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Sep 20, 2007 02:30 PM

City Paper Best of Baltimore CH call out? [Moved from DC/Baltimore Area board]

Any ideas why the City Paper in their description of Elizabeth Large's dining@large blog would have said "it's like the local Chowhound boards without the pointless bragging" (p. 57) Maybe I don't understand the word "bragging" - I thought it was usually about promoting yourself, which is part of my confusion here - when people write about food, they aren't really promoting themselves, are they? And since the boards are anonymous, for the most part, how can you anonymously brag? I must be missing something...

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  1. I have no idea, but wanted to say 'well spotted.' And, curious to beat up on us CHers, since it's obvious that loads of CP reviews, etc. are lifted from our modest little posts.

    (BTW, I'll bet this gets moved over to the food media board...but thought I'd catch it while it was here.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: baltoellen

      Will anyone see it over on the other board (I don't know that I've ever checked there for anything) - is there a way to cross link things?

      1. re: a70wilson

        I think you won't have to lift a finger, and they'll move it for you! But, whether or not any Baltimore 'hounds will find it will be another matter.

        And, of course, people use this forum to promote their businesses, but I think those that do are fairly easy to spot.

    2. I hate to break it to you, but there are plenty of folks who try to use public forums to either promote their own restaurants by pretending they are regular (albeit gushing and unusually well informed) customers, or discredit the competition, or both. I know that Chowhound tries to monitor this.

      Maybe City Paper is saying that Elizabeth Large is a known, real person, and has to take the responses / criticism that comes her way.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Veruca_Salt

        There's a growing tide of resentment amongst restaurant critics about the rise and popularity of both online blogs and boards such as ChowHound. Some of the criticisms include those who complain that a blogger will only visit a restaurant once and base their review solely upon that visit - unlike the professional critic (a la New York Times) who will visit a restaurant multiple times before writing the review.

        Fact is remains that the average diner will only visit a place once and determine whether or not that restaurant is worth returning to. Like the average diner, the restaurant only has one chance to make a positive impression - and as we've seen with restaurants like El Rinconcito, that one-time positive impression will be rewarded.

        Then there's the other site of the City Paper argument - which wants to position their reviews as "legitimate" and blogs/ChowHound as "illegitimate". I recently decided that I was done with the City Paper's restaurant reviews when Richard Gorelick used General Tso's Chicken to determine the value of a Chinese restaurant. That was the epitome of Amateur Hour at the City Paper.

        1. re: onocoffee

          I think it's great that so many people are passionate about what they eat and drink, and how they are served.

          I don't think that is a question of legitimate vs. illegitimate opinions, it's just that bloggers are anonymous and restaurant reviewers are already identified to the public. That's why I take restaurant reviews from blogs with a grain of *salt*. :)

          I certainly appreciate that there are many different ways to learn about a restaurant at 2am in my pajamas!

          1. re: Veruca_Salt

            I don't think we should pretend that restaurant reviewers don't have their own agendas as well. Some are wanna be 'serious' writers (of what, I'm not so sure). Some just love the publicity, and the ego-stroking, and being in the 'know.'

            We had a chow dinner last night, and discussed how we narrow down who we trust in the forum here. I basically think it's the same process as deciding what reviewer you trust: i.e., having a track record of similar tastes, liking writing styles, understanding that there aren't any hidden agendas, (i.e., touting a restaurant, etc.), that one would use in taking anyone else's opinions on things.

            Still, though, none of this seems to answer directly that 'pointless bragging' bit from the OP.

          2. re: onocoffee

            Funny because before Richard Gorelick wrote for the CP, he was a chowhound contributor. When he took up writing reviews, he didn't tell anyone on chowhound he was doing it until there were a series of posts ripping him, his writing style, and his description of food.

            IIRC, his last post was: "Anyways, I may stop by once in a while, but I'm not going to be posting here anymore."

            1. re: BmoreHound

              I dont see much bragging on CH. By the way, Large's description of dishes is pretty clear that she only visits once, at least usually.

              1. re: BmoreHound

                Not to seem like I'm bragging, but I'm the one who started that thread, based on a letter that I had written CP about Gorelick. And yes, other people ripped on him as well, deservedly I think.

                I'll cut him some slack on the actual food criticism, as tastes and experiences vary. What I can't forgive is his writing -- he once wrote "(crab appears), lumpily, in a crab and cantaloupe salad. Crabmeat doesn’t get packed into a cake here, and diners are left free to run barefoot over other dining options." I nearly threw the paper across the room.

                I don't want to go nuts bashing Gorelick -- I've done plenty of that already. But his overwrought writing obscures the useful information I need to make decisions. If I'm not getting good info, I might as well not bother reading it.

                To get back to the point of this thread, I don't think there's a lot of love at CP for the chowhound boards. But even with that, the bragging comment makes no sense.

              2. re: onocoffee

                "One visit" is not the worst of it. Many times people on this board will suggest or make comments about places they have never been to at all. They base their comments on things that they have read or heard from others on this board but don't bother to mention they don't have any first hand infomation.

                1. re: Tugboat

                  There's probably some of that, sure. That's why, as baltoellen pointed out, there's a kind of personal vetting process that you go through. How often a person posts, what they think of places I have been to, and how well they describe their experience are all factors.

                  I've been posting here for five years (oops, is that bragging?) and have a list of favorite posters whom I trust. But I'm also looking at the new folks -- seeing what they have to say and how they fit in to the discussion.

                  For all its flaws, it's a valuable resource for those looking for great food in the area -- I'd argue a more useful one than one person, no matter how good, making a profession of telling us where to eat. For one thing, the folks here are spending their own money.

                2. re: onocoffee

                  Well, "Amateur Hour" also occurs at the "mainstream" papers. I recall one appalling uninformed review at The Sun (I think it was E.L., but I'm not sure - it's been a while) that put me off of trusting their restaurant reviews as anything other than info on location and type of food. The review in question was of an Indian restaurant. The reviewer tried one of the thali samplers, which is a good way to get a taste of multiple items - a good move for a reviewer. Where the review went horribly off the rails, down the embankment, and deep into the weeds, though, was when the reviewer spent considerable time decrying the presentation of such good food in these little stainless steel bowls, asking why a restaurant that cooks so well couldn't afford nice little china dishes. Anybody with some experience with Indian cuisine knows that the stainless steel bowls are the traditional way to serve a thali, with the more "upscale" version being (I'm told) the same sor of tray and bowls arrangement, but made of silver.

                  In short, it was like having somebody paid to be a qualified resaurant reviewer go to a Chinese restaurant, and complain "Why can't they set a table properly with knives, forks and spoons? All they gave me to eat with were two lead-less defective pencils!" The point is that one assumes that a "food critic" should know about food, certainly, but one also expects them to be knowledgable about its preparation, the details of the restaurant business, and the cultural roots of the food being presented.

                  But, as Roger Ebert has often said about film criticism, the best critics are not necessarily the ones one always agrees with. If the critic is informative about the thing being reviewed, and is consistent enough that one can come to know how that critic's tastes map to one's own, the critic is successful. Ebert sometimes goes on to give the example that if you can confidently say "If Ebert hated, it I'll love it!" then he considers it a success, because his tastes and opinions have been consistent enough to allow you to make an informed decision based on what he wrote.

                  I also see Chowhound as covering multiple areas. Some posts are reviews, some are "criticism" in the classic sense, and some are advocacy. In some ways, I'd love to see a column that was like reading regular postings from a ChowHound fave - not so much restaurant reviews, but more like conversations with a friend about food. I don't mind the reviewer admitting to not liking lamb or some such, and to daring to have opinions, rather than the veneer of "impartiality" that critics often adopt. In some cases, I find that sort of thing on Chowhound.

                  For my own writing, I just try to post to Chowhound with my honest views, and I assume that some of my fellow hounds will find my words useful, and others will decide to not read anything with my name attached. It all works out in the end.

              3. It's pretty safe to say that no one grows up striving to be a writer/contributor for the Baltimore City Paper. Since everyone who worked there probably failed at their career of first choice, they have a chip on their shoulder because they think they are the 'underground elite' - the voice of Everyman. While CP does have some interesting stories, their reviews typically come across as written by someone with a superiority (inferiority?) complex (save for film, which are usually pretty good). You'll see a lot of 50-cent words used to dance around superficially, hoping the average reader who is so confused by the non-sensical arrangement of words will mistake this for intelligence.

                Knowledgable people freely sharing their experiences is a threat to their authority. While the piece may lead some people to discover CH to see what all this imaginary 'bragging' is about, it will also keep many of the uninitiated, who see the CP as some sort of authority, away. Large is uncontroversial and non-threatening.

                If they want to be taken seriously with their restaurant reviews, they should try to attract people who are passionate about food, not insult them.

                They just think they're better than us. No biggie.