December 20, 2006

Attention Rochester, MN Residents

Dear Rochester, MN residents:

Your taste buds suck. Your taste in food sucks. You wouldn't know a good meal if it crammed itself down your throat and shot out of your ass like a cannon ball.

Honest to God, I can't understand it. How I can sit in the Phnom Penh Restaurant--which offers the best Asian cuisine in about a 100 mile radius--with practically no one else in the place, while "The Ranch" next door is packed, is beyond me. It's a frickin' travesty.

Listen, people, by which I mean Rochester residents: wake the hell up already. Start eating at India Garden and Phnom Penh and Pho Hoa, before those heavenly eateries are forced to close up shop because you think steak and potatoes are God's gift to dinner. Don't get me wrong, steak and potatoes have their place. I even eat them, from time to time. But, every time you eat at "The Ranch," or "Perkin's," or "Applebees," or "TGI Fridays," or whatever the hell run-of-the-mill poop-hole you frequent, you're denying yourself some of the true culinary delights this bland frickin' city actually has the good fortune to have (however briefly).

Until I see Phnom Penh packed to the rafters with hungry patrons, I'm going to continue to rally in support of the DM&E upgrade. Because, frankly, if Phnom Penh has to close its doors, there's nothing I think this city deserves more than a dozen or so coal trains rammed up its ass on a daily frickin' basis.

Posted by Ryan at December 20, 2006 11:47 AM | TrackBack

Sorry, Ryan. I live in Rochester myself and just don't like to try anything new. Perhaps one day you'll live in a more "enlightened" city. Until then, try to keep on the sunny side.

Posted by: Tom at December 20, 2006 01:08 PM

Sorry, Tom. I ate at Phnom Penh last night, and the food was great, as usual, and there are indications all over the place that it's not going to succeed as a restaurant. Meanwhile, "The Ranch" was teeming with customers. *sigh*

You know, Phnom Penh DOES have Western choices, too. Plus, a couple of their waitresses are about the hottest females in the state.

Posted by: Ryan at December 20, 2006 01:22 PM

Ryan, you ever go to Fiesta Mexicana? The new location out by the north Whistle Binkies is ok, but it was really the shit back in the day when it was in that ghettotastic building off of 52 right south of 14. That was awesome food.

Posted by: Rick at December 20, 2006 01:29 PM

Rick, yeah, the old Fiesta Mexicana was pretty good. Melissa and I really like Dos Amigos as well.

Posted by: Ryan at December 20, 2006 03:18 PM

Hey! This post made me shit out another theory:
The people who eat at "The Ranch" or the equivalent go there to escape and live unconciously. I do it all the time with food. Trying new foods requires me to be awake and aware of the experience. Eating spicy foods grabs me by the tongue and pulls me into the present.

Posted by: Tim at December 22, 2006 10:49 AM

I don't care what resteraunt it is, it's only a matter of time that Paul Wilson, 'Lil Kim Norton and Big "Mikey" Podulke make it a felony to serve anything but organic soy.

Sure would love to see those trains screaming down Broadway.

Posted by: AlgerHiss at December 22, 2006 01:08 PM

While I agree with the heart of your argument, that Rochester needs a more vibrant local restaurant scene, I must disagree with your methods. I personally wouldn't eat at the Ranch, but I certainly did throughout my childhood. Old Country Buffet, Pizza Hut, Baker's Square, et al. were the staples of our Sunday lunches. It really comes down to families: It's hard to get your family of 4–6 people to agree on eating Vietnamese food, especially with small children, pricing issues, etc. Rochester is a family town, there's no University to bring in hip young-ins with fat loan checks to finance every eatery and club we both want so dear. It's too close to the Cities to really develop it's own scene right now, and until that changes, I don't see a lot of non-Olive Garden-type restaurants coming in.

If you're a childless man with disposable income, it sure makes a lot of sense to eat at specialty restaurants. Lord knows I love a good bowl of Pho from time to time (if you think it's good in Rochester, you should try it up here in Saint Paul!), but to most people — especially families — food is food, not an experience.

One idea: It's not an accident how a lot of our favorite foods are still American classics: "chinese," "mexican," even some of the staples like pork and eggs. Rochesterites, by and large, have never had good Vietnamese cooking. I certainly hadn't until I moved to Minneapolis and started eating at Bona and The Lotus. Why not group together and form a sort of Vietnamese Food Comission? Everyone pools in some money, they buy a bunch of advertising, and spread awareness that Vietnamese food isn't just for Vietnamese people. Everyone remembers "Beef, it's what's for dinner," "Pork: the other white meat," etc, so why not work for that sort of stuff on a local level?

It wouldn't even have to be just ethnic foods, they could group with small, independent restaurants, distribute coupons together, have events, cross-promote, etc. I don't know if you can blame the people of Rochester more than you can blame Phnom Penh for their lack of *trying* to pull in customers. It's not 1950, you can't just drop a restaurant in a strip mall and wait for the riches to roll in. Restaurants are the most risky investments in real estate, and if you don't even attempt to pull in customers, you're going to fail. Olive Garden, Applebee's, and other more homogenous chains understand this, and that's why they're successful.

Posted by: Sean at December 23, 2006 01:23 PM

Do you really think a university would pull in the necessary crowd to jumpstart better restaraunts, Sean? In my college experience, when I wasn't eating Subway and Taco Bell, I was opting for run-of-the-mill Chinese food.

Posted by: Ryan at December 24, 2006 04:16 PM

Dear Ryan
Thank you for you comments.
You are right, I have a friend in Minneapolis who owns a fine restaurant and every time I ask him "why don't you open in Rochester?" He replies “Rochester market is a stake and potatoes market”. So here you go.

Posted by: Saleh at December 24, 2006 09:48 PM

You have to be kidding me, Ryan. I know you don't like Rochester getting a U, but now you're just being disingenuous. Go to Dinkytown, Stadium Village, and the West Bank and tell me that the University doesn't help those restaurants succeed; you'll be arguing an indefensible position. Not only does a University pull thousands of younger, more adventurous crowds of students, it also brings in college professors, grad students, and other people with the more erudite tastes that you align with. Let's not be silly here, no college of any size *doesn't* bring in specialty restaurants and retailers.

Besides, I'm more interested in people's thoughts on the food commissions. If Phnom Penh can't get new customers, why don't they, you know, TRY?

Posted by: Sean at December 28, 2006 12:11 PM

Ryan, while I agree with you, I have to point out that part of the problem is that restaurants like Phnom Penh, India Garden, or just about any other food that the average Rochesterite would consider "exotic" is intimidating. People don't know what to order, they are unwilling to go into a restaurant and ask for help on the menu, and stepping out of one's comfort zone is never easy. I just spent 2 years in San Jose, CA eating in as many different independent restaurants as I could. We deliberately avoided chains (Okay, except I love the Lettuce Wraps at Cheesecake Factory. I refuse to apologize for this) and tried to eat adventurously. Even so, we sometimes ended up at the "safe" choice (our favorite Chinese place) because we were just not in the mood to ask questions and take risks. Rochester eaters are not risk takers. And Sean makes an excellent point -- I haven't seen advertising for any of the places you mentioned since I've been back in town as a full-time resident. I don't know how to solve the problem other than patronizing the restaurants and avoiding the places here where I've had really horrible service and meals, including (but certainly not limited to ) Victoria's and the Macaroni Grill. Yuck, yuck, yuck. So, what should I order at Pho Hoa? Are the samosas at India Garden good? Does anybody here serve a good lemongrass shrimp? (Especially the kind that's pounded and steamed on sugar cane, sorry I can't remember what it's called...)

Posted by: Jennifer at January 1, 2007 03:15 PM
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