leave your inhibitions at the door
This post isn’t necessarily a statement of my opinion on the Chelsea, MI stalwart. It’s a statement of a fundamental problem with Ann Arborites. So sorry if you were all set to flame me for dissing your favorite place – I promise to piss you off in other ways.
Oh what the hell – let’s talk a little about Common Grill. This much-adored American bistro is always rated by locals as one of the best in Washtenaw County. It prides itself on traditionally prepared recipes with plentiful seafood options. I’ve eaten there twice and was, frankly, bored. The preparations were perfectly fine, it’s just that the menu looks like something from the early 1990s or current day Des Moines. In terms of wine, all of them on the list hail from the US. While it could be argued that they should be commended for commitment to local-ish wine, I believe it’s a sommelier’s duty to present a wide variety of varietals and price points with a focus on quality, not origin. Having all domestic wines ignores the tremendous contributions of France, New Zealand, and Italy. What if I wanted to go with the classic pairing of Chablis (or some other crisp, unoaked Chardonnay) with oysters? No can do. They have Chards, but they’re all California butter bombs. I think this lineup is playing the Patriot card. Or perhaps it’s trying to cater to Michigan union supporters with it’s “Buy American” credo. While I know I should eat there again with an open mind, I’m not sure I want to pay that much money for a tired menu and a wine list that borders on jingoistic. As the name of this blog suggests, I seek pleasure and this place doesn’t do it for me – just a preference.
The inspiration for this post came after I read a total fluff piece in Annarbor.com on Common Grill. For you non-A2ers, The Ann Arbor News folded after 300 years, so this site is where most people get their local news. (Someone had mentioned that I could blog for them for some dough, but I’d have to watch my language and shit like that. No thanks, I’ll keep my journalistic integrity.) In the article, the author praises how chef Craig Common “trends toward the old, good way of cooking…” To make her point, she rips on Ferran Adria of Spain’s El Bulli as “faddish pretense” and having a “Willy Wonka” approach. Reading this provoked me to comment on it at the time. But there’s only so much one can put into a comments section without getting into a certain amount of douchery. So, I decided to subject you to the douchery.
I’m going to devote a later post to Ferran Adria, El Bulli, and their place in culinary history. If you can’t wait, Google both. For purposes of this post, both Adria and his restaurant are widely considered to be the best in the world. Unfortunately, he’s also (incorrectly) considered the father/champion of molecular cuisine –which uses lab equipment and materials to create foams, essences, and other food “novelties”. Many consider this to be anti-cooking, lacking culinary technique, and “all sizzle, no steak”. Craig Common appears to be one of them.
But let’s put aside that other Adria critics (such as Anthony Bourdain) have later come to understand his motivations and acknowledge his contributions to the evolution of cooking. And also put aside that other chefs who dismissed his ideas are adapting many of his techniques. Common Grill is allowed to believe in its approach, even if there seems to be an undercurrent of closed-mindedness. They’ve built a successful business and a lot of locals love the place for how it represents all that’s good in the Midwest.
And that’s why Ann Arbor sucks. What happened to the independent, progressive ideals of challenging the status quo, evolution, and worldliness? Those ideals that A2ers apply to politics and religion also apply to food. Sure, many A2ers have immersed themselves in the locavore/slow food/sustainable movements. But yet they embrace the restaurant equivalent of George Will?
So I call BULLSHIT on all you self-labeled progressives out there. You’re all a bunch of poser hippies. (Pippies?) Toss the Birkenstocks and start appreciating contributions of the past decade. Maybe then we can get a proper local music scene…