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Apr 28, 2014 12:56 PM

About Paris, France; Regarding sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.?

I've read the CH rules and I think we're allowed to discuss other websites, blogs, etc., so long as there's no nastiness or profanity.
In the last few days several folks have referenced posts on these other sites as if they bring new insights into our discussions here.
My very personal opinion is that they are an unscientific sampling of opinion and that folks largely post on them to complain about slights, "rudeness," and so forth.
As someone trained in science, I know that if it's a N of 1 and anecdotal, it's just that, one anecdote.
In contrast, I've heard from friends here that owners, chefs, chef-owners and family members of the above encourage counter-posts from trusted friends to counter negative comments.
I'm only talking about Paris, OK?
PS I bring this up because we all want to know where to go and what sources to trust because there's nothing worse culinary-wise than a blah meal.

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  1. For my taste:

    1. TA is a bit n'importe-quoi. I think it is for tourists. But there are tourists and tourists. Some tourists have a sophisticated palate, others less so. Still others are linfluenced by their own cultural background, etc. So their superlatives and their dislikes must all be … verified.

    2. Yelp ought to be better but is not. Why?

    3. Lefooding. I find its out-of-town recommendations quite reliable. On Paris? More and more it sounds like hipsters reviewing hipster places, which is, - what's the word? - disastrous.

    As for the other French-language sites:
    Cityvox reviews are like Pariscope reviews. Waste of time.

    One French site I like is linternaute, for both Paris and out of town. Very informative.

    Lastly, complaint has its place.
    After all, I am not contributing to this board to give mankind fhe word. If a place I have liked and recommended has gone downhill, I want to know. And I am grateful that others tell me.
    Example: I have recommended Bartavelle in Goult in Provence many times. The last time I ate there, it was not as wowey as before. And I wrote about this dip of experience.
    Since then, others have written to report that they had a great meal there. Whew. Maybe I had an off night.
    Still others say they want to go because of my recommendations. I am scared. Will it be meh ? Will people be eating and wondering: what was that Parigi thinking ??
    All this is to say: unlike you, John, who believes "let's not trash class", I want my likes and dislikes updated by others. This update is the most important part of this board. Well, for me.

    21 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      "unlike you, John, who believes "let's not trash class","
      I've long since forgotten the reference.
      I take it back, whatever it was.

      1. re: Parigi

        Hmmm... this is one of the excellent topics I almost delurked for in the past. So since I'm here today I'll give my opinion:

        Trip Advisor bothers me. A lot. I don't understand its ranking system at all and I can't take it seriously. I remember last summer Breizh Cafe was always in the top 10 or 20 of rankings every week. I checked now and it's #1,288. But it has four stars out of five and has a "Certificate of Excellence 2014". So I don't understand Trip Advisor.

        But... even though Chowhounds are great and cover a lot of places, it would simply be impossible for you all to cover all of the places covered on TA. The numbers are against you. There are a LOT of people using TA. So I have found places on TA (where I, yes, lurk, but have often thought about joining) that I've ended up liking very much. Granted they were usually ranked #5,270 or something, but that's the way it goes. It takes more digging, but I can read the reviews and see if I think there might be something there worth trying. I often click "French reviews" to place them on top and use the translation option. Plus if I see a place that has three reviews from Americans and 50 in French, that catches my attention.

        But TA has made the digging much more difficult recently because the option to search restaurants by area has no longer been available for Paris in the past month or so. Or if it's still there, I don't see it. So instead of looking through 300 choices, I'm faced with 12,000.

        I like La Fourchette a lot. I lurk on Yelp. It's ok. As Parigi says, it could be much better.

        I like David Lebovitz's blog but I appreciate he doesn't claim to be a restaurant reviewer when he goes to restaurants. He provides pretty pictures and some interesting perspectives on other subjects, and some good recipes we've enjoyed. So I don't worry about his restaurant opinions that much.

        1. re: GetLucky

          "I often click "French reviews" to place them on top and use the translation option. Plus if I see a place that has three reviews from Americans and 50 in French, that catches my attention."

          I think you've found the keys to the kingdom. There were recent threads where two restaurants that I vaguely know and would never recommend were on the posters' to-do list. Wondering why, I googled and found both of them very highly rated on Tripadvisor... not knowing my way around TA, I waded through page after page of reviews from English-speakers without finding one from French folks until a negative review on page 17. Astounding that what is so beloved by foreigners is so ignored by locals.

          1. re: Parnassien

            Parn - I think many tourists often suffer from group think. The guides have the same top five so they go to the top five and report on the top five. There is never a disruptive influence and so the recommendations spiral up and up - especially on crowd sourced sites.

            And that's the problem with crowd sourcing, it fails because of the herd like behaviour of people, and the resulting FOMO - limited time, limited resources and risk averse. Using only French (local) reviews mitigates some of this because time is less of a factor, but that doesn't mitigate the problem of fashion over quality that exists to a greater or lessor extent in some towns.

            This the aggregation of lots of data tends to result in worse recommendations rather than better because it's an aggregation of poor quality data (it has far too narrow a base). So personal recommendations, reliable blogs, and your personal restaurant radar are going to be the most reliable. And that means no short cuts like TA.

            I also believe the more media savvy operations and PR companies can game the crowd sourced sites which results in some of the weird data you see.

            Restaurants are the new rock and roll and like music you need to get away from mainstream media and the popular if you want quality recommendations.

            1. re: Parnassien

              "Astounding that what is so beloved by foreigners is so ignored by locals."

              True. On Yelp, I did something similar. I started looking at the number of reviews in French vs the number in English. From there, I stumbled upon the Yelp profiles of two young professional Parisian women who seemed to be based in the area I was searching - and both had a couple of hundred reviews of various restaurants and shops, many in that area. So I started translating many of their reviews, and that was a big help in our trip planning.

              I also noticed that these women would rave about certain places, but usually only give four out of five stars. For them, five stars seemed to be pretty rare (as opposed to people like me who would probably give five stars fairly often if I ranked things). So I also started paying attention to their three star reviews, which often turned out to be very good recs as well. I think Parisians may be hard to please!

              1. re: GetLucky

                "I think Parisians may be hard to please!"

                Not just Parisians. Many visitors alike demand a lot of quality for their time and money, remembering always that a poor meal consumed usurped the place of a good one.

                1. re: mangeur

                  True. I think the giving five stars thing is more of a "Everybody gets a trophy!!!" mentality that sometimes some of us have a hard time breaking out of, because we want to be nice. In my experience on TA, very few reviews in English give two or three stars. It's either five, sometimes four, or one.

                  1. re: GetLucky

                    Just a small example of how opinions are formed:

                    Today, a fraught Eurostar day-trip to London and then total revitalization/ happiness from a late-night meal with my wickedly witty boss at Chez Denise has convinced me without doubt that Chez Denise is THE best restaurant in Paris... well, at least until tomorrow when my mood and needs will be different. But I just looked it up on Tripadvisor... 1,493 other Paris restaurants (including many that give me instant depression) are considered better than Chez Denise. Oh dear !

                    1. re: Parnassien

                      Oh dear! is right. Sometimes I'm shocked to see the rankings there. It's also fascinating to see how far some formerly top-ranked restaurants can fall in the system, and one wonders why. It's doubtful the fall has much, if anything, to do with quality.

                      You mentioned below that in your opinion, Yelp is totally useless in France. I went back and looked at the two Parisian Yelp reviewers I found so helpful, and remembered that all of their reviews were a few years old (though we found most of them to still be pertinent in 2013 and 2014). Which makes me think that they were originally Qype reviews that were later merged into the Yelp system.

                      1. re: GetLucky

                        Les Papilles has two unintentionally hilarious one-star Yelp reviews, by a couple from New York (where else?) who were furious because it was her birthday and they forgot to put a candle on her dessert. Or something like that. And if you read between the lines--hell, actually if you just read the lines themselves--it's pretty clear that they behaved like assholes from start to finish and then blew a gasket when the maitre d' told them, sotto voce, to fuck off.

                        These would fall under Mr. Talbott's category of "complain[ing] about slights". And a couple of one-star reviews could, potentially, put a dent in the ranking.

                        1. re: TVHilton

                          I do take into account the "unreasonably negative" reviews, which for me count as a positive.

                          1. re: TVHilton

                            Yes, that's why I said that I read the French language reviews on Yelp, found two people in Paris for which a review from one or the other seemed to pop up whenever I did a query on anything that intrigued me (though as I stated above, they may have been Qype reviews originally), and used their ratings/rankings - not the general Yelp ones.

                            1. re: GetLucky

                              Yeah, seems like a pretty good approach. I'm still at a fairly basic level in learning French (but then, I have nearly a year), so I miss a lot when I try to read French-language Yelp or TA reviews. Looking forward to being proficient enough to really get the most out of them (and out of Rio Yeti's blog as well).

                              1. re: TVHilton

                                Why thank you for those heartwarming parentheses ! :)

                                1. re: Rio Yeti

                                  Bien contente de trouver "Chez Food"! Merci!

                          2. re: GetLucky

                            Someone upthread said it = TA is not bad for hotels; our Gang of 12 is currently down in Tuscany and we hit on a fabulous place TA "pushed me" onto "Snowden-style."

                            1. re: John Talbott

                              Ma il venerabile, where exactly in Toscana are you ? Just a hint will do.

                              Edit: Duh. I just looked at your blog.

                    2. re: GetLucky

                      It's like American students striving for a 4.0 GPA, while the French students are okay with "la moyenne" and can hardly imagine what would be required to achieve a 20/20 (if it's even possible).

                  2. re: GetLucky

                    "I often click "French reviews" to place them on top and use the translation option. Plus if I see a place that has three reviews from Americans and 50 in French, that catches my attention." – That is exactly how I use TripAdvisor reviews, both in Paris and out in the countryside. -- Jake

                    1. re: Jake Dear

                      Good to know that you've used this method in the countryside. I've stuck pretty close to Paris on French visits, but I hope to go to the Languedoc-Roussillon area on the next trip.

                2. I don't "trust" any source. Rather I read selected writers from a variety of food forums and correlate individual tastes to mine. For the same reasons, I seldom "recommend" a place but rather try to describe it.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: mangeur

                      Agree with correlating tastes when possible. This is what I did on Yelp with the two Parisian women who seemed to have similar tastes, and it worked out well.

                    2. John - I think you are right and it's based on the demographic a site targets. For me TA is useful for hotels but less so for restaurants as it's geared to the mass tourist market rather than specialist food centric one.

                      So a hotel review is OK because broadly speaking we all like comfort, cleanliness and peace. Thus level setting is achievable - you knock out the top and bottom ratings. Chowhound works better for food because we can evaluate a poster against our own tastes, so we get a good feel who to follow and who to not follow for advice.

                      I also agree those sites can be the soap boxes for those that just want to complain (and I love it when restaurants reply with pithy critics of the diner). And many of those complaints are about the experience rather than the food - the recent comments about Breizh Cafe are a case in point with TA writers slamming the service but fundamentally failing to understand how the place worked and the POV of the restaurant.

                      The good thing about CH is that there is a robust debate and it's expected we disagree so someone can search through the discussion, get a balanced view, and have inaccurate comments corrected. It is vital we keep the robustness of the debate as we need to challenge to keep up the quality of the discussion, and thus the validity of the information. Two much stuff on the internet is unfiltered and not "peer reviewed" and thus it's value is highly debatable.

                      For Paris (and France) I trust Chowhound, use Michelin and Le Fooding for more information and check out Paris by Mouth and a few blogs like Adrian's and yours for a broader view.

                      One thing I am wary about are the blogs that target an audience, and play to that audience. There are a few at Paris and they are very good at what they do but they are only good for choosing restaurants/food shops if you are truly in that demographic....sort of like a lifestyle thing for you to buy the dream of a life in Paris . I am not criticising them, in fact I wish them every success, but it's important to read them objectively.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: PhilD

                        Who is Adrian? You referenced him when you were speaking about Paris food blogs.

                      2. While TripAdvisor is helpful for hotel and sightseeing ratings and information, I don't rely on it very much for eating out options. It is too broad of a user base and you don't know if the person commenting has had much exposure to well prepared food. I look to CH for my trips to Europe because I want information from locals and regular visitors who are interested in good food. I come from a part of the world with excellent restaurants, (particularly Asian) and a wide range of fresh and local ingredients where we eat mostly our own prepared (from scratch) meals so travel for me is a break from cooking but not necessarily a break from fresh, well made food. So I appreciate all of you local CH who take the time to comment....especially right now as we are in the midst of our 4 week visit to Paris!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ClaireLS

                          To agree with what the OP inferred....Yes, Paris is quite different; and this forum is highly representative of that difference. While TA does have a broad user base, and while TA's rankings are terribly flawed, using the reviews can be a valid course of action for those of us with no prior knowledge of Paris. Using the blog of the OP and the many links that he provides....Parisbymouth, David Lebovitz, Alex can find information that is written, without bias, that provides a sound foundation to start from. Then reading the range of reviews on TA, looking at other reviews from those same posters on other restaurants, some cases...emailing those reviewers for additional a great way to go about the fun of researching a first trip.
                          The one problem that I find with the Paris forum (and it has been mentioned here before by the OP and others) is the constant mentioning of the same places....I have tried to use the search engine in this forum to find reviews or comments on some restaurants and come up empty a majority of the time...while on TA there can be a couple of hundred reviews of that restaurant (that doesn't make it a valid choice; but does give me more options for information).

                          1. re: VegasGourmet

                            "The one problem that I find with the Paris forum (and it has been mentioned here before by the OP and others) is the constant mentioning of the same places...."
                            Hi. me JT am the OP and I think one thing that distinguishes some here is not posting the same old same old - Parnassien is encyclopedic, Pti goes outside the box and Soup gives us a hint of the high life, but I agree that the drumbeat about some places is too much.
                            John Talbott OP

                          2. re: ClaireLS

                            Totally agree about TA. I only use it for hotels and even those reviews are somewhat naive, sometimes I think the people reviewing places have never stayed in a hotel before.

                          3. Not entirely responsive to the OP, but thought I'd note that Le Fooding now has an iPhone app:


                            "The cool kids at Le Fooding, an indie organization known for throwing artsy-foodie events around the world, has launched an English-language version of its France travel app ($6). To wit: Le Fooding’s hard-copy guide has been around for 13 years, and just this year, says managing partner Anna Polonsky, it surpassed the Michelin guide’s sales in France. The digital version has been live for three years, but this is the first time it’s available in English. That means you can actually read and understand the 1,000 restaurant reviews—including 400 in Paris—and hotel write-ups."

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: non sequitur

                              Good to hear - I like their freshness and dare I say anti establishment slant...hopefully they are not losing this as they become more popular.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                If you're one of those who are so inclined: there's nothing more "Brooklyn" than Le Fooding. Not that this is a bad thing, or a thing that even makes any sort of sense contextually (or is even remotely accurate as someone who lives half their life in Brooklyn Heights). For young Americans (and hipsters) with money, Le Fooding is the go-to.

                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                    Sorry... Sarcasm re: other thread.

                                  2. re: yakionigiri

                                    Am none of above but it works for me. And I think for JT too. A source can be quite useful while in no way being the be-all.