Friday, October 19, 2007

angry letter

The chef of Stonegrill wrote a detailed letter to SN&R refuting KW's recent bad review. He makes some valid points but he is missing the forest for the trees. I'm sure he has read his yelp reviews, and they mostly say the same thing. He brings up that she should have eaten there more than once, and that's something that I find really hard, mostly in the context of a negative review. Sure, Frank Bruni at the NYTimes eats at a place multiple times, and for lunch and dinner, but he probably has an unlimited budget. That's not the way it is at publications like the SN&R or, say, Midtown Monthly. Even if I had the time to do that, if it's a fine-dining place I wouldn't have the money. I've had this on my mind a lot because I'm reviewing a fine-dining place for my December column and I don't think I can afford to eat there more than once but I am really dreading the prospect of not liking it and having to give it a mediocre or negative review based on one visit. There's a very good chance it will be wonderful, and it won't really matter. Food reviewing is soooooo subjective (and of course all reviewing is) so that's why star systems don't make sense to me at all. You're placing this black and white rating on an experience that has so many factors. Reviews should be enjoyable to read and entertaining, and have a clear point of view, but they can only be a guideline, not some kind of biblical pronouncement.

Hey! Look over here! Bill Burg was on Insight with Jeffrey Callison last week talking about his Southside Park book. I hear the book is really good, Beers has it.

Speaking of Beers', Queen Sheba on Broadway has this awesome Hakim "stout" (it's not really a stout-style beer, just a dark beer) that is really spicy and fresh and juicy.

AP reviewed Maalouf's (which is great, I mean great that he reviewed it and of course the food is superb). Here's a couple of definitions he busts:

We began with a bowl of hummus ($5.50), which is pureed garbanzo beans (chickpeas) mixed with tahini (sesame paste), accented with garlic and lemon juice, and topped with olive oil.

Falafel is deep-fried, hush puppy-lookin' croquettes of mashed garbanzo beans, rich with the aromas of spices.

Is there anyone left in the world besides toddlers and the extremely elderly who do not know what hummus is?


Liv Moe said...

Way to go Bill!!!!!

The book IS good. I would also like to take this moment to note that Bill B will be having a signing this month at the Avid Reader. I wanna say it's on the 27th but don't quote me on that.

BC said...

Chefs, like writers, always sound like complete idiots when they respond to reviews. "What do you mean you didn't like it? You did, so." There is just no way to not sound like an idiot.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the multiple dining experiences. If a place is upscale...every meal should be good. Why should we have to come back again and spend more money? If the restaurant wants to foot the bill, because I was not satisfied, then I am all for trying a place again.

My flatmate in New Zealand ran a stonegrill restaurant and I really did enjoy it. I was hoping this place would be good, but I am hesitant to try it.


Anonymous said...

I just don't understand the idea of going to a restaurant to cook your own food. Even fajitas piss me off.

But, after reading Matt Warren's letter, I might actually try the place. The letter really hammered the point home that Kate Washington made some uninformed, predjudiced and pedestrian comments on the actual food.

Kinda like if you went to Udupi Cafe and said their breads were silly and the bhagar e baigan would make make Gandhi go on a hunger strike.

beckler said...

I disagree that she made uninformed, prejudiced and especially pedestrian comments. I think she made human comments, and by that I mean that she is not an impartial robot, as no reviewer is. "Uninformed"? Yeah, she didn't notice they had a 90 person upstairs seating, everyone on yelp also complains about being seated in the cramped hallway, and I'm pretty sure the upstairs is usually mostly empty, so it doesn't matter if it's up there, they're not using it, and if they did it would probably feel cavernous and weird. "Prejudiced"? This is where the human part comes in-Stonegrill just seems like a funny concept, as does the owners of Nishiki and Cornerstone partnering on any venture. If you're on the receiving end of mockery about this, it will sting, but that doesn't mean she is prejudiced to note it. "Pedestrian"? Why, because she hasn't heard of stonegrilling?

I don't get your joke about my Udupi article but I didn't call the bread silly or make a crack about Ghandi, for the record.

Anonymous said...

I said that about her comments on "the actual food", not the decor or layout. And my joke / comparison was hypothetical, read: "kinda like if..." You are awfully defensive, even when you don't have to be.

I liked you review of Udupi because you placed your predjudice aside, as in not typically liking vegetarian cuisine, and reviewed the restaurant on it's own merits. Washington's review, as you state yourself, did not. As her own review states that she didn't even bother to learn from the servers instruction.

Now when I went to Udupi, my server showed me how best to enjoy the bread with the curry dishes. It was unsolicited advise from someone who knows better. I didn't tune him out... I listened and followed.

beckler said...

OK, I see I missed that you said "actual food", that IS a thing that bugs me on yelp, when people will slam all these extraneous things, say some qualifier like, granted, the food was delicious, and give it one star!

and you can file this under more being defensive, but I have absolutely no prejudice against vegetarian food (vegan food unless cooked by Joshua Ploeg usually, yes). I cook vegetarian at home a majority of the time. I do make jokes about it because it's a pretty cheap and easy joke, but I'm trying to restrain that urge in my articles. Not very successfully.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why you should restrain the urge. I think you use it effectively. Which is why I chose to use your review as a point of comparison to the Stonegrill review in the first place.

But I guess my subtleties got all Heyamoto'ed.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone left in the world besides toddlers and the extremely elderly who do not know what hummus is?

Well, go to a store/deli (eg TJ's) sometime and witness the monstrosities that are going under the name of hummus... At best people seem to think it should have cumin or something, at worst sun-dried tomatoes etc., I'm surprised we don't see "lox hummus shmear"

Not really defending AP, just answering the hypothetical question--

beckler said...

ha! that's funny cuz i ate cilantro hummus from tj's for lunch today! no, it's not really hummus, but i think it's good and it's pretty low fat.

Anonymous said...

I guess that chef had some ok points about the review, but....

1)Chefs don't get to decide what the proper subject matter of a review is. So the Cornerstone comment was perfectly reasonable.

2)Admonishing her about the effect her review has on restaurants is absurd; what, they should all be positive then, so as not to hurt anyone's business?

3)Kate is completely within her rights to be against Cajun and pasta, regardless of whether it is becoming common or not. And, no, she doesn't have to try it first.

4)I would add one thing, too, in the realm of gimmicks. I hate gratuitous and pointless use of clever language to make something that is really pretty tried and true seem new. Which is to say, no they aren't freakin' lamb "lollipops" and they never will be! I know it's common these days, but that doesn't mean it isn't stupid.

5) When you have a lame dining experience, as a restaurant reviewer, it's perfectly understandable why you would feel vindictive. You get sick of the oppressive mediocrity of most new restaurants, so you begin to resent places that don't bring it like you'd hope. Not that I'd know.


Anonymous said...

oh, sorry. I guess I sound a little bitter. memories.....


Anonymous said...

Micheal Krasny talked to Oliver Sachs today about music and neurology. Pretty interesting. It hasn't posted yet, but later today it will be here:

DB said...

The Stone Grill chef didn't do himself any favors with that screed. If anyone has ever gone into that place, you know that it ALWAYS reeks of fish, and not in any sort of good way.