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are any Boston food writers to be trusted?

milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:02 AM

I am just wondering if I am overlooking a local publication that actually has a critic that understands restaruant reviewing. Many times in the past I admit that I have fallen victim to the review and rushed to the establishment only to find that I dined in a different place than the reviewer. I recently rushed to Meil at the new hotel downtown after reading a raving review in a local publication. To say the experience was fair might be too nice. I even tried the same dishes that gained printed acclaim only to once again find myself wondering if the writer had actually eaten there. This is one example of many a bad experience I have had following the hype of a new review. Who's opinion is to be trusted in the local media?

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  1. hiddenboston RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:21 AM

    Good question. I have to say that one of our own on this site (who was mentioned earlier in the day) can be trusted more than most:


    In general, I'd rather read comments on this forum (and others) than articles from food writers, because honestly, I don't know which ones to completely trust. I guess I'd rather read 20 opinions on a restaurant and then make up my own mind on whether to try the place or not.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hiddenboston
      Dizzied RE: hiddenboston Mar 5, 2007 10:50 AM

      Ditto -- lots of great posters whose names I trust on Chowhound and I often appreciate longer threads offering multiple views of certain places or areas as being very helpful (e.g. Inman Square, Dorchester). Personally, I'd cite MC Slim JB (who eats absolutely everywhere and offers very specific reviews) and you hiddenboston (we seem to be in similar places and have similar tastes), as two of my favorite/most useful posters.

    2. s
      sondrio RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:31 AM

      We have Alison Arnette that for Valentine Day tells us how good is pizza at Regina with a bottle of Chianti. Pizza and Chianti wine... that's memorable!!!!

      1 Reply
      1. re: sondrio
        Allstonian RE: sondrio Mar 2, 2007 07:51 AM

        Different strokes etc. I could totally see Regina's with a bottle of chianti as my Valentine's Day. It might have been more fun than the underwhelming afternoon tea at the Four Seasons that we dropped $80 on.

      2. l
        LStaff RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:32 AM

        I think "formal" critics and self appointented "experts" are a dying breed. Lone opinions are becoming less and less useful as the internet gives more and more power to the consumer. But these critics probably think the same about "the common man's" opinion as you do to theirs.

        1. b
          Bostonbob3 RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:33 AM

          Whatever you do, don't trust The Dig's critic.

          As MC Slim will tell you, he's a dastardly dude. :)

          1. Infomaniac RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:44 AM

            Even if the writers can be trusted, your taste may not agree with theirs.

            Even in a forum like this though, your taste may not agree with 10 other posters who rave about a certain place. After a period of time though, I have found certain posters who's taste are similar to mine, and can rely on their opinions. It doesn't always work, but most of the times it does.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Infomaniac
              Luther RE: Infomaniac Mar 2, 2007 07:52 AM

              True. You just have to read a bunch of reviews by a particular person, figure out which food they liked and you did too, or they liked but you didn't, and calibrate accordingly.

              1. re: Infomaniac
                Aromatherapy RE: Infomaniac Mar 2, 2007 08:23 AM

                Very true. I think some of the Globe's Cheap Eats reviewers are good; Denise Taylor comes to mind, and somebody with an Indian name who I don't think is still there. Sheryl Julian and Robert Nadeau are ok by me, too. All the time, 100%? Impossible, never gonna happen.

              2. Luther RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:55 AM

                And I suppose the short answer is "no." Aside from certain posters on CH whose tastes I've gotten familiar with, I can't think of any published Boston critic who I would trust based simply on their good/bad opinion of a place.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Luther
                  Sgt Snackers RE: Luther Mar 2, 2007 01:09 PM

                  Exactly. All of this begs the question what the value of "professional" food critics really are in the age of, well, Chowhound. I am not sure about Boston but I get the feeling that the reviews from major newspapers and magazines can certainly have an effect on the fate of a restaurant. That's distressing when all too often the major media reviews are not worth the paper they're printed on.

                  That said even the local weeklies (Dig, Phoenix, etc.) have pretty varied food writing. All too often I think these pubs are targeting the dirt-poor student crowd and focused on places with more style than substance. That's not to say that cheap eats can't be great - just that I put food quality over food value any day.

                  1. re: Sgt Snackers
                    Luther RE: Sgt Snackers Mar 2, 2007 01:20 PM

                    At this point, the only reason to trust a "pro" is because he/she does the real work. Of course, this is rarely the case- it's unusual to read the Globe or the Phoenix (or the Dig... sorry) and read a review of a place you've never heard of before, or seen on CH.

                    Contrast that with Sietsema's work for the Village Voice... the guy's consistently digging up stuff that most New Yorkers would never notice.

                2. itaunas RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 07:56 AM

                  There are some writers who do not taste the food. Someone posted an article a while back about Everett from the Globe which described the decor of a restaurant and its smells, making it pretty clear they didn't eat anything. Then they described a pastry case in a bakery... and the buffet at another restaurant. Something like 5 reviews in all, with maybe 2 things tasted.

                  Occasionally the larger publications do publish some interesting articles (some of the food writers best new 5 of the year or a couple of ethnic articles). However, they are not writing to a chowhound audience (generally either foodie or mainstream), they have deadline pressures (even MCSlimJB didn't taste every Banh Mi in town, yet) and in some cases budgets limit searching out true special nuggets by trial and error, other cases getting it to look pretty in print is important, and some in town publications are pure pay for play.

                  1. MC Slim JB RE: milkshake Mar 2, 2007 08:14 AM

                    Speaking as someone who'd never written about food professionally until approached by some local editors who read my postings on Chowhound, I'll say that reading paid critics is no different than reading other Chowhounds. Each has biases, strengths and weaknesses. You have to compare what they like to what you like over a period of time, see if they steer you right with their recs, and thus determine how much you trust their opinions. Part of the problem for some of the more famous ones might be anonymity: when recognized, they get better treatment than the man off the street.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                      hiddenboston RE: MC Slim JB Mar 2, 2007 08:23 AM

                      An offshoot to the last part of what you say is that I believe that some restaurants actually pursue food critics, saying that they will cook up a good meal for them, in the hope that the critic will write something favorable.

                      I don't write for a major paper (and I am still pretty anonymous!), but I have had a number of restaurants email me, asking me to come in so they can whip up a good meal for me (some have even offered free meals). I've turned them all down, but a couple have said that their offer remains open, which disturbs me a bit.

                      I wonder how many food writers in Boston and elsewhere might take up restaurants on similar offers. If they do, we're talking a major conflict of interest.

                      1. re: hiddenboston
                        Aromatherapy RE: hiddenboston Mar 2, 2007 08:28 AM

                        I don't think that's a problem among the majors. Smaller town & neighborhood papers, probably.

                        1. re: hiddenboston
                          MC Slim JB RE: hiddenboston Mar 2, 2007 08:43 AM

                          When Chowhound showed posters' email addresses, I used to get "try us again free" offers from restaurateurs about whose places I'd said unkind things (on Chowhound, never in The Dig). I have always declined those in the interest of protecting my anonymity. As far as I know, my picture isn't up in local restaurant kitchens yet (as most certainly are the big names at the Globe, Herald, Phoenix, and others); I dread the day that happens. For the record, I am a 6' 6" African-American woman with bleached-blond dreadlocks.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB
                            hiddenboston RE: MC Slim JB Mar 2, 2007 08:50 AM

                            And I look like the guitar player from The Dead Milkmen (and no, their picture isn't in Wikipedia, so don't even try).

                            1. re: hiddenboston
                              Bostonbob3 RE: hiddenboston Mar 2, 2007 09:54 AM

                              I'm a petite brunette woman who favors pant suits and velvet tops. (Is that what women call their shirts? Duh! There goes that ruse.)

                              1. re: Bostonbob3
                                itaunas RE: Bostonbob3 Mar 2, 2007 10:42 AM

                                Until Pete's Pub becomes a fern bar, it seems like an angry restaurant owner could find you Bob...

                              2. re: hiddenboston
                                Aromatherapy RE: hiddenboston Mar 2, 2007 12:09 PM

                                Recent ones are on their website though.

                                1. re: Aromatherapy
                                  hiddenboston RE: Aromatherapy Mar 2, 2007 12:34 PM

                                  Darn. Foiled again!

                          2. re: MC Slim JB
                            admiralackbar RE: MC Slim JB Mar 2, 2007 09:19 PM


                            1. re: admiralackbar
                              admiralackbar RE: admiralackbar Mar 2, 2007 09:27 PM

                              apparently this is the big question going around these days.

                          3. Harp00n RE: milkshake Mar 5, 2007 06:47 PM

                            So ' fess up, which one of youse is the Purple Critic?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Harp00n
                              MC Slim JB RE: Harp00n Mar 5, 2007 08:09 PM

                              That isn't hard to figure out: look for the Hound who heaps praise on the Cafe Escadrille in Burlington, Strega in the North End, Ciao Bella in the Back Bay, and Parker's at the Omni Parker House. There's your Phantom Gourmet.

                              What do you mean, you've never heard of a Chowhound who loves all of those places?

                              1. re: MC Slim JB
                                Harp00n RE: MC Slim JB Mar 5, 2007 10:24 PM

                                Ya, but I make a nice foil, don't cha think?

                              2. re: Harp00n
                                hiddenboston RE: Harp00n Mar 6, 2007 05:05 AM

                                My money is on either Ernie Boch, Jr., or Wally Brine....

                              3. Karl S RE: milkshake Mar 7, 2007 02:45 PM

                                Boston's almost a wasteland in terms of solid, deeply informed restaurant reviewing.

                                Robert Nadeau of the Phoenix can be good, but he has such an Asian-Fusion bias in his tongue that it distorts his reviews constantly.

                                Part of the problem is that the breadth of cuisine-inflections and techniques and ingredients has gotten much vaster than a generation ago; and most food writers appear to be specializing more and generalizing less.

                                1. b
                                  bachslunch RE: milkshake Mar 7, 2007 02:59 PM

                                  There's another interesting question to consider here. Regardless of their accuracy, are they interesting to read? There are some writers whose opinions I don't necessarily agree with, but I still enjoy reading them because their writing style is enjoyable. No names offered up as examples, sorry....

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