Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Dining Guide musings

Mike Boyle called a couple of days ago and accused me and my dining team partners of being food snobs.

Mike is the guy with the Lunch Bunch. He has restaurant shows on Comcast and on KVOR. To him, the dining experience is much more about a combination of factors, with the ambiance counting for sometimes as much or more than the food.

For instance, he'd have put the Stagecoach, SouthSide Johnny's and Jose Muldoon's in the guide ... even if the food's not stellar. It's about the experience. You sit and drink margaritas at Jose's in a booth by the fire place, eat some nachos.. and they're fine.

He has a point. We are food snobs. Sure, I appreciate nice atmosphere. The Summit. Plate World Cuisine. The Famous. You feel like you're in big city restaurants. But I also appreciate the hole in the wall. Barney's comes to mind. I don't care that it's a dive. That fried chicken is fried manna from heaven.

Mike says you can't take a date to Barney's. I disagree. If you take a date to Barney's and she doesn't walk out, you know your date has character.

What do you think?


Anonymous CrazyLittle1 said...

While I often get annoyed by the writing style of Nathaniel, I would prefer your assessments of places to go, over Boyle's opinions anyday.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Warren Epstein said...

Don't like Nate's writing style? Any specifics about what he does that annoys you?

9:36 AM  
Anonymous CrazyLittle1 said...

Sure, backhanded compliments are a constant. Statements about ingredients, without verifying facts. Knocking things without clarity, or offering solutions. Critics can be constructive, even when they don't like something. Just piling up some of the comments in different articles, seems like he enjoys making smart cracks, versus giving a constructive review. However, there are a few articles that do read well. While the chefs and owners are in fierce competition with each other, when they read some of his reviews they do have each other's backs and do take offense to how some of the articles have been written. All the points that I have read, that make some owners and chefs angry, could be made in a constructive way. Nobody likes everything on anyone's menu. Even if you try several times, the owners and chefs accept that, it is the style of writing that has made several locals kind of angry. It seems designed to create apathy, when local owners should be constantly stepping up and supporting each other, and the local critics should be a part of that, and creating a tighter community, not driving diners to the cheaper corporate locations, because they have read a poorly written article. Examples can be found throughout many of the articles this year.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Warren Epstein said...

Thanks for the input. I've worked with five dining critics here -- more if you count the early days when we had a Dining Team to tag-team our main reviews. (Not a good idea.)

Each has had his or her strengths and weaknesses.

The tough balance has always been finding somebody who knows a bit about food (or is willing to learn) and can present their experiences in a fun way for readers.

Those who work at restaurants want the reviews to be more insider and instructive. Those who are committed to their customers are looking, it seems, for reviews that can teach them something.

I appreciate that wanting-to-grow spirit. I also see it in local actors and actresses, who want theater reviews to tell them what they did well and what they need to work on.

I have heard from some chefs and owners that they learned something from our reviews, and I think that's great.

But, really, our reviews are written for readers as a consumer service. To them, it's more important to know that the duck was fatty than it would be to know that if the chef cooked it longer on lower heat, he or she could have burned much of that fat off.

Still, sometimes, it's possible to satisfy both sides -- readers and restaurants.

You make some good points about Nate's smart cracks. There's a fine line sometimes between clever criticism and cheap shot, and if I've let Nate cross it, I apologize.

I think Nate is a good critic. He's penned some of the better-written reviews our paper has run. I also appreciate that he's constantly learning and eager to get better.

I believe that within a year or two, he'll be among the best critics in the country. I really do.

If you're interested in seeing another interesting approach to restaurant criticism, check out Jason Sheehan at Denver's alternative weekly, Westword.

Jason has some major writing problems. He takes forever to get to the point. He tends to ramble and get lost on odd tangents. His reviews are about twice as long as they should be. But he's a chef and knows the ins and outs of food like nobody's business, and he's so darned clever and insightful I have to read every word he writes.

I get the sense from his attitude, he'd be a pain in the butt to edit, but I have to admit that he has things to teach me about food criticism.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous CrazyLittle1 said...

Thanks for the response. I worked with a "Food Critic" in Denver, I doubt it's the same person...as this one was extremely overweight and breathed like a phone predator when walking behind you....he invited me to go with him, I declined after several stories of how they (workers in restaurants) always put the extra mayonaise on the bun wrong, sneezed and didn't wash their hands, and how fun it was to write a scathing report, etc....I looked at him and asked why he wasn't a toothpick, but I guess "Critic" is subjective as well. I'll admit I have the worst luck in this town...they forget my food, spill it on me, serve something totally different, etc...but, I could still approach a printed article in a more positive light. Hopefully time will wear away the sharp edges of writing and substance will prevail.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Neil said...

I know I'm a liitle late getting in on this, but listening to Mike's show, he mainly talks about restaurants that have given him money. As for his dining guide, if you have given him money in the past -your in. It does not matter whether the restaurants have good food. Case in point-The Waffle House. Look up their health department inspections!!

6:51 PM  
Anonymous CrazyLittle1 said...

Neil, you also forgot to add, that he says me, my, I, mine over and over in every episode.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous neil said...

and how many times does he have to let us know that he has owned a restaurant and that he knows more about running a restaurant than everyone else.

6:35 PM  

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