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What makes a good / superb restaurant reviewer?

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From bbqboy in topic 323073, this deserves its own topic:

What makes a good, or superb restaurant reviewer, in your opinion?

Experience in the Kitchen or Front?

No experience in Same?

A mom who can cook?

I'm just interested, because as someone who likes to eat good food but has never worked in the industry, I come on here to tell folks about tasty/new places in my area, or answer travel/dining questions, not to critique places that are less than stellar.

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  1. I'm a reviewer, and try to do a good job, so those are interesting questions to me--but I mostly have no idea.

    More generally, what makes a great artist? I know good painting, music, and food work when I see / hear / eat it, but I don't have any general theory of what makes one artist great and another lame.

    Generally you have to be disciplined and work hard, but dedication to craft alone won't make you a great artist. And in any creative field there are always a few genius types who seem to have the craft by instinct and toss off masterpieces.

    1. Well, there are several criteria to be considered a serious food critic... those are well documented. But strictly in terms of form, here is what needs to be in ANY good review... It's really simple:

      1) Explain what the thing you're reviewing is. (Remember, we get TONS of visitors and Google hits from this site, people will not automatically know what "Zuni Cafe or Hungry Cat or A Chilaquile is....)

      2) Explain how you feel about the thing, and why. (What made you happy, what didn't...)

      3) Have a POINT. If you've gone long, tell people what they should do, in your opinion, based on the review. (Would you go back again? What youw do different with the recipe? Take a stand!!!)

      Again, it seems REALLY simple, but I see bloggers and people trying to be taken 'seriously' on this board who miss one or two steps.. :p

      --Dommy!

      4 Replies
      1. re: Dommy

        I appreciate your point about form and content - but I think there's a big difference between a real review by a serious food critic and what we do here or on blogs. I got from RL's post that he was looking for what made a good professional critic, not necessarily a ch contributor.

        Here on ch, the most useful bits of info are descriptive - not necessarily subjective feelings. Even after I've gotten to know a poster pretty well, I still go by detailed descriptions of taste and presentations more than feelings.

        OTOH, a professional column would probably need more of the personal statement - the essay - than just a description.

        I think that the answer to RL is that while all of the above (experience, growing up with great food, etc.) are important, there really are only two skills that will make or break you. Those are you're constant ability to learn and appreciate new things, and your ability to communicate what you've learned.

        The great critics have, above all, been great writers. People are willing to forgive technical mistakes, (the horror of Reichl calling dipping sauce Dashi instead of Tsuyu!), if the piece is entertaining and shows the critic learning and passing on what they've learned effectively.

        1. re: applehome

          Being able to learn and communicate clearly what you learn pretty much defines good writing, I agree. But what makes one persona able to do that and another not?

          You don't necessarily have to work professionally to be a great writer--as Kumar said to Harold, just because you're hung like moose doesn't mean you have to do porn.

          "I got from RL's post that he was looking for what made a good professional critic ..."

          Right, this came up in reference to the comment "Someone like (Chronicle food editor) Michael Bauer gets a job as a restaurant reviewer because he has certain expertise," made in a Chronicle (!) article, to which I responded that he got the job because he was the editor of the section and forced out two much better restaurant reviewers so he could get the gig.

          He was terrible when he started but learned on the job well enough that he's decent today. But he's still not as good as his predecessors Patricia Unterman and Stan Sesser had. I think he lacks the chowhoundish instict to appreciate great food in humble surroundings.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            On the other hand, there are consumers who care about the whole restaurant experience, including service, decor, furnishings, and so on, who don't enjoy good food, so Bauer maybe a more useful critc to them than to food-obsessed types who will put up with anything if the food's great.

            It's not my idea of how to be a great reviewer, Bauer certainly has thought through and formalized his review process:

            http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/s...

          2. re: applehome

            I agree with your post. I think there is a difference between an article about a restaurant and an actual review. On my blog I write articles about my experience at a restaurant. It's my own personal perspective and more based on my emotions involved with the meal instead of judging the restaurant as part of an official review. I don't get into giving out stars or ratings. I also only write articles about places that I enjoyed. I feel that reviews should be left to professionals but see a place for bloggers to share their experience in a less formal way.

        2. I went through arts training and there were definately rules for critiquing others people's work. I've found them to be helpful and transferable to any review process but of course modified. As I recall, they went something like this (very loosely):

          1) Always state a positive, regardless of how much you don't like it. At least attempt some fairness and congeniality.

          2) If you have a negative, explain why and your perspective but be constructive and straightforward. Conversely, the archtypical "catty" non-constructive review is what gives critics a bad name.

          3) Try to understand what the artist/creator/chef is trying to do...ask them but also do your own homework. Having a bias is natural, YET not doing background and being at least fairly open minded can reflect on your own limited views. A good interview, review or research starts with a foundation.

          4) Direct comparisions can be a trap...be careful. The term "derivative" can be over used.

          5) Be in the moment, use your senses and know if you're in a bad mood going in.

          6) Be civil.

          Beyond that, the best piece of advice I heard was something like, "critics defend what they like be it pop-culture, academia or vices." Understanding this helps you decide what to take seriously in a review and what to toss away.

          In regards to food reviewing in particular -- specific experience and knowledge is helpful but can also be limiting unless that person is reasonably open minded. I'd say a good reviewer should understand specific processes and technique but not nessecarily specific experience. Levity is also very, very helpful and apreciated. It might be the reviewers life to review but most people want good information and to be enteretained while there.

          ...your mileage may vary...

          1. I believe the main focus on what constitutes a good reviewer is first and foremost their ability to write (i.e. readability). I see this akin to a good college professor where one could be a brilliant mind but loses the audience in the lecture hall because they have no gift of speaking.

            I am not entirely convinced that one needs to know the nuances of every type of sauce or food preparation in order to be a superb reviewer. I think someone who can share the experience, be honest about what they experienced, and make it all readable would be very good at what they do.

            I would also give bonus points for any reviewer that lists actual prices in their reviews instead of abstract ranges like "Entrees $15-$45."

            3 Replies
            1. re: Seth Chadwick

              A restaurant reviewer who doesn't notice subtle differences between dishes won't be much use to readers who do.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Likewise - a reviewer who knows and describe every nuance and detail can be overbearing for a reader who only wants the basic low-down. Though journalistically, they should be able to extrapolate that from the first few grafs.

                Thus, I think food reviewers (esp. professional ones) are in the quandry of striking that balance of details that satisfies both--within that dreaded wordcount limit!!! :)

                1. re: AquaW

                  One element of good writing is knowing your audience. A town like San Francisco that's full of self-indulgent food-obsessed hedonists demands a different style of review and reviewer than I imagine would be appropriate someplace where food's less of a passion.

            2. You all make some good points. I too have read good and bad reviewers in my time, and while no single factor can determine "goodness", to paraphrase the late Justice Potter Stewart, I know one when I read one.

              TT

              1. Above all, an insatiable curiosity about food and the ability to communicate it in an entertaining manner. Also:

                1. I would like to see someone that has some training in the kitchen, not necessarily CIA but at least a Cordon Bleu or NYCI-type short course.

                2. Wine education and the ability to judge the size, composition, relative value of the wine list and how well it complements the restaurant's food menu.

                3. Intelligent commentary on desserts, something that is sadly lacking in many reviews.

                4. A reviewer that is able to put aside their pre-conceptions of the owner, chef and their combined star power to really make an objective judgement.

                5. I would like to see more reviews use Zagat-type points accumulation rather than the stars system. Then, we would be able to clearly see how a restaurant scored on criteria like food, wine, decor, service and health/sanitation.

                6. More reviews that look at the "whole picture". By this, I mean that the restaurant review would answer the question "How does the restaurant succeed in expressing the story that they are trying to tell?".

                7. Someone who understands that restaurants must be reviewed "in context". For example, if a hole-in-the-wall is being reviewed, I know not to expect ideal decor and service and neither should the writer.

                8. A true chowhound and not a food snob, who enjoys everything from a taco truck to a 20-course El Bulli meal.

                What do y'all think?

                5 Replies
                1. re: bogie

                  I disagree about #1. Knowing how to cook can be helpful, but you're reviewing the product, not the process. New Yorkers who eat out every meal can develop very sophisticated palates.

                  The great critic Stan Sesser once said that when he told San Franciscans that he ate out six nights a week, they'd ask, "How can you stand it?" When he told New Yorkers the same thing, they'd ask, "What do you do the other night?"

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I wouldn't call Stan Sesser a great critic. He did have good acknowledge of Asian food when nobody was paying attention to regional Chinese, Cambodian, Burmese or Vietnamese. I think his later reviews became too bias and controversial.

                    1. re: PBSF

                      What do you mean by biased and controversial? I can't relate that to anything I read.

                      I have the Chron's books from those days, and his reviews are still great models.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        In his later reviews, he touted every Asian restaurants he reviewed and blasted just about all the top end restaurants. At that time, he lost a lot of creditbility with the public and many of us in the restaurant business.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Which "top end" restaurants are you thinking of? I have the books and can check. Patricia Unterman almost always reviewed the fancy places.

                          In the last edition (1991) that included Sesser's work, the only top place he reviewed was Zola's, about which he raved. In the previous (1998) edition, he raved about Masa's ("best French restaurant int the United States") and gave a positive review of Square One (which deserved a pan).

                          People in the business always hate negative reviews, no matter how well-deserved, and frequently accuse reviewers of bias with no basis in fact.

                  2. I like a reviewer who tells me what a place is good for. A congenial environment for certain types of get-togethers? A place to satisfy a certain food longing? Good cheap eats with character? A cultural landmark purveyer of culinary masterpieces? Whatever.

                    Then the reviewer should give us a feeling of being there, good and otherwise.

                    And if the reviewer can make us laugh, only then can s/he qualify for the top ranks of the review profession.

                    1. A good memory. Notes will only get you so far. A great reviewer can describe dishes (s)he ate years ago in detail.

                      1. Things I tend to keep my eyes peeled for with reviews:

                        1) "insider" information - whether it's not-on-the-menu items, special dining nights, or that jumping up and down on the barstool hollering like a monkey will get me a free well drink. Of course, I understand the difficulty of actually writing such down would no longer make it so insider (and that these types of info may get outdated really fast,) I'd even enjoy tidbits about where to park to avoid having to valet.

                        2) must-haves and must-avoids - not that it definitely means that it's something that I will have (or not), but I appreciate a general outline of the place's strengths and weaknesses so I can order accordingly (and so I have backup in case a clueless friend asks me "what's good here?") :)

                        3) context - as noted numerous times before, I certainly hope that a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood dive isn't going to get reviewed by the same standards as a four-star restaurant.

                        4) good food knowledge background - not necessarily food prep training as noted above, but being able to ID ingredients, origins, and prep methods.

                        5) goes without saying - a colorful (and accurate) vocabulary -- you can only go "Yumm-o!" so many times....

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: AquaW

                          "you can only go 'Yumm-o!' so many times...."

                          Preferably zero!

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Not a big Rachel Ray fan then, RL?

                            TT

                            1. re: TexasToast

                              Big fan. Though sometimes I turn the sound off.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I think the sound has to be off.

                                Poor gal...

                        2. Well, as a longtime Bay Area critic (4 years at the Bay Guardian, 2 yrs at San Francisco magazine, and 1 yr. at Citysearch), I found that the most important part of my job was being a vivid and entertaining writer. Even in a town of food obsessives, way more people were going to read my work to pass the time on BART or Muni than were ever going to go to wherever I was reviewing, whether it was Yamo Thai or Masa's (and yes, I've reviewed both). While I had to be respectful and fair to the chef and restauranteur, and do my best to "get" their concept for the food and the place, at the end of the day I was there to be the voice of the diner, the people looking to spend their money on dinner at one place or another. In that way, I don't think a good critic has to have a restaurant-work background. Diners don't have to know how to cook to spend their money at a restaurant; while I think some home-cooking experience is very helpful, I don't think a critic needs to have been a chef, as long as s/he is sharp, and with a wide frame of reference and a savvy, well-informed palate. Tasting everything, and training your eye and your palate to capture as much info as you can in a glance (or a bite) is key.

                          And I agree, the most useful thing a critic can do is paint a picture of what the place feels like, so potential diners can make up their own minds as to whether they'd like the place. I can tell you what the soup tasted like in my mouth, and whether it was made the way it's supposed to be, but I can't predict how it's going to taste to you, or even how it might arrive at your table on a different night. What's salty to me might be bland to you--restaurant criticism is one of the most subjective of jobs, so the best you can do is describe.

                          Most critics, unfortunately, even if they know their stuff, are pretty boring writers, alas. It's not easy writing about the same topic every week, having to hit the same marks (food, service, wine, ambiance, etc) time after time. Many critics go stale and formulaic, or get bored and start writing too much about themselves. It's a great job but not one you can do for too long, I think. And pretension is the kiss of death; you have to be smart and well-informed without showing off or talking down to your readers, and you can't review a hole-in-the-wall if you think you should be dining at Gary Danko's. Oh, and god forbid, don't ever use the word "yummy", not ever.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: dixieday2

                            I definitely agree that food writing is something that cannot be done too long at a stretch before everything starts going formulaic -- fortunately I had the good fortune to crossover/rotate into reviewing health/beauty products for a little while (though eventually I go back to food - with a fresh outlook, and a fresh face to boot!)

                            and the only time I used "Yummy" is when that's in the brand/product name -- I hope I haven't transfressed TOO much :P

                            1. re: dixieday2

                              The world of weekly newspapers seems to be a fertile breeding ground for the dread Self-Referential writing style. There was one restaurant reviewer who particularly annoyed me, so I would start reading her columns by counting the number of times she referred to herself in the lead paragraph. Seven times was the typical count.

                              1. re: Sharuf

                                Sometimes reviewers drift into autobiography when the budget isn't adequate. The old (pre-New Times) East Bay Express reimbursed only one meal for two, and the column was 2,000 words.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Haven't read it lately, but that paper was a real showcase for "Me, Myself, and I" writing. As for the meager reimbursement, I don't see why that would promote any particular style. Is the paper saying "We don't pay diddly-plop so we'll compensate by letting him be more self-indulgent than we would normally put up with"?

                                  1. re: Sharuf

                                    Publishers get what they pay for.

                                    When the New Times chain (since merged with Village Voice Media) bought the Express, they hired a full-time staff reviewer, and gave him an adequate expense account. Jonathan Kauffman was one of the best reviewers in the area before he moved to the chain's Seattle paper.

                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    The previous publisher hired freelancers and as I noted above didn't cover enough expenses to do a serious review. As a result most of the reviewers in that era filled up the space with other things. When I wrote for them my main goal was to build up a body of work to get a better gig, so I made up the difference out of my own pocket.

                                    Full disclosure, I'm currently a freelance reviewer for the SF Weekly, another Village Voice Media paper.

                              2. re: dixieday2

                                very interesting and helpful post. Thank you.

                              3. Food reviewers sell specific newspapers/magazines. They reflect the community they serve. If they don't they lose their job. The definition of a "good" or "great" reviewer varies widely.

                                From the perspective of an industry insider, I personally believe in the power of positive reviews. If a reviewer has developed a following I think the abscence of a review is all it takes to convey the status of the restaurant in the reviewer's opinion. Reviewers who pile on with negative feedback can have huge economic and psychological effect. Micheal Bauer years ago had a hay day with Jeremiah Tower. His reviews were bitter even though they were based on real experiences. They had a punitive feeling, completely inappropriate IMO. I've voted by not reading anything he writes.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Karl Gerstenberger

                                  "... Bauer years ago had a hay day with Jeremiah Tower."

                                  You mean Stars? I think the place just went downhill. Tower got distracted by opening branches hither and yon. Bauer's last review from 1996 matched the word of mouth at the time.

                                  http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi...

                                  And around the same time he reviewed two other Tower ventures quite positively:

                                  http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi...
                                  http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi...

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Bauer's tone was mixed sometimes manic.

                                    "The first off-note was the arrogance of the hostess, whose outfit was more appropriate for the ski slopes than one of the city's most high-profile restaurants. We were seated at a wobbly table, even though the staff apparently knew of the problem. (We'd had a similar experience at JT's, where we were seated at the same creaky table on three visits.)

                                    Why not more care? An attitude like this will eventually catch up with a restaurant, especially in a market that's one of the most competitive in the United States."

                                    "There's a lot to love about Stars, and I still believe that Jeremiah Tower is one of the country's most talented chefs. But his restaurant has become one of the most inconsistent in San Francisco.

                                    In addition, prices change as fast as the stock market. It must be a bear market now, because the tariff has been lowered, with main courses from $22 to $28 (I've seen them soar into the $30 range).

                                    We revisited Stars more than a month ago, only to find that a new chef had just started, and Tower was leaving to open a restaurant in Singapore. The food was so poor -- fettuccine with artichokes swimming in oil ($10), for example, and a fried snapper ($23.75) in a flavorless broth that made the whole dish a soggy mess -- that we decided to wait a few more weeks.

                                    FOOD FALLS SHORT

                                    On the return visit last week, both Tower and the new chef were there; we were recognized right away. The food was legions better, but it still fell short of our memories of several years ago, when the combinations were much more elaborate.

                                    The smoked scallops ($10) were an interesting blend of near-rubbery seafood topped with little pools of yellow caviar. Looking like little fried eggs, the scallops were spaced around a vinegary potato salad that helped to cut their slight fishiness."

                                    1. re: Karl Gerstenberger

                                      Seems clear and to the point to me.

                                      When a once-great restaurant (the Chron gave it four stars just five years earlier) goes downhill it's the reviewer's responsibility to give readers the bad news.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        What makes a superb reviewer? Was he trying to deliver a wake up call or drive the nail in the coffin? I personally feel that the role of a reviewer is to bring attention to businesses that are doing something exceptionally well. Kicking and screaming, even valid kicking and screaming, is distasteful (to me).

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Reviews aren't written for the restaurant owner and employees. They're written for the consumers.

                                          You really think the Chron should have let the four-star review stand after Tower let the place slide so far?

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            I've never based a decision on where to eat on a starred review of any origin. Should the Chron have let four star stand? By their own standards, no.

                                    2. "I personally feel that the role of a reviewer is to bring attention to businesses that are doing something exceptionally well."

                                      I understand your sentiment, but it comes awfully close to suggesting that reviewers should be doing P.R. for the restaurants.

                                      I am not a professional reviewer, but I do blog about my restaurant encounters and am more than willing to take a restaurant to the woodshed for giving me a poor dining experience. Since they are taking my hard earned money out of my pocket, I expect a decent product in return. If that isn't the case, I want other people to know so that they don't spend their hard earned money on the same thing.

                                      Why would a professional reviewer do any different?

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                        As a reviewer, I find that the most satisfying part of the gig is steering readers to great food.

                                        It's also important to steer them away from bad places that are heavily promoted and well-known places that were good but have gone downhill.

                                        If I try an obscure place and the food's not good, I'd rather let it languish in obscurity and find a better place to review. "Don't go to this place you've never heard of" doesn't seem to me like a very interesting story for the writer or the reader.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          What do you make of Mr. Bauer's(and others) blog entries, as opposed to his formal reviews.
                                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/s...
                                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/s...
                                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/s...



                                          As a Jayhawker, when I read these travelogues and reflections, it seems
                                          maybe he's happier freed from the constrictions of
                                          formal reviewing.

                                          1. re: bbqboy

                                            My first thought when he added the blog to his two full-time jobs (boss of a large department and usually two reviews a week) was, when does he sleep?!!?

                                            But then he hired Bill Addison and offloaded a lot of his reviewing duties.

                                            Tossing off a 250-word blog entry is a much lighter, more lighthearted, and less consequential task than writing a 1500-word review and going through copy editing and so on. I think that explains the difference in tone.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Oh I don't know, RL. Other CH's may independently find the obscure place (no place is really that obscure to a CH). Don't you owe it to them to tell them to not waste their money and time?

                                            TT

                                            1. re: TexasToast

                                              I'm talking about reviewing for newspapers.

                                              I post on Chowhound about pretty much every restaurant I try, good, bad, and in between, unless I'm planning to review it in an upcoming column.

                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I like food reviews of places I've never heard of...positive or negative.

                                          3. A good food critic should have a great palette and know how to write.

                                            I can't stand food critic's who seem snobish or who take themselves too seriously.

                                            1. I have reviewed restaurants, books, packaging and movies for numerous print publications. My first rule comes from Henry James: What did the creators of this thing intend it to be, and how successful were they? It is not always a perfect rule, but it works most of the time. Personal taste has a place, but I feel it should be secondary to providing a clear and precise assessment of the subject. The writing itself should entertain the reader.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: ognir

                                                You can't taste intentions. What matters is the results.

                                                How can any reviewer assess a meal except through their personal taste? One can address differences of taste by comments such as "some might find the dish too salty" or "I thought there was way too much lemon verbena, but my companions liked it," but there are no objective criteria.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  A reviewer assesses through education and experience. A professional should be able to assess intent to a fairly significant degree (while also being open to discovery). If, for example, you go to an Asian/French fusion resto and they serve fettucini alfredo, your eyebrows raise and you say, what are they up to here? Have they done something brilliant that's going over my head, or are they way off base? There's another thread running right now started by a woman who was horrified to experience raw chicken in an Asian/French fusion resto. She didn't supply enough information about the resto to tell if this was chicken sashimi or a kitchen screw up. After a bit of discussion, it became apparent that the latter was the case. But had it been the resto's intention to serve chicken sashimi (a legitimate, albeit frightneing, Japanese dish), and had she then bashed them for it, it would have been she who was in the wrong for relying _only_ on her subjective tastes.

                                                  It is not black and white, subjective _or_ objective. Good critical thinking employs both objective and subjective assessment. That's what's enjoyable about it.

                                                  1. re: ognir

                                                    Most "Asian fusion" places have incoherent menus with a hodgepodge of popular dishes. One real-world example includes crudo, ceviche, an heirloom tomato salad, crabcakes, black cod with miso, sirloin steak, edamame, and sweet potato fries with aioli. The only thing that would make fettucine Alfredo seem out of place is that it's not trendy.

                                                    Is a cook who serves raw chicken intentionally better or worse than one who does so accidentally? Seem about equally bad to me.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      That seems like a limited viewpoint. What if it was a master sushi chef?

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Salmonella and bird flu scares aside, chicken sashimi is a traditional Japanese dish.

                                                2. Exactly. So, if a master sushi chef served chicken sashimi intentionally, it would be much better than if a lesser chef served it unintentionally, because the master chef would presumably know what he is doing, while the other would be out of control. Thus the two are not necessarily "equally bad", as you say (except perhaps from a limited subjective viewpoint).

                                                  If a master sushi chef served me chicken sashimi, I would probably eat it knowing his intentions were based on years of experience and training. If a cook at the corner fusion bistro tried it, I would probably call the health department. Eating is a matter of trust.

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: ognir

                                                    If a master sushi chef in Japan served me chicken sashimi, I'd trust him and eat it.

                                                    Here in the U.S.? No way. We don't have the tradition.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      You say one can't anticipate intention, but that is exactly what you are doing by saying "We don't have the tradition." You are anticipating what is "valid" for a restaurant in your region by applying a standard that you label "American". But what about Nobuyuki Matsuhisa or Hidekazu Tojo? There are plenty of trustworthy master sushi chefs working outside of Japan (USA or otherwise). What if the raw chicken poster had come forward and said, "I went to this crappy restaurant called Nobu where they served raw chicken"? She'd get laughed off the board. I say, to properly criticize a restaurant, you have to have the ability to form at least an initial idea of what the place is supposed to be. I'm not a big fan of okra, but I'm not about to trash a dish of it served at K-Paul's because of my personal taste. In fact, I would go in hoping to be converted, hoping to learn to love okra.

                                                      1. re: ognir

                                                        I don't believe Nobu serves raw chicken. A well-trained chef would recognize that American chickens aren't raised to be eaten raw.

                                                        My objections to eating raw chicken are hygenic. Nothing to do with taste.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          It doesn't matter if he actually serves it. The point was hypothetical: IF Nobu served raw chicken, he'd certainly serve the right kind, and I would trust his intentions, because I understand his reputation. One shouldn't just categorically dismiss a dish because there's the possibility of it being unhealthy in the wrong hands. As stated: to properly critique a dish, you have to know something about the intentions of the people who prepared it.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            My point is practical, not hypothetical. Find a restaurant in the U.S. that's serving chicken sashimi and let's see what kind of precautions they take to make sure it's safe.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Nevermind.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                Folks might be interested in this while we're on the topic:

                                                                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                                                there's probably more posts on the Manhattan board from the past.

                                                          2. re: ognir

                                                            I don't think you'll get chicken sashimi from a sushi master -- my impression is that it's generally served at yakitori houses, not sushi places.

                                                          3. One more interesting side-question: how should/are expectations be different for someone who's a restaurant writer vs. a restaurant critic (the former may not be so much about reviewing restaurants as they are highlighting various trends or doing features & lists like "Places to go if you're craving X & Y," etc.)

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: AquaW

                                                              Any time a value judgment is required, the qualifications are mostly the same.

                                                              List / guide pieces are often assembled from information extracted from previously published reviews. In that case they can be put together by editors who aren't particularly knowledgeable about the subject.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Robert. :) My experience tells me that the qualifications are not necessarily the same just because a subjective opinion is offered. Qualifications do inform subjectivity. And I've worked on numerous lists/guides for some fairly high-profile magazines and I've never encountered one that was hastily assembled, nor have I encountered an editor who doesn't know what s/he is doing at such rags.

                                                                1. re: ognir

                                                                  There are lists and lists. A "top 50 restaurants" cover story in a high-profile monthly is very different from a roundup of recent reviews in a newspaper.

                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  I think food writers / editors are more journalistically inclined than food reviewers / critics - less about subjective opinions on the food and probably more about history of the restaurant /chef, the concept behind it and what the top-brass were aiming to achieve, etc. (non-review food articles quite often features quotes & commentary by the restaurant's staff, which doesn't occur much with reviews.)

                                                                  I personally am still having a hard time determining what are good elements of a non-review food piece. I can definitely see that a horrible one reads like a re-hashed press release--but a good one, not necessarily sure if it should read like a good review.

                                                                  1. re: AquaW

                                                                    A reporter writing a story about a restaurant owner, chef, or designer shouldn't make the kind of value judgments an anonymous reviewer would.

                                                                3. re: AquaW

                                                                  One is criticism, the other is entertainment. Both, when done well, can be great. When mixed together, it can be amazing. I think AA Gill is one of the best--and most entertaining--critics writing today. Jeffrey Steingarten, in my opinion, is one of the most entertaining food writers. Though he does not really do straight criticism, I trust his opinion when he says "this is good" and "that is bad".

                                                                4. All this talk of raw chicken makes me want to try it!

                                                                  1. So very few decent, competent reviewers. The overwhelming majority know nothing of cooking, food, how a restaurant should operate - conduct itself, all the dynamics that are at hand...., only the ability to stuff their ignorant pie holes and report on same.

                                                                    Show me so much as one reviewer who has spent years in varying areas of restaurant operation, both within the kitchen as well as on the floor........, fully knowledgeable about all aspects of operation from a visceral standpoint. You nearly cannot. Therein lies the problem.
                                                                    Show me a reviewer in any number of major city who is not on the take.........., scamming money in exchange for a glorious review that guarantees rich rewards for the new style-over-substance restaurant. I could mention names but I won't. That the pathetic public pay any attention to these "reviews" only serves to demonstrate just how pathetic the public, especially the food fascists are. Again, I could mention names, but I won't.

                                                                     
                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: equinoxranch

                                                                      None of the restaurant reviewers I know are "on the take."

                                                                      Patricia Unterman is a chef and restaurant owner, but that doesn't make her a better critic than Jonathan Gold.

                                                                      Someone who's eaten at hundreds of restaurants is in a much better position to review restaurants than someone who's worked in a few. Restaurant people generally don't have the time or money to eat out much.

                                                                      1. re: equinoxranch

                                                                        <Show me so much as one reviewer who has spent years in varying areas of restaurant operation, both within the kitchen as well as on the floor...>

                                                                        Then by your standard, movie reviewers should be able to shoot, direct, edit & act (and maybe also produce, light and build sets). I humbly submit that this is an impossible standard to meet, and also makes absolutely no sense. Reviewers review - that's their job. Other people have other jobs.

                                                                        1. re: small h

                                                                          Movie directors are a lot more likely to make good critics, since generally they have watched more movies more closely than most people, and you pretty much have to know how to write.

                                                                          Chefs, on the other hand, are typically way too busy to eat out often, and they don't need a talent for writing.

                                                                        2. re: equinoxranch

                                                                          I don't want a reviewer who professionally knows the restaurant business. I want a reviewer who can write well and give the reader a sense of the meal. And one who takes a consistent view of things - that way one can form a judgement about her/his reviews.

                                                                          So, by way of example, I particularly enjoy one critic who writes for a national newspaper. I am never going to eat at the vast majority of places he reviews - because they are not near where I live. So, I read the review for enjoyment only. But, because, I particularly like his style and his take on food, I know that if he reviews a place in my city, I am probably going to agree with him (and, on three occasions I can think of, would generally take the same view).

                                                                          1. re: equinoxranch

                                                                            Joanne Kates of Toronto's Globe and Mail. She jealously guards her identity and no one would ever suggest she's on the take. She studied cooking in Paris, so she knows her way around the business end of a knife. Plus she writes well. If you visit the Globe's site, you can read a few of her reviews online.

                                                                            She considers everything - from the way she's greeted by the hostess to how her dishes are bussed. Naturally, she concentrates on the food, but at many of the "hipper than hip" spots in Toronto, she lets people who are not pencil thin and/or not wearing black know whether or not they are going to get friendly treatment or the cold shoulder. She's not afraid to try new things, and she doesn't look down on, for example, cheap Chinese places with plastic tablecloths - if the food is good, she's there.

                                                                          2. Two food writers I've enjoyed share a few similarities. R. W. Apple and Frank Bruni were journalists who paid their dues at both foreign and domestic news bureaus. They had sharp eyes and sharp minds that could describe what they saw, what they drank and what they tasted in a manner that made you feel like a guest at their table. You had a sense of place in addition to the details of the meal. Both could dish it out when circumstances required.

                                                                            Sadly, Apple has died but his books are widely available. Bruni continues to be a work in progress. He's proof that there is life after being the New York Times food critic. His stint at the Times isn't over by a long shot.

                                                                            1. Frank Bruni was a great example of a superb restaurant reviewer. His writing was such an enjoyable read! His replacement, Sam Sifton, isn't quite the gifted writer.

                                                                              I'm old enough to remember Craig Claiborne's writing. He blazed a lot of trails.

                                                                              One of the most dismaying things is when a restaurant critic makes a significant mistake. Ruth Reichl has done this, and one notorious violator was Marian Burros -- I caught her in the Times discussing a sauce that was redolent with tarragon (it was really dill), mixing-up her mushrooms, and mis-stating ethnic ingredients. It's not that anyone's going to be harmed by this mistake, but it damages a critic's cred as a foodie.

                                                                              It's also a terrible shame when a critic seems to be gleeful about sticking the dagger into a restaurant's corpse over and over again.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: shaogo

                                                                                Yeah, if you're not sure what an ingredient is, you shouldn't guess, or you should make it clear that you're guessing.