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Feb 29, 2008 11:23 AM

Hartford Courant pulls controversial review


In yesterday's (Feb 28, 2008) Hartford Courant, Elissa Altman provided a rather critical review of a Torrington, CT eatery, Prime Steakhouse. Apparently she had trouble with her dining experience from beginning to end, from being unable to nail down a reservation to well-done steaks that were ordered medium-rare.

Somebody in management must have disagreed that a reviewer's opinions are her own, because the review was pulled from the website. The Googled cached version is still available at this time at

Although I think the lead-in about the reservation is a bit over-the-top, and the comments about "outrageous prices" don't quite jibe with the sidebar that steaks are $24 to $27, I think she writes accurately about her dining experience. So what's the problem? Is the paper's management that afraid of controversy?


  1. I'll bet that the restaurant complained and said it would stop advertising in the paper or something like that.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      There are 27 readers comments about that review, and most all of them are in total disagreement. And the last comment says that the critic no longer works at The Courant. Maybe she was a hack? I also thought that it was common practice for a restaurant criric to visit the restaurant more than once or twice to get an honest read on the place. And as was pointed out, she made no mention of the drinks or desserts.
      Prime has been on my must try list,especially since I live about 2 minutes away. Now I really have to get there soon to see what's up.
      And for what it's worth, the Waterbury Republican gave it rave reviews a few weeks ago. Total opposite of The Courant.
      Torrington is in desperate need of a new, upper-scale restaurant. Not another Applebees or 99 or Wendy's and the like that have littered this town. I hope a possibly bogus review doesn't kill this place before it's given a chance.

      1. re: MagnumWino

        And the last comment says that the critic no longer works at The Courant. Maybe she was a hack?
        If you Google Elissa Altman, looks like she contributes as a blogger for The Huffington Post, she seems to have edited books for Sandra Lee, Taunton's Rodale Press, Meredith Books, Random House, HarperCollins; she attended the ICE (not that that is a barometer of anything, as we know Sandra Lee "attended" Le Cordon Bleu - albeit a two-week course she left after three days!). But I'm not sure I'd call her a hack as it seems she has a bit of credibility on the food front. Unless ALL of her reviews have been in this manner.

        But I do find it interesting that having worked for the Courant for 7 years or so, after this review she's fired (or forced to resign?) and the review was pulled from the Courant's website. Why would it have been published if someone at the Courant disagreed with it? Is the restaurant owner a good friend of the publisher? You gotta wonder.

        I did read the person's post who c/p the Waterbury Republican's review - complete, total opposite - *that* review, if I lived in the area, would definitely make me want to try the restaurant! Did she have an issue with someone at the restaurant? Her facts didn't seem to be straight (higher-stated-than-actual prices for apps and desserts) and just seemed determined to bash it.

        Although I have to agree with the person who commented about the quantity of food left on the plates in the picture...doesn't seem like those people ate a lot of the food - unless portion sizes are phenomenally large.

        1. re: LindaWhit

          I don't know. I re-read the review a few times and it struck me as probably the most venemous review I've ever read. And it seemed blatantly thin on the details of the food, other than her steak was over done and another's was under done and that the fish was magnificent. The Waterbury Republican review held much more detail, such as mentioning heat infused teapots that hold garlic and oregano flavored oil for Portugese bread that accompanies every dish, as well as a host of other appetizers and how they are prepared that she failed to at least mention, as well as the dessert listing and drinks menu. It just felt like she had an agenda. As to why it would be pulled from the paper, good question. I don't think it should have made it in in the first place in it's original form, it seemed unprofessional. It could have been written with a lighter hand and still be critical at the same time.

          1. re: MagnumWino

            I'm not disagreeing with you, MW - it *was* a nasty review, whereas the Republican's review was one that was well written, told a lot about the restaurant, covering all aspects that someone considering dining there might want to know.

            As I don't read the Hartford Courant, I don't know if that's her usual style or if this was a one-off slam for a particular reason we're not privy to.

      2. No, don't seem to be all of them. I Googled Elissa Altman" using as the URL to pull from and found previous reviews, including the Feb. 14th 2008 review and a negative review about Sabor:

        1. re: LindaWhit

          Ms Altman does have an interesting writing style. She seems to love a whimsical opening to a favorite memory, then building the positives (lots of weird analogies) and then whacking them for something. The Prime seems to start harsh and stay there.

          Jfood sorta likes the syle, except for keep the whimsey to one para and get to the reason for the review. Likewise the surprise negative input after all the buildup feels like playing Battleship and the fourth bomb hits the boat, (i.e. disappointment).

          She also like to overlay the environ where the reataurant is located in some awkward manner, almost trying to be cute but failing at times. Jfood could not care less about her stature in one article, but her single minded viewpoint in a review sorta gets her into a frothy pitch at times.

          Over time she might be good if she can focus on the job at hand, doesn;t get personal and try not to solve or point to economic or geographic considerations that can be viewed in a negative light.

          Jfood will read her again, very entertaining writer.

          1. re: jfood

            "Jfood will read her again, .... "

            Perhaps - just not in the Hartford Courant. ;-)

            1. re: LindaWhit

              Jfood never read her before this thread. But if jfood sees her, he will read her.

              Maybe she will come to FFD County. Love to see her rip the economies of Westchester and FFD counties. That would be interesting. :-)))

          2. re: LindaWhit

            All CT residents can do full-text searches of the Courant for free back to 1991 using You just need your library card number. This is how I found older reviews that she wrote, including the one on Central Galapagos.

            1. re: JudgeMaven

              Perhaps I should have said "not in the Hartford Courant going forward." :-)

        2. For me the problem is not just that it was a negative review. The problem is that that this reviewer, and the Courant historically, has had a great deal of trouble with the area this restaurant is in (the city of Torrington, in Litchfield county). This reviewer almost exactly a year ago panned a more venerable Torrington restaurant, the Venetian, citing as reasons that the city has been on the edge of a renaissance for years, and its mayor is younger than her favorite pair of jeans.

          This reviewer's two most negative reviews in the last couple years have been of Torrington restaurants. I find it difficult to believe this is merely a coincidence.

          Past Courant reviewers have been more candid about their antipathy toward northwestern Connecticut. A couple decades ago, Jane and Michael Stern, who did reviews for the Courant before they started selling books, declared Litchfield county a "culinary wasteland" and refused to set foot there.

          As a native of the area, and possibly unable to be objective, I'm at a loss to understand the Courant's aversion. After the aforementioned review of the Venetian ... which attacked the restaurant for things out of its control, such as the age of the city's mayor (!) ... I contacted the Courant's reader representative, who had nothing to say about it. I would contact her again, however, at this point I view it as a lost cause ... the Courant's staff has made up its collective mind on the subject and have, apparently, agreed with the Sterns' old admonition. I doubt the reader rep would do anything other than defend the reviewer and assure me there is no geographic bias at play ... which I do not buy.

          5 Replies
          1. re: PsiCop

            Ms. Altman has written several other very negative reviews over the past couple of years. Two of them, John's Cafe in Woodbury and Bespoke/Sabor in New Haven I had actually been to and her complaints were at complete odds with my own dining experience. She also gave a negative review to a little mom&pop neighborhood Italian joint in the Forestville section of Bristol that I found completely unwarranted even though I've never eaten there. She complained viciously that their typical Italian-American cooking style (lots of sauce and cheese) was not her idea of good food. So why did she pick it to review?

            There are hundreds of legitimate restaurants to review in her beat (basically the whole state of CT except the immediate city of Hartford vicinity). Why go out of your way to report on a restaurant that seems dubious or just inconsequential to begin with? If the restaurant is good, how many readers are going to make the 40 mile trek to dine there? If it's truly bad, the locals already know it and economics will take care of the place in short order. The only exception would be to review a restaurant that has a lot of press (like Bespoke) to see if it's all it's cracked up to be so that her readers can make an informed decision.

            I also recall that her less than glowing review of Ichiro in West Hartford (hated the hibachi for being what hibachi always is; loved the sushi) appeared on page 3 of the food section, directly and embarrassingly across from a 1/2 page ad on page 2 for the restaurant itself. Her four reviews since then have been quite positive and actually enthusiastic.

            For anyone who might be interested, the following press blurb appeared in the Courant in late January, which probably prompted the Prime Steakhouse review:


            1. re: rbailin

              In her negative reviews of other restaurants, did Ms Altman pontificate for 1/4 of the article on how horrible the towns they're in, are? Why do I doubt that? I tried to find her Venetian review and could not find it; but she put down Torrington as a town pretty ruthlessly. I don't actually live in Torrington, but I found some of her remarks in the Venetian review (such as the mayor is younger than her favorite pair of jeans) pretty insulting. Would she have gotten away with such a crack, had it been ... say ... West Hartford? Or Glastonbury? Or any other town? Of course not!

              The question here is one of credibility. She is 0-for-2 in one year on Torrington restaurants; I do not find it likely this is mere coincidence (especially since cracks about the city of Torrington itself figured into both articles). The Courant's credibility as a whole is also on the line, given past reviewers' freely-expressed, explicit gastronomic contempt for the region.

              It's very likely the previous blurb triggered her visit to Prime, but that hardly gave her permission to dis the place.

              I think the Courant should just admit they have a problem sending people to review restaurants in northwestern Connecticut, and refuse to review them. That, or hire a more local reviewer who isn't incensed at the notion of having to trek all the way out to "a family town" in "the sticks" where they might have to circle the wagons.

              1. re: PsiCop

                I ditched The Courant a long time ago. I find the Waterbury Republican has more of a focus on the Northwest Corner, Torrington/Litchfield in particular.

                1. re: MagnumWino

                  I would ditch the Courant, but I live in a town even further north from Torrington and more remote from Waterbury. The only paper that will even come close to reporting anything in my hometown is the Winsted Journal, but that's only a weekly; the Republican won't cover my town, and the Register-Citizen used to, but no longer. I'm forced to go elsewhere. The Courant happens to be better at reporting state news (as in, state government) than anyone else, so it's the only effective choice I have left. (The Republican tries to report state news but it still has an anti-Rell pro-Rowland axe to grind that the rest of us have gotten over.)

              2. re: rbailin

                Actually, this is her third Torrington restaurant with an unfavorable review: Central Galapagos was reviewed 11/13/05.

            2. jfood has no dog in the hunt for/against paper/writer. Although he lives in CT he has learned to live with surprising reviews of restaurants. Almost seems like it a game in this state. But this one seemed to have more venom than most and lack some credibility from the start.

              She asked for a 630 and when presented with 545/630/745 and writer said 545. Heck the hostess may have thought this was a game. Why didn;t the write say "Great I'll take the 630 since it is exactly what i need." She was almost looking for something.

              Picture does not support her description of the decor. looks like the tables have plenty of room
              - Loved the salad - hated the salad. Perfectly dressed then sauce drenched the shrimp
              - Server checked in on the color of the steak. Nice job. Steak was overcooked - bad kitchen. As jfood has seen in his life in steakhouses 50% come out wrong. So call the server over and have it re-done. No biggie
              - Person at the next table grabbing the meat like a caveman - what little credibility was left went out the window.
              - threw caution to the wind and ordered the swordfish. why the preamble. already preconceived that the resto could not cook fish. and she was wrong
              - knock on the neighborhood. Heck jfood gets that all the time where he lives. Uncalled for comment but the neighborhood gotta grow up on this one.
              - Steakhouse in the mid $20's? Not exactly what jfood sees in SW CT. It is what it is.
              - Only one visit - never write a bad review on one visit. You have a responsibility to try again

              So not a good article, some preconceived notions and the paper probably should have told her to go back at least one more time before they would publish.

              2 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                jfood, I also didn't understand the issue with the reservation time when she didn't take the originally offered desired time.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  I REALLY have no dog in this hunt, to borrow jfood's phrase, but I wonder whether any 'Courant' editor looks at reviews. Do they go straight from a writer's PC to page lay-out to print? Of course, any reviewer can write his or her opion -- glowing, venemous or in between. However, sometimes an editorial eye is helpful. If I had been given that review to edit, I might have said, "The telephone dialogue was a clever lead, but maybe you ought to cut it down and devote more space to the food itself." Or maybe I'd suggest a return visit to the restaurant to see whether one meal that resulted in such a terrible review was an off-night fluke or a consistent problem. An editor with a bit of longevity at the Courant might have remembered that another Torrington restaurant was panned a couple of years earlier and ask the reviewer whether it was a coincidence or something else. But then, newspapers have been buying out veteran editors who have institutional memory and can recall previously published pieces, plus perspective, judgment and maturity. The publishing world is currently plagued with "14-year-olds" with none of those qualities, and it shows in what gets into print.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. "Wheelchair access is good" yet "too many [tables] packed"

                  "[Lots of people] all show up wanting to try the new place in town and are attempting to be polite about it." Can she read minds? Did she interview them?