Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for the 'Reviews' Category
Restaurant reviewing enthralls me; I envision feasting night after night on tantalizing comestibles, paid with someone else’s dime, at tony bistros tucked into quaint pockets of the city. Most likely the reality, while certainly not mundane, is far less glamorous. (And call me shallow, I’m sure I would quickly tire of the inevitable weight gain).
Reviewing is a tricky business; your goal is to help the general public decide if they’ll enjoy the experience, but you’re also dealing with someone’s livelihood. Good reviews can catapult a restaurant into the “hot spot” realm, while a bad review can signal its demise. I ask myself, do I want that responsibility?
Restaurant reviews have proliferated thanks to blogging, yet the medium introduces another point of contention — is the review fair and balanced? While traditional reviewers will visit a restaurant a minimum of two times before writing it up (and will never review it within the first few weeks of opening, unless it’s for a “first looks” write-up), many bloggers base their opinions on merely one visit (I’m guilty). Not only is this practice unfair to the establishment, it’s a disservice to the readers.
Ethics aside, the craft of restaurant reviewing is much harder than it appears. Describing the halibut as “delicious” offers little insight; you want your reader to feel they were dining with you. Better to say, “the halibut — marinated in a zesty soy-chile marinade and flash-seared on the grill — was a perfect balance of crispy, golden brown exterior and melt-in-your-mouth interior.” (Although I’m sure an editor would call out “melt-in-your mouth” as cliché).
You need to be an expert at noticing the details. What’s the atmosphere like? Was the waitstaff attentive? Is parking accessible? Are children welcomed or shunned? Are prices in line with the value? Now imagine encapsulating this into a 300-word review. Believe me, it ain’t easy. (Of course, if you’re writing for your own blog, you have much more leeway).
Now that I’m a personal chef I’ve become much more generous with tips. While I used to consider 15% a good tip, 20% is now the norm for good service; 25-30% for stellar. But I’m a bit stumped when it comes to dealing with poor service. The hospitality business is tough work, so I’m hesitant to totally stiff someone. But does leaving even a measly tip reward bad behavior? Is it better to leave nothing at all? My darling and I debated this issue on Saturday during an unfortunate restaurant experience.
We were scheduled for an 11 1/2 mile run, which meant we would treat ourselves to burgers & beer afterwards (they’re an incredible motivator, especially as we near mile eight). We discussed several options, and settled on a pub that not only has great food and drinks, but also a relaxed and comfy ambiance (VERY important for our soon-to-be weary muscles). It’s one we frequent fairly often (as well as others in the pub’s chain), so we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed.
A couple of my foodie friends (S and K) and I have vowed to get together every other month to check out the local restaurant scene. We aim for places none of us has gone to before; rarely an issue for me, but as they’re more inclined to dine out, it may take several suggestions before we settle on one.
Last week I rattled off several names to K, only to be shot down each time (“Been there. Yep, been there too. Went there last week.” etc.). Finally I came up with Veil; although she’s gone there as well, it was only for drinks, and S had yet to try it. Success! An added bonus: it was geographically desirable for all of us; very important given Seattle was just coming out of the throes of an ice storm.
K and I carpooled and found S in the lounge chatting with the chef and the bartender. The place was deserted — most likely due to the weather — so they wanted to make sure S was comfortable. Quite a nice touch, I thought.
As I mentioned in my “I resolve” post, one of my goals for 2007 is to try out more local restaurants (which I will review in my blog). However, I believe a review will do you no good unless you know what makes me tick. What are my tastes? Where are my frequent haunts? By what criteria do I judge a fabulous vs. lousy restaurant experience? Know that and you can decide if my review is valuable to you.
Thing is, we rarely go out to eat, and when we do it tends to be to our tried-n-true neighborhood joints. My darling and I really are homebodies, so the thought of having to dress up and drive any farther than a couple of miles seems daunting (many places we frequent are within walking or stumbling distance). Plus there’s the cost; for my darling, $30 is a reasonable night, $50 is getting into spendy territory, and $100 is downright splurging (and that’s total — not per person — including drinks!). I’m less frugal, but if I’m shelling out more than $30 per person (not including drinks), then I expect the meal to be memorable. Because of this frugality, although I may recommend a more expensive restaurant to friends or visitors, it’s unlikely I’d frequent it again any time soon. With so many choices in Seattle, I’d rather try something different when I’m in the mood for a splurge.