Let me begin by saying that this is my first expereicne using the quote function, so I apologize in advance if it didn't turn out the way i had hoped.
The other thing that motivates readers to demand anonymity etc. is that they want to insure that the reviewer ate the same meal they were going to be served. Diners are always suspect that they are being "ripped off" and served the sludge while good old Patricia was served the good stuff.
There is another aspect to this issue that is lurking beneath the surface, which is the fact that people want a review to be representative of the average meal served at a place. Personally I can never understand this sentiment. I want a review to showcase a place AT IT'S BEST. And that is because when I go to a place, I want to know how to get them to perform for me AT THEIR MAXIMUM LEVEL. Why would anyone want the average experience if they can acquire the knowledge of how to get the best experience? :confused: Yet. that's what people seem to be fighting for.
I am one of those diner who demands anonymity from critics. I don't have the wherewithal to ever become a "friend of the restaurant," or a regular. But, I have a great fondness for and a deep interest in fine dining.
It is an incontrevertible fact that not only critics but also friends of the restaurant and 'regulars' receive better treatment in terms of service, and often certain items that not on the menu. I don't think that it is a difficult or far-fetched assumption that these are the areas where the kitchen really shines, or else that the ingredients used are particularly interesting/unusual.
Moreover, one of the problems all restaurants face is consistency. The many boards and threads of egullet testify to the fact that restaurants offer divergent experiences on different days. I demand anonymity on the part of the critc so that I may understand the range of a particular restaurant's consistency. That is, how low can the experience get for the average diner in terms of food and service, but also, what is the best that an average diner can expect.
take the case of Arpege. Mr. Plotnicki wrote an extremeley articulate and impassioned review of a meal he consumed with a regular there. His dishes sound excellent and perfectly prepared, hence his wonderful review. The experiences of many, including the fat guy, and regrettably myself seem like they occured at an entirely different restaurant. The food I ate at Arpege did not seem carefully prepared, the service was surly, and in the case of a couple of dishes, i was convinced the ingredients were less than first rate. Of these three criticisms, I believe that a critic would have the opportunity to speak only to the third--maybe. I would not be surprised if a non-anonymous critic had a dish with less than first rate ingredients substiuted for a different, better one. Some of this behaviour cannot be avoided, but I still want the critic to comment on the experience as I am likely to find it, not the experience the restaurant is capable of.
What I'm trying to say is that it doens't particularly matter to me what culinary heights Dider Elena and Alain Ducasse can take Mr. Grimes to in the chef's dining room. If they can provide Mr. Grimes the greatst meal of his life back there great. What I'm interested in as a connsumer of reviews is what kind of experience they are likely to provide ME. As an ancilliary point (and I think egullet, rather than a review is an excellent source of this info) is what can I do to ensure I have the best possible experience at a given restaurant.
Mr. Plotnicki's confusion confuses me. He states that he "wants to know how to get them [the restaurant] to perfom for me AT THEIR MAXIMUM LEVEL." However, it has been my distinct impression that no restaurant has performed for me at its maximum level. Many times, I have been satisfied, witht he level the restaurant performs at. In some cases, notably at Troisgros, I've been impressed at the level of the restaurant's performance. However, at no time has a restaurant ever produced a meal that I believe reflects its maximum level. Thus, I am not particularly interested in what that level is. I am interested in the level I am likely to expereince, and for that reason, to help me decide how to allocate my limiting dinning resources, I would like critics to focus on this level as well. Moreover, I don't know of many critics, aside from the fat guy, who devote any amount of their columns to addressing the question of how to get the restaurant to perfom at its maximum level
Take the example of Le Cirque. Ruth Reichel demoted the place because she felt such a disparity in the treatment of special guests and the rest of the diners. WHen such information is ignored in a review, and i go to a restaurant in ignorance of said information, I feel that I have been done a disservice.
As to the question of feeling like I'm being served "sludge," while other diners were served the good stuff, I've often felt acutley aware of this. Recently, at Arpege, the table next to us received about three additional courses that were not on the menu. One of the dishes they ordered was the same as mine, and I noticed that it had been garnished more extensively. Being an American in France, I expected that locals may well receive special treatment. I am not sure that there is anything particularly wrong with this. However, what irked me was that my meal reached an unacceptably low level.
Mr. Plotnicki's solution is essentially "vote with your feet;" if you disagree with a review, simply stop trusting the reviewer. I think this puts too great an affirmative obligation on me, while not demanding enough of the reviewer. The reason I turn to reviews in the first place is that I cannot afford to try every establishment or bottle 3-4 times and reach my own conclusions. So, I have to trust the reviewer to steer me to a location that in his/her objective judgement will produce an excellent expereince for ME. Moreover, in many cases, there is such a paucity of intelligent, knowledgeble that one's options really boil down to biased reviewers, or none at all. neither option is particularly attractive. thus, I believe reviewers should change their style.
Let me add that I don't believe my expectations to be unreasonable, or demand a close relationship with the chef. As far as I know, most reviewers visit a restaurant more than once, usually three to four times. I always assumed that this number is sufficient. I agree with Mebutter's assertion that any necesarry research can be done without meeting a chef.
I'm sure that there many levels people can disagree with me, but i believie my position is sound and defensible. I concede that there is no such thing as complete objectivity in any beat of journalism. That does not mean, however, that reviewers should have complete liscence to ignore the experience that an average diner is likely to have. The fact that a reviewer may be recognized does not mean that anonymity is impossible, or indeed undesirable. Nor do i believe disclosure is the antidote to any review, though I certainly prefer that disclosure be made as applicable. In short, I agree witht he proposition that there are compromised food critics, and I would like to see standards of professional ethics imposed on them.