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Jul 19, 2007 11:34 AM

CODA- 4 Stars in The Weekly Dig?? [moved from Boston board]

i was excited to try CODA... did i hear correctly that it just got 4 stars in the DIG?? pretty impressive for this kind of place. It seems the whole dining trend is going to that price point. Does it really deserve the 4 stars?? or does the DIG stand for Do It Grudgingly???

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  1. You do know who the food critic for The Dig is, right?


    17 Replies
    1. re: Bostonbob3

      No>>> I don't... I just happened to hear about the review from a friend who I was going to join there next week. I tend not to read restaurant reviews with the exception of Matt Schaefer. Improper and Stuff has decent food articles from time to time. I find a lot of the other stuff to be written by pontificators or people not entirely qualified.

      1. re: thericker

        i tend to agree with you thericker.... ***'s or not!

      2. re: Bostonbob3

        Actually, Bostonbob3, I'm not *the* food critic for The Dig: I just pontificate for them on a freelance basis. They have a bunch of other food writers, too.

        New Chowhound thericker raises an interesting point, one that is frequently debated on the Food & Media board, i.e., what exactly makes a person qualified to be a food writer?

        Some recent threads: and

        As you'll see, the opinions vary widely. My general sense is that many Chowhounds are inherently resistant to the very idea of professional food writers: "Who asked you to give me your opinion, and why should I care about it?" I certainly believe that with a few exceptions (e.g., whoever is the critic for the NY Times will always be a force in New York's dining scene), the influence of lone-voice, old-media critics is waning. There are too many other sources of opinion, like Chowhound.

        But there's no free lunch: you still have to figure out which of the amateur voices out there (people airing their opinions because they love food and love to talk about it) are worth your trust.

        I doubt my occasional opinions on restaurants for a little alt-weekly with a circulation of 70,000 is going to move many mountains. But at least Dig readers can also go to Chowhound and read any of my thousands of posts there, determine whether my general sensibilities are in sync with theirs, and place the appropriate level of trust in my opinions.

        1. re: Bostonbob3

          I spent some more time thinking about this "qualifications" issue recently, and started pondering what I look for in other critics, whether they write about film, literature, food, whatever. It occurred to me that there a few things I value:

          * Shared sensibilities -- "She loved that book I loved, and hated that book I hated."

          * Special expertise (often including some formal training) and passion -- "That guy really knows and loves his Hong Kong action pictures, always manages to uncover hidden gems, and seems to know a lot not only about that specific genre, but about film making, film history, and scholarly film criticism in general."

          * Impartiality -- "Hmm, maybe that local restaurant review show gives more favorable reviews to its advertisers, and maybe that monthly-mag restaurant critic is giving special consideration to his friends in the industry."

          * Compelling, entertaining writing -- "I don't care if it's a review of dishwashing liquid -- if it's by David Foster Wallace, I want to read it"

          I think only the second one is a qualification in the traditional sense. And yet there are food writers out there that don't seem to have any restaurant industry experience, formal training (e.g., cooking school or wine certification), or similar experience. Consider Jonathan Gold, who mainly wrote about music and pop culture before he turned to restaurant reviewing, and has won a Pulitzer for it. I rarely visit L.A., but I love to read his restaurant reviews anyway.

          I personally think it helps a food writer to have some industry experience, to travel a bit, to be a dedicated home cook, to get some formal training on wine. But a lot of food writers disagree, insisting that all you need is to have eaten a few thousand meals out. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of Chowhounds and folks in the industry who disagree. I regularly ask the question: "What do you think qualifies someone to be a food writer?" I'm always curious to hear more opinions on this topic, especially from the industry perspective.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Agree with all of the above, including the idea that some great restaurant-critique writers don't have specialized training.

            One thing I hate is when a critic hits what I like to call his or her "mannerist" phase, fetishizing a particular like or dislike at the expense of open-minded criticism. For instance, Corby Kummer hates truffle oil. If there's an item or two on the menu that feature truffle oil, you can bet your farm that he'll order them and that the eventual review will feature a diatribe on the evils of truffle oil. Some people like truffle oil; if you hate it, no matter what the context, then I'm really not interested in hearing time and again that you hate it. Order something else. If someone hates foie gras, I don't want them wasting my reading experience by weighing in on it. It's sort of childish.

            The Improper's J. Charles Mokriski (full disclosure: I've done some writing for the Improper), IMO the least competent food critic in town: If he can't get a premier cru Bordeaux for less than $30, you'd better believe you'll be hearing about it ad nauseum for two paragraphs.

            I also hate it when critics go overboard with slamming a restaurant for some "inauthentic" element in a dish. For instance, I think it's fine to MENTION that the eggplant parm you had in the town of Parmigiano didn't have mozzarella on it. But I think it's wrong then to assume that the goal of a place is to re-create that "authentic" meal you had in Italy in every respect. Give some context for the food, which may be an Italian-American idiom.

            Finally, I think the best critics show you HOW BEST TO ENJOY THE RESTAURANT in question. Is it the best roast chicken you've ever had in your life? The answer to that question is only interesting if it was the best. If it's not, just show me how to have the best experience rather than spending 1,000 words explaining how it compares to Hamersley's. (Setting the context and the expectations were something I thought MC's Coda review did well. And the TW Food one, for that matter.)

            1. re: wittlejosh

              Bahaha, I read that guy in the Improper for the sheer entertainment value. You could play Bingo with his complaints about food served on top of potatoes, main courses being called "entrees" (We get it! You've been to France! Have a cookie!), etc.

            2. re: MC Slim JB

              mc... you make some valid points. but, unfortunately i think a restaurant "critic" should have a well rounded understanding of what makes a restaurant. there are intricacies that most critic fail at miserably. i've read articles written about places that completely miss the concept. i've read articles written about wine destinantion restaurants in which the writer knows nohing about wine. and i've read articles written about places that the writer has clearly only been one time.
              i listen to music... does that qualify me to write about artists??
              i watch movies and read books... no way would i attempt to write about them.
              my recent post have been to shed some light on the fact that the people who are published aren't always the authoritarians they proclaim to be. you, yourself claimed not to understand wine, yet you criticized the butcher shop for being "overpriced". i think the comment that would be fair to say is "i find the prices of the wines by the glass to be out of the price that i am comfortable paying".

              chowhound is a wonderful place where people can share their "opinions" about different restaurants. i appreciate that about it. i've learned a lot about different places. i've also learned that there is an easy way to slant the facts....

              1. re: bowmore36

                Actually, I didn't say I'm a wine ignoramus, I said that I'm not a wine professional, by which I mean I don't work as a producer, importer, distributor, retailer, sommelier, or wine-centric restaurant server. In fact I think I know a little bit about it, having been drinking wine and studying it and receiving some professional training on it for some years.

                When I discuss prices, I'm not talking about my personal comfort level with them. A lot of my dining out gets subsidized as research by the publications I write for anyway, so I'm even less sensitive to price per se than many diners. I'm talking about my perception of the value, which while certainly less educated than a wine professional is probably a bit better educated than the average reader I'm writing for. I also buy and drink many wines at retail, which is one small potential gauge of restaurant prices, though clearly not a completely reliable one -- see the interesting discussion on this topic at .

                What I notice is that when I challenge people to defend The Butcher Shop's wine prices, they do it in very general terms, e.g., "they're serving unique wines you don't see elsewhere, they're trying to do something different." I can concede that that's true, and still believe they might be getting away with some unholy markups.

                I haven't done my homework on this either -- I should come up with a concrete example of a wine I think they're gouging on (and maybe I will, to add some facts to the current exchange of impressions). But my sense that their markups are high isn't based on random guessing, and it's certainly not because I object to paying $16 for a glass of wine: that's something I routinely do. How easily you can afford a pricey glass of wine should have no impact on your understanding that some $16 glasses of wine are better values than others.

                As I said before, I'd love to hear someone with more training or professional insight weigh in on this more empircally than you or I have. So far all I've seen are some restaurant patrons who love the Butcher Shop saying they believe the prices are fair.

                But I'll ask the question: what level of wine expertise would it take for you to follow someone's advice on wine? Is it just credentials? ("The girl's an ISG-certified Grand Sommelier, I will follow where she leads.") Or might it also take some of those other assets I mentioned above (e.g., shared sensibilties, perception of impartiality, etc.)?

                And isn't it possible for a wine program manager to also be a canny businessperson, and perhaps price wines more aggressively at a restaurant that is very hot at the moment, or where the patrons seem to have less price sensitivity?

                At the end of the day, for most people, it doesn't matter what some little alt-weekly food writer or even some highly trained wine professional thinks: if you think it's a value, that's good enough.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Again... my point is missed. I did not accuse you of being a wine ignoramus. I simply stated that you yourself were looking for help on the subject. I'm helping. I'm not proclaiming to be your wine help...
                  I'm pointing out the fact that apparently you have a voice on hear that people listen to... When you make comments such as the $18 glass at the butcher shop is overpriced, people may in turn listen. But, when you can't base that statement on anything, people need to understand that as well. This is a format for opinions... I am giving mine. Just like it drives you crazy when people say "hands down" it drives me crazy when people make completely off base statements.

                  1. re: bowmore36

                    I was responding to this in your reply to me: "you yourself [MC Slim] claimed not to understand wine". I didn't say that, but neither do I want to posit myself as a wine authority. I have some training above the layman's, and probaby a more accurate gauge of wine prices than some.

                    And once again, I notice no one's jumping in to say, "Hey, I know this Butcher Shop wine that they price for $18/glass that I routinely buy at retail for $200, so it's a steal." I keep saying, "Somebody please gainsay my impression that they're gouging", and no one is speaking up. If you've got some facts to show me my gut instinct on this is wrong, I'd be grateful for them.

                    Meantime, I'll try to back up my hip shot on this with some concrete examples (I get to the Butcher Shop perhaps twice a month). Maybe that will put this ungrounded-in-facts-on-either-side discussion to bed.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      I don't have the facts because there were none provided... all i said was that i know the butcher shop and i haven't seen an $18 glass and, if there were one, i'm sure the value would be there. i trust the butcher shop and cat's selections and continue to go there because of that.
                      it's discouraging to see comments such as these with no factual back up. those are the posts that need to be removed from this site.

                      i'm not one to report an invalid, uninformed entry on here but people need to know the difference between opinion and fact. there was no fact, yet uninformed opinion, to the statements. the readers should know this. that's my DIG

                      1. re: bowmore36

                        MC Slim is probably the most trusted, respected, and enjoyable to read poster on this site. You won't win many friends here suggesting that his posts be scrubbed from the site.

                        I'm pretty sure you know that his $18/glass comment was merely hypthetical/tongue-in-cheek. His overall point about the butcher shop's wine by the glass prices is completely valid, as are similar posts about the Butcher Shop's food pricings. Your defense of the Butcher Shop, and your needless potshots at a long time poster, is bordering on the preposterous.

                        1. re: tamerlanenj

                          I think anyone, longtime poster or not, should not be above criticism. In fact, if I understood correctly, bowmore's point was that a longtime poster is in more danger of having his/her words taking as gospel than mere opinion.

                          I also disagree that most people took the $18/glass as a hyperbole.

                          Finally: Not sure the point of Chowhound is to "win friends." It's not a clique. (Or shouldn't be.)

                          Personally, I'm willing to pay Butcher Shop's wine markups in exchange for the unique selection, the deep expertise of the pourer, and the atmosphere.

                          1. re: wittlejosh

                            While I appreciate tamerlanenj's kind words, you're right, wittlejosh. The Chowish thing is to be skeptical, to challenge, to question any authority, self-styled or imputed, with no regard to how long or often someone's been posting here. I also think it's safe to say that for every Hound who likes my posts, there's one or two more who think I'm full of it. And that is as it should be. (And yes, $18 is a slight exaggeration, but if you haven't seen a $16 glass of wine at the Butcher Shop, you haven't been going much.)

                            I think you're echoing my earlier point about value: there's a great deal of subjectivity there. If you love the place, the premium you're willing to pay for intangibles goes up. What I haven't worked out yet is a more rational basis for analyzing wine pricing at Boston restaurants. Ideally, I'd like to be able to present a margin analysis with some level of transparency into the restaurant's wholesale costs. That would make it easier for an individual to decide whether the uplift was justified by more qualitative factors like atmosphere, staff knowledge, stemware, service quality, location, etc. Barring that, at least in this thread, it's one Hound's hazy impression of what constitutes value against another's. (In any event, I still think it's useful to compare restaurant pricing with retail pricing, or as limster has suggested, auction pricing.)

                            The assertion that "if you don't like the prices, you should just go somewhere else" seems especially simple-minded and un-Chowish to me. When people ask here about the Butcher Shop, I try to respond with my honest opinion, part of which is whether I think it's worth the money. In some ways, I think it isn't, and yet I'm a fairly regular patron, just one who happens to find it useful for other reasons than its by-the-glass wine prices. I don't love or hate places in binary fashion: I have qualified opinions. What I hear from bowmore sounds like I should adore the place unconditionally, or quit complaining and stop going.

                            I've asked repeatedly: someone please help me understand how I might be off base about the Butcher Shop's wine prices. I'm a Chowhound: I'm here as much to learn as to blather on with my own opinions. (Okay, maybe 80% blather, 20% learning.) I won't assert that my gut impressions are in any way superior to yours, but will expect in return that if all you've got to counter them are your own gut impressions rather than some hard data, you won't suggest that mine should be censored.

                        2. re: bowmore36

                          What this sounds like to me, bowmore, is that some opinions without the benefit of factual backup (like yours) are fine, but others aren't. I respect and admire Cat Silirie, too, but I don't think her employers are above reaping the biggest margins they can get away with. I trust Cat's connoisseurship, too, but that doesn't mean the Butcher Shop isn't gouging me.

                          At the end of the day, Chowhounds have to decide for themselves whose opinions they trust and who they think is ignorant or has an agenda or just isn't simpatico with their sensibilities. No one anointed me an authority on this particular subject, and I've never styled myself as one.

                          You are welcome to challenge my assertions -- and bringing some facts of your own to the discussion would convince me of your views better than your profession of faith in Lynch and Co.'s good intentions. But suggesting a Hound's opinions should be censored because they disagree with yours strikes me as a bit much.

                          I will try to follow up on this when I can (my eating assignments elsewhere are kind of stacked up at the moment.) Honestly, I would prefer to be convinced that their prices are fair than to hold my current view.

                  2. re: bowmore36

                    It's not too hard to find the approximate price range a bottle of wine retails or auctions for, and therefore estimate how much value (or not) a glass or a bottle offers. It's also possible to compare prices between restaurants when they offer identical wines. Opinions can vary (i.e. what is the threshold for being overpriced), but I doubt that facts are easily slanted. If there's a difference of opinion, why not just state the prices i.e. How much does a bottle of that wine cost at retail or auction or at another restaurant and have have everyone decide for themselves if they're willing to pay for the wine at the restaurant or not? You could always take into account storage, wine service/stemware etc...

                    1. re: limster

                      agreed its not impossible... if you know what you are doing. opinions can vary but, but considering what is overpriced again is all relative. again why i make the point about who is making the judgement on the quality of the wine. if you don't like it, you always have other options.

              2. As the Hound who wrote that piece, it's important to note that The Dig's scale is different for every review. It tries to put the venue in the context of its class of restaurants, rather than using the same five-star scale for, say, both Speed's and Aujourd'hui.

                I invented the scale for that review by comparing Coda to other casual urban bars that serve food, thus:

                ***** Franklin Café Hall of Fame
                **** Audubon Circle of Excellence
                *** Charlie’s Kitchen Seal of Adequacy
                ** Rattlesnake “Too Drunk to Eat Somewhere Better” Award
                * Seventh Circle of Daisy Buchanan’s

                I personally would rather not use star ratings at all -- I think people tend to fixate on them in a way that's not useful, and then maybe not bother to read the review -- but that's The Dig's setup. As you can see, the 4-star rating has already confused some people who didn't read the rating scale closely.

                My original sub-title for the review was "Thank your lucky stars it's channeling Silvertone, not Sibling Rivalry". That should give you an idea of what to expect. Think of it in the context of Miracle of Science, Ashmont Grill, B-Side Lounge, those kinds of places, not vs. Clio or T.W. Food.

                I'm grateful the South End has another relatively affordable option instead of another upscale restaurant.

                6 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  I think thericker's post clearly demonstrates the risk of a star system. (No offense, thericker.) Not that the Dig is the NYTimes, but I think the Times recently eliminated its star system.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    so, MC Slim, won't you EVER reveal your real name? :-)

                    1. re: tamerlanenj

                      Funny story: MC Slim *is* my real name.

                      Obviously, there's value to readers in a food writer's remaining anonymous. Riechl devotes the whole "King of Spain" chapter of "Garlic and Sapphires" to illustrate the point, culminating with her review of Le Cirque. It's not a great restaurant if you're an average Joe, she writes, but it's superb if you're a VIP ("the raspberries get bigger").

                      While obviously The Dig isn't the NY Times, If they see you coming, you'll probably get more attentive service and cooking than the average patron. You might love a place as a result, while a reader getting the average treatment might not be so impressed, and think you're an idiot. (Of course, being accused of idiocy is an occupational hazard; fortunately, I've been posting on Chowhound for a long time, so I'm used to it.)

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        I ran into Riechl once at Daniel in NYC (the old original one downstairs from that hotel). Her wig was somewhat hilarious, and it fooled no one.

                      2. re: tamerlanenj

                        My money is on discovering the Phantom's true identity before finding out MC's. ;-b

                        The star system has its flaws, but for people who are on the run, a star system can come in handy since it can be used as a kind of quick "cheat sheet" for finding restaurants that may be of interest. I'd personally rather get ideas for restaurants on a board like this, but I'll also read reviews, guides, etc. that use both star systems as well as number systems.

                        1. re: hiddenboston

                          I actually think The Dig is taking a better approach to a star system than most in trying to judge a restaurant among its peers. The problem is that many readers will assume it's an absolute system.

                          Consider that T.W. Food got a three-star rating vs. Coda's four. There's absolutely no comparison between the two in terms of what they're trying to do, the idiom they're working in, the prices, etc. T.W. is immensely more creative and refined in technique and focused on artisanal ingredients; it's a Slow Food kind of restaurant. Coda is trying to do comfort food and pub standards with a high level of craft and an eye on the diner's budget.

                          One is very ambitious (but so far falling just a little short on execution); the other is quite modest (but doing a fine job within its highly limited aspirations). Comparing the two on the same scale doesn't make much sense to me. But that's what most star rating systems do, and readers can't be blamed for mistakenly assuming that The Dig works that way, too (it has only been using this unique-scale-for-every-review approach for a few months).

                    2. NFW, 4 stars??????? Out of what, 20? You ARE kidding,right?? Maybe it was a spoof or someone was pulling your leg. Maybe it's just a ranking of all things "pub grub"???