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Does it matter to you the "type" of name of the restaurant reviewer vis-a-vis the restaurant?

ipsedixit Feb 24, 2009 12:02 PM

If a "John Smith" is reviewing Mel's Diner, does it make a difference to the credibility of the review?

If the same "John Smith" is reviewing a restaurant called Sushi Land (for example), does it make a difference to its credibilty?

What if the reviewer's name was "Jean-Luc Pierre" and the restaurant in question was "The Hungry Burrito"?

Or, if the reviewer was named "Mao-Tse Wong" but the restuarant was "Bob's Big Boy"?

In other words, does it make a difference to you the (supposed) ethnicity or background of the reviewer in question vis-a-vis the restuarant?

Does a supposed Japanese restaurant critic have more "mojo" with you when reviewing a Japanese restaurant than a non-Japanese critic would?

Should it?

  1. Midlife Feb 26, 2009 11:22 AM

    The credibility of restaurant reviews is, for me, all about calibrating the reviewer's conclusions to my own or to those of reviewers I've already calibrated myself with. It's the same with wine or movie reviewers.

    As far as names are concerned, I suppose it's natural for a specifically ethnic name to suggest the possibility of some expertise or bias, but you can't know which until you've done that calibration thing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Midlife
      c
      CocoaNut Feb 27, 2009 09:50 AM

      I agree completely with midlife's “calibration” assessments. Each person’s taste buds are unique to that person and until you know how you line-up with said person, you will be unable to assess the validity of that individual’s critique of any given food or restaurant.

      How often have you eaten the same item as another and had a different opinion of that dish – too salty, too spicy, not sweet enough, etc. Those differences do not make the reviewer more or less inept or highly qualified. Just different from you.

      There is also a matter of “perception” on what a food should be. I’m reasonably familiar with the Cajun/Creole style of cooking – which, by the way is NOT the same thing. All too often, I see those who are unfamiliar having an immediate expectation that the food should be blazing hot/spicy, which is not entirely the case, particularly with Creole. Likewise, not all restaurants fashioned from the style of New Orleans are, by definition, Cajun.

      So, there is some validity to knowing a bit about the food type you are reviewing and perhaps noting your knowlege of it, but second to that is “Does the food taste good or bad to you, the reviewer, and please explain why”. Past that, I'm perfectly capable of making my own judgements.

    2. Das Ubergeek Feb 26, 2009 11:10 AM

      Does this mean that I shouldn't have reviewed Mariscos Puerto Esperanza or Tana Ethiopian or Xanh? ;-)

      1. l
        LJS Feb 25, 2009 07:41 AM

        This is a very interesting topic. I live in a city with a huge number of 'ethnic' restaurants.

        The talents of any big city newspaper/magazine food critic cannot possibly extend to every ethnicity and I'll bet our reviewers do tend to slight the subtleties of the non-Western European cuisines Chinese/Indian/Portugues/Somalian/Ethiopian... in fact, 3 out of the 5 'big name' city reviewers I can think of in the past 20 years have been Jewish (or at least had Jewish surnames). While I have trusted their wisdom about 'Continental' food for years, I am only just now asking myself: why? Why aren't there more ethnic names among reviewers? Why aren't there speciality reviewers? Alternatively, why would we think that someone named Mao-Tse Wong should limit herself to reviews Szechuan grub when, for years, we were perfectly content permitting the food tastes of "Judy Waxman" to dictate the rise and fall of Italian bistros and Sushi bars alike?

        Its a whole new world and we are hearing only from a very few voices in print. Thank goodness I get my reviews from Chowhound!

        1 Reply
        1. re: LJS
          limster Feb 25, 2009 01:02 PM

          Yep - agree very much!

          The "old" model of having one food critic review a place in the media as an information source has severe limitations that are overcome by sites like chowhound (or your favourite restaurant discussion website). Among the many reasons (I know I'm just pointing out what must be obvious to everyone), the expertise/knowledge of one person isn't a match for the combined expertise of tens if not hundreds of thousands. The information from a food critic's review is not continually updated, and the number of dishes/meals eaten are a very small data sample compared to that from the large numbers of posters from the websites.

        2. thew Feb 25, 2009 05:02 AM

          short answer: no

          1. chowser Feb 25, 2009 04:23 AM

            This is an interesting question. Most reviewers do review all type of restaurants, regardless of their ethnic background, so it leads to the question, can someone be knowledgeable in all cuisines? So the question to me isn't just can someone review a restaurant that isn't in his/her "perceived" ethnicity, but can one person be a jack of all trades? Just because someone knows great Szechaun food doesn't mean he/she will know great southern Indian, French, Italian, etc. Why isn't it more splintered among different reviewers each with their specialty? Does any newspaper/magazine publication do that?

            20 Replies
            1. re: chowser
              ipsedixit Feb 25, 2009 07:07 AM

              I think some publications have reviewers that focus on budget-friendly, or "hole-in-the-wall" places; while different reviewers will do the more high-end, traditional sit-down restaurants.

              But wouldn't it be interesting if reviewers did specialize in different types of foods?

              I know for a fact that if I were to review an Ethiopian restaurant I would be out of my league. And any resutling review would be, at best, from a very novice-like point of view. It might be insightful for other diners who are similarly unfamiliar with Ethiopan cuisine, but for those who are even slightly more attuned to the culture and foods of Ethiopia my review would probably come off as ignorant or laughable, or both.

              I can tell you for a fact that 9 out of 10 reviews of Chinese restaurants I come across are either wrong, silly, or just plain ignorant.

              1. re: ipsedixit
                thew Feb 25, 2009 08:05 AM

                i disagree. what 95% or readers want from review is not an analysis of how authentically a restaurant replicates a food, they want to know if the food tastes good, what the ambience and service is like, and if they are getting a good deal for their money.

                you are quite capable of telling me that whether it is your 1st ethiopian meal, your 100th, or you were born in addis ababa

                1. re: thew
                  ipsedixit Feb 25, 2009 08:29 AM

                  I don't think we are in disagreement.

                  I agree that when I read a review, any review, the point is to figure out whether the author liked the food, service, ambience, etc.

                  But whether I want to rely on that review will turn on primarily *who* the author is. For example, if I knew the reviewer had never had Mexican before and then proclaimed in a review of "The Hungry Burrito" that the restaurant had "the best Mexican anywhere in the city" I would look askance at that review and basically treat it as a work of fiction. Has really nothing to do with authenticity, per se.

                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    thew Feb 25, 2009 09:06 AM

                    true - but being named "gonzalez" does not guarantee the opinion any more than "goldstein" calls it in question

                    1. re: thew
                      ipsedixit Feb 26, 2009 07:11 AM

                      No, of course not. It's no guarantee.

                      But it is a signal of some sort, regardless of whether the name is real, or a pseudonym.

                  2. re: thew
                    chowser Feb 26, 2009 04:16 AM

                    The question is tastes good to whom? I know most of my friends who eat Chinese don't really eat Chinese and I wouldn't take them to a more authentic place because they wouldn't like it. Is a reviewer reviewing for that crowd, people who don't know that general tsao's chicken isn't really chinese food and that the majority of chinese food doesn't come on a stick? If I reviewed an Ethiopian place, I might prefer ones that dumbed down the spices. I think a reviewer needs to know more than the very basics of the cuisine he/she is reviewing.

                    1. re: chowser
                      thew Feb 26, 2009 04:32 AM

                      i do not care if anyone in china ever had general tso's chicken or not. i care if the food tastes good. i also think you are probably selling your friends short, and liking "authentic" food doesn't make one a better person in any way shape or form.

                      1. re: thew
                        chowser Feb 26, 2009 04:57 AM

                        No, I'm not selling those friends short. I've taken some friends to places and they hated the food so I don't. I have no need to convince them to try anything else because they're happy with what they have. I do have friends who are more adventurous and will take them. I've never said that liking "authentic" food makes you a better person in any shape or form. I'm saying, IMO, a reviewer needs to have be better educated about the food he's reviewing than the general population or he could just give thumbs up for Chef Boy R Dee over real house made pasta. And, no, I'm not saying that someone who prefers house made pasta is a better person than someone who prefers Chef Boy R Dee, just that there generally should be a better discernment from a professional whose job it is to find good food. If not, why bother with any reviews at all?

                        1. re: chowser
                          thew Feb 26, 2009 05:44 AM

                          sorry about the snark should post before coffee.....

                          i agree a reviewer should be discerning - but i prefer hir discernment be on the quality of the food as it is, and not if it matches some standard of "authenticity" -

                          1. re: thew
                            ipsedixit Feb 26, 2009 07:16 AM

                            I'm not so sure about that last statement thew.

                            While I agree that knowing what is authentic is not the standard of what makes a critic worthwhile, there is something to be said about knowing what *is* authentic (as chowswer alludes).

                            For example, a reviewer who writes about Olive Garden will (in my opinion) provide a much more insightful critique of Olive Garden if she understand and appreciates what authentic Italian cuisine is all about. And I don't mean that knowing what authentic Italian is means necessarily that the reviewer will then go on to bash Olive Garden.

                            Rather, having a background on what authentic Italian cuisine is will allow the reviewer to compare and contrast -- pointing out the differences and highlighting what works and what doesn't. Someone who lacks that background, wouldn't be able to provide that level of depth and extra layer of nuance.

                            1. re: thew
                              chowser Feb 26, 2009 08:18 AM

                              As someone who loves American chinese food, I agree about the quality of the food being important, too. I'm pretty picky about getting good moo shu pork. As reviewing a restaurant goes, I think a reviewer needs to know how the dish should be made. I want to read someone's review about ethiopian food with the knowledge of how it should be--eg. not a critique about how the injera must have gone off because it was sour.

                      2. re: thew
                        c
                        Cebca Feb 26, 2009 07:35 AM

                        I'm not sure this is true. I think that of course the above things are important, but when reviewing an ethnic food restaurant, especially if it is a lesser-known cuisine (ethiopian seems to be the example we are using on this board), I think that the review should at least cover the authenticity issue, even if it is simply in an informative (as opposed to judgmental) kind of way. Maybe there is a restaurant that serves delicious but entirely inauthentic Ethiopian, in which case diners should be aware that they haven't discovered discovered ethnic food nirvana and probably shouldn't start planning that trip to Africa just yet. On the reverse side, if it is inauthentic but TERRIBLE, wouldn't you want to know so that you don't just write off that cuisine entirely?

                        I know many people who, particularly when trying a cuisine for the first time, want to make sure they are going somewhere authentic. I don't think it is that unusual. And even if you don't make it a priority to go to authentic places, wouldn't you at least want to have the knowledge of how accurate the food is that you are being served?

                        I guess my point is it is not really NECESSARY but is certainly helpful and would, I think, make a better review if the critic can address the authenticity issue, just to be more informative about both the restaurant and the cuisine.

                        1. re: Cebca
                          thew Feb 26, 2009 06:52 PM

                          yes, an informed reviewer is better.

                          as to the accuracy of the food - well - aside from very specific dishes, that are NOT the majority of food, especially not (ugh i hate this term) in "ethnic" cuisine (as if there was any other sort) is there one master recipe that is correct. there is no platonic ideal of pho, or doro wat, that is "authentic" to judge others against. Look to your own family's history - does your grandmother and your great aunt cook their brisket, or kim chee, or bolognese exactly the same way? and id that exactly the way their grandmotehr made it?
                          i doubt it - yet they are probably all "authentic" i like dense matzo balls. i have relatives who make fluffy floaters. which are the authentic ones?

                          sure escoffier wrote specific recipes. that's the exception to the rule, and not the way most food is.

                          1. re: thew
                            c
                            Cebca Feb 27, 2009 09:20 AM

                            But there is an authenticity line. Dense vs. fluffy matzo balls you can debate about. Same about whether to include the chicken meat or not in the soup. But I think anyone would argue that curry flavored matzo balls floating in a fish stew is not "authentic."

                            1. re: Cebca
                              limster Feb 27, 2009 09:37 AM

                              Yep - authenticity isn't a black and white thing, there is a range of which something may be considered authentic, with different degrees of confidence by different people. Just like the colour green isn't confined to 1 wavelength, there is a range of wavelengths which may be perceived as green.

                              1. re: Cebca
                                thew Feb 27, 2009 10:01 AM

                                yes - but i am more interested if the curried matzoh ball fish stew is good, than if my grandmother would have made it.....

                                1. re: thew
                                  c
                                  Cebca Feb 27, 2009 11:49 AM

                                  I agree - my point is that both things are important. First and foremost, is the food good? But if you are interested in exploring a new type of food or regional cuisine (ill lay off the "e" word), then whether the food is authentic or not is a good thing to know (not as a judgement, just as a point of information), and a reviewer who can speak to that will, all other things being equal, write a better review than one who cannot.

                                  1. re: Cebca
                                    chowser Feb 27, 2009 11:58 AM

                                    Exactly. I'd go to a restaurant if I'd heard they had a great curry matzoh ball soup, regardless of authenticity. But, if I'd heard a place had the best matzoh ball soup in the city and it turned out to be curry matzoh ball fish stew, I wouldn't be happy. If the reviewer didn't realize that that wasn't what is traditionally matzoh ball soup, then he/she shouldn't be doing the job. A reviewer would be fired if he said a restaurant had the best steak tartare in town because they were the only place that cooked it properly. It might have been great meatloaf but does that matter?

                                    1. re: chowser
                                      thew Feb 28, 2009 10:07 AM

                                      i think we are all pretty much in agreement now.

                                      but to bring it back to the OP - being named either goldberg or chang would not guarantee that knowledge, or lack thereof, either in authenticity or good taste

                              2. re: thew
                                c
                                Cebca Feb 27, 2009 09:20 AM

                                hypothetically.

                      3. a
                        Atahualpa Feb 24, 2009 07:16 PM

                        I always assume the author's name is/could be a pseudonym unless I know better. And, if I know better, then I know a fair bit about the review and have much more to go on (i.e. former reviews and past experiences with reviewed places).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Atahualpa
                          ipsedixit Feb 25, 2009 07:02 AM

                          I think the issue of whether it's a pseudonym or not is a red herring.

                          If the author is using a fake name, then presumably it is a name that the author chose. So if the pseudonym connotes an anglo background, e.g. "John Smith", then presumably the author did this for reason. Same if the chosen name was ethnic in nature.

                          The question then becomes, "why?" Why "John Smith" as opposed to, for example, "Mori Hashimoto"?

                        2. pepper_mil Feb 24, 2009 05:17 PM

                          Nah, credibility must come from the review itself. My name is Japanese but I don't know much about the food. I appreciate a little background and explanation in the review, like menu translation or some notes on the cuisine, but this can come just as easily from Jane Smith.

                          That said...since I am in a Chinese city right now, I read a lot of locals' reviews of Western restaurants. It's really fascinating for me to see what Chinese people like and dislike about the places, and how they try to explain the food in Chinese. I take all the recco's with a grain of salt though.

                          1. l
                            lemons Feb 24, 2009 01:34 PM

                            In America these days, it's difficult to assume that Mao-Tse Wong didn't grow up eating American food in Schenectady or Flat River. And like actors and actresses, young journalists are more and more acknowledgint their heritage rather than using more Anglo-Saxon-ish names.

                            Any critic - and I am speaking as one myself - needs to be consistent in their reviewing. if you know you never agree with Wanda Wonka's reviews, and she slams a restaurant/film/art exhibit, you are going to assume you'll like it, and you'll probably be right. It's the consistency that the consumer needs to have to be able to use a critic's work for something more than idle amusement.

                            1. cayjohan Feb 24, 2009 01:23 PM

                              At first, I thought that no, it wouldn't make a whiff of difference, since what's in a name? My own family has so many names and ethnicities as to erase any relevance for the name of the reviewer.

                              Then I started thinking - maybe I would be MORE interested in seeing what "Mao-Tse Wong" thought about "Bob's Big Boy" specifically because there was a hint of the *outsider looking in* about it. (Now, the reviewer could have been reared on the Big Boy or The Hungry Burrito for all I know.We're a melting pot. I'm an ethnically Finn/Native American who breathes for Ethiopian food...one can never tell.) Still, the curiosity that we all have for food is often from the outside looking in, and a fellow outsider maybe give us some insights that we might not have had previously. Or, more specifically, a "perceived" outsider, simply by virtue of the ethically loaded name.

                              That same ethnically loaded name might make me question a review, say if "Jean-Luc Pierre" was reviewing a French restaurant that is not in France and gave it a deserved bad rating. I might think, well, what ethno-centric bug does Jean-Luc have up his but to dis this because it's not in Paris? Unfair, but...

                              Maybe, ipsedixit, a corollary question is this: do we think that ethnic reviewers protect *their own*? Or more soundly eviscerate their own?

                              Fascinating question - thanks for thinking of it.

                              Cay

                              1. LindaWhit Feb 24, 2009 12:25 PM

                                It's the name of the restaurant that attracts me to reading the review, not the name of the reviewer. If the review is poorly written, I check who wrote it, and check a few more of that reviewer's write-ups. If they all suck (IMO), I just don't read that reviewer anymore.

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