June 11, 2003

Awful Ad Campaign Draws Lileks' Ire

James Lileks has written an absolutely wonderful Bleat today.

You should know that in this Bleat, Mr Lileks aims and fires at a local fusion restaurant whose advertising campaign is notable solely for its crassness. We further learn from Mr Lileks that the proprietors of this restaurant think it's neat to imply the items on its menu may cause patrons severe gastro-intestinal distress:

Big article in the Strib business section today - billboard ads that go out of their way to be edgy. Money quote: “If you think diarrhea jokes are a bad way to sell Mexican food, you probably won’t be stopping to eat at Chino Latino. And that’s fine with them.” See, they’re the “leading practitioner of edgy advertising. If you don’t get the joke, then they don’t want your business.” ...

... I wouldn’t waste the pixels on this drivel had it not been for this thumb-in-the-eye quote from the holding company’s president, Phil Roberts. His response to people who don’t like the ads: “he’s probably wound too tight to eat there. Go to Applebee’s.”

During this section of the Bleat, Mr Lileks also announces that he finds such an advertising campaign stupid and unclassy. He is quite right. Fortunately, what he does not say -- and hence, what I now get to do -- is proclaim the whole idea behind the restaurant stupid and unclassy, despite the proprietors' attempts to have the establishment seem cool and with it.

Now, some of my readers may say to themselves -- or tell me in the new comments section we have here at The Rant -- "Kepple, you have never been to this restaurant! How, therefore, can you render judgment upon it?"

Well, that's simple -- I'm not judging the Chino Latino restaurant per se, I'm judging the thought-process behind it. The restaurant may have perfectly fine food and eighty-seven tequilas and attractive people in abundance. That still doesn't mean I'm going to like a place fashioned around awful parameters. Besides, thanks to the Internet, there are gobs of reviews and information floating around about it.

For another thing, I am a proud former resident of Los Angeles, Calif., a city that truly figured out fusion cuisine. As such, I am capably qualified to express my opinion on this. As I see it, this place in Minneapolis has everything that Los Angeles figured out in oh, say, 1980; but since then, time has made those ideas pall. Further, it throws in some horrible ideas from the Seventies that should have been excised from the culture along with wide lapels and feathered hair.

Let's look at the first problem with this case in particular: the place has no sign. Indeed, the good people at citysearch.com advise instead: "Can't find it? Look for the place with all the glittery gold stuff above the door--and the line of people waiting to get inside."

Okay, so not only is it hard to find the place, I've got to go find a line and stand in it. Yeah, that's really going to get my dining experience off to a good start right there. Aside from imagining what that's like during Minnesota's eight months of winter, let me say this: if I wanted to stand in line, I'd go to a nightclub.

Of course, that's likely the idea behind it. There are plenty of nightclubs in Los Angeles and the rest of the country that have no signs and are out of the way to boot. Dumb people take this to mean that the place is exclusive and special. This is not true at all. Rather, what it means is that the smart nightclub owner makes bank on other people thinking the place is exclusive and special, plus he cuts his utility expenses. If the owner is really smart, he will keep the lights very low inside the place so his patrons don't realize he last redecorated in 1978.

In short: it's been done, it's worn out and tired, please come up with a new schtick.

Problem No. 2: "Drink Trinkets: Mixed drinks come with little umbrellas and plastic animals. Order something besides a beer if you like cute souvenirs," says Citysearch.com.

I thought this was a Latin/Asian place. Doesn't cerveza go naturally with Latin/Asian food? Ah well. That takes away from my point, which is this: in this year of our Lord 2003, restaurants ought not serve drinks with plastic umbrellas. That's a trend we've fortunately gotten away from -- it reminds one of a Polynesian/Chinese restaurant, circa 1962 -- and any establishment that voluntarily resurrects it ought to be criticized.

Problem No. 3: Voluntary use of orange in a decorating scheme:

"The global menu is perfectly matched with the wild, complicated decor. Chino Latino features a cushioned, orange vinyl wall..."

Enough said.

But the most bothersome issue is the food. People, if Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine's review is any guide, those in charge of this establishment are taking perfectly fine ethnic cuisine and screwing it up. Now they may not be, but what I've read has me a bit concerned.

From my reading of this review, I can see that instead of offering true fusion cuisine, what these folks are doing is offering A) Latin food B) Asian food and C) likely doing neither as well as they ought. I mean, portobello satay? Gad. Beef with peanut sauce, yes; Chicken with peanut sauce, yes; Italian mushrooms, no.

I do think the writer of this review sums it up nicely when he writes:

From a purely culinary standpoint, few items on the extensive menu of Asian, Latin American, and tropical specialties hold a candle to better and lower-priced versions available at our area’s growing collection of ethnic restaurants. But for those who care about atmosphere, there is no more dramatic dining room in town.

Please, America. Spare me the drama when I go out to eat. Spare me the glitz and the glamour and the brazenness of it all. Just make decent food and serve it an atmosphere where I can actually hear myself think and other people at my table talk. Is that too much to ask?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 11, 2003 10:33 PM | TrackBack