Letters to the editor

Inhaling at the Black Forest

[Editor’s note: The first three letters this week were received in response to a review of the Black Forest restaurant in our Food section [“The Black Forest,” March 16]. Reviewer Mackensy Lunsford’s comments follow the third letter.]

I dine at the Black Forest all the time, and your review (if you can call it that) sucks. I’m just not sure how you could write this horrible article, and why Mountain Xpress would print it.

After dining in this restaurant for more than 10 years, I’ve never had a bad experience. You start out bitching about how the people are dressed, make the bar seem like a hoedown, assume that clients bitch about slow service, and have no idea about the history of the place or the type of food they prepare.

This restaurant is owned by a local family, and the staff hasn’t turned over like [in] so many other places. I see the same faces almost ever time I go in. In the past 10 years, I’ve never heard country music being played. Most weekend nights they have local artists playing in the bar area with music everyone seems to enjoy. I like the costumes that the staff wears, but more important to me is the service they provide, which is excellent.

The Black Forest is a great place to dine. It’s a shame that your paper would pick a good restaurant and write an awful review. It’s time you found another writer for your food reviews — maybe the “Picky Companion” should give it a try. At least this person loved everything, “inhaling his dish.”

In closing, Mackensy [Lunsford] should write an apology.

— Chuck Landers

Can’t see the Forest …

I am writing to express my ultimate disgust at the article written by Mackensy Lunsford in reference to the Black Forest restaurant. I have dined at this restaurant for many years and have had many memorable meals. I think your food “critic” should have looked into the history of this establishment and the story behind the varied menu.

George Ettwein, owner and executive chef, worked at the Black Forest as a teenager with the previous owner. He began as a line cook and learned the art of German cuisine. He later took his experience and Italian historical background to become the executive chef at … Vincenzo’s, a premier Italian restaurant in Asheville. It is a great success story that a former teenage line-cook would one day own the establishment he trained in and establish himself in the culinary world.

I think the atmosphere, excellent service, delightful and varied menu all add to the experience of the Black Forest. I think your food writer should extend this successful business an apology for being so short-sighted and [for] writing youthful opinions that have no validity. Shame on you, Mackensy, for your self-important review. I thank the staff and kitchen at the Black Forest for their diligence each day and [for] making the rest of the public very happy, including [Mackensy’s] “Picky Companion.”

— Debbie Davis

Ich bin ein Berliner

After reading the article on the Black Forest, I would like to suggest that you assign reporters to evaluate European cuisine who have actually traveled abroad. To clarify, Madison County, N.C., is not considered abroad. I found the article to be covered with insults about an upscale establishment that is as far from a “country bar” as one could possibly get. The “country bar” comment would be more suiting to a review of Hooters restaurant. In this regard, I am sure there are more rednecks at Hooters on a slow night than there will ever be at the Black Forest. Not to speak negatively against Hooters. I like wings, too!

Furthermore, the outfits worn by the [Black Forest] waiters are very European (for your writer, that would include Italy and Germany). Had your staff been knowledgeable of German lore and/or dress, surely they would have noticed the necktie that is worn by all of the waiters is a representation of the edelweiss flower. The edelweiss is the flower of Bavaria, as well as a famous German song. The apparent issue with the “animal eyes” watching only further confirms that this writer has never been to Germany. I would be hard pressed to remember any restaurant in Germany I had visited that did not have some animal hanging from the walls.

I could go on about how poorly the article was written and researched, but I am sure you have a life to live. However, in closing I would like to say that my wife (a German citizen) and I found that placing the Berliner Kindl ad at the bottom of the article was in especially bad taste (taking nothing away from the Berliner Kindl — it is a good German restaurant as well).

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s tell everyone to read the Xpress for expert opinion on local cuisine. Not!

— Jack V. Smith

[Restaurant reviewer Mackensy Lunsford responds to the above writers: I agree that the service at the Black Forest is excellent, and indeed, my review noted that the wait staff was “professional and charming” (though I would have preferred to see my handsome young waiter in lederhosen). I also found the bar area homey and charming; and “country” is not an insult. It seems important to point out that “The Straight Dish” is a restaurant review — in short, one writer’s opinion. Different eaters may have differing opinions; as I noted, my dining companion loved the food at the Black Forest (as do many others that I know). Thanks for sharing your own opinions, and I appreciate the feedback.]

Unarmed public needs inspection sharpshooters

Regarding the cover article March 9 [“Spa Owners Take a Bath”] about the tireless struggle of the Shoji Retreat owners to provide a unique Japanese hot-tub experience in our mountains: We are proud to live in Asheville and have worked hard to serve it. It saddens and shames us to discover that the county it inhabits is not held accountable for protecting its citizens against potentially lethal construction flaws such as those enumerated in the article. Buncombe County’s assertion of sovereign immunity, freeing them of liability in the inspection of [substandard] building practices, is frightening.

As for Mac Swicewood’s offensive, insensitive remark [that] “they fell on their own sword,” the point is: We don’t have swords! We come unarmed to the table, and that’s why the county’s building-and-safety inspection process is needed. Instead of protecting us, do the building inspectors stand by and watch us trip, or do they push us upon the swords they’ve left behind? Evidently, if you do business with the county, you must wear full armor and keep your shield held high until articles like this one by Cecil Bothwell — and the continued truthful reporting of Mountain Xpress — find their Achilles heel, and instead of driving a sword though it, shoe it.

— Gayle Wurthner and
Rob LabrecqueAsheville

Emma Goldman still has plenty to say

Author Candice Falk, speaking at Blue Ridge Community College recently as part of the school’s recognition of International Women’s History Month, described feisty Emma Goldman as the “foremother of freedom of expression.”

Goldman lived from 1869 until 1940, and for speaking her mind in public, she spent many days of her life in jail, or in exile. Dr. Falk, director of The Emma Goldman Papers Project … [of the National Archives] and author of Love, Anarchy and Emma Goldman: A Biography, clearly captivated her audience by sharing one example after another of Goldman’s wit and grit.

For instance, at a 1919 union meeting in Detroit, a male auto-union officer introduced her, saying, “Because she is such a good talker and because she speaks so eloquently, the first syllable of her name is ‘gold,’ and because she speaks so vehemently, and because she speaks with such authority, the last part of her name is ‘man.’ I want to introduce Emma Goldman.”

Goldman stepped to the podium and said: “Friends, by the introduction of our good chairman, I can see that he is a man. The conceit of the male is such that when you think deeply and express yourself with intensity, you must be manly and not womanly. I want to tell him that I know any amount of men who neither think nor express themselves in any shape or form!”

She always carried a book to her lectures, fearing that if she had to spend the night in jail, there would be nothing of interest to read.

Often, when authorities barred her from speaking, she’d turn up at the lecture hall, stuff a handkerchief in her mouth, then sit silent in front of the audience.

One can only imagine Goldman’s outrage at the carnage the Bush regime is unleashing daily in the Middle East and in prisons around the world. Likely she’d say, as she did at a peace rally: “I believe that militarism will cease when the liberty-loving spirits of the world say to their masters: ‘Go and do your own killing. We have sacrificed ourselves and our loved ones enough fighting your battles.'”

Were she living in Buncombe County, what fury would Goldman express when Sheriff Bobby Medford trie[s] to silence reporters from both the Mountain Xpress and the Asheville Citizen-Times by threatening to jail them?

Or when Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower tries to make citizens mute in City Council chambers by alleging darkly that they represent special interests; or likens citizens, in the press, to several species of birds?

— Frank T. Adams

Consider all links in the “local” chain

In response to the commentary by George Keller titled “Global Commerce Begins at Home” [March 9]:

No, it doesn’t make sense for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to hire a Florida company to help our city. Asheville boasts a wide variety of creative talent ready to do the job.

Yes, Wal-Mart is a fact of life and here to stay.

But, I have to take exception to Mr. Keller’s plea to only patronize local eateries and businesses. Asheville is home to many unique and exciting locally owned restaurants and shops, contributing to our community in many ways. They make Asheville what it is. We should celebrate and support them.

But again, we must all realize that chain stores and restaurants have an important place in our community as well. Many of these big businesses donate time and dollars to the local community. But most importantly, they hire local people! People with families, college students, retired people, single parents — you and me! People that pay taxes, vote, volunteer at local schools, hospitals and shelters — and spend their hard-earned money in our city. Many of these large companies can offer higher wages and much-needed health benefits to their (largely) service-profession employees, the very people who serve the large tourist trade and eclectic locals that make Asheville a beautiful place to visit and live.

If we want to “think locally,” we need to look across the counter and see the entire picture. Next time you order a cup of coffee or buy a pair of jeans, please remember that your server/salesclerk lives here. Don’t boycott your neighbor!

— Carolyn Stalvey

Our good (water) fortune deserves quality management

We may be facing another train wreck. Our leaders are again beginning discussions about an agreement to ensure that citizens of [Buncombe] County and the city of Asheville will have reliable water service at a fair price. If the past is any guide, however, we can expect quarreling, nutty ideas and controversy, but no progress.

With 80 years of scientific knowledge available free less than 100 miles away at the country’s premier watershed research center (Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research in Athens, Ga.), one city councilman notes that all that watershed management needs is two men with chain saws and a truck. The electorate of 1850 may have been delighted with this kind of know-nothing mentality, but the future is now — and we don’t elect people to make jokes about a vital public resource like water.

Certain truths, as the Declaration of Independence notes, are self-evident. Commercial interests who do not now pay their full share of the cost of their water can hardly be expected to see this changed without a fight, whether they are in the city or the county. Nor can we expect a City Council in the pocket of commercial interests to suddenly show concern for the best interests of the private citizen. As development in our area has increased, so has the chance of things getting worse. Small-volume, residential water users will continue to subsidize the large-volume users, condos, car washes; the lines will break, and the elephant will give birth to another mouse. One more train wreck, or — if we’re lucky — nothing new accomplished except higher water rates for small users.

Do we deserve this goodly supply of so precious a commodity? We can show we appreciate our good fortune by placing its management in the hands of qualified people.

— Allen Thomas

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