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Restaurant Girl Howler of the Week

It's tough to choose the single worst, clunkiest bit of prose from Danyelle Freeman's restaurant reviews for the NY Daily News each week. "Restaurant Girl" weaves together such an astonishing tapestry of stilted diction, uncertain tense, and dizzying malapropisms that identifying the most cringe-inducing passage is tricky.

Here's my nominee, from Tuesday's review of Bar Blanc:

"Even better, the homemade ravioli look like a store-bought sheet straight from a box. It's a deceptive maneuver with criminally delicious returns: Each doughy pocket gets plumped with a vivacious mix of four cheeses and spackled with a silky lettuce sauce."

I'm willing to be convinced that there are even more painful ones here: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/...

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  1. From a May 2007 review of restaurant FR.OG:
    "A prim riff on peanut butter & jelly, the peanut butter bomb itself delights, but strikes discord against a "salad" of strawberries, pine nuts & olive oil."

    1. "On the other, a disconcertingly salty tuna confit gets a pasty anchovy dressing with shocks of rosemary. "

      Shocks of rosemary - which brings to mind many sheaves of grain stacked together and supporting each other. Is she saying there was a lot of rosemary branches stacked together in a teepee over her tuna?

      " There was an artfully plated but indistinctive black cod eclipsed by a surplus of accessories."

      Since when does fish have "accessories"? And were they Prada bags? Jimmy Choo shoes? Diamonds from Harry Winston?

      She really is over-dramatic in her attempt at writing.

      1. "A vivacious mix of four cheeses." "Spackled" ravioli. You have to wonder who's editing her writing.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Claire

          By the looks of it, she negotiated a deal with the Daily News which prevents their editors from touching her prose. But credit where it's due: there are very few spelling mistakes.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            That's what an inflated ego will do for you. As far as spelling goes, thank SpellCheck.

          2. re: Claire

            This begs the culinary question: at what consistency can a sauce be used to "spackle" vs. "speckle"? I associate spackle with schmear, so it must be thick enough to spread. On the other hand, I associate speckle with "random droplets in close proximity". What say you?

            1. re: HSBSteveM

              I agree:
              Spackle = schmear
              Speckle = random droplets.

              However, the use of the word spackle to describe sauced ravioli is off putting to me. Reminds me of plaster of Paris. It leaves too many questions about what she actually means, as well.

              1. re: Gio

                I agree with your spackle and speckle definitions. The first is unappealing; who wants a sauce smeared thickly over anything? And the latter is just too cute.

                1. re: Claire

                  Let's suggest she use some kind of whimsical hybrid word like "schprinkle".

              2. re: HSBSteveM

                I first think of "speckled" as meaning "spotted", like a speckled eggshell. The problem with "spackled" is that Spackle (TM) is a sludgy semi-solid, so a silky sauce can't really spackle something, can it?

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  no, it can't-- unless the silky dressing is becoming, with the rest of the plate, cold, and therefore coagulating into an unappealing pasty spackle. the term "spackle" also brings to mind a shoddy or cosmetic repair or gloss-job over an unsound, shoddy base construction, perhaps constructed from poor building materials/ingredients. not sure the impression is what she intended in either case.
                  agree w the spackle & speckle defs above.

            2. What if her editor requested that "spackle" be worked into context ... wherever.

              6 Replies
              1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

                Why would s/he? Especially to describe food?? Shares in Home Depot?

                1. re: Gio

                  Well, because they can.
                  The "plate" is not all.

                  1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

                    I'm not following your point here, DescendedLefticle. Are you saying, "She deliberately uses odd, ungainly words whose meanings she clearly doesn't understand, and meanders uncertainly between the past and present tense, to send an FU to readers who have come to expect clear, sensible prose in the newspaper -- it's her way of flaunting her mighty power as a food blogger and Daily News reviewer?"

                    On the one hand, she is a pretty entertaining, in the same way Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is: you wince your way through it, and once in a while chuckle in resignation at the endless capacity of human folly.

                    On the other, she contributes to the stereotype of food writers as fatuous know-nothings with awful technical chops, making readers wonder, in the absence of any apparent qualifications, what nepotistic connections she relied on to get the job. This is not a win/win for the profession.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      Assuming absence of free reign, I'd allow the possibility that there may be more than one hand at play here. I'm reluctant to conjecture toward what end, but clarity and sensibility may not be selling points in this venture. Sad, perhaps ... I've seen stranger headgear paraded down the catwalk.

                      1. re: TheDescendedLefticleOfAramis

                        Freeman's prose doesn't smell like committee-style hackwork. She has a self-consistent voice all her own: it's just awkward as all get-out. It's a case of relying on a thesaurus when what's needed is a bone-deep absorption of Strunk & White.

                        I suppose her shtick is obvious and harmless enough. I'm just amazed that some Daily News exec failed to recognize the triteness of the "Carrie Bradshaw as Unanonymous Food Writer" conceit. That might be less laughable/painful if Restaurant Girl could sound half as graceful as Carrie Bradshaw's fictional columns.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          I suspect most execs could give a free-range stoat's sphincter about triteness if the stars aligned.
                          "Self-consistent"/"Unanonymous" ... <<I'm luv'n it>>

              2. Didn't she go to Yale or some other Ivy Leauge?

                2 Replies
                1. re: Withnail42

                  Harvard undergrad. She's not exactly a poster girl for the value of their $200K education.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Let's hope she wasn't an English major.

                2. From today's review of Bar Boulud: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/...

                  "A house-made linguine emerges terrifically light on its feet. It gets a briny sprinkling of razor clams, cuttlefish and olives, then is glossed in a white wine sauce with bright strides of lemon."

                  That's pretty awful, but this review is comparatively free of howlers: usually, four or five particularly ungainly phrasings leap out to stomp on the gentle reader's ear. I wonder if her editors have finally decided to lend a hand.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Let's hear it for the dancing linguine.

                    1. re: Claire

                      The lemon's no slouch either, apparently it's a very smart marathon runner.

                  2. Folks? Can I remind all of you that this is the Daily News? I'm sure your grandma thinks her writing is terrific.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: southernitalian

                      My grandmother only graduated from high school, but even she knew that inanimate objects cannot be "exhilarated". You and I can experience exhilaration: neither cooked salmon nor carrots can.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        And both of my late grandmothers, being English teachers, would have sent this woman to the chalkboard to write "I will learn to write without silly and incorrect over-embellishment" 100 times for even daring to put such words to paper.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Well, I suppose that the salmon *used* to be able to experience exhilaration (though I don't really know how much joy swimming upstream might bring)...but it's all over now, baby blue (orange/pink?).

                          Maybe we're looking at this all wrong. RG may well just be one of our greatest living poets. I'm sure that in 50 years, her metaphors will be prized by one and all.

                          1. re: jkv

                            I think I actually prefer this explanation -- that Restaurant Girl is one of those artists whose abstruse genius is always underappreciated in their own time -- over what Occam's Razor leads me to believe, which is that she's just a plain old garden-variety terrible writer.

                      2. I must say Restaurant Girl is stepping on my Schadenfreude with her last couple of reviews: either her writing is getting better, or her editors have finally been shamed into doing their jobs. I only found a couple of mini-howlers in her latest review, of Brooklyn's Zenkichi, here:


                        "There are weaker stretches of the menu, including a lifeless duck salad..."


                        "A chewy salmon belly in a green tea dashi broth and a crème brulée were both wildly overpowered by green tea measures."

                        Those are pretty bad (a non-lifeless duck would horrify me at dinner, and I think she merely means "measures" in the quantitative sense, as opposed to "policies"), but not worst-writer-in-the-food-writing-business bad, which has been her usual standard.

                        I'm torn between losing the entertainment value in her writing's awfulness, and the sense that improvement there lightens a blot on the profession.

                        Of course, you can always compare a Freeman review to a Bruni review of the same place, and wonder if they dined on the same planet, let alone at the same restaurant:


                        But somehow that's not the same snarky fun.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          I love that you're keeping up the Howlers of the Week, MC Slim! :-) And yes, her writing wasn't quite as bad as her earlier attempts.

                          But she wrote about Zenkichi, whereas Bruni wrote about Dovetail. Different link for the Bruni review, perhaps? (I did enjoy reading the review of Dovetail - "flavor bombed with veal short rib and fois gras butter is a pleasure to read!)

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            Yes, her reviews, especially the earlier ones, are at once riveting and horrifying, like a roadside wreck.

                            Look closely, and you'll see there are three links in my post above: Freeman's current review of Zenkichi, then her earlier review of Dovetail, then Bruni's Dovetail review.

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Ahhh, got the other link - thanks!

                              As for her Dovetail review, this cracks me up: "While the menu is streaked with imagination, it's refreshingly understated: Dishes aren't tagged with showy labels and they don't arrive with long-winded explanations."

                              Guess she doesn't get that her own long-winded explanations aren't desirable either.

                          2. re: MC Slim JB

                            Perhaps it's all a matter of mis-placed/read declensions:
                            ("exhilarated ... "lifeless" ... "measure")?
                            I've heard that "in a world that's skin-deep, mirrors are profound".

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Should duck salad ever not be "lifeless?"

                              Sorry, I've been reading "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." Maybe I should send her a copy.

                            2. From today's review of Adour: www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/food/20...

                              First this:

                              "Sensational (wine) choices are an Alsatian Pinot Gris and a full-bodied Roussillon, both refreshingly affordable and available by the glass for $13."

                              This sentence is quite readable, in a most un-Freeman-like way. But after telling us there are 600+ wines, she can't tell us exactly which Pinot Gris or Roussillon she actually liked. Gotta take better notes, maybe?

                              But don't worry: this week has plenty of actual howlers:

                              "The food gets the same regal treatment as the patrons."

                              Really? They're bringing food to the food?!

                              "Though Ducasse is famous for his French cooking, his ricotta gnocchi are on a par with some of the finest Italian restaurants in the city."

                              Wow, gnocchi that's as good as a whole restaurant.

                              "It (the diver scallops entree) was an exemplary composition that achieved more succulent depth than a relentlessly tough pork tenderloin served with a cranberry-stuffed apple, which tasted like a holiday ham gone terribly awry."

                              That's the Freeman I know and love. I thought she was going metaphorical -- "more succulent than a" -- only to have it slip into a description of another dish. I just love professionally-written sentences that force readers to scan them twice to successfully parse them.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                I say it starts off with her review headline: "Alas, Alain Ducasse's haute ain't so hot at Adour".

                                And what about this one? "Both an overworked lobster thermidor and an unrewarding appetizer of chilled Maine lobster seemed to have lost their nerve. " I thought lobster didn't have nerves, so they don't feel it when you dunk 'em in the hot water. ;-)

                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  Poor overworked lobster... what an ignoble end it got.

                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                    "Alas, Alain ..."
                                    a "h(au)te ... h(o)t" from "(A)d(ou)r" remainders a "high" e and then some.

                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                      Ala (s in) ...
                                      a transposed alliteration with the follow through ...
                                      you need the decoding goggles that came as a St. Dymphna's day insert.

                                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I'm just struck by the idea that a $13 glass of wine is "refreshingly affordable"! Only in New York, I guess.

                                    3. From today's NY Daily News review of Manhattan's South Gate:


                                      I really have no idea what she's getting at here:

                                      "In keeping with the culinary fashion of the moment, South Gate embraces a seasonal American menu, aggressively positioning itself as a trendy dining destination. This is Heffernan's official reentry into the Manhattan dining scene after serving as the executive chef at Eleven Madison Park for seven years."

                                      Does she really think that seasonal American is trendy? The chef's been around for seven years somewhere else; how is this a re-entry? Me no follow fancy-talk lady.

                                      I think I've figured out what makes Freeman's prose so grating. It's like a dumb person's caricature of how smart people talk, or a rube's idea of how cultured people talk. "You know those eggheads, always using a long word where a short one would do, and those snobs, always using a fancy word where a plain one would do. I'm in New York, so I have to talk like a smart snob."

                                      I suspect this is what leads to sentences like this: "There, he also demonstrated a keen finesse for molding vegetables into relentlessly silky textures." What's a highfalutin word for "clunky"?

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        MC Slim, oh how enjoy that you keep us up to date on Restaurant girl!! Words can't even describe, but she uses (and abuses) enough of those anyhow.

                                        My favorite completely useless and standout paragraph from the newest article:

                                        "I would order the flash-seared calamari for its earthy cauliflower custard alone. But the tender ringlets of calamari that accompany it get an equally charmed gloss of lobster coriander sauce. "

                                        What does it mean?? Who does the editing?? Why is that "but" there...

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          Why all this picking on "Food Girl"? Is she undermining the foundations of the Republic?

                                          1. re: mpalmer6c

                                            On the one hand, you have to admire her success; she made the leap from a blog to the NY Daily News, a daily in the country's largest city and most important restaurant town. She's now the primary restaurant critic for a tabloid with a daily circulation of almost 700,000, fifth largest in the US. On the other hand, it's hard not to comment when an ostensibly professional food writer with such a prominent perch does what she does to the English language on a weekly basis.

                                            Is Restaurant Girl a threat to democracy? Hardly. A poor reflection on the profession? I think so. A stupefying example of how Harvard awards degrees to kids who haven't mastered basic writing principles? Absolutely.

                                          2. re: MC Slim JB

                                            What's a highfalutin word for "clunky"?
                                            How about: burdensome, cumbrous, galumphing, incommodious, ponderous, wearisome?

                                            See? I can use http://thesaurus.reference.com/ too! :-)

                                            OK, first off - the title of the review bugs me: "South Gate has lotta rooms ... for improvement" - not so much because of the word "lotta" (although that's not a word). But how about the missing indefinite article? Does she mean they have "a lot of rooms" - plural? Why then no mention of the number of rooms the restaurant has?

                                            "But the tender ringlets of calamari that accompany it get an equally charmed gloss of lobster coriander sauce"

                                            Ringlets? I'm thinking blonde Shirley Temple ringlets of calamari - which isn't appetizing to me. And "charmed gloss"?

                                            "The butter-roasted lobster was caught in a hostile tug of war between overbearing seasonings of marjoram, red pepper and tart kimchi in a clam broth beneath the innocent crustacean."

                                            "A hot-smoked char wholly surrendered to bitter shocks of grapefruit, nicoise olives and a mustard-streaked vinaigrette. "

                                            Hostile tug of war" - "innocent crustacean" - "wholly surrendered" - what's with the war theme?

                                            Ugh. She is really a mistress of embellishment where it is not needed. Her high school English teacher probably cringes each time another review is put into print.

                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                              Does anyone else watch Posh Nosh? Maybe RG has seen it and somehow missed the satire? http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/poshnosh/

                                              1. re: platypus

                                                I love that show! Meant to post about it actually.

                                                1. re: platypus

                                                  ROFLMAO! Oh, does this play on BBC-A? Priceless! This line had me snorting:

                                                  "I once ate a Flayed Swordfish And Guava Millefeuille that reminded me, in one sweet mouthful, of a Sea Interlude by Britten, a painting by Turner and one of Michael Holding's rampant, perfect-length balls."

                                                  This *so* sounds like Restaurant Girl!

                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                    I catch it on PBS when I'm taping another English show, that is shorter than an hour, and this fills in the remaining time. It's not listed on the guide though.

                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                      Ahhh, shoot. And I see that the BBC's website only has two Posh Nosh videos to watch online.

                                                      Ahhh - but thanks to YouTube, there are several more there!


                                                        1. re: sailormouth

                                                          LOL! I haven't watched yet - don't think it would be appreciated at work. But I've saved the link to watch at home tonight. :-) A little Posh Nosh, and then into the new season of Top Chef.

                                            2. yeah that just doesnt sound like a food description....why did she get a gig at the daily news again?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ginsbera

                                                I, for one, hope it's not to play with schoolmarm head ...
                                                can I get a sentence diagram!

                                              2. From this week's review of Sapori d'Ischia, in Queens:


                                                "Before you protest, taste the signature fettuccine al'Antonio: It's an exalted rite of passage that should be their Eleventh Commandment. Prosciutto-studded noodles get plunged into a pungent wheel of Parmesan and coated with a hypnotic dose of white truffle oil."

                                                Okay, that's not the usual so-awful-it's-funny bad, just sort of run-of-the-mill bad. But I am confused: how does one plunge noodles into a wheel of Parmesan?

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  The wheel is hollowed out and the pasta is placed inside and swirled around so it picks up the taste of the cheese. It's not that uncommon, although I'm not sure about the "hypnotic dose of white truffle oil."

                                                  1. re: Claire

                                                    It's actually a great dish. I've had it there, where they plunge it into the wheel tableside.

                                                    But WHOSE 11th Commandment is she talking about?

                                                    1. re: wittlejosh

                                                      I believe she's suggesting the restaurant should add it to their list, as it seems they have a list of things they won't do, per the first paragraph.

                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                        Yes - I've stopped in to check out their market, and there is indeed such a list - no tap water is one of the items, I believe no cheese on seafood dishes is another.

                                                2. RG wastes no time this week, setting the reader's teeth on edge with the very first sentence of her review of Manhattan's 50 Commerce Street:


                                                  "Cue the historical relevance of 50 Commerce St.: Nestled on a cobblestone-paved corner in Greenwich Village, this address has seen a Depression-era speakeasy, the 50-year-long run of the Blue Mill Tavern and a quintessential neighborhood haunt, Grange Hall. Did I mention a short-lived restaurant that resurrected the name of the Blue Mill Tavern?"

                                                  Cue the historical relevance? How about rewinding to the beginning of The Elements of Style?

                                                  Once again, Freeman wrestles with tense and loses, meandering aimlessly between the past and present, often in the same sentence:

                                                  "Though there are a handful of successes on the menu, too many dishes amounted to overworked compositions with little payoff.... Pastry chef Josue Ramos conceives restrained desserts, the best of which was a cocoa-dusted chocolate mousse with dainty cubes of Champagne gelée and a velvety chocolate peanut butter marquise, grounded in a celery salad and salty peanuts."

                                                  Please, make up your mind: is you eating, or was you eating?

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                    Rg strikes again! But, quite honestly the mere thought of a "velvety chocolate peanut butter marquise, grounded in a celery salad and salty peanuts" turns my stomach this early in the morning.

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                      Might I also mention that her article's title is a bit ironic?

                                                      "Trying too hard can be trying"

                                                      Yes, RG - you ARE trying too hard, and it's very trying on your readers to attempt to read the reviews you write.

                                                      Have to agree with Gio - "velvety chocolate peanut butter marquise, grounded in a celery salad and salty peanuts" just does not sound appetizing.

                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                        For a second, I thought "grounded" might be an error I often see on Thai menus for the English translation of larb gai: "grounded chicken" for "ground chicken".

                                                        Freeman just can't seem to avoid making odd, unseemly word choices: "chef Moore issues New American cuisine" (sounds like it's coming directly out of the chef, ugh), "oysters luxuriating in a Champagne sauce" (I'm guessing that sauce actually makes the oysters feel pain, not comfort), "then there were misplaced sweet potato tortelloni" (if that pasta got lost, shouldn't she have asked for it to be rerouted to whoever actually ordered it?) I'd laugh harder if I didn't find it all slightly embarrassing.

                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                          LOL! Yes, I noted the luxuriating oysters and lost pasta, but I missed the chef issuing New American cuisine. ::::blurgh::::

                                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                            "chef Moore issues New American cuisine"

                                                            This is the most disgusting image I have encountered in some time!

                                                      2. This week, a review of Manhattan's Merkato: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/...

                                                        "For the most part, Samuelsson tones down the spiciness for a broader audience than this kind of regional cooking usually attracts. So if you're craving a fiery doro wat (Ethiopian chicken stew) that turns your mouth numb, you won't find it here."

                                                        The reductiveness of this ("region" for a vast, highly heterogeneous continent, the apparent notion that all African cuisines are supposed to be loaded with chillies) is appallingly ignorant.

                                                        But the wince-inducing howler was this one: "Likewise, the menu is colored with the vibrant flavors and seasonings of the African diaspora." In the words of the immortal Inigo Montoya (who might be quoted after every single Restaurant Girl review): "...that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

                                                        36 Replies
                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                          Having, just this past week, looked up the "diaspora" to clarify its meaning in both my own and a co-worker's usage, I let out a little bark of cruel delight at reading that quote!

                                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                            I think she's using ``regional'' as a way to avoid saying ``ethnic'' here. It's duff, but not toxic. Her use of the word diaspora, though, is about as bad as it gets.

                                                            1. re: condiment

                                                              I'm not ascribing malice to her, just cluelessness. It's possible to talk sensibly about the cuisine of the African diaspora, if, say, you're reviewing an American soul food restaurant, but I believe Merkato 55 is about native African influences from a few different national cuisines.

                                                              1. re: condiment

                                                                "But Merkato 55 isn’t an Ethiopian restaurant, exactly; it’s an “African” one. And it’s not opening on some distant corner of the Lower East Side; it’s on Gansevoort Street, in the epicenter of the meatpacking district.."
                                                                Can you spot the the critic ...

                                                              2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                LOL! It's almost "inconceivable" that she doesn't know what "diaspora" means.

                                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                  Another winner from the Merkato review: "Spicy links of Merguez sausage sparred with a salty corn porridge that lay beneath it."

                                                                  Those darn jousting sausages...

                                                                  1. re: Jme

                                                                    I will grant the metaphor if what she's getting at is that the sausage and the porridge have been boxing, and as the porridge is on the mat, the Merguez is clearly winning, i.e., the sausage flavor is overpowering that of the porridge. See, it's actually very vivid writing!

                                                                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                    Can somebody explain to me what is wrong with how
                                                                    "diaspora" is used above? It sounds like the objections
                                                                    are syntactic, not factual [i.e. "does the African diaspora
                                                                    "have" seasonings, and are they vibrantly flavorful].

                                                                    I am part of the Indian Diaspora ... English is not my first language.
                                                                    Please be understanding and kind.

                                                                    1. re: psb

                                                                      psb - I view the word "diaspora" as the dispersion, flight, or migration of a people from their country of origin or homeland. When capitalized, it usually means the Jews outside of Israel (please forgive me if I'm not terming that correctly).

                                                                      But I think perhaps using the words "African continent" in RG's review would have been a better context than "African diaspora".

                                                                      However, having said that, dictionary.com refers to an American Heritage Dictionary example where they do use African diaspora in the same sense that RG did: "The community formed by such a people: "the glutinous dish known throughout the [West African] diaspora as ... fufu" (Jonell Nash). " Although the AHD is a bit more focused on "West African" vs. the entire continent.

                                                                      Again - more my thought that it is that RG was attempting to use "big girl words" when she could have focused her words more tightly and brought a better meaning to her writing. But that's JMO.

                                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                        the african diaspora could include caribbean, some brazilian and creole food as well as US soul food since africans were scattered over all those regions via the slave trade. but is that what she meant?

                                                                        1. re: jen kalb

                                                                          No, I think the restaurant she was reviewing was specifically an African food-related one - see MC Slim JB's post on 4/1 re: Marcus Samuelsson's Merkato. From the review's first paragraph:

                                                                          "But chef Marcus Samuelsson has never been afraid to take chances. At Aquavit, he earned praise for a thoroughly innovative approach to Scandinavian fare. With his newest endeavor, Merkato 55, he strives to recast African cooking in an equally modern and prominent light."

                                                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                                                            It's quite clear that what she really meant was "Pan-African."

                                                                        2. re: psb

                                                                          If you look at MC Slim's 5:56 p.m. post in this thread, he/she gives a useful example of the way in which diaspora could be used correctly.

                                                                          If a restaurant, even a restaurant outside Africa, is serving the authentic cuisine of several African countries that doesn't qualify as diaspora. If a restaurant/immigrant community serves food that reflects the adaptation of original African cuisine after exposure to another country's available ingredients, that would qualify as disapora. Thus, American soul food is a good example.

                                                                          What's particularly lame about Restaurant Girl's "regional" sentence is that African cuisine is regional. Had Restaurant Girl understood that and tried to accurately communicate that information, we wouldn't all be alternately laughing or gnashing our teeth. Instead, RG drops in erudite sounding words, even when their misuse makes her anything but!

                                                                          1. re: Indy 67

                                                                            This is a joint reply to I67 and LWhit:

                                                                            >When capitalized, it usually means the Jews ...
                                                                            First, while the Jewish peoples may be the "default" for the D events
                                                                            from antinquity or the H events during the Second World War, either
                                                                            term can clearly be use for other cases. Consder: would you guys get
                                                                            bent out of shape if we talked about the NYC crusade against transfats?
                                                                            Yes in that context it should not be capitalized [and diaspora was in fact
                                                                            not capitalized], but arguing that word is not appropriate because
                                                                            the campaign [ooh, other iffy word?] was not faith-based is ridiculous ...

                                                                            >the words "African continent" ... would have been a better ...
                                                                            yes, but we're not talking about what's better, or best -- the mot juste --
                                                                            but is diaspora unacceptable, is it too much of a stretch. i dont think so.

                                                                            I67: i see what you and MCSlim5:56 are saying, but come on ...
                                                                            arent we splitting hairs here? if an indian resto is serving native
                                                                            dishes, it's a india/subcontinental/regional resto, but the moment they
                                                                            add CTM to the menu, or put celery in the sambar, it becomes
                                                                            cuisine of the indian diaspora? [i have never seen celery in india ...
                                                                            excuse me if that turns out to be a native ingredient].

                                                                            i note in passing that while the Ethiopian and Eritrean diasporas
                                                                            are perhaps not as well known or as large as say the jewish/indian/
                                                                            overseas chinese, they are two communities known for their outside-
                                                                            the-homeland communities [such as the role of the eretrian dispora
                                                                            in the civil war, see e.g. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/...
                                                                            ]also fair amount of academic work on remittances by those two diasporic
                                                                            communities and the homeland ... so using diaspora in the context of
                                                                            the Horn of Africa is not uniq to RG.

                                                                            I think the critcisms about "there is no african cuisine" etc are also
                                                                            a little over critical. when was the last time somebody on chowhound
                                                                            jumped on somebody for saying "chinese food" or "indian food" ...
                                                                            there isnt one indian food either.

                                                                            anyway, to wrap up: sure the RG writing is kinda lame and maybe she
                                                                            should spend more time ratcheting up the substance of what she wants
                                                                            to say and less time with the thesaurus, but i think:
                                                                            1. the amount of critical analysis focused on "diaspora" is hardly
                                                                            applied to anybody. most people would get away with that one.
                                                                            [compare to the recent NYT article on berkeley where they said
                                                                            the best view from on campus was from off campus:
                                                                            and that the "paper of record", not one of the NY rags
                                                                            ]2. there are some much, much worse food writers
                                                                            i wont name them here since i have a feeling that
                                                                            might get this post deleted. there is one local [SF]
                                                                            writer who is so bad, this other local dood has a
                                                                            blog partially dedicated to mocking her columns.

                                                                            BTW, speaking of supercilious ivy league new yorkers
                                                                            and double standards ...
                                                                            i personally found William F. Buckley extremely annoying
                                                                            and was kinda surprised at the triumph of Nil Nisi Bonumism
                                                                            at his passing --- many commentators mentioniniong how he
                                                                            was a real thing and not annoying like his cheap immitators ...
                                                                            although props to Geoffrey Nunberg who called him out
                                                                            on his pompous and unproductive use of "albescent"

                                                                            ok tnx.

                                                                            1. re: psb

                                                                              Not sure what "CTM" means, but I'll respond your example of adding to celery to the sambar. The reason I think this example doesn't work is that it ignores some crucial elements like commonality or adaptations to reflect dietary restrictions for religious reasons.

                                                                              If a person from India immigrates to the US, discovers the joys of celery, and begins adding celery to his/her cooking, I don't think you can say the resulting dish is the diaspora Indian cuisine. One person's version of a dish does not a diaspora cuisine make. Give it time. Perhaps the first celery-lover will sway two Indian immigrants to add celery. And they'll persuade two immigrants. And they'll persuade two immigrants. And so on. Soon enough, you've got a diaspora recipe which adds an ingredient specific to the immigrant's new residence to a dish from his homeland.

                                                                              Here are some more examples of diaspora Jewish cuisine: (I'm going to use more examples from the Jewish diaspora because that's what I know the most about. The term obviously applies to the other cultures you've named.)

                                                                              Salami made from goose and goose fat is a Jewish-Italian recipe created to avoid pork. Ditto for the Jewish-Italian stews of Liguria cooking that use only fish with scales while the original version includes shellfish. There's a Turkish eggplant sauce that in the Turkish population includes milk. This same sauce shows up in Turkish Jewish diaspora cooking with vegetable or meat stock substituting for the dairy product. There are three Jewish communities in India, each of which has roots in a different place so each group's cooking is quite different. The Calcutta community has its roots in Baghdad so its distinctive use of spice is a blend of both Indian and Iraqui tastes.

                                                                              I contend that diaspora cuisine is a *community* adaptation of local recipes to incorporate some signature elements of the original homeland, adaptation of homeland recipes to incorporate ingredients unique to the new locale, or adaptation of local recipes to respect religious dietary laws. That doesn't appear to be the case with the food served in the African restaurant RG reviewed and that's why we're correcting her mistake. If some newspaper is going to devote column inches to a person's restaurant reviews, advice, and instruction, misstatements in those articles are legitimate targets for criticism.

                                                                              If you think there are other equally misguided food writers, bring them to our attention. We'll be equal opportunity critics. RG doesn't warrant the exclusive collective wisdom of Chowhound participants!

                                                                              1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                two quick things:
                                                                                1. CTM = chicken tikka masala. i guess CTM hasnt acquied the
                                                                                status of XLB :-)
                                                                                2. i dunno about home cooking but some number of restos
                                                                                have put celery in sambar. i think the motivation was "cheap
                                                                                filler vegetable", not religious etc. more like a substituion.

                                                                                i still think you are going way beyond what most people are
                                                                                held too. how often do people use "that" vs "which" correctly.
                                                                                do you know the difference between "persuade" and "convince"?
                                                                                how often to you take somebody to task for "take" vs "bring"?
                                                                                Not to get R-rated, but how often do you correct people on their
                                                                                use of copulative verbs [i feel badly/well vs i feel bad/good].
                                                                                would you get bent out of shape if a newspaper wrote 12am
                                                                                or 12pm, since the ante/post meridiem technically doesnt apply
                                                                                at the instant of noon/midnight?

                                                                                anyway, to steal from Louis Menand ... RG's problem is with
                                                                                her "voice" not her vocabulary. For the second time in the last
                                                                                couple of days I offer up:

                                                                                maybe you should email RG a copy of "politics and the english

                                                                                1. re: psb

                                                                                  You asked the wrong person that long list of questions. I'm an English teacher so the answer is "often." Exceptions include social situations or when my correction will make little impact. However, when comprehension is on the line, I speak up. When a person is being paid for her ability to write usefully/meaningfully about food, I expect competence. And if RG doesn't personally have the necessary skills, she ought to be assigned to a competent editor who understands that words have meaning.

                                                                                  1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                    "When a person is being paid for her ability to write usefully/meaningfully about food, I expect competence."
                                                                                    And I think that is exactly what this entire thread is about - the fact that someone is being *paid* to write competently about food - and the writing is so appallingly poor that it spawned a thread about it here on CH.

                                                                                    When people say "Oh, what does it matter? No one will remember it!" I disagree. There are those that will incorrectly use a term they've read or heard and by its frequent use, the language will continue to be dumbed down.

                                                                                    As you said Indy - if she doesn't have the skills and the paper wants to continue to pay her to write restaurant reviews, the least they could do is have a competent editor behind her to correct the gross misuse of the language.

                                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                      "There are those that will incorrectly use a term they've read or heard and by its frequent use, the language will continue to be dumbed down."

                                                                                      linda, i coudn't have said it better myself.

                                                                                      one of the most irksome examples: for some reason the majority of the population seems to believe it's grammatically correct to say that they feel "badly" about something, or for someone. when i hear this i usually respond by asking if he or she would have felt "goodly" had the situation been different.

                                                                                      rarely do they get my point :)

                                                                                      personally, i choose not to read RG's reviews. it's not worth the frustration.

                                                                                  2. re: psb

                                                                                    "2. i dunno about home cooking but some number of restos
                                                                                    have put celery in sambar. i think the motivation was "cheap
                                                                                    filler vegetable", not religious etc. more like a substituion."

                                                                                    ...or maybe lack of availability of drumsticks. But there are always canned drumsticks, IMO better than celery...

                                                                                  3. re: Indy 67

                                                                                    Exactly, Indy 67. This is absolutely a vocabulary issue. The word "diaspora" has the same roots as the word "dispersed." The general definition of "diaspora" (after its primary meaning as describing the scattering of Jews from the Holy Land) in Webster's is "people settled far away from their ancestral homelands." So African food as served in Africa -- even if it covers many regions of Africa, as in the restaurant being reviewed -- is not "food of the diaspora" (even if it incorporates non-native African ingredients), while Soul Food and much Caribbean food would be. On Chowhound we sometimes talk about Chinese-American, Chinese-Indian, Chinese-Latino, etc. cuisines and those would also be "foods of the diaspora."

                                                                                    CTM is yet another issue. It was developed in India, for the British, which would actually make it a food of the English diaspora (throughout the Empire) rather than the Indian diaspora.

                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                      Oh, my family and the English diaspora! Our shepherd's pie, the grapenut custard pudding, the roast beef, the mince meat pie, the claret sauce for ice cream, the mulligatawny soup!

                                                                                      While I write that more or less in jest, it's interesting to reflect that damn near everyone in North America is part of some sort of diaspora, whether violent, economic or religious or otherwise. I have no idea why almost 400 years ago some hicks from England came to this wilderness and were the first Sailormouths on New Albion's shores. It is heartening that after all those centuries, we've all still been able to manage to make it through primary school, and hopefully manage to figure out what diaspora means without first publishing a misconstrued take on it in major publications.

                                                                                    1. re: psb

                                                                                      You could certainly talk about the cooking of the African diaspora if you were referring to the food of Brazil, Jamaica, Haiti and the American South - all the places Jessica Harris writes about. That would be correct. If you used the phrase ``Indian diaspora'' in the context of food, you would presumably be talking about the Indian-influenced cooking of Fiji, Kenya, Mauritius, Birmingham, Singapore and New Jersey - that is to say, the places outside the mother country where populations of Indians have settled. The way our beloved Restaurant Girl used the term ``diaspora'' is exactly opposite of its meaning.

                                                                                2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                  Granting that English is an eminently pliable language, with a Borg-like ability to assimilate non-native influences, I'll offer my own rationale for my wincing at "diaspora" as Freeman uses it.

                                                                                  I believe the original coinage referred to the Jews' forcible removal from their ancestral homeland and their subsequent dispersal and adaptation to many new, adopted cultures. Given this etymology, I'd say you could speak of an African diaspora or a Tibetan diaspora in ways that resonate with the original meaning that other uses of the term might not. It's not just about immigrants and their second- and third-generation progeny adapting the cuisine of their forebears to the local preferences and available ingredients of their adopted homelands (e.g., the wonder that is Desi Chinese cuisine): it carries a connotation of forced adaptation. It's a bit of a politically fraught term, and hence can be slightly offensive when misused (as I suspect Freeman does out of sophomoric diction, not malice).

                                                                                  But part of my original point -- not just this week, but of the entire post -- is simpler and apolitical: Freeman regularly uses ten-cent words that are mildly to wildly inappropriate in a vain effort to sound smarter, more knowledgeable about food, and more worldly than she actually is. Whether you find this irony comical or tragic is your own call. I'm torn between finding it hilarious and being embarrassed for its reflection on the profession.

                                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                    So, would your line be at a forced dispersion based on primarily on ethnicity? The bright line as I see it from your definition, which I agree with, are the Jews from Palestine and the Pennsylvania Dutch. Perhaps the PD aren't a perfect example,what's the other side of the line?

                                                                                    With all of these semantics, it seems eminently clear she misused a loaded term. More so than a that/which distinction.

                                                                                    1. re: sailormouth

                                                                                      That's the way I've always read the term, but casting about in my dictionaries just now, I find definitions that refer to a simple scattering of a people from some original locus, with no connotation of forced exodus. Either way, Freeman still uses the word incorrectly. As far as I can tell without having actually visited the restaurant, Merkato 55's food is native pan-African, presumably viewed through a New American lens, which is profoundly different from the cuisine of the African diaspora. Her writing still smacks of a dumb person trying to sound smart simply by using big words.

                                                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                        I've always considered a diaspora a result of a negative event, suchas MC Slim's definition of a forced removal or migration. In my mind I'm picturing huddled masses and the sick and the poor. (which I guess in some cases is accurate)

                                                                                        1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                          There is a Greek restaurant called "Diaspora" in NY State's Hudson Valley. The traditional food is good; surely not the result of a negative event!

                                                                                          1. re: markp

                                                                                            It good be the result of a negative event if the owners originated in Asia Minor.

                                                                                            1. re: sailormouth

                                                                                              Her using the term diaspora simply gave me the impression that she thought anybody who comes to the US from Africa must've come in a diaspora, which is mildly offensive... as if everybody wanted to leave Africa because there was a war or genocide going on.

                                                                                              1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                                I've included two excepts from the actual review of Merkato 55 that, I believe, show RG is truly clueless about the meaning of diaspora. She has no political agenda. She intends no malice. She is only demonstrating garden-variety ignorance compounded by inept editing.

                                                                                                RG begins her review by writing, "Opening a Pan-African restaurant in the meatpacking district..." Based on this phrase, she seems to understand that the cuisine of Africa is not mono-lithic. She seems to further understand that she is writing about an African restaurant serving African food.

                                                                                                At the end of the second paragraph, she includes the sentence that has occupied our energy. After a description of the decor, Freeman writes, "Likewise, the menu is colored with the vibrant flavors and seasonings of the African diaspora."

                                                                                                In the third paragraph, RG writes, "There's a lot of territory to cover on this vast culinary road map..." This phrase suggests that she is writing about the variety of food on the African continent -- that the cuisine of North Africa differs from the cuisine of East or West Africa, etc. Since we have two sentences suggesting that Freeman knows she is writing about African food as served in Africa, I remain convinced that Freeman has no clue what "diaspora" means.

                                                                                                Does anyone know any biographical info about Freeman? I'd like to know the teachers/college professors responsible for having failed miserably to teach Freeman how to think and how to write.

                                                                                                1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                  Started at Duke, transferred to Harvard. And graduated! As another observer noted, Harvard may owe her a partial refund for services not rendered.

                                                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                    No disagreement with that comment. I'll add that the writing of Danyelle Freeman makes a great marketing pitch for the Admissions offices of virtually any other college in the nation.

                                                                                                    1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                      she comes across as more of a "LegacyPlus" honoree than a traditional grad ;)


                                                                                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                      Is there doubt? The brutal irony may very well rest in what all our "professions" have "become".

                                                                                  2. With the usual caveat that "It's Wikipedia", here's a more academic discussion of "diaspora" that lines up with how I always understood the word: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                      "african diaspora" is a very accepted phrase in academia and cultural studies, and has been for quite some time. references to the african diaspora can be found in the literature of a long list of disciplines. regardless, rg uses the word incorrectly, as noted by Ruth L in april 3 post above. here are some links:





                                                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                        Diaspora can be a loaded word--especially when it gets used for political reasons to replace "emigration" tout court. But I'd agree on one thing, though: a big plate of chicken parm, side of ziti, load o' garlic bread is Italian disaporic food at its loudest.

                                                                                    2. Looks like the Post's editors are on the job again this week, as the review of Manhattan's Eighty-One www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/food/20... has that inimitable Restaurant Girl awkwardness, but isn't full of downright howlers. I do scratch my head at her ability to offend in the very first line of her reviews, though:

                                                                                      'With Dovetail, Bar Boulud, Madeleine Mae and the latest arrival of Eighty One, the upper West Side is having an impressive run of new restaurants."

                                                                                      I think she means to say that Eighty One is the latest entry in a string of unusually interesting UWS restaurants, but as written, it sounds as though Eighty One has come and gone several times, and what she's reviewing is its latest incarnation. I doubt that's the case: I suspect it's just sloppy writing. Manhattan Hounds, please correct me if I'm wrong.

                                                                                      I could point to the false choice offered by "Eighty One strives toward upscale pleasures instead of bold invention", which is pretty terrible, but it's not the truly cringe-inducing, Harvard-alumi-donation-crimping awfulness that I've come to expect from Freeman.

                                                                                      Maybe she'll be funnier next week, in that way that fingernails dragging across a chalkboard are sometimes funny. Somebody buy her Post editors a few rounds, keep them from burnishing RG's bits of rough. When she's merely bad, instead of jaw-droppingly painful, she's not nearly as entertaining.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                        She was so close, too! All she needed to do was put a comma after "arrival" and delete "of" -- then it would actually be a coherent sentence, if not a particularly good one.

                                                                                      2. goes to show that where you go (to school) is more important that what you know.