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May 2, 2007 03:49 AM

Allison Arnett is leaving

Just read her good bye column in the Globe. Any chowhounds ever get to be among the diners at the Globe critic's tables? Seems like a job for a chowhound!

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  1. I saw this a few days ago. All I can say is thank goodness. Critics should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the cuisine they're reviewing, and she often did not.

        1. re: CocoDan

          I think the entire Boston Globe Food section is absolutely hilarious. And not in a good way. Every week, I look forward to reading something that is painfully precious, ridiculously expensive, bearing no relationship whatsoever to how people actually live. To me, the Food section embodies all that is wrong with the Globe. But that's just me.

          1. re: resipsaloquitor

            It certainly has caused me cognitive dissonance to know that 1000's of Massachusetts liberals enjoy reading about the succulence of foie gras over and over again, courtesy of Ms. Arnett.

            In a related note, now that she will no longer be able to eat every single application of foie gras on every high-end menu in Boston, Ms. Arnett's cardiologist has been forced to file for bankruptcy.

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              May she have a nice life and may the new Globe food critic not be overly enamored of celebrity chefs, fancy dining rooms and $45.00 entrees!

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                Amen to all of that -- my precise thoughts while reading the Food section today. And BobD thanks for the belly laugh.

                1. re: Luther

                  I'm not as negative as the other posts. i think it's a tougher job than one might think. Arnett did an OK job and she was rarely blatantly wrong though often superficially informed on the cuisine reviewed. That said, the last restaurant critic that i really liked was Mimi Sheraton for the NY Times and that woman who writes for minneapolis, whose name I forget. I read her solely for the fun writing. For Boston, I would nominate our very own MCSlimJB, whose advice I always find useful.

                    1. re: gourmaniac

                      MCSlimJB never replied to my original question about that.

                      I wonder if that means he's in negotiations... :)

              2. I don't think she was so awful. Not that that qualifies as high praise--God knows I wouldn't want to be described as not so awful at what I do...

                If nothing else, her reviews let you know what sorts of things you were in for if you had not already been to the restaurant. And certainly, her reviews offered more than that bare minimum.

                Also, even if she were spot on in 9 out of 10 cases, that doesn't mean that most, or even many, readers/diners would necessarily agree with her taste. And who could be spot on 9 out of 10 times anyway?--with perhaps the exception of MC, who of course is 10 for 10.

                As far as the $45 dollar entree concern listed by another poster--between Arnett and the companion Cheap Eats review aren't both ends of the spectrum (and even the middle ground) covered?

                What I'm getting at is that I just don't see why there's often so much visceral negativity around her? I respect the vast majority of what I read in CHOW--so what am I missng here?



                10 Replies
                1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                  IMHO, and I'd would very much like to reiterate the "H" in that, I felt like I was reading it for the $45 main course, and she didn't do a great job with that.

                  To respond, with all respect, to an earlier post, I'm one of the Cadillac Deval mofo's who will enjoy the foie over and over again in the different iterations, price point be damned. I spend my own money on it; I almost filed for the sales tax instead of income this year because of it, if that gives you an idea, and my computer is running barely on Windows 98, I could save up for that fab condo or beach house, and it's what I like to do. But I felt that she never spoke to or for me, as much as I like the new Rialto etc. . .

                  What I look for in a critic, and I hope the Globe will too, is someone who will differentiate between the new and "cool" and the new and "holy cow this is incredible," AND who will tell me where the great bahn mi and tacos are (thanks MC Slim). It's more than writing and connections, it's taste, relevance and translation.

                  That said, the best meal I've had lately is the $3.00 calf's brain quiche at Green St. (GO EAT IT NOW!)

                  I don't hate or dislike her and I wish her the best. I dream about a job like that and come crashing down to reality every time I open a new post on here and every insecurity, every "am I being too harsh?' too easy?', 'is my palate ruined from liquor and nicotine?' 'Am I worthy?" sentiment comes out.

                  We are the toughest group to write for, and to think of expanding our audience and revealing our naked opinions and predjudices (I don't care for pho!) to the vast readership of the Globe, let alone the bosses and editorial staff and investors, is an incredibly daunting assignment, and I envy anyone that can pull that off.

                  Remember that in his later years, Craig Claiborne's place was Planet Hollywood. Critics are human too.

                  1. re: sailormouth

                    Sailormouth, you are a true chowhound to sacrifice a systems upgrade from 98 (!) in order to afford your foie (not to mention potential life partners...)

                    Beyond economics, my cognitive dissonance also touches on animal cruelty issues associated with production of fowl livers, but that is for another forum.

                    The foie remark was more to highlight the fact that Arnett tended to stay comfortably in the main part of the city, showing reverence to any celebrity-seeking chef with a menu tilted toward someone on an expense account. The thing that irked me was her lack of coverage on the places that fit between the little bahn mi joints and the high-end places.

                    I guess part of being a chowhound for me is finding the place that serves the high-end food in the 'hood and/or at a reasonable price and without necessarily all the fancy accoutrements. In other words, it's all about the food. My vision of a great restaurant reviewer is to do the dirty work and the sleuthing for me - sure, review the new flashy places, but also walk the streets, the suburbs, wherever - but she stayed too often in the Caddy, so to speak...

                    And a critic has enormous power to highlight these types of places, sure to make them popular at a risk to my never having to wait in line, but with the realization that such popularity would encourage the opening of more restaurants in this vast middle ground - just like Green Street.

                    Case in point: I think Arnett wrote the review last year in the Globe about Vinny's At Night, illuminating a place that we on the board (and many other places) have known about for years...all of a sudden, you couldn't get a seat in the place. It demonstrated for me the power of the mass media to form and inform the tastes of the folks who are not tied into the chowhounding underground.

                    Can you imagine if she ventured to Green Street and wrote about calf's brain quiche for $3!? (Seriously, what's up with that?) I'm willing to bet we'd see calf's brain gnocchi popping up all over the South End quicker than you can say "bourgeoisie."

                    Anyway, it sounds like we are on the same page....

                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      arnett cannot be blamed for whom and where she reviewed. her editors had a certain demographic in mind as her audience. very few people are adventurous eaters, hence the popularity of chains and fast-food joints. lots of folks eat mickey d's several times a week and wouldn't know an empenada if it hit them in the head. further, there is a cheap eats column and other little bits that appear during the week.

                      her swan song of rialto was classic. although she found plenty of missteps and a number of dishes were less than stellar, her star-struck crush on jody adams gave the place 4-stars anyway. a recent review of radius was the same. in fact, the 1st sentence began with them not having yet ordered, and being given another table's very expensive check. that's 4-star service?

                      she rarely mentioned wine, cocktails or much about service. she provided no commentary about the generic sameness of ingredients on most menus. oh! lookee! another tuna tartare! how fascinating.

                      i never got the feeling arnett was passionate about food or dining. it was clearly a job for her. i know how difficult a job it is, and not one i envy. it would be nice if the next critic was a bit less myopic.

                  2. re: SeaSide Tomato

                    Part of the harsh reactions here to Arnett's restaurant reviewing for the Boston Globe is the anti-authoritarian streak in most Chowhounds: the notion that a passionate amateur has as much to offer as a self-styled authority with a mass-market publication for a soapbox. It's not Arnett herself so much as what she represents, an old-school approach that many Chowhounds see fading into obsolescence in favor of a reliance on a larger number of trusted if uncredentialed sources.

                    By this new calculus, ten Chowhounds whose opinions you respect, whose taste matches yours, and/or who bring some specialized passion or expertise to little corners of the culinary world are more valuable than any number of lone-voice old-media critics, regardless of the height of their lecterns.

                    I think Arnett committed further sins against the Chowhound ethos, despite her protestations to the contrary in her farewell apologia. Specifically, she was too impressed with "high" food and the trappings of fine dining. And she never did enough of the kind of exploratory reviewing at the low end that in part won Jonathan Gold his Pulitzer.

                    I agree that the job is tougher than it looks, and it's easy for us amateurs to sit back and take potshots, but I still wish she had shown more breadth, had taken more trouble to write about wine in her reviews, and hadn't seem so enthralled by the celebrity of her favorite chefs. It's still an impressive body of work, and she was clearly a pro, but I hope the Globe's next prominent restaurant critic will be more of a Chowhound (and no, I'm not quitting my day job.)

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      I hear you.

                      I think a lot of what's lacking is in part due to there being one full-scale or Arnett review per week, if that. There's not a lot of room to cover the whole shooting match in 45-50 reviews/year.

                      Personally, I'd like to see a review a day(obviously, that would require a whole team and more resoucrces than any dailymight need or want to throw at the subject). Thank God for Chownhound so I can get my fix!

                    2. re: SeaSide Tomato

                      She didn't take context into account in her reviews. At the low-price ethnic end, she wrote reviews that made clear her total lack of experience in a given ethnic cuisine, making her "criticisms" useless to anyone who just wants to know whether the damn restaurant is good or not at making that kind of ethnic food. At the high end, as others have said, she was too easily wowed by local celebrity chefs and the nice touches that should be expected at that price range. A star-rating system only works if restaurants are rated on a curve.

                      1. re: Luther

                        Cheap Eats is really the section that would describe what many of you are looking for, and Sheryl Julian or Devra First (among others) handled that. Arnett's reviews (IMO) were reserved for the more reviewable and notable places. It's easier for readers to try an ethnic joint, and risk $15 bucks than it is to drop $250 and be disappointed. So I think she was right in reviewing what she did, and leaving the Cheap Eats as a separate column. And while the complaint against her, that upscale places were getting good-to-excellent reviews too often is probably accurate, I think some of the personal comments are pretty harsh on her as a human.

                        1. re: Whisker

                          Oof, let's not get started there. Wasn't Devra First the one who wrote the Xinh Xinh review and said that she didn't try the BBQ quail because she found quail too scary to eat?

                          1. re: Whisker

                            Ditto the sentiment on Sheryl Julian (cf. the recent, atrocious Kabab & Tandoor piece). Now that I think about it, maybe I should give Arnett more credit for being the best of this awful bunch.

                            1. re: Luther

                              I always thought Sheryl Julien was the only one who really got it but haven't read anything she's written recently. A few years ago Brian McGrory wrote a spoof food atricle (reviewing several Boston icons) in the Globe magazine that was so spot on I wrote the Globe (I never do) and suggested he replace Arnett and they actually printed my letter!