“I vant you should bring me HOT tea and I vant you should make it snappy!”
The barked command to a geriatric nurse is the last memory I have of my grandfather, Abraham, while visiting him in what was then known as Toronto’s “Old Folks Home” shortly before he died at 91. My Polish immigrant forebear didn’t age well, and he was quite ornery in his final years. (Okay, I’ll be honest, he was that way the entire time I knew him).
“That’s going to be you one day,” said my mother, who was a Starkman by marriage. “It gets worse with every male generation.”
I don’t speak a Yiddish-accented English, but I do have some characteristics my therapist sister, Janie, agrees are genetically male-based. I’m a coffee drinker, and as the entire West L.A. Peet’s coffee staff knows, I like my coffee super-hot – and I’m not shy about letting them know when their burners are a tad off. My father, Morris, would only order soup in restaurants if he received multiple assurances it would arrive “piping hot.” My uncle Max, who lived in the celebrity enclave of Brentwood and worked in the heart of Beverly Hills, dismissed most L.A. restaurants as overpriced “coffee shops.” Only a handful of places passed muster with him.
Perfectionism has many drawbacks, but it contributed to my father becoming the managing partner at a respected Toronto accounting firm and my uncle’s rise as one of California’s top architects. As for me, I ran a successful PR and crisis communications firm in New York City for 25 years, and earlier worked at major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.
I’m often accused as coming off as a “cranky old white guy.” The truth is I’ve always been a dour and cynical sort, which is why a Village Voice reporter dubbed me “A Canadian Woody Allen” after seeing my comedy act when I was still in my youth. My exacting ways have long driven family, friends, colleagues, and clients crazy, and everyone who has spent time with me has their favorite “Starkman” restaurant story. But guess where they all turn when they want a restaurant recommendation? Zagat? Yelp? Open Table? Nope. The person they so delightfully mock.
The origin of this blog stems from a dinner I had with my longtime friend Allan Lengel more than three decades ago when I was living in Detroit. Lengel took me to his favorite burger place and excitedly asked me what I thought. I told him the burger sucked.
“Shtakman,” Lengel said in Yiddish-accented English he mastered from his Holocaust surviving parents. “You need to publish a personal review because if you like something, it’s gotta be good. Starkman Approved is a higher endorsement than Zagat!” (BTW: Lengel’s burger place went out of business).
Over the years, others have encouraged me to launch this site. I resisted because I was never quite comfortable with my “Mikey” persona – Mikey, of course, being the kid in the legendary Life commercial who was tough to please. But conventional wisdom has it these days that we all have to be “authentic.” I’ll let you know soon enough if that’s wise counsel.
This blog is a forum to express my typically contrarian views. Perfectionists see the world through a different, sometimes sharper, lens. We take note of details that others often overlook or disregard, and our heightened focus can sometimes give us a prescient edge.
In 1979, I wrote an article for Canada’s Maclean’s magazine correctly predicting that the introduction of Nautilus exercise equipment would revolutionize the fitness industry because it made weight lifting more accessible to women.
In the mid-1980s, I wrote a gushing review for The (Montreal) Gazette about a New York City hotel called Morgans, which was just opened by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame. It was the nation’s upscale first boutique style hotel, and I embraced the concept. Rubell later told me that for weeks it was filled by Montrealers who read my review. I got to know Rubell, and my time with him, and the private party for Grace Jones he invited me to, still ranks among the most memorable moments I spent in the Big Apple.
In 2007, I penned a blog post announcing to the world why I’d never join Facebook. The social media site was still new, but I appreciated its toxicity early on. I’m confident that my skepticism about the effectiveness of Facebook ads will also prove correct.
In 2012, I fulfilled my lifetime dream to live in San Francisco, a city whose beauty and unconformity of its locals were magical to me. By 2016, I recognized the tech industry had forever robbed the city of its soul and character and made my way to Los Angeles (Admittedly, Los Angeles never had a soul, but I have family here).
Since my move, SFO techies have relocated here in droves, including Peter Thiel, one of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley. Google’s San Francisco office was less than a half mile from my SFO home. The company plans to open a significant office less than a three-minute walk from my L.A. home. You’re worried that Google’s tracking you?!
A few things about me: I was born and raised in Toronto, but also lived in London (Ontario), Boston, Montreal, Detroit, Mill Valley (CA), and, of course, New York and San Francisco. I live in west L.A., in the heart of what I believe is the highest concentration of mattress stores anywhere in the world. I still think of Toronto as home despite not having lived there for four decades.
I’m no gourmand, and I avoid foods drenched with butter or cream, so don’t look to me for French restaurant recommendations. New York Times food critic Pete Wells forgot more about food than I will ever know. I don’t eat at $200 a plate restaurants and couldn’t distinguish between nikiri and nishiki or shochu and soju (although judging from the correction on the bottom of this review, neither can Wells).
I judge a restaurant or bar on the totality and value of the experience and consider such factors as the size of the alcohol pours, the pricing of wines by the glass, and the graciousness of staff if food isn’t properly prepared and sent back. I avoid trendy restaurants where you need connections to get in. I have a passion for fitness, so this is an area I particularly enjoy writing about. Another passion is media. I still have ink – or should I say pixels — in my veins, and I’m troubled by the state of the industry today.
I welcome critical feedback but please remember there is a person on the other end. I also welcome recommendations. I disclose all my conflicts and don’t take payments for any postings. I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but would appreciate positive mentions if you feel they’re deserved.
Thanks for visiting. I vant for you to enjoy this blog!