Critic Roundup: Best of Times, Worst of Times

Every Week, The Daily Meal rounds up restaurant reviews from across America
Cafe Juanita

Credit: facebook/CafeJuanitaWa

Cafe Juanita

In the famous words of Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get,” and this was certainly true for restaurant critics across the country this week, as they recounted a wide range of dining experiences. Two that perfectly illustrate the varying triumphs and failures reported on are Providence Cicero’s glowing review of Café Juanita, and Pete Wells’ decimation of Giada De Laurentiis’ Giada in Las Vegas.

Cicero’s predecessor, Nancy Leson, awarded Café Juanita 3.5 stars when the paper first reviewed it in 2008, and the current Seattle Times critic gave the restaurant and its chef, Holly Smith, the same. Although the menu of northern Italian fare still includes some of the same dishes that first wowed guest and soon after its opening, such as “rabbit braised in Arneis wine, an extraordinary dish she doesn’t dare take off the menu,” Cicero insists “That card remains familiar but far from fixed.” After a tantalizing description of some of the dishes served, like “Goat-cheese gnocchi no bigger than the tip of a pinkie nestled amid fava beans and crackling shards of guanciale (pork jowl bacon), sauced sparingly with an intense reduction of butter, olive oil, aromatics, wine and brodo, a complex broth that is a key ingredient in Smith’s arsenal,” she winds up her review by explaining why the restaurant just missed the four-star mark: “the Riedel stemware and fresh flowers can’t disguise that the 62-year-old house ‘needs some love,’” but reiterates that “From aperitivi served with matching little bites to dainty biscotti, Café Juanita maintains a level of excellence rare in these parts. Food and service deserve four stars.”

Pete Wells unfortunately had opposite completely different experience in Italian cuisine from Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis’ newly opened, self-titled Las Vegas restaurant. Gilding the lily is a favorite pastime in the world’s gambling capitol, but The New York Times’ restaurant critic found the overwhelming branding used in the restaurant’s décor an off-putting choice, and right-off-the-bat calls the overall concept of the eatery into question: “a server said, ‘The idea of the restaurant is that Giada wants you to feel like you’re in her home.’ Not many homes have seating for 260 or wraparound views of the synchronized emissions from the Bellagio’s fountains. But if domestic intimacy is rare at Giada… there is little doubt whose place it is.” He continues on to the food, by which he was supremely underwhelmed, and once again attacks De Laurentiis’ entire culinary philosophy by describing the food as “in a relaxed, approachable California-Italian mode, and none of it is very hard to leave on the plate.” Wells clearly didn’t enjoy anything about the food, as he employed adjectives such as “flaccid,” “bland,” and “processed” to describe his meal. Completely unamused by the celebrity chef’s entire operation, he believes it “made the case against the common view that simple food is the best.”

Restaurant Critic Roundup: 8/14/14

Critic

Publication

Restaurant

Rating

Devra First

Boston Globe

The Abbey

2 Stars

Pete Wells

The New York Times

Giada

Negative

Gael Greene

The Insatiable Critic

Bodega Negra

Mixed

Tom Sietsema

Washington Post

701

2 Stars

Scott Reitz

The Dallas Observer

Bowen House

Mixed

Brad A. Johnson

OC Register

Lola Gaspar

2 Stars

Jonathan Gold

The LA Times

Aqui Es Texcoco

Positive

Michael Bauer

San Francisco Chronicle

Gaspar Brasserie

2.5 Stars

Providence Cicero

The Seattle Times

Cafe Juanita

3.5 Stars

 

Kate Kolenda is the Restaurant/City Guide Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @BeefWerky and @theconversant.

 

Related Links
Critic Roundup: They’ve Got Their Minds on Your MoneyCritic Roundup: Dining that Tickles the Funny BoneCritic Roundup: Let Them Eat SteakCritic Roundup: Down the Rabbit HoleCritic Roundup: Grass isn't Greener for Tavern on the Green