Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

Is it true that all discerning and sophisticated palates reside on the coasts? Is the Midwest really filled with folks who wouldn’t appreciate unusual or exotic dining? Midwestern-born Michael Bauer seems to think so.

The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic was taken to task recently in a letter from a reader who took issue with a recent review in which Bauer described a dish as being “bland enough to appeal to the Midwestern tourist.”

I think it is extremely arrogant to think people in the Midwest would not enjoy a meal that is ‘different or exotic.’ You do not have to live in San Francisco or New York to have a sophisticated appreciation of food from different countries.

Bauer brings up the issue on his blog, Between Meals, in a post titled “Defending the Midwestern Palate.”

Stereotypes are terrible things, but at times they have a basis in truth. I am from the Midwest, and I go back to Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri at least once a year. Having dined extensively on both coasts and in the Midwest, I can tell you firsthand there is a difference…. There are some individuals with very sophisticated palates, but there isn’t a critical mass to sustain chefs and restaurateurs who have a focused, unique style… I think it still holds true that most trends start on either coast and move to the ‘flyover states.’

Not unexpectedly, his post provoked a lot of comments. Some of the points are well worth considering:

• It’s more of a big city/small town issue than coastal or landlocked; people in big cities are exposed to more and become more adventurous eaters (witness Chicago).

• San Francisco has a high population of singles and childless couples who eat out more often and thus can sustain a wide variety of dining options.

• How adventurous and sophisticated is San Francisco’s palate anyway, when the perennial favorite dish is Zuni’s roast chicken?

What do you think? Are midwestern palates lacking in adventurousness, even in this day and age? Is daring dining only for the coasts? And how sophisticated can San Francisco be when—in the words of one New York commenter—”Everyone wears jeans and sneakers!”