me. Sometimes after dining out, I am left with a sour taste in my mouth, but I have a hard time figuring out why. Often, a quick search of FM/DM yields one of your reviews, which nails my thoughts on the head. So thank you for lending your insight and experience to guiding my opinions. I look forward to the direction that you take this blog, as you continue to be a pioneer in Indy food blogging. I can only hope that it continues to utilize your close connections that you’ve foraged with local chefs to bring us insight and breaking news about our food scene. And one question I have always wanted to ask: have you ever thought about opening a restaurant or cafe? It seems like your knowledge at this point would allow for success. Just a thought…

Hope said...

Hi, Renee. I don't think I have ever left a comment here before, but you are one of my top five blogging heroes. I'm sorry I haven't said that to you sooner. At the risk of sounding like one of those rah-rah people that drive you crazy, whatever you do with your blog will be cool with me. I'm just happy to read it. I love your voice.

I sympathize with the burning out and the feeling of being hounded...and I have only been blogging about live theatre in the Indianapolis area for less than two years. I am looking forward to the 2009 Blog Indiana con and had been wondering if any of the speakers would address the topic of blogger burn-out, especially when it is a volunteer blog, done on top of a full-time day job.

I bought my first Happy Meal the other day because I wanted to get the Eeeny-weeny Beany Baby or whatever they are called, and then was delighted to learn that apple slices are an option for the I am probably as far from food snobbery as it is possible to be. But I love reading about a food snob's life, so I hope you will always keep writing.

With much admiration,

Hope Baugh
Indy Theatre Habit

Phil Lavoie said...

I look forward to reading whatever you choose to write about!

I've never been a writer, but your blog motivated me to start my own with the hope of improving my well as my taste in food.

A blog is very personal and should only be what you want it to be.

Deuteronomy said...

Hi, I'm not a regular contributor on your blog, and you're unlikely to post this, but I wanted to let you know that I also was wondering what had happened to FM/DM. I had gotten to the point of asking other active bloggers on similar sites, because I had really missed your reviews and contributions.

That is, until I read this post. You are of course welcome to make any changes you like on your own blog, but I for one was put off by how you had worded things. People on the Property Lines blog were excited to see you had returned; then again, after this last post, some of them weren't. While I can appreciate how exasperating it must be when there is a surfeit of people writing their opinions on food, I'm not sure what you hope to accomplish by bashing Indianapolis restaurateurs, their patrons, and the city as a whole. This smacks of condescension and reminds me of the other time I was made uncomfortable by your tirade against those philistines using Yelp to post opinions. Do you think Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader has time to lament all the amateur film critics out there for whom he is competing on the blogosphere?

It is always sad to see a good restaurant close, especially those of us who actively monitor the scene. But such condescension toward Indy diners fails to take into account that (1) a number of independent eateries have opened downtown (and are continuing to open) in an area that has long suffered from a dearth of non-chains and (2) these sour economic times are causing fine dining establishments to close all over the country.

Deuteronomy said...

Maybe you aren't as big of a fan of Agio, Meridian, ShelBi Street Cafe, Taste of Tango, Santorini, Brugge Brasserie, Dunaway's, Saffron Cafe, Urban Elements, or Bosphorus, but they are all trying to stay afloat during a challenging economy. Not all are fine dining, but all are independent. Consistently praising and PATRONIZING the real winners does not mean abstaining from constructive criticism on restaurants with strong features that seriously need improvement (such as the sometimes great but deservedly late Buggs Tavern at the Temple), but it does not add to the food criticism scene to sneer at the city, or others with a similar passion but less knowledge.

I suspect from now on I'll be gravitating to one of the other bloggers out there, perhaps one that you think has no clue. I try to support locals whenever possible, but can generally only afford fine dining once or twice a year. Several of us on here weep quietly whenever a new local restaurant folds, but I can't say Indianapolis (or any other city for that matter) is any poorer if a particularly smug critic leaves town.

braingirl said...

Deut, you make a common mistake, confusing "local/independent" with "quality." I'll happily spend the money at Oceanaire or Ruth's Chis over many of the places you name because, well, they're flat out better.

Why should we be penalized for eating at local and independent restaurants? Today, with only a few exceptions, we are.

silver said...

AAAAANNNNNND again with the "economy" excuse. I'll save Braingirl's sanity (sort of) by not rehashing that one yet again. Deuteronomy, my question to you is how do we change the status quo if we don't challenge it? I've been on both sides of the order pad in more than one city and I know firsthand that Indy diners are not as sophisticated as our size and economic strength (yes, strength) would suggest. Sorry, but there it is.

Deuteronomy said...

Thanks for getting back to me and responding thoughtfully; clearly my criticism is meant to be constructive.

But I hold true to my assertion. Many of the restaurants I listed yesterday I would agree are average at best. But taste in food, no matter the level of expertise, is just as subjective as taste in anything else. The box office reports reveal that far more Americans would prefer seeing the "Transformers" sequel over "The Hurt Locker"; that the majority of movie critics thought Transformers was bad does not give those movie critics any reason to sneer at the broader public because of its collective taste. It accomplishes nothing and reflects more on the critics themselves than the mass audiences.

Furthermore, the assumption that good restaurants fail solely because of poor patronage is specious at best. A good restaurateur will always blame lack of customers for failure, but who wants to admit that it could also have to do with a lack of business acumen, poor location, low morale or wages among staff, or a badly calibrated debt to equity ratio? Tavern at the Temple, which could at times be brilliant, no doubt failed precisely because of this. And I have family members who loved R Bistro but had to give up on it after service was so appalling (they were asked to leave by the owner because they hadn't planned tables ahead for a 9pm reservation) they felt unwelcome.

So, when silver says "Indy diners are not sophisticated", you are doing nothing to advance the dining scene. Sorry, but there it is. It's counterproductive, condescending, and only serves to turn off people to the blog. The economy is a very legitimate excuse; not all your readers can afford fine dining twice a week in the good times, even if we'd like to. If you'd like to become a forum for food advocates rather than just a handful of food snobs who are clearly preaching to their choir, then the tone really needs to change. Otherwise, you have my blessings to continue as an elite coterie that has no impact whatsoever (positive or negative) on the local food scene.

Robby said...

Last time I checked, it's Renee's blog and this is where I add the clause about "whatever she damn well pleases."

The problem here is inescapably classic; when a hobby blossoms into a profession it somehow attracts the ugly accouterments of economic reality. Write a popular food blog, and people will want to commended by your popular voice. Having never signed up for sycophants and press agents, their requests---no matter how professional---are essentially unwanted. Hence the hiatus and nuclear return.

I for one look forward to whatever comestible commentary you choose to provide us dear readers. Whether you vilify victuals, repurpose recipes or festoon food fiction, know you are supported! You'll remain in my RSS feed and your suggestions will occasionally find their way to my waistline. Keep it up!


Erin Day said...


I am also glad to see you back. I would like to say generally all the new food blogs popping up around here all the time don't bother me (how could I complain after all?) but for the most part I just don't read many of them because they are either completely irrelevant to me, or so positive, why not just read the local mags instead?

I certainly don't have anything against Indy, or its food diners, but I continue to believe (sounding like a broken record here) you can't get a better food scene until you raise expectations (of the restaurants and the diners). When the restaurants just get love all the time no matter what they do, why should they do it better? That is why, I feel, so many restaurants that should go under don't, and why so many that shouldn't, do. Writing something negative sometimes doesn't mean you hate Indy, its restaurants, or its diners. I think it means you actually give a shit. I mean, if you raised your kid constantly praising them no matter what they did, and never giving appropriate constructive criticism, they would be totally screwed.

And as far as the diners go, until they have an opportunity to get some quality food in their mouths and broaden their tastes a little, they will keep going to the mid level chains that do so well in Indy. So many restaurants in this town serve the exact same things on their menus, it drives me nuts.

So anyway, keep up your good work and keep the faith!

CorrND said...

My common line recently has been "let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good."

There are many facets of cultural life in Indianapolis where "good" is a (sometimes significant) improvement and something to be trumpeted, not lamented. For the engaged and knowledgeable, this can be maddening, since you know how much better things could be. But incremental progress is a good thing, and I don't think there's any way to slice the Indianapolis food scene and say that we aren't making progress.

Indianapolis will not be San Francisco overnight (if ever). We need to see the progress we're making for what it is: baby steps toward a better dining future. Engage your dining companions, restaurateurs, fellow bloggers, etc. and fight for something better!

I will conclude that I generally agree with Deuteronomy -- lots of good, constructive criticism in those comments.

braingirl said...

Chris, I don't agree that just because something is better that it should be celebrated and shouldn't be examined in a critical way. I'm done being an apologist for Indianapolis fine dining -- and I'm done being an unnecessary cheerleader for incremental improvement that's not always progress.

The scope of this blog has always been fine dining and wine. There are plenty of others out there celebrating incremental improvement that the city touts as Great! There are also others who cover openings, closings, and mediocre independents I choose not to patronize because they do sub-par work. Doesn't mean I want Indy to be SF or NYC overnight; it means I want chefs and owners to do better. And customers to ask for better. And readers to challenge writers to do better. We should be aiming higher, and striving for more.

(Case in point: The place in your nabe you were so excited about? It's gross. The food is mediocre and the last two times I've gone it's been dirty. With flies. Is this good enough?! Not for me.)

I'm happily narrowing my scope of coverage again, calling people out I wouldn't have before, and saying what I think when it comes to fine dining. I'm not a paid "critic" -- and frankly, smug is what I intend to be. If I lose a few readers who're disappointed I'm no longer a positive "cheerleader" for Indy who wants to only look at the good, well, then so be it.

I know I will retain just as many readers who join me (much more silently) in believing the only way we're going to improve fine dining in Indy is to keep asking for -- demanding -- more.

Anonymous said...

I just want to quickly voice support for Deuteronomy's comments and say that I wanted to leave a similar one months ago and decided it was not worth the effort. I love to read about food, love to eat out and try new restaurants, and am even an off and on culinary student.

I also support local food and restaurants as much as possible. But if you can't afford to drop a hundred dollars or more every time you eat out or buy a bottle of wine, then this blog isn't for you. I suppose people who can afford to do this are just naturally going to be somewhat arrogant and snooty about food.

So I realized I am not in the socio-economic realm of this blog and consequently just don't read it.

Deuteronomy said...

Good to see such vigorous dialogue on the subject. Renee, you definitely fill a niche and I wish you the best. I just don't want confuse constructive criticism with insincere praise, but that criticism does not need to extend to the patrons themselves of mediocrity. Challenge the overrated chefs of the city by all means, explain why they're bad, and if anything redeems the eating experience, that is probably worth a mention as well.

What will lose some of your following (to which you apparently don't care; that is your right) is akin to saying not merely that "Transformers is bad" but "People who watch Transformers in spite of the fact that it is bad are cultureless cretins".

It's that level of smugness that could repel a number of people, but as Robby says, you're free to do whatever you want with your blog. On that note, I'm outta here.

DON VITO said...

Renee I hope this doesn't come off as smug, but I also give my permission for you to blog in whatever manner you choose on your blog.
As a restaurant owner I agree with your assessment of the local restaurant scene. Non discriminating consumers accepting mediocrity. Managers asking "how is your meal" like robots to customers that say "great" that are thinking "we're never coming back here."
This blog cuts thru the polite bullshit that as hoosiers makes this agreat place to live. Most customers dont understand as an owner I want to improve I want honesty and that is what fm/dm is all about. I use this blog to measure what my restaurant needs to do to improve.

I think we are gaining ground in the culinary arena and harsh critics have helped displace papa johns as the best pizza in indy just 6 years ago. This blog helps move us forward in improving our restaurant scene.

Restaurants are hard to achieve perfection. Bonge's I think has approached that. They dont try to do to much and what they do they do well. Maybe that is the problem with the local independants they try an extensive menu with a low budget staff and the results are mediocre at best.

got to go and take75% of the stuff off my menu.
fm/dm thanks for this revelation.

silver said...

Gotta disagree with Deut. It's easy to write me off as "smug" and "arrogant," rather than debating the facts. For our relative economic strength, we don't have a comparable restaurant scene. I've been over this a dozen times. And whether it's incremental improvement or giant overhaul, the fact of the matter is is that we can't remain content with the status quo if we're going to improve. End of story. And it's not "fine dining" and it's not "hundred dollar dinners twice a week." Hell, I've been in truck stops in the south of France that ROCKED. It's knowing what food can be when you raise the expectations and let it really shine. I'm not sure why some here are so threatened by that.

silver said...

Okay. Now I'm all...riled up, thinking about the assumptions of "elitism" in good food (not "fine" food, good food). The underlying assumption here is that by the "food snobs" insisting on good food, we are necessarily insisting on expensive food. Not true! Most traditional French cooking is the opposite of "fine." Tough cuts turned into daube, old hens turned into coq au vin. I myself am a big fan of my grandmother's chicken fried steak. All things are better with gravy.

And it's not really a matter of subjective taste. Otherwise there would be no such thing as the concept of "classic." Classic foods, classic movies, classic cars, art. If all things were really subjective, there would be no museums (though, I confess, most modern art escapes me), no "Top Whatever List of All Time," no restaurants that most people agree are legendary.

Love it or hate it, this blog provides criticism, in the literary sense of the word. That kind of criticism is intended to provoke discussion and thought. Which it has.