Soliel Ho squashes Andrew Zimmern's Lucky Cricket Restaurant

Newly named SF chronicle restaurant critic filing for eater on Andrew Zimmern’s Lucky Cricket and his controversial remarks on midwest Chinese American restaurants.

"Regardless of any complaints one might have about the rest of the restaurant’s authenticity, at least we know the mugs were manufactured in China. "


Thanks for this. I’d read the criticism of his comments and this adds to it. It’s hard to believe that, as much as he’s traveled and eaten, he’s this clueless. 'Course maybe he’s giving the people what they want…and “authenticity” be damned. I’ll be interested in what happens.

What a tool, that is so very very disappointing

EFO’s Managing Director Bill Esping said they invested in the restaurant due to its potential to expand to over 200 stores, … he said the restaurant business is lacking any new entries to the Chinese niche. PF Chang’s, a national-scale Chinese dining chain, is over 20 years old and he said that Lucky Cricket, with the restaurants combination of food and bar drinks, has the opportunity to be “the 2.0 of Chinese [restaurants.]”

“I don’t think there is a Chinese restaurant in the Twin Cities that sells only authentic Chinese food,” said Li Ya, head chef at the Princess Garden in St. Paul. “Every restaurant that tries will eventually, due to economic and market concerns, change their menu and dishes — Americanize them, basically — in order to survive.”

Dinner menu:


Tiki bar: Tiki bar - Wikipedia


This seems completely clueless to me:

If Lucky Cricket is meant to show us “real” Chinese cuisine, why is there a heavy Tiki element here? The Tiki aesthetic itself is mired in illusion, an invention of post-World War II Hollywood. You get the sense, being there, that you’re in a Disneyfied vision of the East. You see a Thai tuk-tuk (which of course you can sit in), photos of Asian marketplaces so generic it’s hard to place them, and posters that say “HAWAII,” while tucking into a plate of hand-torn noodles inspired by the cuisine of China’s central plateau. If this restaurant were a piece of writing, an editor would call it a “centaur”: two distinct organisms slapped together in an uncanny mess.

I guess she’s never been to a Trader Vic’s? Which is explicitly the model for this chain.

Also, Vic Bergeron opened his first place in Oakland in 1934, and his second in 1940, so no, the tiki aesthetic is neither postwar nor Hoillywood.

I got the impression she was just pissed that Zimmern insulted Midwestern diners by suggesting they don’t know from decent Chinese. The food does sound pretty lousy, though.

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Seems like people in the Midwest are way behind us coastal elites as far as Chinese food goes.

Things are changing now, with the younger crowd and with the Chinese students, but it’s still pretty common to have a family come in and everyone orders Orange Chicken. So there will be four plates of chicken on the table and that’s it.

The execution was clearly off, but hey, the restaurant was three weeks old. That’s not when a professional critic decides a place can’t make good food. Execution aside, she’s mostly attacking him for doing exactly what he said he’d do.

“I grew up at Trader Vic’s,” Zimmern mentioned. "My mom was a friend of the Bergeron family, and it was a huge part of my childhood. I’ve always wanted to open a Chinese restaurant with a tiki bar and now I get to.

… the kind of food they want to make … is all done from scratch. They had to bring in a high test wok station and create a special rack in the cooler for their ducks. “We are cooking everything ourselves. We make buns every day, that may be the biggest change for some cooks out here,” Zimmern noted.

Lucky Cricket is my attempt to bring good Chinese food to the mass markets. All the Chinese chain restaurants I know of are stale and unexciting. They lack a real modern beverage program with a point of view, and their service is middling or nonexistent. Our concept is being designed to scale quickly. We aren’t creating a one-off here. It’s not chef-driven either.

We are aiming to capture the customer who doesn’t know about congee or Szechuan wontons in house-made chile oil. I think today’s average restaurant goer, the true average restaurant goer, disconnects from a lot of food-forward restaurants that dominate the headlines. Playing off the familiar — think shrimp toast reimagined or a luxurious skirted pot sticker — Lucky Cricket is going to be an everyday spot that happens to serve good honest Chinese food…with the largest collection of rums in the upper Midwest anchoring our Tiki experience.

… I realized that the majority of people here in Minnesota thought that Chinese food was what was prepared at PF Chang’s and fast food mall restaurants, such as Pei Wei and Express Wok. … I thought that the time was right for people in this market to have a modern, fun restaurant with a big beverage program, cool music and still eat what I think of as some of my favorite dishes when it comes to Chinese food.

Oh, wait, I forgot Trader Vic stole the tiki idea from Don the Beachcomber. So in that sense it’s Hollywood.

But it’s also not Chinese, is it?

I’d say that’s super common. All over the country, probably including LA, depending on where you go. We have a really pretty good Chinese place in Reno where the standard is a meal per person with soup and egg roll.

Trader Vic’s menu is mostly Chinese.

Er, what I looked at was mostly not Chinese.

You don’t boast if you can’t deliver. When Zimmern took on the role of white savior and asserted his superiority over Chinese restauranteurs, he abdicated any time to get the kinks out.

Soleil Ho acknowledged on Twitter, “and to clarify, this is absolutely not a straight review! I only went once, mostly to flesh out my thoughts and really get a sense of place.”


Straw man. He never said any such thing. And Ho dismissed that, saying that the Twitterstorm “was never a conversation about whether a white man could cook Chinese. (Of course people can cook whatever they want—relax.)”

She quotes Zimmern as saying, “I think I’m saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horseshit restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest," which she characterizes as a “strange idea that the food-court Chinese joints of the nation were a problem that needed fixing in the first place.”

I don’t think that’s a strange idea at all. I think it’s probably a good business plan to try to build a Chinese restaurant chain that’s “not stale and unexciting” that will appeal to those Midwesterners who order all that orange chicken. But first they’re going to have to train a bunch of cooks who haven’t worked in that kind of kitchen before.

She wrote a review and concluded that the food wasn’t as good as competing chains. Denying that in a tweet is more unprofessional bullshit.

Even Yelp has only given it 3*s. I think Jack in the Box does that well.

And here’s another Eater piece:

And what, pray tell, is a tuk-tuk doing in what purports to be a Chinese restaurant?

I have a sense the money is coming from the partner with specific commands to go to 200 asap.

It’s a modern take on Trader Vic’s. Largely Chinese menu with some fusiony stuff. The whole point was to build a chain. The biggest investor is the same company that backed Kona Grill, McDermott’s previous venture.