Leslie Brenner has not only shed her shroud of anonymity, she has crossed the journalistic line she drew in the sand when she moved here almost six years ago.
Today she publishes a three-star review on Proof + Panty, the restaurant where, on her first visit, she was recognized by owners Mike Martensen and Sal Jafar II, who refused to let her pay. Martensen and Jafar are part of a growing number of chefs and restaurant owners who are banding together and choosing not to participate in the DMN restaurant review process until the current star system is recalibrated. This group, which also includes Shannon Wynne and John Tesar, feels the current system is unfair. Martensen and Jafar chose to protest the system by not accepting payment, which is a requirement for professional restaurant critics.
The dinner caused quite a stir. It was discussed on most of the local blogs. I posted a story detailing the facts according to Martensen and Jafar. Brenner posted a response. The SideDish post has over 200 comments.
After the brouhaha, I thought Brenner would reassign the review to someone else and move on. My jaw dropped last Wednesday when I received a press notice from Drew Wilson of HCK2 Partners:
Leslie Brenner returned to Proof + Pantry to complete her review, despite attempts to impede her efforts by owners Michael Martensen and Sal Jafar II. The review, which Brenner teased online, will be published in Guide next Friday and should appear online next Wednesday or Thursday.
I thought it was a joke. What happened to ethical journalist Leslie Brenner, who on numerous occasions has insisted she would never reveal the restaurants she was in the process of reviewing? If you are a critic, you want to keep your methods behind the scenes. In my opinion, the focus should be on the restaurant, not the writer. On October 5, Brenner wrote:
Regarding whether or not I’ll review Proof + Pantry, I have never discussed in advance my plans for reviews, and I’m not about to begin doing so.
Well, I guess she changed her mind. Instead of playing the straight and narrow, she teased an upcoming review on the DMN website. On Facebook, she posted a link to her teaser and wrote: “I’m excited about this!” This morning, she wrote on Facebook: “Good morning! My review of Proof + Pantry will be posted at noon, I’m told.”
Rather than let a more objective reporter do the job, to get in her required second visit, Brenner took advantage of Halloween. She and her other three accomplices showed up in costume. Brenner dressed as a mummy. The review is accompanied by pictures of Brenner and her dining partners in costume.
Funny, the day before this stunt, the DMN used Brenner’s unveiling as a huge media marketing blitz. Instead of addressing the star system, the real issue readers and restaurateurs are calling into question, they chose to parade Brenner around like a circus pony.
Today, they publish a review that, I feel, is a disservice to the restaurant and to DMN readers. I don’t care how objective Brenner feels she can be under tough circumstances. She should have walked away from this review. Instead she mocks the industry and shines the light on herself. She snuck into the place to prove she could. She pointedly mentioned in her review that she got a waiter to take her picture, in my opinion a middle finger to the owners. She masqueraded as a mummy days after revealing her face and claiming: “[T]he day-to-day part of my mission remains the same: giving readers a feel for a restaurant so they know whether it’s someplace they want to spend an evening — and spend their money.”
In her Proof + Pantry review Brenner writes:
I have a hard time understanding what Proof + Pantry’s owners were afraid of. Both times I dined there, friends in tow, we all had a wonderful time and quite liked the food.
The owners of Proof + Pantry were not afraid of her or her review. They, and a growing number of other restaurateurs, do not like the star system she controls. She was recognized both times she dined. It’s not about her. It’s about the star system.