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MaxH

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  1. MaxH

    Meatballs

    IMO, it even READS pretty! :-)
  2. Why so? Same situation. Rare ingredients can make a big difference in food. When restaurants began following the lead of cynical truffle packagers a few years ago and passing off cheap unflavorful minor Tuber species as "black truffles" (very obvious if you know truffles, since they look different inside) -- in my experience it included some surprising restaurants, with chefs of taste and, in other areas, principles -- I found no difficulty calling them on it just as you describe for cigars. Their response has been embarassment and apology. It is possible that this reminds those kitchens that some customers notice, and that the restaurant's reputation is therefore at issue, and if so it might even do some good.
  3. I agree, and certainly some of us are talking about it. To clarify what I posted earlier, in citing the naming history of North American wines and cheeses, my point was that some copy-cat food-product names had less cynical motives, they were a pragmatic choice among alternatives that all have serious drawbacks. I know little about the beef industry though, nor if any such extenuation can be argued in the cases cited in this thread.
  4. Thanks for the comments, Bill. As you may know if you have spent some time reading this particular eGullet forum, the subject of online restaurant ratings and commentaries has long history here, including a recent detailed discussion of strengths and weaknesses. As a user of such sites I remain curious about how, specifically, you differentiate yours from others, very well established, that invite restaurant listings and ratings. For example the metropolitan US Restaurant Guides sites (middle-late 1990s), Chowhound (since late 1990s), and Yelp (since 2006) all also fit the description quoted above, with some degree of social-network features as well. [Edited to empahasize link.]
  5. Note, I'm not inquiring about this site's evident one or two attempts to post on eG -- what I saw was a not very informative invitation saying little at all about the site, its concept, who is behind it, etc. But as an avid follower of restaurant commentary sites online (and their history), before looking into this one further, I wonder if any eG regular or other third party knows more (like the points I mentioned, since the poster from "ahha box" did not evidently offer such basic info). Quick Google check discloses pitches posted in various US food-related fora online; also one automated report mentioning that the domain name itself became vacant less than a month ago (which may be irrelevant). For now I'm assuming it's a legitimate restaurant-info site, though when anyone enters such a long-standing and crowded field, it is very natural to explain yourself further, what differentiates your approach, etc.
  6. A huge point, with vast history in the US of course. Rotuts cited the excellent example of Black Angus, now euphemizing half the beef in US supermarkets. US (and not just US!) use of "genre" labels for wines and cheeses has long history. In fairness, it has also long been controversial in the US wine industry; Schoonmaker and Marvel's US wines book lambasted the practice 70 years ago. It's also helpful to understand a less cynical motivation, at least in wines and cheeses; the wine book I mentioned dwells on this. New-world industries struggle with utter lack of the kind of recognized product appellations common where such products have been made for centuries. Thus the main US high-end cookbook of 60 years ago proclaims merits of Oka and Poona, two North American cheeses I've rarely seen -- yet "Canadian Cheddar" is a self-explanatory homage. The US wine industry, as in other new wine regions, grappled seriously with labeling. New regional appellations would take time to establish; grape variety was an imperfect but at least honest compromise labeling; and the opportunistic called their jug wines "Burgundy" or "Rhine wine" and misinformed millions about those terms.
  7. Emily makes an excellent point, though I wouldn't be surprised if Steven's opening premise here is accurate too. I was reflecting on different kinds of traditional "food writers." There have been, and never very many, serious reference food writers (Alan Davidson, Mariani, Harold McGee), and food historians or essayists (including authors of all those o-the-times critiques of the US food scene around the 1970s, possibly its gastronomic low point indeed). But I gather our focus is periodical writers. Not so long ago, the prominent ones (like the authors of other food works I just mentioned) seemed mostly career journalists of long general writing experience, not just about food. Mimi Sheraton said that she'd been a staff writer at NYT for years before rotating into restaurant writing (from gardening or some other such department). Obviously, the changing economics of newspapers damps all of that. The volume of travel-leisure articles about food in destination cities seems to be undiminished in inflight, travel, auto-club, lifestyle, and general magazines. These articles often tap writers with some history and name recognition.
  8. MaxH

    Are bloggers journalists?

    In the current thread on aggregated online reviews, I mentioned bumping into variations of that. Some of my experience (clarified by quizzing restaurateurs) is of prominent restaurants accustomed to buttering up shoppers (less actually journalists, from what I learned, than researchers for guide books, the regional tourist board or even Chamber of Commerce literature). But also, in late years restaurateurs have increasingly vented about bloggers greedy to cash in on their influence (even if just self-perceived) by lining up shamelessly at this trough. When, as often true, the blogger is unknown to an even Internet-savvy restaurateur, it really stands out. That behavior undermines both ethical and journalistic ambitions of bloggers generally.
  9. MaxH

    Internet Reviews/Ratings

    SJMitch, I gather that you, like me, take time to study Yelp comments and try to sort wheat from chaff. I also don't know what fraction of busy readers actually do that, desirable though it may indeed make them as customers. I find it challenging to sort out quality comments from the hundreds posted per restaurant when I'm exploring new territory -- how many people actually do that? And I also notice the type of petty or sleazy attacks that Edward J mentioned, pure smear with no concrete information; they impair the site's utility to me as a customer too. I too notice that "the new [restaurants] now always seem to follow Yelp with a bit too much interest." I've heard from owners anxious over their numerical ratings, claiming that customers cite Yelp for the referral, or that the numerical ratings affect their business. Owner complaints like Edward's about pushy advertising sales have been commonplace. And "gaming" takes many forms: I've noticed someone, I don't know who, waging a protracted oblique smear campaign against one restaurant -- it could be anyone. There's specific history locally both of employees instructed to smear competitors via Yelp, and of both problem employees and problem customers waging Yelp vendettas. This particular gaming is unmistakeable, and clever enough to point to no specific source. I may discuss it with the restaurant.
  10. MaxH

    Are bloggers journalists?

    In my experience FWIW, it's exactly the real journalists who know enough about things like libel principles and evidence standards that they do not get into jams like this in the first place. Fundamentally or not, I think many people can tell the difference. Again I wonder about overfine distinctions in discussions such as ("but not limited to!") this one and the one about "real" chefs -- a preoccupation with trees that obscures the forest. People have always eagerly labeled themselves things like "artist" or "writer" from precisely the one viewpoint least capable of objectivity and detachment about it. Anyone can call themselves something, but if the label is meaningful, it's by consensus of peers, customers, etc., not the self-styler. Strunk or White once said a statement doesn't become funny just by being labeled so; I think that's the same principle.
  11. MaxH

    Are bloggers journalists?

    Whatever hair-splitting arguments people may enjoy, there's also a long commonsense understanding of "journalism" as associated with things like "journals." I think that understanding may be more to the point than formalities of definition. Though like most folks I like to put words out on the Internet, the self-selected self-edited self-accountable -- one could almost summarize a little harshly as self-absorbed -- nature of online comments has always struck me as more conceptually like tract printing or vanity book publication: the public offering up of ideas without the accoutrements of an established organization, oversight, demand, or even reputation. I remember (25 yrs ago) the first time I saw someone post a piece of criticism on the Internet (a book critique) and not title it comments, or report or opinion, but rather a "review." That stood out: At the time, to people attentive to language nuances anyway, the word widely connoted professionalism, editorial oversight, an established medium, etc. From that understanding, it looked presumptuous or pretentious. Of course this label appealed to online writers, so (like realtors abusing the word "home" as a marketing euphemism for house or apartment) with repetition it dulled many ears, and ceased to stand out.
  12. MaxH

    Internet Reviews/Ratings

    Welcome to the realities of being an attentive restaurant diner. I'm coming up on 20 years now of restaurants noticing that I was paying close attention, or was introduced by someone they knew such as a local journalist, then second-guessing that I must be a professional shopper, and offering payola, unsolicited. (Once at a high-end restaurant in Europe where I was simply learning about the cuisine, this even led to a stand-off, resolved eventually with all dignities intact, by a compromise bill.) I find this annoying, as though assuming my good opinion is for sale for a few dollars or a free dessert, which has led to routinely refusing even perhaps innocent comps if there is any possibility of my writing public or private recommendations, which these days is usually. I just gently refused such an offer at a local place I frequent, for that reason. More annoying is when some bloggers stumble into this reality and try to milk it for comps -- at least it clarifies just what their opinions are worth. The Y-site actively promotes contributor pictures, including that among criteria for specially featured reviews and premium reviewer status, whatever that means. Regulars work around the rule by changing their pictures later or using illegible ones, but as SJMitch observed, reviewer photos conflict fundamentally with objective criticism. Maybe Y'ers prefer being recognized (like those bloggers I mentioned), but the policy does reveal something about the site's prioritiies.
  13. MaxH

    Internet Reviews/Ratings

    I think IndyRob's comment and topic gets at the very core issue in consumer restaurant guidance. Here are some observations, maybe familiar to many other restaurant customers, who have also struggled with these information sources. "Aggregated" restaurant rating sites, like the one IndyRob checked, arrived on the Internet soon after HTTP tools and "browsers." A very serious one operated here in the SF Bay area (and a few other metro regions with large online populations) in the middle 1990s, a little early for the general public, but it showed exactly the same issues. (FYI in the 15 years before that, as Internet access slowly broadened from basically technical academia into mainstream, its typical communication tools were not "sites" but variations of email, like newsgroups [broadcast email]; those tools carried plenty of restaurant commentary, but as individual anecdotes, not aggregated into numerical "ratings.") Formerly, we consumers turned to centralized experienced sources for restaurant guidance -- Guide Michelin etc., Mimi Sheraton, in my region sources like Jack Shelton's newsletter and Ron Riera (a talk-radio critic who was a restaurateur himself and also knew the regions' restaurants encyclopedically). Whatever their biases, you could get to know these sources and how to correlate their advice with your own experiences. Enter Zagat guides (in print), then today's aggregating Web sites. With these sources I've found you're basically comparing apples to bicycles to annuities to sonatas. The source consistency of the experts is missing. If even many of IndyRob's 30 reviews per restaurant had actually tried both, so as to be competent to compare, that would be unusual in my experience. You get a different self-selected set of commentators for every restaurant, the conscientious ones drowned out by the offhand, or those with weird chips on their shoulders, or who made trouble themselves at the restaurant and want revenge, or employees or ex-employees shilling or slamming businesses where they have personal interest. Near me, in a cluster of radically different Asian restaurants heavily commented on Yelp (typically at least 500 reviews), the averaged "numerical" ratings are meaningless, all converging to 3.5 stars, a useful statistic about the raters' habits, not the restaurants. The solution? I've found real value in sites like that by identifying conscientious or reliable individuals even though they're invisible in the averages, and following their restaurant comments specifically. It seems like the knowledgeable individual critic's value still shows, even in vox-populi sources.
  14. My last comments were meant, and are relevant, only for the particular context that I wrote to, explicitly ("traditional media as well, when the paper can't, or won't, pay for the meals").
  15. I wouldn't respect it either -- though am very hard-pressed to conjure real examples, within my own adult experience (four food-conscious US metropolitan areas since the 1970s all with local print media both "high" and "low"). Someone else might have significant examples, but in my world the meal-cadging media restaurant critic has been basically a theoretical concept, even though one often mentioned. I believe there are causative reasons for that. Even the smaller, local, tabloid papers, as here in the SF Bay Area, sometimes harbor excellent critics, "excellent" meaning widely respected, with histories of useful writing. For restaurants, critics of that caliber are the only ones read and quoted consistently in my experience. I know how they work, because I've known some (and been approached a couple of times by editors offering such work). The economics don't favor shaking down restaurants if the critic is any good at all: Critics, of course, are part of the bait attracting a newspaper business's main product (you) to its customer (advertisers). Restaurant critiques, you'll notice, often highlight a paper's "weekend" or restaurant-advertising section. A paper that can't recover, through added advertising, far beyond the (say) $100 average per-issue expense of a critic's restaurant bill does not have a respected critic, and a critic who plays comping games will never become or stay respected. (Restaurant people have even been known to gossip!)
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