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Mar 2, 2009 11:13 AM

Pittsburgh Chowhounders get shout out in PG

Interesting take on the Pittsburgh scene. Not sure it inspires me to post more, but maybe.....

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  1. Actually, it did the opposite for me. It inspired me to join chowhound. My friends and I talk a lot about the restaurants we visit, so this is a great venue for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly! Pittsburgh has a lot to offer and isn't recognized for the great food we have. I'd say we're at least as good if not better than Cleveland!

    1. As bad as CH is regarding ratio of Philly/Pgh posts, eGullet is 100 times worse. There are usually 0 Pgh threads on the front page of the PA restaurant forum.

      With most people cutting back on dining out, it's going to be even more challenging to develop a critical mass of informed input.

      China is right on the Zagat thing. I haven't been over there to make any comments in at least a couple of years. So I know what I'll be doing tonight, at least until 24 starts.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Panini Guy

        It also helps when the PG (specifically China) gives good reviews. Most of them are marginal and I don't want to try the places. A more positive attitude is needed Ms. Millman.

        1. re: burghgal

          That's a good point, Burghgal! I've noticed some pretty poor ratings on some decent restaurants in the past months, that appear to be unjustified or misunderstood. Namely, Point Brugge Cafe which got something like 2 stars, and for the life of me, I could not figure out why it rated so low based on her review.

          1. re: MrKotter

            Ms. Millman's rating system is skewed based on the idea that she never reviews a restaurant that isn't at least pretty good -- thus, a good restaurant would get a relatively low rating, while it takes a really amazing restaurant to get a high rating. She's had to publish multiple columns explaining this system, because people don't pick up on it -- probably because it's illogical in the face of historical trends re: rating systems. It's like the inverse of grading on a curve.

            Star ratings are meant to be a quick tool for expressing the writer's general opinion on something. Most publications have always based rating systems on an even gradient, from poor to excellent -- so most readers are trained to take that as the scale.

            As someone who writes for a print (albeit not about food), I think I'd take the fact that I needed to explain my system more than once in print as a sign that my system isn't going to correctly communicate my thoughts, and I'd go back to something that people are going to more easily understand.

            The agenda-setting honeymoon for Ms. Millman as a critic is getting really old as far as I'm concerned (and plenty of people I know tend to agree). I feel like I've read more columns that deal with her general musings on being a food critic than I have columns that actually deal with food. And when even other writers are bored with the metachatter, I'd imagine the average subscriber nodded off months ago . . .

            Anyway, agreed that it would be great to see more Pittsburgh stuff on a board like this, but at the same time, Chow delineated the state as the area for this forum to encompass, and, gee willikers, Philly is a lot bigger and more cosmopolitan than Pittsburgh! It's natural that the conversation would be dominated by folks there . . .

            1. re: andybot

              Maybe it's just because I've had a chance to talk with China on numerous occasions, but I'm of the opinion she really does know what she's doing and has a vision.

              1 star = good
              2 star = very good
              3 star = excellent
              4 star = oustanding

              What is so hard to understand about that? Other reviewers from other cities have used similar ranking systems for years. Maybe it's time we should be less satisfied with the milquetoast reviews of her predecessors and demand our restaurants aspire to something more to get even one or two stars.

              If anyone thinks there is a plethora of 4-star restos around here, feel free to name them.

              1. re: Panini Guy

                I can't read the articles, but the Michelin Guide does the same: 1 Star = Very Good, 2 Star = Worth a detour, 3 Star = Worth a journey on it's own. The Gault-Millau (Gayot) guide does the same based on a scale of 20 (they only list the ones 10+), and the NYTimes food review has 5 four-star restaurants for the entire NYC. Any of the 30 three-stars from NYC in Pittsburgh would probably be considered the best restaurant in town. So if she is going by standards similar to those, I don't see many 3 or 4 star restaurants in the area.

                Her writing may be as boring as the WSJ, but I think her raising dining expectations can only be a good thing. How many times have you gone out to eat a meal served solely from the Sysco prepared foods, or instant mashed potatoes with canned gravy?

                1. re: Panini Guy

                  Agree with you 100% Panini Guy. In most cities poor restaurants do not get reviewed. A corner/neighborhood place that gets a 1 or 2 star rating is a real honor. They are not trying to compete with the finest restaurants in the city and therefore they should not get or deserve the same star rating. In the past, the Pittsburgh reviewers would basically give everyone 3 stars regardless of what she wrote about them. That is not doing anyone a favor... the restaurateurs or the readers. The star ratings are supposed to be used in conjunction with what is actually written about the. I like China's reviews and find them much more helpful and insightful than any of her predecessors. Do I disagree with them sometime and find some of the critiques a little harsh? Yes, but I can look past those and see what she is trying to get across to the readers.

                  As far as her column the other day, I thought it was great. A food writer is not going to change a food culture in a city, it takes all of the people to make that happen. It might not be fair to compare the amount of posts on chowhound about Philly and Pittsburgh, but I think comparing Pittsburgh to cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus is fair. If you look at Zagat ratings, Pittsburgh currently has 7 restaurants rated (all of which are national chains which get the same rating wherever they go. Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati all have more than 40 restaurants rated! I think it is fair to compare these cities and Zagat is a pretty good indicator of the local food culture since it is completely based on the amount of reviews that are posted by ordinary restaurant guests. Our food scene is getting better, it is not fair to compare us to cities 5 or 10 times our size, but at the same time we shouldn't use that as a crutch to hold ourselves and our restaurants to a lower standard. Some of the finest restaurants or food people/places in the country are in cities and towns that are much smaller than Pittsburgh.

                  1. re: Panini Guy

                    I think so far as of today there is one 4-star review:


                    (Today's review of Eleven)

                      1. re: CrazyOne

                        My friend Daryl was the passionate waiter that Ms. Millman wrote about! He is awesome. : )

                        "Whether it's a special menu or a substitution, this restaurant aims to please, a goal exemplified by the well-trained, attentive, passionate service staff. They wax eloquent about house-cured prosciutto, define unusual ingredients, recommend pairings with confidence and make diners feel attended to and left alone."

            2. i was really disappointed with that column. philadelphia outpopulates pittsburgh 5 to 1 and has a very different way of life. philly has a restaurant scene, pittsburgh has restaurants that serve neighborhoods. there is hardly any destination dining. China Milliman does absolutely nothing to get the greater pittsburgh region excited or interested in dining and it shows in these generic columns that dont even mention a restaurant. i give her credit for writing but give us something more. new restaurants, openings, closings, specials, etc. take a page from Rick Nichols or Craig Laban, our counterparts

              1. This article made me want to post more. I have been using CH as a guide for when I travel mostly and occassionally get caught up in a "what's the best restaurant in Pgh?" post. I am still not sure what I think of Zagat's overall but I went and reviewed 24 restaurants that I have been to. My husband and friends are all very much into food, cooking, wine, and going to restaurants. We generally build our vacations around the food aspect. I never use Zagat's because it doesn't provide in depth knowledge. It also includes too many chain restaurants which are predictable - you don't really need a guide to know about The Cheesecake Factory. I had an interesting thought about Pittsburgh having its first Zagat's book. It could be a useful tool since the first reviews should be by foodies from Pittsburgh, who know the place, the chefs, and the really great places to go. Unfortunately, I used their "yellow pages" to pull in some hot restaurants and they weren't on the list. Right now, I want to review Richard Chen, Legume, Dinette, and hello...Toast. They are not on the list so I am back to the question - what good is Zagat's?
                I think China Millman has done a fair job trying to rate Pgh restaurants in accordance with a real rating scale. Other reviewers gave out 3 ***'s to anyone with a decent meal. Look at the City Paper. They give everyone either a 3 or 3 1/2 stars every week. There is no way to differentiate the good from the great. I also think she pushes the envelope for service as well. Too many restaurants have great food but their staff doesn't understand it or know how to serve it. Going out to eat is an overall experience and it should be treated that way by fine dining places. I do agree that she should cut back on the fluffy articles and review more food. Although after the Sausalido review, restaurant owners may be glad she isn't on the prowl.

                5 Replies
                1. re: chinacat1969

                  I agree chinacat. I use CH for my business and pleasure travels. I have found some true gems from this site. i wish Pittsburghers would post more reveiws. I am excited to read any new posts from area CHounders. I can't wait to read your reveiw on Toast. BTW, I loved Toast! I may go there tonight for dinner; however I am leaning towards Richard Chen's.
                  Here is a tip....a new restaurant will be opening soon. Salt of the Earth...chef, Kevin Sousa. He is currently the chef at Nine until his restaurant opens in May.

                  1. re: six dower

                    Thank you....Salt of the is now in my memory. I think Kevin Sousa is an amazing chef. I never got to try his alchemy menu at Bigelow Grille. I did eat there a few times while he was around and it was fantastic. Looking forward to it. I have a few friends I am seeing tonight at Club Cafe who will also be interested in this tid-bit. I have reservations at Toast on April 4th. Will let everyone know what I think.

                        1. re: chinacat1969

                          sousa has a can follow his progress with Salt of the Earth (and other musings) here....