HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


The Well Recognized Critic

Word comes this morning in NY that a well-recognized blogger, "Restaurant Girl", will now be the official food critic for the NY Daily News. RG, real name Danyelle Freeman, even has her photo on her website. Do you think that this will taint the objectivity of her reviews? Interested to hear chowhounders weigh in....

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Yeah, I think you will need to take her reviews of the service specifically with a grain of salt since she will be known. Her review of the food though, may be inconsistent because some places will pay special attention while others won't. I wonder if she will tell us if she gets comped or get special treatment?

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        It is -- she had a bit part on The Sopranos as one of Meadow's friends.

        1. re: mcgeary

          Does anyone take the Daily News's restaurant reviews seriously?

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            not really sure that's the point, though. regardless of whether the restaurant world lives and dies by the articles in the Daily News. I think the larger issue is whether or not a restaurant critic can deliver any sort of meaningful review if they are not 100% anonymous.

            1. re: food10011

              i believe her take is that she will also offer some in-depth "insider" knowledge that she will probably get from being recognized. like, perhaps the chef will take time to explain to how the meal was made, where the meat is from, that sorta thing.

              i never even knew daily news had restaurant reviews in the first place, but then again - the last time i read the daily news was in elementary school when we had to do newspaper clippings for our current events homework.

      2. Don't most restaurants figure out what a given restaurant critic looks like pretty soon anyway? It seems unavoidable unless you're going to wear elaborate disguises.

        4 Replies
        1. re: BostonCookieMonster

          Of course most restaurants in the city know what Frank Bruni and Adam Platt look like, but the facade of not knowing who they are remains. The truth is that the "everyday diner" will never have the same experience at a restaurant as a critic.

          1. re: food10011

            Most restaurant critics are much lower-profile than Frank Bruni and successfully dine anonymously.

            Even the most well-known critic will be anonymous when eating at many humbler establishments.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Michael Bauer is far from low-profile, and his picture is purportedly in every restaurant kitchen in San Francisco. Although he may not be recognized in humbler establishments, since he doesn't review them, that wouldn't "count." I'm sure Bauer is recognized in every restaurant he's likely to review.

              His attitude is somewhat laissez faire -- on his blog he acknowledges that he's sometimes recognized, but he doesn't seem to take any but the most cursory steps to avoid being recognized (he uses his friends' names to make reservations, but those names are also well-known in local restaurant circles).

              Because it can't be said too often, here's a link to the award-winning "Eating in Michael Bauer's Town": http://web.archive.org/web/2003061805...

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Bauer's clearly not *always* recognized, since sometimes he reports on things that wouldn't have happened if he had been.

                If he weren't his own editor he might be feeling some pressure to take a different gig due to his lack of anonymity.

        2. i read her blog a few times and just couldn't stand it. i hope her editor has a very sharp pencil.

          1. I don't think this will make too much of a difference. I think most restaurant critics are known if they have a powerful/local sway - though she might have enjoyed far more anonymity than this, since i don't think she'll be making seismic waves of change. That said, i'll take her with a grain of salt based on her "resume"

            1. I wonder how much it matters. I read Tom Sietsema's chats for the Washington Post, and while he says he does take measures to ensure that his identity isn't discovered, there's really only so much a restaurant can do once they realize they have a VIP. Your menu is your menu. The ingredients have been ordered, and your staff is in place. They might be able to rush an order or something, but you are who you are. Maybe the restaurant will be better able to make the best of what they have, but they can't make gold out of lead.

              3 Replies
              1. re: pomme de terre

                In former NYT critic Ruth Reichl's memoir "Garlic and Sapphires," she tells a story about how at one restaurant she was recognized during dessert and they whipped away her half-eaten raspberry tart and replaced it with a fresh slice from one with bigger, prettier berries.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Robert, thanks for mentioning telling this little anecdote. It piqued my curiousity enough to cause me to buy the book. The personas got tiresome after the first two or three (I didn't find the back stories of the fake people that interesting), but it was a great read overall, both entertaining and enlightening.

                  I wasn't surprised to read about a critic who went to a lot of effort not to be recognized, but I was very surprised by the occasions she wanted to make sure she was recognized (basically, to test to see if she had, in fact, been recognized on her previous visits to the restaurants.) I'm curious--what did you think of this strategy?


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    New Yorkers commonly believe that many restaurants have two tiers of quality and service, so it's interesting for a critic to test that.

              2. Very few, if any, famous food critics in the UK are anonymous. They all seem to have their photo plastered all over the TV screen or in magazines. Whether or not that affects their ability to do the job is something I really can't judge. Can restaurants whip out better meals all of a sudden when they recognize a critic? Service may improve, but I'm not sure about food. I'm an American and do remember many critics there living in secrecy. Interesting how things can vary.

                9 Replies
                1. re: zuriga1

                  food critics are a lot like chefs when they show up. they are very nice to staff (generally). they have a whole plan of attack on the menu, they don't just peruse it. then they order EVERYTHING. they order more food than you think they'd be able to eat in their party; and they order the off-the-wall, interesting stuff, hardly ever the most-popular dishes. they order food combos that are unusual (meat apps and veg entree etc) if your establishment/menu is small it's not unusual for them to order "one of everything on the menu." duh, probably a food critic or a chef (the chefs won't order salad though). you can get a good clue by the bar tab; chefs will generally have a hefty one, critics will just have 1 glass of wine or 1 beer, & lots of water. some are more stealthy, of course, and come back multiple times, ordering carefully and working through the whole menu w multiple visits. an astute server can pick a critic even if they don't recognize them. if the server misses it the chef can often figure it out by the ticket-- "who is at table 19 with this kind of order?" and yes, if the staff picks up on it, the presentation improves, best cut of meat is selected etc. at a place where everything is basically the same (like a burger place) it's just the normal food being judged, though.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I went on a couple of expeditions with the local food critic. He had a totally separate persona and was surrepititiously taking notes in a notebook under the table. We didn't order anything out of the ordinary, we ordered a lot of food, mainly because I was hungry and I wanted him to try some of the special Chinese dishes. We also didn't have any alcohol. And we didn't go out by ourselves, his wife was along for the ride too.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      I don't think I do any of those things and neither do any of the other critics I've gone on review dinners with. My bar tab's not slim, either.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        i think it's a good bet we're talking different types-- or maybe leagues-- of critics here, Robert. i've busted critics both as their server , and from boh, by scanning the ticket and thinking it's strange.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          I think it's regional. Here in foodie paradise, lots of people eat like critics.

                      2. re: soupkitten

                        why wouldn't a chef order a salad?

                        "food critics are a lot like chefs when they show up. they are very nice to staff (generally). they have a whole plan of attack on the menu, they don't just peruse it. then they order EVERYTHING. they order more food than you think they'd be able to eat in their party; and they order the off-the-wall, interesting stuff, hardly ever the most-popular dishes. they order food combos that are unusual (meat apps and veg entree etc) if your establishment/menu is small it's not unusual for them to order "one of everything on the menu."

                        Gee: sounds like the group of friends I went to dinner with Monday night. No chefs or critics though, just chowhounds!

                        1. re: susancinsf

                          can make it better at work yourself w a walk-in full of vegetables, specialty cheeses, some rice noodles you just cooked, some beets left over from last night's prix fixe, some of the owner's special evoo-- restaurants don't sell salads like that, they are made and eaten back of the house.

                      3. re: zuriga1

                        English journalism in general allows for more expression of personal opinions, so I think the standards for "objectivity" are different for both the journalist and the audience.

                        But if you want to know how a restaurant can improve its food for a VIP, you really should read "Garlic and Sapphires" (mentioned above) -- it's an entertaining read, regardless of why you pick it up.

                        I've also read that when the restaurant recognizes the name on the reservation, it's not unheard of for them to pack the house with friends and supporters to create a positive atmosphere. I suppose you could even do that if you recognize the critic when he walks in: call some friends and make sure the restaurant is busy and happy, and that when the nearby tables turn, there are people seated at them who will talk up how great they think the restaurant is.

                      4. Many hounds have mentioned on these boards in the past that critics are not the solution to figuring out where to eat. Hounds don't want to be told where to eat, they much prefer to garner as many chowtips as possible, and then go try them out themselves and decide what they like. It's not even a matter of the critic's objectivity, rigour or knowledge (which like everyone's, will be imperfect, especially if they don't fact check very carefully), but simply that tastes and preferences will vary enough that we all have to responsible for finding our own deliciousness.

                        22 Replies
                        1. re: limster

                          True, but chowhound also vigorously polices shills on these boards, and a reviewer who gets special treatment because s/he's recognized is no better for the purposes of evaluating their opinions than someone who gets special treatment because they're a friend of the owner or who trades good treatment for positive plugs on the web.

                          1. re: limster

                            If I'm familiar with a someone's taste and reliability, their report on a place is a useful data point. Doesn't matter whether they're professionals writing for a newspaper, Web site, or guidebook, or amateurs writing for their own blogs, posting to sites like Chowhound, or commenting on review sites.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Sure, if you that as a chowtip for something to try rather than a key to what is delicious or not.

                              1. re: limster

                                Sure, everyone has different taste. But if certain people tell me they like something, based on past experience I know almost for a fact that I'm going to like it too, so I'll make a point of going to anyplace they recommend ASAP.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  In general, I think reviews from a source like Chowhound are much more reliable than the "real critics" because they are going in as (supposedly) anonymous diners.

                                  1. re: food10011

                                    But there are also many cases where these supposedly anonymous Chowhound diners are also regulars at a particular establishment, and so may get preferential treatment over other diners, no more different than a reviewer. Personally, as a reviewer I'd also look around at the dining room and look at the vibe. If it looks like I'm the only one in the dining room getting food and everyone else looks like they're starving to death, then that's going to look suspicious.

                                    1. re: Blueicus

                                      That's true, though I try to mention if I'm a regular somewhere and if I think I've experienced special treatment. Also, there are one or two places I just don't post on anymore, even though I really like them, because I do get special treatment everytime I go there, and my experience seems to differ considerably enough from that of others posting on CH about the same place to make my experience perhaps of less use to others.

                                      1. re: Blueicus

                                        I think if you asked any restauranteur, he or she would tell you, of course I know who my regulars are, and of course I am going to give them preferential treatment when I can. (Whether that means being seated without a reservation on a busy night, or maybe just a little extra attention to details) It has nothing to do with being any kind of insider, and everything to do with the business cultivating repeat business.

                                        I also think that if Frank Bruni, or any other well known restaurant critic walked in to any serious restaurant "incognito", they would be recognized immediately, or if not, get up on the radar pretty quick, as soon as they started ordering a smorgasbord of food and started passing it around the table. Something else to remember, a good food critic is not going to walk in to a place once and then write his review. He is going to pay the restaurant repeat visits, and over time, just that fact will make him "recognizable" to management as someone they have served before, and thus someone worth cultivating further.

                                        1. re: ChinoWayne

                                          The critics I know don't order any differently than any other foodie types. At least in the SF area, it's very common for a party of four to order four or more different appetizers and four different entrees and pass them around so everybody can taste everything. Not to mention all the small-plates places where everybody's doing that.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            "Something else to remember, a good food critic is not going to walk in to a place once and then write his review. He is going to pay the restaurant repeat visits, and over time, just that fact will make him "recognizable" to management as someone they have served before, and thus someone worth cultivating further.

                                            Actually, most just go twice before writing a review. And some (esp in NY) review when the restaurant has only been open a mere 2-3 months.

                                            1. re: food10011

                                              I think most critics figure after two months it's fair game.

                                              I'd never review a place without going at least twice. If I go too early and they don't have it together, that doesn't count. Often I go three or four times so as to try more of the menu.

                                              1. re: food10011

                                                What food critics do (no. of visits, how long a restaurant is open etc...) can vary tremendously from publication to publication and from critic to critic.

                                                1. re: limster

                                                  How true. If you can catch a rerun of the first episode of the new Bravo "reality" series "The Parker", you will see some supposed critic arrive at the hotel under her own name, get the big welcome treatment from management. Then with her apparent BFF in tow in some sort of girls' weekend getaway, spend two days and an evening ordering virtually everything off the menu. Racking up very large tabs, and you got the impression that it was all probably comped by the hotel. (This was a return visit, as she did not say anything very nice about them the first visit. Hmmmmm, could this be a ploy of some unscrupulous "critics" to mooch...) She really did come off as a ditz with a plunging neckline.

                                                  And if she knew she was being filmed for a TV show, I guess anonymity didn't mean anything to her.

                                                  1. re: ChinoWayne

                                                    Leslie McElroy is not a critic. I guess you could call her an Orange County cooking teacher and podcast culinary-travel-show host.


                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      What ever, she was billed as a big time food writer by Bravo, and they played this like it was a real big deal to this hotel to get a "good review" out of her. It does highlight the fact that anyone with bus fare, an appetite and internet access can call themselves a food critic, food writer, travel show host, gourmand, culinary expert, etc.; publish something, and there will always be gullible people who will buy it as "authoritative". And that likely works to bury, or diminish from from view, real, professional, critical writing.

                                                      1. re: ChinoWayne

                                                        All that highlights is that "reality" TV doesn't have much to do with reality, which is no secret to many fans, who appreciate that it's trashy entertainment, not educational documentary.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          I am not going to argue the value of "reality" television, its just lowest common denominator entertainment.

                                                          My point is about the fact that any person with access to the internet has a platform to be "published", without benefit of any editorial standards, which means that consumers of the material published need to be a little bit more skeptical and selective of what they take away.

                                                          1. re: ChinoWayne

                                                            There were unscrupulous critics writing for print publications with low or no editorial standards long before the Internet.

                                                        2. re: ChinoWayne

                                                          I thought she was a high-end travel agent who was "reviewing" the place for future client referrals. Or am I thinking of someone else?

                                                  2. re: food10011

                                                    Some critics may just go twice, but critics that you really care about tend to go five or six times if there is anything noteworthy about the food. And there may be something to the way that critics order - I have seen a California critic, completely unknown outside his city, be made as a critic at a casual meal in Richmond, Virginia. It was kind of weird. Chefs do tend to order differently too, but can usually be spotted by the sheet pan burns on their arms and their love of big meat.

                                                    1. re: condiment

                                                      What critic eats at places that often? I've never spoken with or read an interview with anyone who did.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        I just thought this was interesting, but Dara Moskowitz of City Pages in Minneapolis says she visits the restaurants she reviews at least 3 times for a good review and up to five times for a negative review. http://citypages.com/databank/28/1395... She says she'll "pull the plug on a potential review of an obscure restaurant after one visit if [she] think[s] the place is too awful, too ho-hum, or simply stands a good chance of improving if left alone."


                                  2. Another way to spot a critic--he might be the guy waving a decibel meter around:


                                    1. Andrea Strong's face was definitely shown on the episode of Top Chef! What's the harm in knowing what a food blogger/critic looks like? I see your point but I don't think it's a big deal I guess. I don't think restaurants have her picture on the wall so they know to look for her. Or maybe they do...

                                      1. What restaurant did Danyelle review this week? I missed getting the NY Daily News yesterday?

                                        1. Bruni may not be as recognizable as people assume. The one photo that's apparently floating around NYC restaurants is a very grainy shot of him from eight years ago, when he was significantly heavier.

                                          But I still think there's a big difference between trying to stay undercover and being a blatant presshound, splashing your photo around at every opportunity. I imagine there are plenty of restaurants where Bruni and other critics whom restaurants are dying to ID still go unnoticed for at least part of their research. And the difference in treatment, both from the kitchen and FOH, is huge. Good critics, in my opinion, should always at least try to maintain their anonymity.

                                          My bigger issue with Freeman is that she's just an awful, awful writer, so terrible I find her stuff hard to read. She sounds like a high school freshman who relies heavily on Roget's but lacks any sense of appropriate diction or flow. Try one:


                                          Harvard should hang its head in shame.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            Also, when you are getting paid for a review as it is your job (Bruni and now Freeman) is very different than an Andrea Strong. Her reviews are only on her website. The other food pieces she writes are editorial....more along the lines of FloFab.

                                            1. re: food10011

                                              well, at least freeman is kinda pleasing to the eyes, one extra reason why her picture is plastered all over the place.

                                            2. re: MC Slim JB

                                              that second link is some of the most horrible writing i've seen in some time, on any subject. i thought it was a joke, and that there would be some sort of swelling climax at the end, but instead she cut & pasted in a paragraph that otherwise didn't fit anywhere in her "column" but that she doesn't have the sense to just get rid of, and then makes up a weak one sentence "sum-up" that also serves no purpose? let me guess-- "restaurant girl" has never heard of elizabeth david, james beard, or m.f.k. fisher. i think it's a problem that unqualified people like this, with no sense of writing to convey an experience, are getting free rides-- the bar's set pretty low here.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                The writing's not that bad. The content's a weird hybrid of review and gossip column. Overall it fits in well with the NY Daily News's lowbrow hysteria.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  You're a gentler reader than I. Lines like, "[t]he enormous wood oven also births sweet sensations..." make me wince, and "[t]he trattoria's handsome and lengthy front bar is now an obligatory rite of passage to securing a table in the sprawling dining room" don't even make sense to me. Who the bloody hell is her editor?

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      "These traits texture nearly every fearless dish on the Italian menu, a welcome detour from the garden variety trattorias of late."

                                                      this would make a high school english teacher weep. i wonder if "restaurant girl" could isolate the subject of her own sentence, let alone diagram it. and try reading it aloud, if you're good at tongue twisters.

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        It isn't the worst writing, or the worst food writing, I've ever seen in my life. However, it is pretty awful. It also has all the signs of habitually bad writing from someone who THINKS she is a good writer. Which is the worst kind.

                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          call me a bad writer, but i love to use the words "not your garden variety"

                                                          although now i may have to stop.

                                                2. I wonder why everyone is so concerned with her anonymity, rather than the more (to me) immediate problem of her dubious qualifications and terrible, shocking writing.

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: frenetica

                                                    Yeah, frenetica, see my post right above yours. I agree that so-bad-it's-not-even-funny-bad writing is Freeman's bigger problem as a restaurant critic.

                                                    But I still think the anonymity issue is important, especially in Manhattan, where a two-tier service hierarchy (great if you're a celeb, horrible if you're not) is pretty common.

                                                    Your other point about credentials is interesting, one I've often raised on Chowhound: what exactly qualifies a writer to be a restaurant critic? I've mostly asked for responses from industry folks, since they're the likeliest to object to a writer on the grounds that they're unqualified, and have the most at stake; see www.chowhound.com/topics/347385 (and others on this board).

                                                    So clearly, Freeman falls down on one important food writer criterion ("Must be able to write compelling prose, or at least write well enough not to induce cringing in anyone who passed college freshman English"). What else do you consider legitimate minimum credentials for a restaurant critic?

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      To be a critic, you have to impress the editor who assigns the gig (or, in the case of Michael Bauer, *be* that editor).

                                                      Generally that means having done it well before, so getting into the business is somewhat chicken-and-egg.

                                                      Now that anyone can self-publish on the Web, things have changed a bit, but blogging doesn't teach you to write to a specific word count on deadline.


                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Food writing IS funny that way (chicken/egg thing). I've always said that it's one of the hardest sectors of journalism to be taken seriously in because anyone who eats (everyone) and knows how to write thinks he/she can be a good food writer. So it's harder to break into the Food section (i.e., convince an editor that you have a special aptitude for food writing) than other sections of a magazine or newspaper.

                                                        I do a fair amount of food writing these days, but I spent years covering every other beat----from visual arts to business to theater.

                                                        1. re: wittlejosh

                                                          I think travel writing is probably just as hard to break into.

                                                          Robert's comment about word count is important. It's a useful discipline for a writer to have to get a story down to, say, 300 words, reading it over and over trying to cut a word or phrase.

                                                          1. re: Glencora

                                                            My current gig, the word count's usually just about right. It's rare that I have more to say than will fit; more often my challenge is finding enough relevant and interesting things to say to fill up the space.

                                                            It's not just writing to a specific word count but following all the specs (character counts for hed and subhed, contact info and hours in specific formats, etc.) and writing to a particular style guide.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Have you heard/read the story about the Philadelphia food critic Craig LaBan, who is being sued for libel by a restaurant because of the content of one of his reviews, and was not permitted to be deposed in a wig and disguise? http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/art...
                                                              Good discussion on "On the Media" the other week http://www.onthemedia.org/episodes/20...

                                                              1. re: JanetG

                                                                I can't believe the judge didn't dismiss that suit. The restaurant's claim is that LaBan ordered a "steak sandwich without bread" rather than the steak panned in the review, but LaBan has a receipt that says "steak frites."

                                                  2. Re the often-expressed-here opinion that critics are always recognized despite their efforts to remain anonymous, it seems to clear to me from reading reviews that even major critics in high-end restaurants are frequently not spotted.

                                                    E.g. this from Frank Bruni's latest review in the New York Times:

                                                    "... [high prices create] an expectation of service less sluggish and absent-minded. On several occasions servers had to circle back to the table with the bad news that selections already made were unavailable."


                                                    Or this from a recent Michael Bauer review in the SF Chronicle:

                                                    "Some staffers are so inexperienced they seemed as confused about the drink list as I was. ... On one visit we ordered six dishes - both small and larger plates - and the whole spread arrived at once. It was impossible to fit it on the small wood table. As three people stood around us waiting for us to do something, I asked our waiter how he intended to arrange everything on the table. 'I told you that you were ordering a lot of food,' he said."