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Jun 24, 2007 10:09 AM

Greg Cox- is there *any* restaurant that he reviews and doesn't rave about?

[We moved this digression from this thread on the South board -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM


My question isn't really about South, but about Greg Cox. Is there *any* restaurant that he reviews and doesn't rave about? I can see deciding not to review things he absolutely abhors, but it just seems like every place he goes is worth a rave, and that seems suspicious to me. Anyone know what kind of food background he has?

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  1. I have to give you props! I am in total agreement with you!! (I don't know his background either, but I think we could do far better critiques. [but then, again, we are talking about the N&O. ugh])

    1. I think it's a common complaint about restaurant critics, save the ones in big cities that can bring a place down through unapologetic thrash-and-burn commentary.

      To me, I read a tepid two star review full of couched indifference as a place to avoid. It's like grade inflation. Getting a B- these days is more like a D+ when I was in school.

      I like his reviews, because he tends to cover places that are worth frequenting. To me, it's a sign that there are a lot of good restaurants in the Triangle...and both the writer and the reader know better than to expect from from places destined to get middling reviews (chain restaurants, China Wok/Great Wall/Panda Garden strip mall places, etc.).

      But that's just my opinion. I respect yours.

      From the N&O Epicurean blog:

      "Greg Cox is the restaurant critic for The News & Observer. He was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in North Carolina on a diet of Southern fried chicken (the real thing, cooked up in a big, black cast iron skillet), fried okra, sweet sliced summer tomatoes and the best biscuits on the planet. He has cooked, catered, waited tables and dined in Europe, Canada, Mexico and much of the U.S. (especially the South, Southwest and Midwest).

      Though not a graduate of a professional culinary institute, he has been a passionate student of the world’s cuisines for more than three decades. He learned to make a soufflé from Michel Pasquet, erstwhile owner of a Michelin two-star restaurant in Paris. He explored Moroccan cuisine with Paula Wolfert, long before couscous was cool. Jean Yueh, author of "The Great Tastes of Chinese Cooking," taught him a few chop sticks tricks. Biscuits, of course, he learned from his mom."

      Seems pretty qualified to me.

      4 Replies
      1. re: peetoteeto

        Qualified cook - yes, he sounds like he likely is that.

        I guess my views are colored by the fact that I'm from a bigger city, and have lived here in the triangle for only about 2 years. In DC, there are so many restaurants opening all the time, and some of them get lots of ink before they're reviewed, so the critics take on them is especially important (some places are hot right away, and not because of the skills of the chef). So you'd get raves, good with reservations (har), and bad reviews of places. When all I read from GC is positive, I tend to dismiss them - maybe I throw the baby out with the bathwater. I guess I'm holding him to higher standards than are really relevent to this area?

        1. re: LulusMom

          Without sounding hypocritical, I would be disappointed if I read nothing but positive reviews from a DC-based critic. So I understand where you're coming from.

          Maybe it's because I see (and have eaten at) a number of expensive restaurants in major cities that end up being more style than substance. Restaurant critics rightly call them out. But such million-dollar showpiece restaurants are pretty rare around here.

          That said, it'd be a trip to read a Greg Cox review that skewered a local or loved institution, or an ultra-expensive "fabulous" new restaurant for lacking the goods!

          1. re: LulusMom


            Having lived in DC for awhile myself, I understand your point somewhat but I think that you do Greg, our region, and yourself a bit of a disservice to suggest that his reviews are not worthy of higher standards. I don't know your opinion of Tom Sietsema at the Post but I have seen similar criticisms of him in this and other forums and I think part of that is that no critic for a large paper wants to waste fairly limited and critical space on a restaurant that is so poor as to not warrant any mention. Greg doesn't review every restaurant in town (or at least all such reviews dont's show up in print). He does occassionally give pretty critical reviews (in particular, I recall a relatively recent one on The Big Easy in downtown Raleigh where I found the food to be not as bad as Greg's experience. I think a critic can and should exercise some initial discretion in what gets in print so as not to have to necessarily cover places that suck. Have you had a very different experience from one of Greg's reviews that causes you to really second guess his reviews? I do find that he often tries to find and focus on the positive aspects in his reviews so you have to read between the lines a bit but I'm not sure he gives out too many 3 and 4 star reviews.

            1. re: Guilty Gourmand

              Actually I am very impressed by the number of good restaurants in this area. However, I'm not going to just roll over and say every single place I've eaten at is wonderful. I am not sure I see that as a productive way to tout the Triangle. There are some very good restaurants here, actually a surprising number of them.

              One restaurant I haven't been to, but consistenly see slagged on these boards, is Alivias (sp?), which GC gave a very positive review to just a few weeks back. He didn't seem to find any service or oversalting issues, two things the place is consistently called on in this forum (although he did mention that he'd heard one of these criticisms). So ... was he recognized and therefore didn't get bad service? Was the kitchen extra careful about how they sent out his food? I guess my point here is that I'm going to trust the chowhound reviews (esp. of those people who I've read numerous reviews from) before I trust GC.

              If there *is* a major opening of a big place that isn't as good as its hype, I'd like to feel that my local critic would help me out by telling me to save my money and time and dine elsewhere. I guess the Big Easy review you're mentioning shows that he is capable of this, which is good news. It seems to me that every single new place that opens gets a great review. Doesn't that seem unrealistic?

        2. The revealig info in Greg's reviews is not what he says but rather the star rating that he gives it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bbqme

            One great reason not to think he's a worthy restaurant reviewer:


            What's next, Applebees?

            1. re: insectrights

              So liking a corny teppanyaki joint is a reason to boot the guy from the critic's circle? He only gave it 2 1/2 stars. That's not exactly a raving recommendation. The restaurant is in N. Raleigh, soccer mom central. Ever try to keep a kid amused at a restaurant? There's a place in the continuum for restaurant's for the common folk, too, and they/we deserve to know if one is worth the effort.

              Recently, Cox revamped his personal star rating system in response to readers' input. Now, a restaurant is rated relative to similar ones - ie Fujisan is 2 1/2 stars relative to other restaurants of it class, not relative to, say, Rue Cler.

              Given that, you take Cox's reviews, and any other critic's reviews with the proverbial grain of salt. His taste will differ from yours on some or many occasions. A review is not meant to be an unqualified endorsement. I mostly use his columns to alert me to a new restaurant I might have missed or and existing one in a part of the Triangle that I don't frequently get to. It's of use as a reference, no more and no less.

              1. re: rockycat

                I read his reviews for the same reason as you, rockycat. To see if something's slipped under my radar and to see if it's worth checking out, but that could be done with anyone at the N&O. My problem is getting through the poorly written write up and seeing his enthusiasm with the mundane.

          2. I'm often amazed by the fact that so many people can't read between the lines with his reviews. Like every other food critic that doesn't have the teeth of a major newspaper (NY Times, et al.) behind them, he's like got some serious pressure not to completely trash a place. You have to know that going in. Honestly, despite the comment that one should check the stars rather than the text, I think it's the opposite. Both the title of the review and the stars given often point to some optimistic chance the place might be good. It's in the actual body of the review where he reveals that a place is not likely worth a visit. There have been plenty of places he's reviewed where he didn't obviously pan the place but certainly led me to believe that he didn't much like his experience.

            I will say this. As someone who's been reviewed by him on two occasions, he's quite thorough in terms of calling after he's been in a few times and preparing his review to do a complete fact check and make sure he's not getting something wrong. This might seem small, but I've been the subject of many reviews in my career and have been very frustrated by how much they get wrong. This isn't sour grapes mind you. Quite the contrary, it's been a matter of getting rave reviews for a grilled dish in a kitchen that didn't have a grill or for the subtle inclusion of an spice that was actually so subtle it didn't even exist.

            Like many other things often complained in the triangle, I think this falls into the category of, "Not as good as major food cities but likely much better than other markets of our size."