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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 Lobrano....one 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, and...in some cases...emailing those reviewers for additional insight....is 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.

                              2. I rarely use Tripadvisor even when a visitor to cities that I don't know as well as Paris. On the few occasions when simple curiosity encourages me to have look at TA for Paris, I'm flabbergasted by the huge number of mediocre/ unremarkable restaurants that make it to the top rankings. I simply don't trust the reviews and suspect a little "mobbing" for many listings. Sometimes I google an unfamiliar resto that appears in TA's top tier and find that it's a 10-table restaurant with a huge menu of classic dishes.... not economically possible without a little help from Metro or some other industrial food purveyor.

                                I don't read English-language food blogs like Paris by Mouth or Hungry for Paris all that often because the coverage seems a little warped by the bandwagon effect and a rather narrow trail of already well known restaurants. But I have become a huge fan of John Talbott's far-ranging reviews and delight in his coverage of quartiers that other English-language reviewers often ignore ... since he is a lunch-only kind of guy, I do find that some of his lukewarm reviews of this or that resto are quite different to my own much-enjoyed dinner at the same place.

                                As a local, French-language sources are more used. I'm in the demographic that LeFooding targets and find that, once you eliminate all the "biocool" listings, it's an excellent guide to the new wave of French cooking. Its earnestness can be a bit irritating but that seems to be a common feature of the foodie culture. Yelp is totally useless in France. Cityvox is only useful for finding out hours and if a place has air-conditioning. I like Le Figaro/ Figaroscope a lot... I take the reviews with a pinch of salt but they are often a damn good read. The user reviews (in French) on LaFourchette.com are often quite helpful but require reading between the lines.... the rankings are, however, usually pretty reliable. A Nous Paris seems to have the biggest influence because every time Philippe Toinard reviews a place it's impossible to get a table for the next few weeks. But in the end, I rely more on word of mouth (in addition to family and friends, my local caviste is a goldmine of info and I find that, when visiting other places in France, I usually drop by a caviste to buy of bottle of something and to suss out what's good in the area) and my own instincts. Many of my meals during the week are kinda last-minute, unplanned, and largely determined by what quartier I happen to be in and by the preferences of friends I happen to be with... I have no problems in playing restaurant roulette (but never at weekends) as long as I can see the food and the clientele before I make my choice. Every good restaurant in Paris has a certain vibe... it's just a matter of fine-tuning your radar to recognize it. I must add that, except for celebratory meals or expense-account entertaining, a restaurant is rarely a destination in itself and must easily slide into my other activities (culture-vulturing, hanging out with friends, neighbourhood explorations, etc) and this is very different from the usual tourist pattern.

                                I wish I knew Japanese because whatever source that Japanese foodies use seems to be better than anyone else's.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Parnassien

                                  You forgot the TimeOut Paris online section. It has improved a lot during the last year, after a period of lethargy. Still not perfect but promising.

                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                    Oups... I did forget Time Out... and like it a lot.

                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                      I'll have to go look, ever since I stopped working for them I found the website not helpful; maybe there's new blood.

                                  2. re: Parnassien

                                    To explain briefly: Paris is a frequent destination for young Japanese (rather than the elderly), and holds a certain mystique. That being said, French food in Tokyo is often as good (or better) than in France, and there are plenty of French-trained Japanese chefs who give their opinions/recommendations to blogs/food columns/etc. You wouldn't necessarily be surprised to find a Japanese cooking in a Parisian kitchen, would you?

                                    For a country that publishes guidebooks on specific dishes (eg: ramen, udon, etc.), and has an incredibly lively food review community (go drool over the photos on 食べログ), it only makes sense that they're eating good food while triangulating exact locations for the "perfect" photograph of every Parisian (or any city) landmark.

                                  3. Le Fooding and Figaroscope have put us in very good stead. Their descriptions have by and large been accurate and they tend to highlight the kinds of places we are looking for.

                                    1. Sometimes the writing annoys me, but I like the reviews in A nous Paris.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: vielleanglaise

                                        What in the writing is more annoying than Simon's trying to be a sage and Rubin's trying to out-do him?

                                        1. re: John Talbott

                                          I'm not sure how much he knows about food, but I think Stephane Simon writes, or can write well. He has made me laugh. I can remember similes and metaphors and analogies he has used. I don't have an opinion about Emmanuel Rubin's style.

                                          There is no discernible style in the A Nous Paris reviews - apart from the use of clichés - but I find them informative and useful.

                                          1. re: John Talbott

                                            Cute is awfully difficult to pull off and terribly annoying when one is reading for information.

                                        2. A great question. I read TA reviews for one thing: to see how American tourists--including clueless and possibly obnoxious ones--are handled by the staff. As we always bring our kids, which inherently makes us more of an irritant to some, I veer clear from any place that doesn't have a fairly significant band of tolerance to, well, all sorts of things.

                                          In terms of food it is pretty useless. I will read reviews of diners who clearly have done their research and can compare one well regarded spot to another.

                                          1. clearly there are a number of people gaming the reviews on both TA and Yelp, and a lot of people with no knowledge of the good they are eating (particularly at specialized or ethnic places). on CH, you'll find someone writing about food from their home country, so authenticity is much more reliable. One thing TA is good for: their mobile app makes it amazingly easy to find someplace close. 90% of CH reviews don't show an address, even a quartier or a metro, which makes them fairly useless for visitors. Yes, I know how to look things up, but you-all could make it a lot easier.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: markseiden

                                              "Yes, I know how to look things up, but you-all could make it a lot easier."
                                              We do our part. Do yours. Look things up.

                                              1. re: markseiden

                                                On my phone, I use the TA Paris app with basically every decent place from Chowhound in the city marked. Also, it saves my places so I can sign in on anybody's phone that has the app and pull up all my saved places. It's integrated with the GPS on the phone which I don't need for Paris, but found the GPS integration indispensable for the Rome, Barcelona and Singapore TA apps where I did the same.

                                                I must have 200 places in Paris marked from the discussions of the hounds. I even mark new places on the map when they aren't yet in the app.

                                                1. re: Busk

                                                  "I must have 200 places in Paris marked from the discussions of the hounds."

                                                  That's funny. I don't have a dozen on my list of places I want to return to or try.

                                                2. re: markseiden

                                                  It is even worse when along with no address, there is a serious misspelling or worse mishearing of a name. I see that a lot on the Québec board, from visitors who don't speak French.

                                                3. I don't use TA for the restaurant reviews.. except maybe to see where to avoid. Meaning: if tourists have it on their top list, even as another tourist, I just don't want to go because I will be surrounded. (Unless it is highly, highly recommended by CH.)
                                                  Or (no offense to children) if it seems quite common for families, then I also want to avoid it.

                                                  I trust CH more. Plus JT's website, Parisbymouth, and Lebovitz's website. Talbott, I actually was reading your reviews/blog long before I realized you were on CH. Good show!

                                                  15 Replies
                                                  1. re: GraceW

                                                    So agree about using TA to avoid children - i would actively seek out places that got bad marks for child friendly. I especially select hotels that have no kids facilities...!

                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                      Whereas (hilariously enough) kids are not only accepted but treated with great regard and the utmost respect at any number of restaurants in France not noted as being child-friendly. Most restaurants bend over backwards to accommodate kids, and are shocked when the kids don't want a steak haché. The most battle-hardened of waitstaff turn into baby otters.

                                                      Not only that but there are a lot of well-behaved kids who are adventurous eaters.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        I'd rather seek out restaurants that discriminate against restaurant-hostile parents, who are behind every up-acting child.

                                                        1. re: Parigi

                                                          There should be a little symbol for that on the guides.

                                                          I think the different in France is that parents don't take kids to restaurants until they are ready to eat in a restaurant and/or are socialised enough to behave - dare I say some community standards. In other countries the self cantered attitude seems to be that having a child should not have any impact on the right to a social life of the parents.

                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                            In France, no (if any) restaurant will treat a well-behaved kid poorly.

                                                            In North America, there are restaurants who will refuse kids or at least make you feel awkward for bringing one (regardless of the fact that your child is more well-behaved than their normal patrons).

                                                            1. re: yakionigiri

                                                              I understand all this and agree. I like the French attitude that treats children well and engages them. I like the way kids are welcomed. But the thing I like most is the reciprocal nature of the arrangement where the parents understand the quid-pro-qou, that kids are welcome because parents socialise them to restaurants and expect good behaviour.

                                                              Sadly in many countries the kids run wild and parents don't appear to care. They are in their "its all about me" bubble. Hence my comment of avoiding "kid friendly" restaurants across the world as promoting kid friendly seems to encourage the laissez-fair style of parenting (and hotels are even worse - a breakfast buffet after its been besieged by unsupervised kids is not a pleasant sight).

                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                Of course. "Kid friendly" doesn't mean kid friendly. It means McDonald's playroom.

                                                          2. re: Parigi

                                                            Plenty of restaurants will charge their "kid menu" prices for mains that they simply resized, most often without even asking. Or give your kid something other than fries. Just like the places that don't serve ice cream except as a side to other desserts but will fill an entire bowl for a kid for a couple euros.

                                                            A good example from a place often cited on this board: took my (not-yet-in-school) kid to Le BAT. Not a whelp in sight (other than my own), but the staff was excellent (as was the food), and even engaged her in dialogue about the food they were making. Whether or not the child remembers, it's a foundational experience. Even places with no menu (p.ex. Pierre Sang) have always been wonderful.

                                                            Dumbing things down and ignoring them, or, worse yet, making the experience a circus isn't helping anyone... There are plenty of kids who can sit in a chair and quietly converse while enjoying the food they're eating.

                                                            You know where I'd never eat (or stay)? Somewhere that actively discouraged the participation of children.

                                                            1. re: yakionigiri

                                                              I am appalled at the offerings on so-called kid menus. Why not offer something the child can use as a stepping stone to fine food appreciation? I remember sitting in a Basque restaurant at home with our then 4 year old. He balked at tasting sweetbreads, but after finally taking a small bite responded, "Why didn't you tell me it was chicken. I like chicken." And off to the races...

                                                              1. re: mangeur

                                                                Steak haché (frozen)
                                                                Chicken nuggets (worse than McDonald's)
                                                                Maybe frozen fish stick-esque things
                                                                (all of the above served with fries)

                                                                That's why I don't order off the kid menu. I ask if it's possible to have a smaller portion of a regular menu item. Sometimes they even offer different things (usually a steak or roast chicken). I'd prefer a roast chicken and vegetables than fried mechanically separated meat (as does the kid).

                                                                A large majority of the time they charge the kid menu price for whatever was ordered, even if it wasn't from the kid menu, and if there is no kid menu they often reduce the cost of the plate. Often, they'll serve a reduced-price plate that is the exact same quantity of food as the normal plate (which no child could ever eat). I specify a smaller portion not to save money, but to avoid wasting food.

                                                                Some restaurants will offer shorter tastings for kids even if it's not on the menu (and even at a reduced price). Then again, I also mention it when I reserve. I've never asked for a reduced menu or price. I'd rather eat a second portion where applicable. This was the restaurant's MO, all in the goal of pleasing a child who won't even remember the experience.

                                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                                  I agree with you there...while it's much appreciated that plates offer a saucisse and pâtes or jamon blanc and pâtes, there's absolutely nothing interesting about them.

                                                                  Kids get bored of the same old boring stuff, especially on holidays, when you're eating more meals in restaurants than usual.

                                                                    1. re: yakionigiri

                                                                      that was kind of the point of the rest of the discussion, had you read it before you snarked off.

                                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                                    A dialogue remembered from an old Georges Duhamel novel:

                                                                    "Eat your meat.
                                                                    - I don't like it.
                                                                    - It's veal.
                                                                    - I don't like veal.
                                                                    - But it's good veal.
                                                                    - I don't like good veal."

                                                                    (minutes later)

                                                                    "Eat your food!
                                                                    - I don't like good veal.
                                                                    - This is not veal, it's dog."

                                                                    (plate emptied in seconds)

                                                            2. One of the biggest problems with aggregate sites is that many people negatively rate based on one bad experience. I have this problem with my business personally. We are super busy and have too many customers to even handle, but the only people who rate us are the ones who seem to rate us are the ones who have had a bad experience. I think it is less so for a restaurant vs grocery (my business) but I think it is still a problem that should be addressed somehow (possibly by having a food only rating like Zagat has)

                                                              There are also many fake reviews on TripAdvisor/Yelp. You can usually tell if the reviews seem odd and one sided; the fake posters also usually have very few reviews of other restaurants. If most people who rated a restaurant have very few reviews, then you should be wary of that restaurant.

                                                              I agree that this is a problem, but when you have a large enough sample, then these negative reviews affect the restaurant rating less noticeably. If a restaurant is consistently having bad reviews about service then there is a problem with the restaurant management.

                                                              I really think it is not about trusting a single source, but about finding all the information you can about a restaurant and making an informed decision. You can look at rating, negative reviews, positive reviews and also cross reference. If a restaurant is highly rated on one site but low rated on other sites then this raises a red flag.

                                                              I like how Zagat has a food rating scale which removes that "bad service" element in the restaurant ratings (they also rate decor and service separately). Cons: they currently don't have enough listed restaurants and their rating sample size is usually not too large.

                                                              If you trust just one source then you are depending on that source to not lead you awry. Increase your sample size and you can reduce your chances of error.

                                                              breakdown of lists/sites:

                                                              CH has the best and most knowledgeable foodies but the sample size is much smaller and the number of restaurants discussed are much fewer in number. It also takes some effort to look through to find different reviews of single restaurants that you are researching.

                                                              TA has the most number of listings and the most ratings but least knowledgeable users.

                                                              Yelp has more knowledgeable users than TA but they are very hipster oriented.

                                                              Zagat is great but doesn't list enough places.

                                                              Michelin is good if you want Michelin style restaurants. Technical, clean, high quality ingredients in a semi-formal to formal setting with typically exceptional service.

                                                              San Pellegrino Top 100 if you want to eat modernist food. I follow this list but I am not too fond of it as it leaves out too many good restaurants and lists many restaurants which possibly should not be on the list.

                                                              I also agree that one of the problems with all restaurant information is that it gets cycled and that the well reviewed restaurants do get more and more attention. From blogs to newspapers to CH to TA to Yelp, the same few places appear everywhere. I have seen this happen many places, where a few restaurants are mentioned too often, and many others have no mentions at all and it is sometimes even difficult to find information on them.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: quddous

                                                                What oft was thought, but ne'er said so well.


                                                                1. re: quddous

                                                                  Chow France is a small sample but it tends to represent diners with diverse tastes and extensive cumulative experience. What is often ignored is the lack of dining experience by many of those who post on Yelp, Zagat and TA. At a minimum, we have no way of determining the tastes and dining history behind any given review except for the caliber of the observations.

                                                                2. I find the photos on Tripadvisor quite useful, at least for forming an idea about a restaurant's style and aspirations, particularly if stranded w/o reliable recommendations outside major cities.

                                                                  I usually skip the text though, English, French or otherwise ... I find French reviewers just as prone to pet biases as others.

                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                  1. re: shakti2

                                                                    I agree with you that the photos can be helpful. I sometimes like to "check" the photos from TA with the restaurant's Facebook page (if they have one, or gallery on their website) to see if there is a difference between the actual and the ideal.

                                                                    1. re: shakti2

                                                                      "I find the photos on Tripadvisor quite useful,"
                                                                      But as someone upthread or elsewhere has noted, photos of bad food look just as appealing as those of great dishes.
                                                                      I certainly plead guilty.

                                                                      1. re: John Talbott

                                                                        No need. I think that photos accompanied with good description are quite useful. A long slideshow of uncaptioned photos is virtually useless since one can't tell what the protein is, the seasonings of a sauce. They do show style and portion size if nothing else.

                                                                        1. re: John Talbott

                                                                          I said that.
                                                                          Photos are a memory-jolter. They do not contribute any info for others.

                                                                          1. re: John Talbott

                                                                            'Photos of bad food look just as appealing as those of great dishes'

                                                                            But this isn't what the info I look for in a stranger's random pics. I'm trying to figure out - modern or trad ? Hearty or artful portions ? Does someone think about plating or garnishes ? Are they putting out the same unimaginative blob of spuds with every plat or do they care enough to use veggies in season ? Captions not needed (since I'm already skipping the main body of the text).

                                                                            1. re: shakti2

                                                                              modern or trad ? Hearty or artful portions ? Does someone think about plating or garnishes ? Are they putting out the same unimaginative blob of spuds with every plat or do they care enough to use veggies in season ? Bad food welcome.

                                                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                                                I've also had plenty of wonderful meals in little holes-in-the-wall (across France) that were plated without a shred of imagination, but that I'm happy I didn't a) judge based on appearance alone, and b) miss!

                                                                                most social-media photos of food manage to reduce everything to the same greyish plate full of badly-lit blobs, anyway, so I ignore all of it.

                                                                              2. re: shakti2

                                                                                You hit on a good point. You can tell a lot about the techniques and care used at a restaurant even by looking at badly taken photos.

                                                                                I skim through photos often also to look for the style and execution of the food.

                                                                              3. re: John Talbott

                                                                                3 morsels of artfully-cooked fish with imaginative garnishes aren't better than a great tripe sausage whose sole adornment is a mustard jar, but there are times when I want one and not the other. Pictures help answer which a restaurant is more likely to provide.

                                                                                The question of good or bad food needs either a careful examination of ideas and methods in the kitchen and its suppliers, or else a tasting. And in the case of bad food, the only reliable method I know of avoiding it is to eat at home, or at my mother's.

                                                                                PS to Dr. T : big fan of your style of picture-taking, don't ever stop please :)

                                                                                1. re: shakti2

                                                                                  shakti: be so kind as to email me more specifically what about them you like. Thanks John

                                                                                  1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                    Done, hopefully to the right address @psych.umaryland.edu

                                                                                    Please post another if not.

                                                                            2. I always approach ratings on big sites (yelp, TA, etc) with this assumption:

                                                                              Reviews are written in the throes of passion, whether good or bad.

                                                                              Either things have gone straight to hell (even if only in the reviewer's mind) and they are doing a service to all of humanity by publicly exposing these charlatans for such horrible price/service, or

                                                                              The heavens have parted, the light shone down, and the angels sang, and the reviewer is doing humanity a service by sharing this little section of nirvana with the world.

                                                                              Not many people write a review saying that they made a reservation, showed up, the food was good, the price was fair, and we went home.

                                                                              If the place has hundreds and hundreds of reviews, it might give a slightly better estimate of what to expect, but I figure reviews are pretty much just opinions.

                                                                              1. I am a fan of www.flyertalk.com
                                                                                Lots of good info in the France Forum and good stuff, as well in other fora, e.g. luxury hotels, airlines, etc.
                                                                                Mods are quick to catch spam. I think it's a great website for travelers

                                                                                1. I just remembered a really good tool I have been using lately.

                                                                                  It is Google blog search - if you are looking for pictures or reviews of a particular restaurant then it really helps.