So, I’m not a food critic per se, it’s not my area of expertise, but every now and then, I’ll get on Yelp and share my opinion on a thing or two. Now, mind you, I’ve left more five star reviews than one star reviews, so I’m not, you know, out there just bitching about what I don’t like. I think that if someone does a good job, they deserve praise and I try to heap that praise on in as detailed and colorful a way as I can; give people a real idea of what I think makes the place great – not just the food, but all the little nuances.
And sure, I’ve given some one star reviews, but the new, kinder me now leaves three or four star reviews for places I don’t like so that I’m not doing any damage to their overall rating. But in my text I’ll say exactly that, “I would leave them two stars but I don’t want to hurt them; but here’s why I’ll never eat there again“.
And I don’t do this a lot, I’ve probably written like only fifteen or twenty Yelp reviews over the past ten years.
So we go to this Mexican joint tonight in Manteca, California that we’d eaten at once before. I thought it was really good – we had sat outdoors last time because of this COVID crap, and the waitress was really nice and the food was delicious, plus… inside, the walls are covered with these fantastic Dia de los Muertos paintings of guitar playing skeletons dressed to kill and another features a magnificently decked out charro wearing a huge sombrero (and even huger mustache) who is holding a chicken. And we said, “Hey, this could be our new go-to place”. It’s closer than the place we’d been going to, which has also turned into Super Spreader Central, so we go the new place tonight and the service was just unbelievably bad.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
I mean, I wrote the review, I was honest, I gave ‘em three stars and said, you know, “Because the first time we ate there was five stars, and today was more like one, I’ll give ‘em three because I don’t want to beat them up too badly”. The old me would have given them one star and been vicious, but I don’t want to be that guy anymore because, frankly, I don’t want to die young because of all the unnecessary anxiety and stress and hatred in my heart, so… and by young, I mean anytime in the next fifteen years – that would be dying young for me at this point… and anything over fifteen years, I mean, that’s like soup and diapers and catheters so let’s not even go there.
Where was I?
I finished my Yelp review and Yelp says, ‘Hey, you’re really on a roll, why don’t you review something else”. So I found some other place – you know, they give you suggestions in your local area, and I’m scrolling through thinking, “Nah. I’ll be mean to them because they suck”, until I find a place or two that I’m like, “Oh yeah, they’re cool, I’ll give them a nice review”, sort of as a palate cleanser after what I just dumped on tonight’s disaster. And I write a couple of five star reviews, all fawning and glowing and feeling like I’m Mister Benevolent, and then I’m ready to wrap up. It’s like midnight, and I’m done, and then…
I see that they want me to review… I won’t name the place but it’s a, uh… it used to be a falafel truck and then they opened a brick and mortar where some Jordanian restaurant had gone out of business. And it’s a good location for them because people are used to getting shawarmas in this joint, so they opened there. And they call themselves “Greek food”. Fact of the matter is, they’re Lebanese, but if you say Lebanese or anything Middle Eastern Arabic, ignorant people are gonna call you terrorists, and these hard working immigrants are aware of these prejudices… and if they’re Israelis (and these people weren’t), then, you know, you’ve got that whole thing going with the anti-Semitism and “you’re oppressing the Palestinians” and “you’re as bad as the Nazis” and whatever truths or untruths the Israelis have to deal with…
But these guys are Lebanese. However, they called themselves “Greek food”. Because, who’s ever pissed off at a Greek guy? In fact, all Americans really know about Greece is like marble statues, ruins and that funny wedding movie with the Dad spraying the Windex.
Was it Windex?
Where was I again?
So I start thinking about this restaurant, and I want to leave them an honest review, which is, “I’ll never eat there again” ‘coz, well, because I’m a Mediterranean food snob. I think it’s the best food in the world and, where I live, I’ve been to every hummus joint within 72 miles of here and I’ve only once or twice had a kabob or a falafel that I thought could pass for “authentic”.
And so, I’ve eaten at this “Greek” place a couple of times and they charge prices like it’s a restaurant with waiters, but you actually go to the counter and you order and then they bring you your food in a styrofoam clamshell with one of those cellophane wrapped packets like you get on a freakin’ airplane, with the plastic fork and knife and two tiny packets of salt and pepper and the world’s smallest napkin. But before you get to that point, you have to pay with one of those iPad things that they flip around and you’re supposed to fill in a tip and they give you suggestions for the tip amount so you’re intimidated into leaving them a minimum of 10% – which should be based on quality and service – when you haven’t even gotten the meal yet. So the place already has kind of a negative for me but…
When did a falafel become a wrap?
I mean, in the Middle East, more specifically in Israel where I’ve lived three times in my life, I’ve had better food in a crumbling hole in the wall in Tel Aviv than at this “best Middle Eastern restaurant” in my town which, again, they don’t even call it Middle Eastern, they call it “Greek”.
Now if I’m in a Greek place, I’m expecting saganaki and moussaka and taramasalata and spanakopita and dolmates and baklava and some fucking ouzo with waiters yelling “OPAH!” … This place has none of that! They’ve got falafels and shawarmas and gyros, maybe a bit of hummus and tzatziki. Okay, sure, there’s some overlap because Mediterranean food is Mediterranean food but, come on, the place advertises itself as Halal. Bro. That’s Arabic, not Greek.
And I’m wondering, HEY, if you can’t come up with a fresh, fluffy, pita pocket that can not only hold the meat or the falafel but can also stand up to those sauces without busting open after the second bite, so you’ve got to come up with some fake tortilla… Oh! It’s a “lafa wrap”.. Come on! What’s the point? It’s not authentic.
And you look on Yelp and everyone’s going, ‘Oh, this is the best food. I tried it and I couldn’t believe it. It’s so authentic!” And I’m thinking, “you don’t know authentic!”. That’s like me going to freakin’ El Torito and saying, “This is just like the food in southern Oaxaca, or some other Mexican region I’ve never been to, and I have no clue what their food is like ‘coz I only know what El Torito is like and, you know, my local two-item-combo-with-rice-and-beans place. I have no idea what authentic Mexican food is. Just like the people here don’t know what authentic Middle Eastern – or Greek – food is.
I’m talking about, you go to gas stations in Israel and they have these little food counters inside with some of the best food you’re ever going to eat. And that crumbling little hole in the wall a couple of blocks from my office in Tel Aviv? This place was literally two tables outside and enough room for about eight people to sit inside, with a counter that was maybe seven feet wide and behind it is this sweaty guy named Itzik who has about four square feet of space to work with and he’s got a deep fryer and a grill in there, plus he’s the waiter and the cashier, and I’d go in there and order “hummus and foul” (pronounced ‘fool’); it’s a big old plate of hummus with about four or five ounces of olive oil floating in a well that’s been hollowed out in the center of the hummus, with a hard boiled egg on top of the foul – it’s an Egyptian bean that’s called a fava bean over here, like what Hannibal Lecter laps up with the liver and Chianti – and it’s all topped off with a big red glop of this fiery hot pepper sauce that’ll singe your nose hairs, and it’s served with a basket full of steaming, freshly baked pitas – and the whole thing is like three and a half bucks (while the teenagers are spending $11.50 at the mall for a McDonald’s hamburger WITH NO CHEESE because of kosher laws).
I don’t know.
I just started getting incensed about the whole damn thing and why am I even writing food reviews because that’s all I’ve got.
That’s my food review.
Photo: Roberto Blanco, Paris, France
GIF: NBC Universal Media LLC