People who write long reviews... how do you do it?
I read lots of fab reviews here, with details of every dish that each diner eats... is this from memory? Or do you take copious notes while eating? If the latter - does this interfere with the enjoyment of the meal, or prevent relaxed conversation?
I am about to spend Christmas in Venice (Italy) and would love to give lots of detailed feedback to fellow Chowhounds - but I am afraid I'll look a dork taking notes - and asking fellow diners 'how is it for you?' isn't really the conversation topic I had in mind.
Some tricks I've used:
I have a very good memory. I quickly memorize some details.
I ask questions of the waitperson or chef - 'what was in that?' - things stick in my mind better that way.
I occasionally make notes, but usually not until I'm back in the car.
I might also call my voice mail and leave a few words as reminders, very discreetly, of course. I do not want the restaurant to know I'm going to be reviewing or aggravate nearby diners. (I also only take pics in casual restos, never fine dining establishments).
Get a copy of the menu. Many of the restos I visit do not have websites.
Re-visit. Although sometimes I'm ready to write a review after the first bite (lol), for many restos I want to be able to comment on more than one dish or meal and so I'll be thinking from the very first 'when can I come back.' A re-visit allows me to review the menu and pick up descriptive details I might have missed before or forgotten by the time I made notes.
I write far more reviews than I ever post, here or elsewhere. I recently posted a review for the first time that was first written in 2005.
On a 3 week summer tour of Montana, I made a point of talking to whoever we interfaced with in the places where we ate. Granted, this was a different type of casual eating out than you might find touring elsewhere, but we met and chatted with owners, their families and staff, and got all kinds of background which led to a more thorough enjoyment of our food.
I collected any paper menus or business cards that were available and made notes in the car afterwards. It really helped jog my memeory when I got home and made my post. Since Montana is very lightly covered on the "elsewhere" board, I knew I had to make notes of some kind so I could be genuinely descriptive. It was an interesting experience, and feedback from locals after the fact gave us info for the next trip.
p.s.: I love the long, detailed reports. The more adjectives, the better.
The only time I ever took notes while eating was at Alinea, because 1) there were so many courses 2) each course was incredibly complicated and 3) the menu descriptions are so spare (e.g. Corn: coconut, cayenne, lime to describe a cube of coconut semifreddo with dehydrated corn, cayenne, and lime powder on top). I was eating alone, so it didn't feel weird to be scribbling down notes - it actually became part of the process of enjoyment. I even drew pictures of some of the more complicated dishes.
Otherwise, I use the same tricks other people other people do - grab a menu, take a quick picture (for some reason, I feel like taking pictures impedes my enjoyment more than taking notes does - maybe because you have to pause and take the picture first, while you can write at any time - so I rarely take pictures), discuss the food as I'm eating, scribble notes immediately afterwards. Like many of the other posters, I too have been trying to write more concise reviews... but sometimes, one memory triggers another, and all of it seems *so* important, and suddenly there's an enormous post.
I do four things:
1) Discuss the food as I eat it. Mrs. Mousse and I share everything, and most of our dining conversation is focused on the food. What we like, why we like it, what we don't like, why we don't like it. On the drive home, we will recap the highs and lows, etc., I find that the more I discuss a particular dish, the better I remember it.
2) Take a few notes as soon as you get home. I don't like taking notes during the meal, but before bed I'll usually chat with Mrs. Mousse and write down a few scattered notes that will become the skeleton for my review.
3) Write up your review ASAP. Even if you do #1 and #2, the longer you go without doing a full write up the harder it will be. I've found this makes writing travel reports really difficult; I don't want to write when I'm on vacation, when I get home a have a million things to do, and by the time I'm ready to write a report the details are not as crisp as they once were.
4) Always take a menu home. It's an invaluable crib sheet. I can reference the exact name for the dish, the price, and the descriptions will often jog my memory.
Um, I think I fall into this category. I've been known for a long post or two. :-)
Like The Dairy Queen, I wish I could be more succinct sometimes. I just write stream-of-consciousness and like to share tangential thoughts or contextual info though.
For me, I never take notes while at a restaurant since it would hinder my enjoyment of the experience. I can understand how a formal food critic would need to (it's their job after all), but notes feel like work and seriousness to me. Instead, I take 1-2 quick photos of each dish (no flash) when appropriate, tuck away any take-out menu and business card before I leave, and refer to the website for exact names of dishes, pricing, address, etc.
I'm a very visual person, so the picture alone triggers my thoughts and feelings about the meal. In addition, I'm just one of those people who has a good eye and memory for detail, especially when it comes to food! Some people have a separate stomach for dessert; I have a separate brain for all things food! My family and friends are stunned/scared by what I can recall about a meal years later...
It all depends on the situation though. If I'm on a trip in a foreign region and eating out meal after meal, it would be hard to remember every little detail. I sometimes like to journal while travelling, so I'd write the name and location of each place we ate as well as some general impressions after the fact. I might also take a photo of the restaurant's signage before entering. The beauty of photos is that they have a date stamp and are in sequence.
Further, if I'm w/ other people besides my husband or other hounds, then it becomes harder to focus on the food. I figure that I'll remember the standout parts of the experience and that's truly what's important to report.
Have a great time in Venice, and I'll keep a look out for your report!
Well, I'm too verbose about everything...sometimes, I wish I could learn how to write a report that is short and sweet. Nevertheless, I do all of the above. I try to take notes discreetly, take photos of the signage outside the restaurant, the dishes themselves, and snag a copy of the menu (or a pic of the menu if they don't have a take out copy). I find that all but snagging a copy of the menu can be pretty disruptive to the meal if you let it get out of hand. Another thing you can do if you don't want to disrupt the meal is make notes of your meal immediately after you leave the restaurant. Often I grab a business card as I'm leaving and scribble my notes--the names of the dishes and 1-2 words that most describes them--on the back.
Really, I find the business card trick is almost the best because what you end up writing about later are the most salient parts of the meal, which, really, tends to be most important anyway. Why spend any time writing about the unmemorable portions of your meal?
I keep a moleskine notebook--which is about the size of a passport--in my purse or pocket for taking notes, all the time, really, but especially when I travel. http://www.amazon.com/Moleskine-MB712...
jfood uses two methods:
1 - when he is traveling alone on biz and eating solo he uses his blackberry to take notes. look around the resto and there are lots of business types, thumb-typing away and noone knows if they are emailing or playing brick-breaker.
2 - when he can not do #1 he asks for a copy of the menu to "rememebr such a wonderful meal" on the way out. Then on the plane or in front of the tv he uses the menu as a memory jogger.
As someone who's still considering writing a relatively detailed review of a fairly recent visit (a week ago) to a Manhattan chowhound suggestion, I can say that I have an awesome memory for food. I don't take notes, I just simply remember. It might help you to write down the dishes once you get home from the restaurant -- that way you can avoid taking notes at the table. I have to admit, though, that I'm also a bit baffled about the idea that talking about the food you're ingesting in the company of people does not strike you as a valid conversation topic ... but then, I could talk about food for hours at a time ;-)