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Posting a negative report after previously recommending it? [moved from Boston board]

So this raises an interesting question on etiquette and would appreciate your thoughts.

A certain restaurant that I frequent for dine-in and take-out often (once a week) and which I have spoken of favorably here provided me a truly disappointing meal last week. It was a Tuesday which I believe is relevant to the food provided - it clearly used food left over from the weekend, in my opinion.

Caesar salad was VERY heavily dressed, uncharacteristic and, in my opinion, an attempt to cover up the obviously old lettuce - shriveled, well over 50% red-tinged edges.
Pizza was topped with green peppers all showing age (curled edges, limp) and clearly not freshly sliced onions (yellowish, soft). I have seen this on Tuesdays in the past from the place, but only a stray leaf or slice here and there. This time, unfortunately, it was wholesale bad food and it was thrown out (which I never ever do, often to my wife's dismay.)

I called the restaurant and spoke to the owner/manager - we are not on a first-name basis but I think she knows my order well-enough to know which order I was referring to when I complained. She apologized and offered to make it up - I was not interested in a make-up or a refund - I really just wanted her to know that we noticed, it was disappointing and to just not do that in the future. We want this business to succeed.

This restaurant is now "off" my list, at least until the memory fades. I imagine we will give it a try again in a couple of months, though not on a Tuesday.

My question is: Should I report this on the board? When I have talked up this particular (Somerville) restaurant in the past, do I *owe* it to the Board to post a keep-away message? I have hesitated to name the restaurant because it could be just a blip in service.

I certainly don't want to get into a public pissing contest on Facebook about my experiences. (As the bad behavior here rages on, I rescind my earlier comments about respecting the chef's response. One snotty retort is ok; a firehose of invective not so much...)

Anyway, appreciate your feedback.

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  1. I think some of us regular readers know what restaurant you are talking about. :-) There are lots of restaurants which get glowing reviews, even by respected individuals, which fail to live up to the billing at a later date. The data point of poor food is very useful, but considering its one among many good meals you have enjoyed its just one data point and a "downhill alert" is likely to be outsized in people's consciousness than positive past reviews. Others certainly may have a different approach, but since you are still willing to give them another chance my approach would be to mention it if discussion of the restaurant comes up or maybe talk up where I am eating ("hey I am mixing it up and gave ... a try") over a post about one disappointing meal. If its not better in a few months, well that is a trend.

    1. Let it go. And then go on Wednesdays. We all have off days.

      1. I don't see the problem with naming the restaurant after a well reasoned and fair explanation like this. Clearly you enjoy this place since you frequent it quite often. They just had a bad night. Everyone has bad nights. I'd like to think that most hounds are savvy enough to know this happens at most restaurants.

        13 Replies
        1. re: mkfisher

          "They just had a bad night." Yes, but on this bad night they used ingredients which according to Bob's description, should have been tossed on the compost pile. I would never return to a restaurant that used ingredients that had the potential of making me sick.

          1. re: cassis

            Old food doesn't make you sick. Microorganisms do. Every restaurant serves food that has the "potential of making [you] sick," and the same goes for everything you personally cook at home. You can't tell that food is going to make you sick just from looking at it. What do you think, that when people get sick from eating restaurant food it's because they fail to notice that the food is rotting and decomposing on their plates?

            1. re: FinnFPM

              You CAN generally tell if food will make you sick by smelling it, or tasting it which any respectable kitchen should do often.

              Food that has gone bad is actually pretty darned easy to detect and serving such is the sign of a kitchen staff gone bad.

              And while you are getting technical it is not the microorganisms that make you sick, but the toxins they make (nee botulinum).

              1. re: StriperGuy

                I'm no doctor, but I don't think this is true at all. Plenty of food-borne illness isn't caused by spoiled food, but cross-contamination or unwashed hands in the kitchen, and is undetectable at the time of ingestion. Further, the long incubation period of many pathogens makes it very difficult to pinpoint the meal at which you were infected. There's a reason Chowhound doesn't let posters say, "That place literally made me ill".

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  You can't predict with any certainty what will make you sick or not. The immune system's ability to deal with pathogens (which it does all the time) is what determines if you get sick from any reason (spoiled food, cross-contamination, whatever).

                  Spoiled foods often have tell-tale signs (especially rotten vegetables) and avoiding them is a good practice in prevention, as is hand-washing and mitigating cross-contamination. And not eating feces on facebook.

                  1. re: Nab

                    My keep point is that MOST spoiled food has tell-tale signs, thanks Nab.

                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                    I work at a company where half the staff is microbiologists.

                    There are several ways to get sick from bad food.

                    If the food has been sitting around too long, even in the fridge it will make you sick particularly if it has not been stored at a correct temp. Most of the time food in this state is pretty obvious, and MOST food illness is caused by just plain lousy storage, or using food past it's prime.

                    Much less common scenarios:

                    If the food is fresh, but prepared in a contaminated plant, this is particularly risky and hard to detect, so you are correct in this scenario. That chicken fresh as could be, but slathered in salmonella, agreed, very hard to detect, and you likely couldn't smell it. Of course any decent kitchen cooking this chicken correctly would kill off the salmonella, so again really a resto prep issue.

                    Much, much, much less common is the "dirty hands" scenario, where the person prepping the food already carries some pathogen on their own. This person must be a carrier of the pathogen AND also have horrible hygiene, i.e. not washing hands after using the facilities, or using a spoon to repeatedly taste plated food. Keep in mind, taste a stew that is boiling away, any pathogen you introduce is likely killed.

                    Just touching food with a contaminated hand is very unlikely to make a diner sick. Most folks don't understand that it takes a sufficient bacterial load to cause an infection. One touch of a sick hand won't do it. You have to touch it with a sick hand, THEN compound it by storing it incorrectly so the bacteria have some time to grow.

                    Bottom line, most food-bourne infections are not caused by a dirty hand, or an infected person per se, but rather by a sloppy restaurant that ignores basic food prep common sense, or cuts corners and attempts to serve food that any reasonable person would have thrown away.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      All true Striper, but it's also what the customer expects these days that can cause illness. Raw or undercooked fish can easily sicken someone. Or undercooked meat of any sort, particularly a burger that is not cooked through. But most people don't want their burger cooked well done, or they like some pink in their pork/duck/ etc. Tuna sashimi, steak tartar, seared ahi, ceviche, the list goes on and on as to what makes us sick. Most of us put up with the risk to eat what pleases.

                      1. re: CapeCodGuy

                        Generally agree, but even in the cases you describe, mostly it comes down to kitchen practices.

                        Serving sushi... as you well know, fish is one of the easiest things to tell if it is past it's prime. Slather it with spicy mayo and hope they don't notice... oh well.

                        Burgers are the trickiest, particularly if the resto is not grinding the meat in-house. It can look and smell fresh, but if the grinder in the huge meat plant is not properly cleaned you might still be in trouble. That said, even with burger, when the resto opens that bag of ground meat and it smells a little funky STOP. Just doing that would get rid of 95% of problematic ground beef.

                        Most of the time, if food is contaminated, or gone bad, you don't need to be a microbiologist to tell. You just need to be a good scrupulous chef who wouldn't serve your guests anything you wouldn't eat yourself.

                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          But in the cases I mention, it has nothing to do with spoiled or near spoiled food. Nor does it have to do with poor kitchen practices or improper handling. It has everything to do with the microbiology itself. Bacterias exist naturally in fish and meat. Only cooking and/or freezing them to a proper temp gets rid of it. Everyone's immune system is different and that ultra-fresh, just off the boat sashimi, that you or i love, might just make grandma very sick.

                          Back to the thread's topic, if it's vomit pie, well, that's just plain wrong. :-)

                          1. re: CapeCodGuy

                            I think you are probably referring to parasites, which (with the exception Trichinosis in pork) are not usually a problem with meat. Both the Trichinosis parasite, and most of the raw fish parasites, are not actually bacteria, but typically also some time of worm.

                            The incidence of illness from these parasites is very rare, but not unheard of. And you are correct, even the most scrupulous restaurant could serve fish with a worm in it.

                            The incidence of Trichinosis in pork has essentially disappeared in the US due to good animal care practices.

                            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhea...

                            http://seafood.ucdavis.edu/pubs/paras...

                  3. re: StriperGuy

                    "And while you are getting technical it is not the microorganisms that make you sick, but the toxins they make (nee botulinum)."

                    Many thanks for this very, very important point. If only more attorneys were to understand this, we wouldn't see so many gross failures to properly stage the "my client didn't kill that man, the blood loss did" defense.

                    It's a nice bit of personal information that you work at a company where half the people are microbiologists. So do the people who sweep the floors there. I live in a house where half the people are women. That doesn't mean I have a vagina.

                    The sorts of organisms that spoil food are not the same sorts that make you sick. They are correlated with one another -- if conditions are great for the bacteria that decompose lettuce, they're also probably great for the kind that make you sick -- but not causally related. This distinction isn't always a functional one for the average eater, and I think we both understand the general idea here. But it's something that everyone who cares to pay a little bit of attention should understand and keep in mind.

                    My original point was that you usually can't tell: if you could avoid foodborn pathogens by simply looking at the food, then no one would get sick, because very, very few Americans are so stupid or so desperate that they eat food which is obviously spoiled. And most restaurants aren't interested in trying to "secretly" serve dangerous food. If you do choose to eat food that looks spoiled, you won't get sick because it's spoiled, but you might get sick because of germs that were in fact first placed there by the proverbial dirty hand, and then allowed to multiply. Campylobacter doesn't come from lettuce, it comes from feces.

                    You're more likely to get sick from wilted-looking lettuce than from fresh-looking lettuce, but you're absolutely most likely to get sick from food -- especially beef and poultry -- that looks and smells perfectly fine. Unfortunately, lax safety regulations throughout the country continue to make this more, not less, true.

                    1. re: FinnFPM

                      Thanks for the detailed education in food poisoning. I was merely stating that I would never return to a restaurant that served me aging/browning/curling ingredients. I wouldn't excuse the restaurant as just having a one off bad night because it shows lack of respect for both my health and my hard earned dollar.

            2. I'm more inclined to give my regular favorites a pass on an off-night: bigger sample, so it stands out more clearly as an anomaly. I'll bark if I get the sense of a downhill trend on serial visits. By the same standard, I don't especially like dinging a place I've only been to once or twice: that's a small, presumably unrepresentative sample.

              Where I'm likelier to call a place out is when I get the sense that they're executing well on what they're trying to do, and I still don't like it. Anyway, nowadays I'd rather find something to crow about than complain about. Celebrate the undersung; the bad places will mostly go away on their own, or are serving a niche that somebody likes.

              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

              1. I think it's fine to name the restaurant, but there's obviously a right way ("I usually have great meals here, but there were specific things that were absolutely bad today...") and a wrong way ("this food literally tastes like vomit, fuck you all!"). Today has certainly reminded us of that.

                1 Reply
                1. re: FinnFPM

                  agreed.

                  While I don't think I would necessarily jump on here immediately and post I had a sub par meal at at place that I frequent and speak highly of but I can see responding to an inquiry with my current (and past) experience.