Letter of the Week – The Proletariat Complains


Dear ELV,

It has occurred to me that you must consistently get food prepared with much more care and quality than the average Joe, right?

While I agree with your views more/less most of the time, there are so many instances when what comes to the table is all over the place, consistency-wise.

Take Glutton — one of your current favorites. I have eaten there about 5-6 times now. The food has been anywhere from superb to tasting like second-day leftovers. The last time I was there, I went with the burger. Now, I only eat about 3-4 burgers a year, so when I get one, I always want that indulgence of calories to be of high quality and worth it.

The burger I had at The Glutton was a tasteless waste of calories, made with little care. Do you agree that the food you receive at these joints (where you are known) is at a much higher caliber than the middling peon? My experience working at a fine dining restaurant on the Strip would seem to suggest that the answer is a definite YES.

With skeptical regards,

Envious Inquisitive Eater

ELV responds:

Dear Envious,

Given your reference to the “average Joe,” we must assume that you are, unfortunately, one of the unwashed rabble* that we and our staff work so hard to avoid. Notwithstanding our aversion to anyone who is less than to-the-manor-born, we (politely, quietly, with as little noise as possible) applaud your question — a somewhat thoughtful inquiry that gives us the briefest of hope that, perhaps, you may someday, rise above your piteous station in life.

But let us set aside matters of breeding for a moment, hard though that may be, and consider the topic you raise: Do well known restaurant critics get better food than the anonymous hoi polloi who, regrettably, we titans of gastronomy must occasionally share space with in a public food emporium?

The answer is: yes and no.

Because insofar (note: using the word “insofar” always makes you sound smarter than you are) as the menu goes — meaning everything from the groceries to the cooking — what the food writer gets is no different than what you and your relatives will encounter in the same establishment. No chef or restaurant, anywhere, goes out and whips up some spectacular dish just for a critic when they discover a writer in the house. Restaurants, even the great ones, are assembly lines, not improvisational street theatre, and what’s cookin’ that night is pretty much what the critic will get. (Insufferably upper crust language note #2: using words like “cookin” – in speech or writing – is proper only when done ironically, lest you be thought to be even dumber than most food writers. Which is pretty damn dumb.)

Therefore, put your mind at ease that critics are not being festooned with more food favors than you, the impious, pitiable proletariat, can ever imagine.

What critics DO get is extra special attention (and truffles), from everyone from the hot hostesses to the bus boys.

The chefs DO take extra care with adjusting the seasonings, cooking things just so, and paying special attention to the plating and presentation — to make sure each particular dish is the best it can be. But are we getting appreciably different food than the mere mortals beneath us? Decidedly no. We just get the food the way the chef, or the owner, or the cook first envisioned it, and as well made as they can make it.

As to your criticism of the Glutton burger: we find it a bit harsh and are always suspect of such common folk kvetching. (Food writing note #3: using a word like “kvetching” makes you sound like an old Jew – which is a very cool (and necessary) thing in the food writing world.)

Yelpers — the very definition of the ignorant unwashed — love to say their food was “tasteless” or “had no flavor.” All food has flavor. Even air and water have flavor. Just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean it tasted like the the void of space.

ELV doesn’t know what was wrong, if anything, with your hamburger. We can say that we’ve had at least four of them and considered every bite the very apotheosis of ground beef. We’ve turned many a reader, friend, foodie and gourmand on to this tiny bastion of beef and always received positive feedback.

We do know though, that restaurants, unlike architecture and movies are organic beings, run by fallible, carbon-based life forms, and therefore subject to the vicissitudes of fate and folly on a daily basis. Every movie critic sees the exact same movie and passes judgment upon it. Every restaurant critic gets, at best, a snapshot of a living thing in a particular point in time.

We urge you, a person who seems intelligent and well-intention-ed (despite the unavoidable handicap imposed by your average-Joe DNA), to return to Glutton and tell the helpful waitron you want the same burger Eating Las Vegas gets. If you’re still disappointed, we will just have to retire to our respective manses and agree to disagree on this one.

Hamburgerly yours,


* While ELV considers himself a man for the people, he does not consider himself a man of the people.


13 thoughts on “Letter of the Week – The Proletariat Complains

  1. Jon, I have served your easily 15 times years ago at one of your favorite places that is now gone and a shitty lame hip pub.

    I can tell you 100 percent you were getting way better food and treatment. While the food was great as u had noted and obviously the reason you came in so many times..you were not getting the gruel which all the peons were paying 250.. a head for.

  2. Yeah, I’ve gotta call BS on this one. I saw you get 5-star treatment at Circo with a certain bald-headed journalist once. You got the best seat in the house (along the window) and had twice as many servers doting on your table as anyone else. This was on a bustling weekend night. It was quite a display.

  3. “No chef or restaurant, anywhere, goes out and whips up some spectacular dish just for a critic when it discovers he or she is in the house. Restaurants, even the great ones, are assembly lines, not improvisational street theatre, and what’s cookin’ that night is pretty much what the critic will get.”

    And it was suddenly apparent that John Curtas has never worked a day of his life on a restaurant line. Yes, they take extra care. Yes, they send out dishes. And if they’re smart, they make sure the parties sitting around the critic are well taken care of, as well.

    Ruth Reichl covered this issue in The New York Times 22 years ago, John, and she did it without sounding like George Will sitting on a hemorrhoid.


  4. This is why most real food critics like to dine under the radar and remain anonymous so that they are getting what the average joe gets and can write a real review of an establishment.

  5. So here is a little counter point to all the comments aimed at ELV’s elite dining treatment status. Sure he gets special treatment when he is a known diner in any establishment because he is a respected food critic whose opinions matter. No semiconscious Chef or establishment wants to alienate a food critic. (Andre’s aside). That being said the food being served is the same as what other patrons consume. In my over 35 years of dining in Las Vegas establishments here is a trick I have employed whether I was eating at In and Out Burger, Carnevino, Joe’s Diner or Joel Robuchon. If the food delivered does not taste well, is over or undercooked, is off or not to my liking, I quietly, politely and with respect speak up to the wait staff, mention my issue and you know what… in all those years only once did I ever not receive a positive response to redo the dish, bring another option or attempt to address my concerns. I have dined alone, with a guest, business associates and as long as I didn’t act like a total A hole or prima Donna I was always taken care of because I was in their establishment as a “guest”. Those Las Vegas eating establishments that stayed in business over the years know that pleasing their “guests” is paramount to their reputations and maintaining excellence in service and quality. So the next time you dine and things are “off”, Be a mensch, be nice, speak up and I bet you will be treated right. Yes you are a “guest”. But you also need to remember your are not eating your final meal on earth. Remember Scarlett “Tomorrow is another Day”

  6. It hurts my eyes to read such inaccurate nonsense. Saying a chef doesn’t whip something special up when a food critic is in the house is absolute malarkey. While you’re at it, could you get out of your self absorbed bubble and answer a legitimate question from a reader without giving us all a lesson on how to over-use $10 words to cover up the fact that you have no idea what you’re talking about?

  7. John – never explain, never complain. As my girlfriend is a well-known chef in our humble burg of Washington, D.C., we can barely go into any decent restaurant around town without being recognized treated as a visiting queen (and her down-at-the-heels companion). I love it, and think you do not need to be sensitive to being spotted. You tell it like it is much more than most food critics I read despite whatever extra special attention they may lavish on you.

  8. He does tell it like it is but he also pretends that he is not getting special treatment!! I whole heartedly agree with M, John likes to try and pull the wool over our eyes with big words to cover for his incompetence..

  9. This should be filed as one of your best, John – thank you. For those of you who don’t understand the meaning of the word sarcasm, please read again.
    As I read this early morning in Hong Kong – and after spending time at Salon De The Joel Robuchon and Amber here, and countless nights in NY and SF – I still attest that LV has one of the better dining scenes in the entire world and also the most vibrant which covers a wide-variety of experiences, whether it be high-end or Spring Mountain Rd.
    If the food is not up to your expectations, please respectfully let them know – they will always try to fix it unless you are being a complete ahole

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