My Five Cents: Let’s Talk About Leslie Brenner and Dallas

nickelYesterday, Leslie Brenner posted an item titled: “A Wasabi-Filled Dose of Revisionist History.” She writes about the just-released menu at Toko V, the new restaurant opening tomorrow in the upstairs section of what used to be Marquee Grill. The news release describes the restaurant at “Asian cuisine and crafted cocktails in a sleek, modern setting.”

One look at the menu and Brenner writes:

…there’s a section on the sushi menu called “classic rolls.” Among them: caterpillar roll, spider roll and Philly cucumber roll. Where I come from, classic rolls are things like tekka maki (maguro tuna roll), keppa maki (cucumber roll), futomaki (a thick roll with several different fillings), negi toro (Tokyo leek and tuna), eel and cucumber roll and salmon skin roll.

Now we’re to understand that a cucumber roll filled with cream cheese, crab and salmon is a classic?! Don’t tell anyone in Japan — or even in Los Angeles!

Okay, Leslie. We also won’t tell Japan or Los Angeles that you live in Dallas. Instead of flying off my chopsticks and pointing out how I feel Brenner is more of a mean-spirited, uptight writer than she is  an insightful dining critic, I will write about the city of Dallas and the ongoing restaurant business, with the accent on business, and how Brenner relates to it.

Jump hard. Now.

[The government is closed so I couldn’t get recent data from the Census Bureau. Instead, I will use some loosey-goosey numbers from the 2000 Census Data to help me make my first point.]

The population of the greater Los Angeles area is close to 13 million. The Asian community makes up 10.7%. Let’s lowball the math: there are approximately 1.3 million Asians who live within fifty miles of LAX. I mention LAX because many Asian people land there. Their limousines deliver to them to their homes in Beverly Hills or to offices for business meetings. Japanese and Chinese concerns are heavily invested in the entertainment business. The most powerful studio in Hollywood (well, Culver City)?  Sony Pictures Studio owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment. My point: there are a lot of educated sushi palates in Leslie’s hometown. And a wealth of right brain creative-types.

In 2000, Dallas–I’ll even throw in Fort Worth and the twelve counties that make up the Metropolitan Statistical Area–had a population of 5,487,956. The Asian community made up 3.8% (196, 118 people). Despite the low percentage of Asians (don’t write me because I do know it has grown significantly in the last decade), I am astounded by how many Asian and sushi restaurants there are in Dallas. Especially when you compare it to the number of Italians in Dallas and the shortage of Italian restaurants. (We’ll save that for another day.)

When someone decides to open a restaurant in any city, the smart ones pay attention to the area’s demographics. We bitch about the number of steakhouses in Dallas but we already know the obvious:  the people who live here and the people who visit here love to eat steak. The history of our local cuisine was created by cowboys, Mexicans, farmers, ranchers, and homemakers. We are a city in the Midwest and, even thought our ethnic populations are continuing to increase, 70.41% of the local population is steak-and-potatoes white. We don’t make many movies here; we roll in information technology, electronics, defense, banking and finance, and energy. And a wealth of left brain analytical types.

Let’s get back to Leslie Brenner and why I feel she is an ineffectual dining critic and how she relates to the reality of the city she now lives in: Dallas. (BTW,  I’ve lived in both cities. I was a high-end caterer in Los Angeles. I am not shooting from the hip here.)

Let’s start with her snotty remark about sushi. We have innovative sushi restaurants in Dallas, but they aren’t on every street corner. From reading her reviews, Brenner seems to have found several spots that satiate her superior Los Angeles/Japan sensibility.  In the press release both Brenner and I received, Toko V did not claim to be a sushi restaurant. They’ve hired Chef David Chau, who was most recently head sushi chef of Steel Restaurant & Lounge, to work with Andre Natera on creating a menu that will, hopefully, appeal to their customer base and make money. Before anybody slams their menu concept, how about we stand back and watch how it performs for the company’s business plan. If Toko V really takes off, and the customers demand tekka maki, then I am sure Chau will adjust. That’s how smart restaurants respond. Especially new restaurants that start slow and build as they go.

Brenner landed here in February 2009. I printed this interview. Since then, she has written many reviews (if you’re still reading this I don’t need to link to examples) that focus on her perception of how a restaurant should perform instead of how the restaurant performed relative to its business model. Her criticism is not constructive; it’s based on the-world-according-to-Leslie.

Leslie, think about your readers. Write to them. Journal your experiences and throw in a zinger every now and then. Lighten up and let Los Angeles go. You hit town when the restaurant business was struggling through dreadful economic times. The last year and a half has been exciting. Creative chefs and restaurateurs are attracting international attention. I urge you to understand a business before you drop kick it to West Covina. If you don’t, I’d advise checking the want ads in the The San Gabriel Valley Tribune.


  • Michael

    This is going to get intresting.

  • AmyS

    Is Chicago style pizza anything like you’d get in Italy? No. Is it an American classic? Yes. Perhaps these rolls are not in the Japanese style, but you google “Classic rolls” and you find exactly these same rolls on thousands of menus across America. So who is wrong?.

  • David Pattillo

    Right on! When reading restaurant reviews, I really don’t need more snark. (There’s plenty of that around right now anyway.)

    If the food or service sucks, please do tell. If the prices or ambiance get your attention, please report it.

    But I find her reviews to be far less helpful and generally more irritating (snarky) than D or even the Observer. But then again, we cancelled our DMN subscription this year. So, I find her reviews MUCH less irritating now.

  • MCB08

    This feels more about a personal dislike for another person in your profession than a legitimate need to criticize their critique. That said, I think Brenner is a poor restaurant critic who doesn’t do anything for me personally. I stopped reading her stuff after about 6 months. She clearly has appeal to others as she has remained on the job for 3+ years now.

  • kenlowery

    A couple 101 rules for movie criticism:

    1) Write about the movie that exists, not the one you want to exist.
    2) The Ebert Maxim: It’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it.

    Applies to restaurant reviews, too, I think.

  • Honeybee

    Awesome! I totally agree with you, she is mean spirited and is way too harsh when reviewing any restaurant in Dallas. Nothing is good enough for her. Pack your bags and go back to LA.

  • Bobtex

    While I have long found NN to be insightful, witty, informative, sympathetic, and helpful (though not usually at the same time), I was under the impression that she was a critic of food, not a critic of food writers. I don’t care about LB, and I don’t care what NN (or anyone else) thinks of LB. I care about food, a subject at which NN excels. Stick to that, please.

  • Mark P

    THANK YOU. (As an aside, I am in no way connected to the restaurant world except for eating out far too often)

    Someone has put sandpaper on her toilet seat lately and everything she writes is.. either bordering on mean or pathetic. I say mean because she has just been hating everything lately and I say pathetic because she still gives 3 stars despite the review. Honestly I am not even sure if she has the palette to be a critic these days; I disagree with much of what she writes and she places emphasis on the wrong elements of a restaurant. This is a perfect example of that.

    Its cool she comes from LA and she evidently thinks LA is better than Dallas. Which, you know what, it might be. But if that is how you feel, what does it say about you that you are here?

  • Greg Brown

    I personally do not want to read about one person’s opinion of a restaurant. That’s why I don’t use Yelp. Instead, I want to learn about the restaurant. I prefer facts to beliefs, and descriptions to opinions. We can make up our own minds if we want to visit if given sufficient information. But we need unbiased information. Reviews that start off with an obvious predisposition and then continue to display it to the point it drips off the page makes me doubt the partiality and ultimate credibility of the author. I have read enough reviews and followed them up with my own visits to have an understanding of what’s factual and what’s prejudicial. There are reviewers I read now just for their entertainment value rather than for real insight.

  • Nancy Nichols

    I don’t know her. It is a criticism of someone’s work in my profession.

  • Nancy Nichols

    That is certainly a good point. My job is not as narrowly defined as Brenners. I write features, travel stories, and this blog which I use as a stage for discussion on all kinds of issues.

  • MCB08

    I don’t like her work either. I guess I shouldn’t have said personal, just dislike. Essentially she was critical that Toko V decided on the work “classic” when its clear they were just trying to name a section of their menu for basic roles, but with a more appealing name. So i agree with your her critique was silly and unnecessarily negative. My point is your response seemed a little out of proportion for what she did.

  • dallasboiler

    This post struck a nerve for me. I used to religously read the DMN restaurant reviews each Thursday when they were published. Since Leslie Brenner’s arrival, I don’t really care to read them because her reviews are so specific to her preferences (which I find to be significantly narrower than other critics). Whereas I used to lean more towards the DMN when making decisions regarding a new restaurant to try, I now find myself exclusively relying on this publication and the Dallas Observer.

  • Minutemade

    thank you Nancy for thinking about Leslie Brenner periodically, especially with those generous thoughts of yours. She still continues to ignore you. I know it’s painful. But you don’t look good with those rants against her. Doesn’t do any good to you. Grow up. Quit the jealousy. My five cents.

  • George

    Again with the Brenner-bashing??? Won’t you please give it a rest, Nancy? You’re a restaurant critic, not a restaurant critic critic. If Leslie Brenner needs to let LA go, you certainly need to let Leslie Brenner go. In my opinion, she has shown great character by not jumping in the mud with you.

  • Marcus

    Did you also read Leslie’s post earlier this week regarding Truck Yard? Nancy’s post was not derived only because of Leslie’s thoughts on Toko V, there are several other instances which come to mind, Lockhart Smokehouse being one of them.

  • Jim Rain

    First, I agree that it’s still quite apparent that she wishes she lived in LA. But I don’t think it’s fair to say “she’s just been hating everything lately” when she just did a column on “21 Things I Love About the Dallas Dining Scene.” Perhaps her DMN overlords pushed her to write that piece. Perhaps she was really stretching to find 21 things. Nonetheless, she’s not always negative. Moreover, there have been many times when her criticism measures whether the restaurant is succeeding at what it’s trying to do, rather than what she wishes it would do. But, I also think it’s useful for a local critic to assess whether the local talent (whether restaurants, theater, music, or art) is setting its own bar as high as it should or could to broaden or deepen the public’s taste and appreciation of food, music, etc. When it’s a restaurant run by a top chef like Andrew Natera, it’s good for her to expect the bar to be set at a high level.

  • Rzz

    Every time Ms Brenner starts a sentence w “where I come from” or refers to LA, I stop reading. This is Texas. We don’t really care. But on an aside, this article got me thinking 2 things completely unrelated to this article’s point 1) why do basic sushi in that space when Bistro 31 bar is doing it already? Seems like a concept destined to fail. And 2) how awesome would it be to have a good homey Italian place in that space (and please don’t tell me that Patrizio’s meets that description).

  • fonzie

    ummmm…..those aren’t classic roles and to portray them as such is incorrect. If NN dislikes LB that is fine, but i’m not sure what the point is in highlighting factual things from her article and disagreeing; well besides coming across as argumentative and hard headed.

  • DallasFoodGuy

    Greg if its insight about a concept or background on an individual/ restaurant then check out Teresa Gubbins over at Culture Map. Her articles are not only well written but she stays away from the gossip and trash talking elements that seem to permeate most of the other blogs covering the Dallas restaurant scene. Steven Doyle over at CraveDFW is another good read or radio listen on Sundays.

  • Nancy Nichols

    Why can’t a critic be criticized? Seriously.

  • George

    Clearly, a critic can be criticized. You have made a habit of it. I’m simply saying that, in my opinion, it serves no legtimate purpose and makes you look petty and bitter. Seriously.

  • FatCat

    Brava, Nancy. I’m sure Anthony Bourdain would agree. Ignore the haters below. Lots of reader come here to read love Teresa too!

  • Lemon


  • Greg Brown

    Thanks! I’m a big fan of Theresa and read Culture Map regularly.

  • Gil

    Honestly, I am not a big fan of Leslie’s reviews, but I think panning a critic because you don’t like her criteria is pretty silly. Her job is not to tell people how the restaurant is performing relative to its business model, whatever that means. Her job is simply to give her personal impression of whether or not it sucked, and that is bound to be colored by her past experiences, including living in LA. At least she is fairly honest with her prejudices, so the reader can decide whether they are relevant.

  • allison

    The moment she slammed Tex Mex for tasting like Tex Mex and not California Mexican is when I stopped caring what she wrote. Clearly out of touch of where she is living, writing and eating. The food is different everywhere. Get over it. Critique the restaurants in your current city and stop complaining that it’s not like LA. (Legitimate question: if she was such a great critic in LA, wouldn’t she still be there?)

    I haven’t read anything of hers or clicked on EatsBlog for a very, very long time until today. Her Truck Yard “review” just reinforced that she and the DMN are worthless.

  • DallasDouche

    Love this post – her greatest line was in an interview w/ kris boyd: “I dont know if I will ever find tacos in dallas as good as LA.” please. she doesnt like dallas – but got fired from her job in la and was sued for libel based on a review. She writes to her tastes and nothing else – no objective reasons to go or not go to a restaurant. Scott Reitz is by far the best food critic in dallas – honest, understands the business and makes great reccomendations. While i do feel that writing a negative review of a critic for writing negative reviews is a little meta dude – nancy has some good points.

  • serverserver

    Thank you for writing this!! Nothing she says is really positive, Ever.

    • Corky Luxembourg

      Everybody knows she hates Dallas except her. Why is that?

  • TinyTony

    This serves a purpose. That is ignorant to say.
    I think it is an interesting conversation. I
    I wish mrs Brenner would reply because
    I’d like to hear what she thinks about this.

  • Finally!

    FINALLY someone writes a review about the Queen B*TCH of restaurant reviews. As a server of a restaurant she trashed, I will say that she is the most pompous, rude, and arrogant “guest” we have ever had. Not only does she lack in the LOCAL knowledge of what demand is her, she acts like she knows it all.
    I wish someone would ask Leslie Brenner why she got FIRED from the LA Times!

    Kudos to Nancy Nichols for cvalling the FRAUD Brenner out!!!!

    Thank You!

  • George

    Thank you, tinytony, for your insightful comment.
    You have made me realize how ignorant I am.
    Nancy is a lucky girl to have you on her side.

  • Mess Wright

    I see no jealousy in this post at all.

    And seriously, is there any such thing as “someone who is jealous of Leslie Brenner?”

    I mean, I have only read posts by/from/about people who are “fatigued by Leslie Brenner” and “unimpressed by Leslie Brenner” and “disagree with Leslie Brenner.” For the sake of a balanced argument, let’s even assume there are Dallasites who “totally agree with Leslie Brenner.”

    Still, who is showing anything resembling jealousy for her here, anonymous poster?

  • Kerin Rodriguez

    I love how many people called them “roles”. That was almost as entertaining as this article!

  • dgtx

    I used to read dmn restaurant reviews every week, before Leslie arrived. Now I only look to see what restaruant was reviewed and how many stars. I don’t read the review because it always just sends my blood pressure into orbit! I can’t imagine how the dmn would hire anyone as arrogant & narcissistic as she is to express her opinion about anything. If she gives the restaurant 1 or 2 stars, it’s usually a restaurant that I really like, and 4 stars is usually only average, or possibly awful 🙂 I don’t know where she came from, but Leslie, if you happen to read this, now I’m expressing my opinion…PLEASE GO HOME!

  • Mark

    Good grief Nancy u sound pathetic! I travel all over the world and a lot of times I agree with Leslie. A lot of times the restaurants miss the mark on flavor. When it comes to memorable Asian restaurants they don’t compare to NYC, LA or even Seattle. Leslie’s job is to critic the restaurants unlike you she has no ties with the chefs or the owners. I used to think it was me with the different palate when Bill Addison came then Leslie and they wrote what I felt. I also like she does not argue with you but continues to be subjective when you’re not.

    • Mario

      Nichols hates Dallas more than Brenner. Or just hates period. This is a ploy to suck up hits.

    • Dubious Brother

      Good grief Mark – I don’t see Nancy attacking Lesle, I see Nancy defending Dallas. Nobody has ever said that Dallas is the place to go in this country for Asian food – as Nancy pointed out the Asian population here is miniscule in comparison to other cities and that is the driving force behind ethnic foods. I’ve tried BBQ and Mexican food in NYC and Chicago and quite frankly, compared to Dallas and if that were the litmus test, I would have to say their restaurants suck but that doesn’t mean that there may be some BBQ or Mexican restaurants there that are better than others and that is what a critic needs to point out to the locals.

  • foodbevlaw

    Truck Yard karma. Oopsy.

  • foodbevlaw

    Truck Yard karma, with a dose of uninteresting food truck karma. Oopsy.

  • Where’s Waltrina

    4 stars to NN! The pattern of LB, she likes foofy small contemporary types that serve foam, flowers and wierd food combos. If you don’t understand the menu, chances are LB will 4-star it? She is too predictable. If a restaurant has staying power and been around a while, she hates it. Sorry LB, the jig is up.

  • Nancy Nichols

    George, I’m glad you are holding my feet to the flames. Seriously, it makes me think about what I write, especially on a blog where there are no faces. I welcome opposing opinions. What I don’t value is Brenner’s sense of entitlement. I even understand it: I lived in Los Angeles and ate a grounding breaking restaurants. And not just those that raised the bar in LA, but the whole country. Brenner lived in LA and NYC. I can see where it would be a difficult adjustment to move to Dallas. I told her when she moved her I thought she was brave. I can not imagine moving to a city and being a critic with no sense of the culinary history. Instead of learning it, she begins way to many narratives with “When I lived in LA….” You call my pointing this out a “habit.” I would call it an ongoing observation. I prefer to keep the dialog going because of the “Brenner” emails I receive daily. I use SideDish as a forum for what readers want to talk about. If enough readers tell me they don’t want to discuss this subject, I will keep it to myself. Until then, my “habit” remains.

  • JC!

    Nancy has a point, but… Look, lot’s of people in Dallas travel to LA or NYC and eat at the restaurants. Dallas is not an isolated restaurant market. Should we live in our own flyover food isolation? Praise bland versions of Thai food because we don’t know better? Basically Nancy wants to grade Dallas food on a curve. That is more condescending that Leslie’s affected snobbery. Bring on Leslie’s harshness! I love Dallas and the food scene here, but I also love the over-the-top, unreasonable critic. We need it. Just to counter Dallas’ self-congratulatory impulses. At least Leslie has personality and is not afraid to attack sacred cows. Dallas doesn’t need another boring food ciritic with the same generic opinions….

    • Bug Menot

      Leslie clearly has no business acumen so she should stick to commenting on food.

    • Beda Casstevens

      Good post, JC. I think Dallas chefs/restaurants aspire to be at the top of their fields. Dallas is no longer a provincial city and has the potential to take its place among the best restaurants in the U.S., and I view Leslie’s critiques as a good teacher with her red edit pencil, striving to improve her students’ work with constructive criticism.

  • Dallas Native

    Obviously Dallas isn’t LA or NYC. Our food just isn’t as good and it’s not fair to compare us to other great cities. Leslie needs to learn how to lower her standards. How long has she lived here?

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  • Bug Menot

    The DMN likely hired Leslie because so many people from California have moved here. Guess what? Most of us don’t want to read about LA in our local paper.

  • Bug Menot

    “continues to be subjective when you’re not.”

    You got that right.

  • Scagnetti

    I love reading about dirt and gossip in the restaurant and bar business.

    If all there was to read was about openings, closings, reviews, wine tastings, etc., it’d be as boring as Miley Cyrus.

    Keep up the good work Uncle Nancy!

    • Nancy Nichols

      Who is Miley Cyrus?

  • L.C.B.

    I am neither for Ms. L.B. nor Ms. N.N. As critics, they are both being subjective. I couldn’t agree more with Ms. L.B. about food trucks and sushi, anymore than I could agree with Ms. N.N., about picking Neighborhood services as the #1 best restaurant in Dallas.

  • Jerry

    I don’t understand the point of this post. Brenner recently published a list of some wonderful things she likes about the Dallas restaurant scene and she does that sort of thing regularly. You even acknowledge that she has written about some great sushi places here in Dallas But you and her critics only focus on her critcism. Funny, since she’s a critic.

    This sentence really intrigued me: “Since then, she has written many reviews…that focus on her perception of how a restaurant should perform instead of how the restaurant performed relative to its business model. ” I don’t understand the complaint. If she says the Mansion is terrific, but needs to be more thoughtful in its creative choices, is that bad? Should she say, this place caters to boring travelers and does its roast chicken well, therefore it’s fine?

    I agree with some of the comments below. This post was a senseless. But D magazine, with its constant swipes at the Observer, seems to have a business model that includes whining about more interesting and relevant publications. I will now let you get back to your “Most Beautiful Women in Dallas” contest.

  • Jeff Oestreich

    I don’t choose the restaurant that I want to go to based on any “business models” or how they are doing compared to their business projections. haha – Frankly I don’t care at all about that. I look for good food and reviewers help us with that. After you read several reviewers you get to know their likes, dislikes, tendencies and general temperament. And that DOES help understand the context. I’m not a big fan of Ms. Brenner’s reviews all the time – but I DO often find them helpful. So it’s all good.

  • Beda Casstevens

    You just can’t quit her1

  • Jack Jett

    You…perhaps as you just spewed a list of hateful comments about her. It is clear that something about her bugs you. Or do you feel this way because you dislike LA or think every restaurant deserved an awesome review?

  • Mess Wright

    Which “hateful comments” are you talking about?

    I adore L.A., but L.A. and Dallas are nothing to compare.

    She doesn’t “review.” That’s what bugs me. You cannot say something “doesn’t sound appetizing” and call that a food review.

    See it. Eat it. Then, you can review it.

  • Greg Brown

    Attacking sacred cows? Her fawning review of the very average The Mansion truly revealed to me her old school, “will write good review for sufficient suck up.” Time to retire, Leslie.

  • Milk&Cookies

    I just get a giggle reading LB use the word
    “lovely” in a review. Count ’em up; sometimes
    she describes dishes as lovely 3 or more times
    in a column.

  • Primi timpano

    Brenner’s review of Old Warsaw was spot on. Most everything else failed to appeal to me.

    Reviewing food is a very specific art of translating sensuous experiences into language. Reviewing the restaurant service and decor is much easier. Dallas is lucky to have the likes of NN, Reitz, and Gubbins as local reviewers, not to mention several excellent bloggers, eg Taco Trail.

  • ClaireM

    Nancy, I saw this on Susie (Priore) Bauer’s FB page. You have encapsulated my thoughts exactly about LB. Thanks. Needed to be said. Claire

  • Annelle Ramirez

    A…….. .. ..Men!

  • JT4242

    Wonderful article – could not have said it better myself. Fortunately, Dallas residents don’t take any of Leslie’s reviews to heart because they are both inconsistent and overly opinionated. In fact, I’m more reluctant to try a restaurant she DOESN’T like as I’ve learned we seem to have nothing in common when it comes to food.

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  • kindallas

    Hahaha..!! Sorry (not really), that made me laugh ;-).
    I always appreciate a bit of humor to lighten the situation.

  • Gene Fairbrother

    Wow!!! Nothing like a couple of pissy women getting their claws out. Can’t wait for the next shot.

  • hr2013

    great article nancy, I agree that she inappropriately “slams” restaurants to be sensationalistic and interesting. Her hubris is quite annoying and she never really gives you a great feel for the actual restaurant’s food or atmosphere. She once slammed a restaurant for not seating her on time on a weekend night and criticized the dishes in such a way that rather then turning me off to the restaurant, it just turned me off to her.
    A critique is critical, but keep it to the important stuff.

  • Allison Salas

    Agreed. Anyone that doesn’t get Tex Mex doesn’t deserve to be a food critic in Texas.