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Feb 14, 2008 09:38 AM

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:

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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.