Leslie's PlightPoor Leslie Harlib. I don’t know the woman, or a single thing about her, other than the fact that her name appears after virtually every one of the restaurant reviews in the Dining section of the Marin Independent Journal.
That this lone woman must review the majority of Marin County’s restaurants is tribulation enough in and of itself. That the paper didn’t have the imagination to concoct a pseudonym for some of her work, a la early Ruth Reichl, only makes her singular burden more unfortunate.
But a girl has to do what a girl has to do, and Leslie Plays Nice. She seems to live in Emily Post’s world of etiquette. She will not describe a dish in more downbeat terms than “a tad dry” or label an environment as anything worse than “somewhat uncomfortable.” Afterwards, she hastily writes about what was delicious or fun or hip about the experience, so as to balance out the negative vibes. Leslie is fond of adjectives; you’ll find “lavishly lush fondue” and a "funky marsh of a wild mushroom risotto” in Leslie’s world.
Perhaps, knowing all too keenly the dearth of skilled food preparation in Marin County, she writes in hopes that more encouragement will fertilize this sparsely-populated soil.
Sadly, I am not so sunshiny as dear Leslie. Her recent review of Matsuyama in Novato made me dig my fingernails into my palms. B and I drove by there a few times after we moved to Novato, debating whether to stop or drive 30 miles into the city to sit at sushi counters that we knew and loved. We opted to drive, until one very cold night when we decided to pull over and give it a try.
We walked in to a square room divided by rice paper partitions. The person who greeted us suggested that we sit anywhere we liked. We chose one of the faux-wood-grain-formica-topped tables and sat down, eyeing each other nervously.
The menu was replete with the usual rolls – California, Dragon, Rainbow - and udon noodles in various broths. We settled on two soups, a tempura sampler and a nigiri plate, a world away from what we would normally order, with the hopes that we could gain a sense of what the kitchen had to offer.
Alas. Alack. The sushi was cold and tasteless, indiscriminate lumps of fish slumped over cold knobs of rice. The soups were thin and insubstantial. The tempura was the best dish, but even that was unremarkable. The floor around us was littered with stray paper chopstick wrappers and the odd grain of rice; several tables sat empty, piled high with the detritus of the previous meal, while we dutifully tried to eat ours.
The man I love just might be the most ardent sushi eater I have ever met, but that night he flicked the pieces about on his plate. After three bites, he could not bring himself to eat more.
When our sweet waiter came back to check on us, he asked if we wanted anything boxed up. “No!” We both said, in unison, and then, apologetically: “I guess we’re not that hungry tonight. So sorry.”
Ah, Leslie. I know you must have a mandate to Promote The Few Good Places Up Here, and for that I salute you. I just won’t go to any of the places you recommend. Alas.