Name withheld by request

Yes, most things in life are routinely predictable, especially bloviating, self-proclaimed connoisseurs and hack food critics like Howard Seftel of your paper. How could I not laugh at such a woeful display of stupidity cloaked in the guise of expertise and adventurousness? His review of Flo's ("Won Ton Abandon," March 25) certainly calls into question Seftel's dubious credentials as New Times' food critic and leaves me to wonder whether he has not been overcome by a bit of economic ressentiment.

The phrase "gustatory ignorance" appropriately describes Seftel's comments about the food at Flo's. Perhaps there is an "Idiot's Guide to Chinese Cuisine" from which he took such misunderstood concepts as "yin and yang" (used in reference to Flo's shrimp and mushroom dish) or his ideas on authentic Chinese food. Certainly Seftel would not appreciate Flo's Cantonese-style won ton soup when he is used to the MSG-laden chicken broth served in most places. Nor would he have recognized the Hangzhou-style West Lake Beef Soup made with onion oil or the Guizhou-style Beef Noodle Soup made with star anise and Szechuan peppers.

Of course, Mr. Seftel's benighted remarks about the decor of Flo's as having "virtually no signs . . . aural or visual, that you're in a Chinese restaurant," are understandable. There are no dragon murals, panda pictures, laughing Buddha figurines or terra cotta statues as in the Chinese restaurants he probably frequents. I did happen to count, however, six large paintings by the Chinese artist Jiang Tiefeng hanging on the walls of the restaurant. I also noticed the popular Chinese music streaming through the loudspeakers and the conspicuous wood impression of Florence Chan's name in Chinese to the left as I entered the front door.

There is no reference to the service--essential, I thought, to any restaurant review--which, by the way, is excellent. Seftel betrays his affinity for buffet-style Chinese with his comments about "western cutlery" and "Fiestaware." I will leave Mr. Seftel to believe that the plastic, sectioned plates and waribashi chopsticks (not Chinese) in most Chinese restaurants are indispensable to the "exotic Asian complexity" he seeks.

Ironically, Seftel's lack of knowledge about Chinese food is nowhere more evident than in the review immediately following his on Flo's, in which he lambastes another restaurant's food while saying, "there's precious little regional bounty on the menu--unless of course, you believe egg rolls, kung pao chicken, moo shu pork, sweet and sour chicken, Mongolian beef, shrimp fried rice and chow mein are native delights." The last time I traveled through China, I encountered all of these dishes in nearly every part of the country.

It is sad to see one so intoxicated with the idea of the "Mysterious East" that his sense, as well as his palate, has been so benumbed. Stay with your romantic imaginings of China, Mr. Seftel; I will continue to eat in the "vaguely sterile" setting of Flo's.

Paul Davidson

McCain's Record
I, of course, have no knowledge of John McCain's behavior while a POW, and until I learn for certain that it was less than honorable, I am prepared to honor him for performing his duty as an American serviceman ("Is John McCain a War Hero?" Amy Silverman, March 25).

I do have some knowledge of McCain in another context. When he first ran for Congress in 1982, I was asked by a Republican colleague of mine if I, a liberal Democrat, would explain "American federalism" to John. I at least attempted to do that on two separate occasions.

Based on those approximately three hours of discussion ("tutoring?"), I found him quick, anxious, thoughtful and pleasant, if not charming. Had he been a student of mine in American government at ASU, I believe he probably would have been capable of earning an A.

Whether this qualifies him to be President of the U.S., I am not sure. As I have followed his career in Congress, I have observed his behavior to swing from the sky to the gutter. Clearly, there are times when he is a "compassionate conservative," and then there are times when he comes across as just plain mean. If he can keep his temper in control, he has the capability to be a good Republican candidate for president in 2000.

Bruce B. Mason

My thanks to you for an excellent piece of journalism. Your article was informative and even-handed.

I'm a McCain supporter and, naturally, I tend to "get my hackles up" when his status as a POW is questioned.

However, this is an issue that will inevitably arise in his bid for the presidency. I'm glad to see that the first comprehensive article on the subject is well-balanced. Your piece didn't attempt a McCain whitewash, nor did it ignore the vested interests of McCain's detractors in the POW/MIA community. You thoroughly examined the issue and the motives of those on both sides of it.

Your article has done its job: You've informed me of the facts and have allowed me to draw my own conclusions.

My faith in the "Fourth Estate" has risen a notch or two.
Frank Knuppel
via Internet

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