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Mar 26, 2013 06:50 PM

When you dine out, do you understand what is going on around you? Chow hounders learning from each other.

Saw this item in Business Insider, and it got me thinking:

Chowhound presents postings from people with broad experience and diverse experience, locale , but also of expertise. I first started using it when internet searches about French cooking and dining led me here. The opportunity to exchange information, and to learn from those more knowledgeable than I has proven to be gratifying. It is, however, sometimes frustrating, when someone posts a review of a restaurant, and cannot seem to be able to describe the experience beyond “it was good, the portions were large.”

The reader obtains no point of reference from which to evaluate, and worse, I fear the diner doesn’t know how to enjoy the full measure of the experience either. Going to a place because it is trendy can be fun, but if one doesn’t understand food techniques, flavors, blends, then one is only spending money, and such a restaurant might as well be called “Lemmings.” When a person buys an expensive bottle of wine because “Parker gave it a 94,” I am sure that the person doesn’t understand the wine, nor how to enjoy it, and a $5 bottle may yield more pleasure for that person.

This is a serious problem, as I see it, as there are those who feel it is snobbery actually to know something, or to do the work required to gain true skill. That is sad for those who miss out, but also weakens the utility of a site such as this. When one, for instance, doesn’t appreciate a foam, how can one report a restaurant’s sabayone or zabaglione? How about when someone’s “adaptation” or “style” is really the reflection of aberrant technique and nothing but a dodge?

Since this is a site about learning from each other, one would hope that all participants remember that another’s pointing out that a CHer ‘s is incorrect or doesn’t know something is not insulting nor rude, as it might in a live setting, but rather meant as instructional. No one here knows everything, and raising the level of discourse can only profit us all.

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  1. It's not a college course.It's a website that people BS about food.

    3 Replies
    1. re: emglow101

      Actually, after being in the business for 30 years, I still learn somthing new here every day.

      1. re: coll

        " I still learn somthing new here every day."

        Most especially when it comes to the peculiarities of our fellow human beings. ;-)

        1. re: grampart

          Yes that too. And the differences in various regions the world over! To me, it IS like a college course.

    2. I always try to provide MY point of reference, though sometimes fail in that.

      Still, when I do a review, I try to go into as much detail, as I can, so that others can judge for themselves.

      What I like, might not play with another, but if they CAN find common ground, and relate to that, or they can decide if I am just not in their demographic, and judge accordingly.

      Back in my youth, there was a film critic, who wrote for "Playboy Magazine." His tastes were the polar opposite, from mine, where film was concerned. What he loved, I hated. Still, I could use his reviews, and essentially go the opposite way.

      I do similar with some wine critics - if they give me TN's, I will likely go the opposite way, from their recs.


      10 Replies
          1. re: Gastronomos

            For a moment, I thought that I was reading Jean Shepherd (

            Quite a bit of subtle humor, yet a good review. Easy to read, but with useful info.


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                I loved Jean Shepherd. Listened every night to him on WOR.

            1. re: law_doc89

              I read this and had to wonder if someone was making a joke or writing a satirical piece. The typos, the repetitive use of adjectives and strange vocabulary which seemed to be based on heavy but awkward use of a thesaurus appears to be a parody of a review.

              1. re: Bkeats

                "small, molded moose" right off the bat is the best tell for the rest of the review.

                1. re: janniecooks

                  Just sounds like someone has been shopping at IKEA.

                2. re: Bkeats

                  Have to agree. The "high relief carving of the desirable
                  nature of this fish" is no more helpful to me than "good food,
                  big portions". "Illusoriness"? How many times did
                  complementary appear in one graph? And "sweat" where
                  I'm assuming it should have been "sweet" - thank you,
                  Spellcheck. This sounds like it was written to impress,
                  not to inform

                3. re: law_doc89

                  Had you added a comment, or two, about the architecture, and maybe the table-spacing and chairs, it could have been one of mine.

                  I thought that it was well-done.

                  Thanks for sharing, and especially as I have been trying to nudge my wife to using The Jefferson for one of her future trips. Nice stuff to know.


              2. I write about my restaurant meals primarily because I enjoy writing about them. They are there for my own future reference. As well as usually posting those "reviews" to internet discussion boards, I also send them to a commerically printed national guide - and I am vain enough to enjoy seeing quotes of mine being used by the guide (several in the 2013 edition). After the self-satisfaction aspects, I like to think that folk might read what I've written and it encourages/deters them from trying a place or a dish.

                When I write, I try to describe the food I've eaten and allow the reader to form their own view about whether this is something they may like or not. I have little time for the sort of review that reads along the lines of "this place is so wonderful. Their pork chops are the best ever". It is about sa much use as the review that's bound to come next - that says "this place is awful, their pork chops were disgusting". No point of reference - no point.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Harters


                  I am with you. I review what I encountered, to the best of my abilities, with no spoons, forks or numerical ratings - just my reviews of the experiences. I only hope that others can "fill in the blanks." What is great for me, might not be their "cup of tea," but they should be able to figure that out.


                  1. sorry, but when you start enforcing rules and standards, you're no longer talking about informal reviews...who's going to set the standards? What if my idea of the standards isn't the same as yours?

                    If you don't like the review, skip over it. But a reviewer who said the food was good and the service was friendly has just a valid a point as the one who waxes rhapsodic about the unctuous mouthfeels and tantalizing aromas.

                    20 Replies
                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Not talking about "enforcing standards." Voicing an observation. Don't know a review is a waste of time until it is read. I would think, however, that users would like a website that is useful, that will encourage more visitors.

                      I am curious how you find it useful to read "Wow, liked it," is useful to you when you don't know the basis of the opinion?

                      1. re: law_doc89

                        but wanting people to detail things like how it tasted and how it prepared is imposing standards -- YOUR standards.

                        "Wow, liked it" gets filed as random noise.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          That's just silly. Where did Isay "Thou shalt?"

                          Ah well.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            I've actually found (new to me), great restaurants by just those sorts of comments that are being dismissed as unhelpful by the OP. One never knows what will lead to great chow. And, until I've tried it for myself, no amount of descriptive language will give me anymore of a probable "winner" than someone who writes one sentence saying "Great and big portions too." when it comes right down to it...

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              But my standards give you a point of reference for your standards:


                              1. re: law_doc89

                                Is this review of yours setting the standard? seriously? I found it to be overwrought with useless descriptions.
                                The sweaty parts were funny, though.

                                1. re: wyogal

                                  What's the adage, "don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things... ?"


                                  1. re: Hobbert

                                    Ha! Maybe it was, I'm just too literal for some jokes. ;)

                                    1. re: wyogal

                                      I hope so! Your comment made me look at it and there's just no way it's a real review. Pretty funny, though.

                                      1. re: Hobbert

                                        I'm thinking this whole thread is an exercise in blah, blah, blah. Kind of chain yanking.

                                        1. re: wyogal

                                          When wondering about the intended tone of a post, I often check out the things the OP says on OTHER threads.

                                          In this case:

                                            1. re: grampart

                                              Well, let me describe myself instead, as a possible parallel.

                                              I often suffer from the "Educators' Disease" compounded by "Administrators' Affectation" multiplied by "Expats' Egotism."

                                              I love to learn, so I've been exposed to hordes of factoids over the years. I'm pretty good at Google, so I can find even more details.

                                              I'm used to being "The Boss," in a situation of collaborative sharing of ideas where the final decision comes down to me. My role is frequently one of evaluating others' performance; my VISA said I was a "foreign expert."

                                              In a text-based environment, where I can't wink or raise my eyebrows at you and grin, my attitude can come across as harsh and know-it-all.

                                              Andddd, I seem unable to avoid commenting. A tidbit here, a link there, a query about this, a comment about that.

                                              SO, I'm pretty sure I come across as one who thinks she knows it all and can prove it...occasionally I try to apologize but once you're into a mess here on CH an apology is nearly guaranteed to be misread as abhorrent sarcasm.
                                              Twice since 2000 I've forced myself to step away from CH for years because I'd lost control of my "brand" and was nearly always feeling antagonism.

                                              But, that's just me. YMMV.

                                              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                "In a text-based environment, where I can't wink or raise my eyebrows at you and grin, my attitude can come across as harsh and know-it-all."

                                                I understand what you're saying, but I interpret your attitude as honest and knowledgeable and, though I can't see them, I sense the winks and grins. If you ever feel the need to again "step away" for an extended period, you would be missed.

                                                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                  "I love to learn, so I've been exposed to hordes of factoids over the years. I'm pretty good at Google, so I can find even more details.

                                                  I'm used to being "The Boss," in a situation of collaborative sharing of ideas where the final decision comes down to me. My role is frequently one of evaluating others' performance; my VISA said I was a "foreign expert."

                                                  In a text-based environment, where I can't wink or raise my eyebrows at you and grin, my attitude can come across as harsh and know-it-all."

                                                  Me, too, especially the first and last paragraphs. I could have written them. Folks I've met online who like me enough to meet me *anyway* are always shocked at the differences.

                                                  Oh, I'm not anyone's idea of a credentialed expert.

                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                    Sure, you always have to realize that without inflection, even the most straightforward comment can be misinterpreted.

                                              2. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                Yep, I read the first one.
                                                Like someone said, I'm not sure what the title of the OP has to do with the content. Noticing what is going on around me in a restaurant is different than understanding what is on my plate.
                                                I've deduced that it's a joke. Someone wants to get a rise out of somebody.

                                  2. re: law_doc89

                                    If the poster is someone whose tastes I know from reading here a long time, those few words are useful to me, maybe not to those who aren't familiar with the poster.

                                    If you're thinking of going to the restaurant in question, just ask for deets with specific questions that factor into your decision making.