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Critics, restaurateurs and media wars


moosnsqrl
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Maybe I shouldn't start reading the paper before the coffee is finished brewing. Was I just Monday- morning grumpy or does this strike anyone else as questionable? I need a reality check here.

The recent Chodrow/Bruni dust-up was one thing; Chodrow spent his own coin to use the same publication that trashed his latest venture for a rebuttal. This morning, a gossip columnist in our local daily used his column to provide a bully pulpit to a local restaurateur who felt wronged by the critic of a semi-monthly glossy. Further, he attempted to "out" said anonymous reviewer and provided an albeit-vague description of the writer. Here are a couple of excerpts from the wounded restaurant owner (full story here).

Piropos’ general manager Sam Silvio’s take?

“We know who he is,” Silvio says. “He works at a local law office, and he also does the photography under a different pseudonym. I think he’s a good writer and a great photographer, but as a reviewer, if you look at (our) rating — it’s not even a star — we were minus acceptable. I really have a hard time believing he had that bad an experience every time he came in.”

Silvio has another take: “I just question the ethics of it,” he says. “If you’re going to put something that derogatory out, then you ought to put your name on it … You know if we were a little mom-and-pop (restaurant) he could have ruined us. And you know I might be hiring him as my attorney, not knowing he was the guy who ruined me.”

One remedy: “We’re going to share our information about who he is, including his photo, with the rest of the Kansas City Originals,” Silvio says.

I cannot imagine the converse happening -- i.e. the magazine doing the same to the daily's critic who ostensibly operates anonymously (although I don't believe there is a chef in town who doesn't know and recognize her). Am I being naive? Has "journalistic integrity" become an oxymoron? Please correct my thinking if I'm looking at this entirely wrongly - that's why I'm asking. It just doesn't seem "on" to me but I've been wrong before and likely will be again before the day is out.

TIA for your input.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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I don't think this is a big deal.

In the end, customers and consumers will decide how accurate the critic is or isn't.

Restaurateurs can make their case and rebut reviews.

The anonymity of critics is much discussed and debated. It is usually a silly red herring IMOP. Some newspapers seem to believe that restaurant critics can report more accurately on a restaurant when they are not recognized by the establishment.

This is the old "hidden camera" thing. It works well for consumer reporters trying to catch unscrupulous merchants but is somewhat of a joke in the restaurant review game. Since it is probably true that most critics are recognized by restaurants, any good critic should know this and also be able to recognize when they have been recognized and are receiving "special" treatment by the restaurant and adjust their reviews accordingly.

This is all much ado about.....

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I don't think this is a big deal.

In the end, customers and consumers will decide how accurate the critic is or isn't.

Restaurateurs can make their case and rebut reviews.

The anonymity of critics is much discussed and debated. It is usually a silly red herring IMOP. Some newspapers seem to believe that  restaurant critics can report more accurately on a restaurant when they are not recognized by the establishment.

This is the old "hidden camera" thing. It works well for consumer reporters trying to catch unscrupulous merchants but is somewhat of a joke in the restaurant review game. Since it is probably true that most critics are recognized by restaurants, any good critic should know this and also be able to recognize when they have been recognized and are receiving "special" treatment by the restaurant and adjust their reviews accordingly.

This is all much ado about.....

I wouldn't argue with any of this but my question was not "are reviews relevant" (which was looking like a hung jury on the other thread on that topic when last I checked). Or even so much about the anonymity (although I did mention it). My biggest question/concern was one publication allowing a wronged restaurateur a forum to take-on another publication. We're a third-tier media city, so we don't have a lot of publications and maybe that explains why this seems off to me. It may happen a lot in larger markets but here, where the opportunities to advertise are few, it looks a little dodgy. I posted this in The Heartland rather than Media shooting for the smaller-market perspective but nonetheless thanks for your reply.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Of course he disagrees with the rating... he's biased-and not to mention..the GM.

The restaurant completely mishandled the situation.

It's like in elementary school when Bobby didn't win and his mom shows up to class to argue with the teacher. The better way to handle this situation is to address the issues that Fellrath pointed out.

Instead of acting like novices and pointing fingers..how about utilizing a perfect chance to redeem yourself by saying "We have addressed the problems and have maintained our commitment to excellence" or something to that effect. Possibly saying "We are in a new era and everyday Kansas Citians are demanding a better dining experience and we are rising to the occasion".

Fellrath has only exploited the silliness of the Kansas City food scene and this just shows how much pampering the restaurants have been recieving by various critics.

P.S. I haven't had my coffee yet. :raz:

Edited by JWest (log)

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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what a critic has to say about a restaurant is almost strictly opinion i mean there is some education involved with most critics but that just means they can be picky down to the details. or rather that they can better express what they like or don't like. they are still biased by their own pallats which cannot be completely neutral when they enter an establishment. we all have certain likes and dislikes food wise from childhood on.

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what a critic has to say about a restaurant is almost strictly opinion i mean there is some education involved with most critics but that just means they can be picky down to the details. or rather that they can better express what they like or don't like. they are still biased by their own pallats which cannot be completely neutral when they enter an establishment. we all have certain likes and dislikes food wise from childhood on.

I agree with most of that.

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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As I understand it, we're not talking about standard-issue reviewer anonymity here.

In a typical situation, a reviewer like Frank Bruni of the New York Times tries to make reservations under different names and not reveal his identity when eating. But he publishes his reviews under the byline Frank Bruni.

Here, it seem the critic is writing anonymously. In other words, there is no such person as "G.E. Fellrath," even though Kansas City Magazine publishes reviews under that byline.

Although writing under a pseudonym is a time-honored tradition -- e.g., Mark Twain -- it is not really appropriate in this journalistic context. A mainstream publication in a society where a free press is guaranteed should not be shielding its writers from public accountability. So I sympathize with the desire to "out" the writer, who appears to be using this pseudonym as a sword not a shield.

In addition, I think it's good to give restaurateurs a voice in the press. Critics shouldn't always have the last word. The knowledge that, if you treat restaurants unfairly, restaurateurs can go to other media outlets to challenge you can help keep reviewers from getting out of control.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't think this is a big deal.

In the end, customers and consumers will decide how accurate the critic is or isn't.

Restaurateurs can make their case and rebut reviews.

The anonymity of critics is much discussed and debated. It is usually a silly red herring IMOP. Some newspapers seem to believe that  restaurant critics can report more accurately on a restaurant when they are not recognized by the establishment.

This is the old "hidden camera" thing. It works well for consumer reporters trying to catch unscrupulous merchants but is somewhat of a joke in the restaurant review game. Since it is probably true that most critics are recognized by restaurants, any good critic should know this and also be able to recognize when they have been recognized and are receiving "special" treatment by the restaurant and adjust their reviews accordingly.

This is all much ado about.....

I wouldn't argue with any of this but my question was not "are reviews relevant" (which was looking like a hung jury on the other thread on that topic when last I checked). Or even so much about the anonymity (although I did mention it). My biggest question/concern was one publication allowing a wronged restaurateur a forum to take-on another publication. We're a third-tier media city, so we don't have a lot of publications and maybe that explains why this seems off to me. It may happen a lot in larger markets but here, where the opportunities to advertise are few, it looks a little dodgy. I posted this in The Heartland rather than Media shooting for the smaller-market perspective but nonetheless thanks for your reply.

Why not?

Media is media. The diversity and independence are important so a third media entity allowing a person to be critical of another magazine or newspaper (or TV/Radio station) is fine and even healthy thing for all concerned. (certainly for consumers).

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I don't think this is a big deal.

In the end, customers and consumers will decide how accurate the critic is or isn't.

Restaurateurs can make their case and rebut reviews.

The anonymity of critics is much discussed and debated. It is usually a silly red herring IMOP. Some newspapers seem to believe that  restaurant critics can report more accurately on a restaurant when they are not recognized by the establishment.

This is the old "hidden camera" thing. It works well for consumer reporters trying to catch unscrupulous merchants but is somewhat of a joke in the restaurant review game. Since it is probably true that most critics are recognized by restaurants, any good critic should know this and also be able to recognize when they have been recognized and are receiving "special" treatment by the restaurant and adjust their reviews accordingly.

This is all much ado about.....

I wouldn't argue with any of this but my question was not "are reviews relevant" (which was looking like a hung jury on the other thread on that topic when last I checked). Or even so much about the anonymity (although I did mention it). My biggest question/concern was one publication allowing a wronged restaurateur a forum to take-on another publication. We're a third-tier media city, so we don't have a lot of publications and maybe that explains why this seems off to me. It may happen a lot in larger markets but here, where the opportunities to advertise are few, it looks a little dodgy. I posted this in The Heartland rather than Media shooting for the smaller-market perspective but nonetheless thanks for your reply.

Why not?

Media is media. The diversity and independence are important so a third media entity allowing a person to be critical of another magazine or newspaper (or TV/Radio station) is fine and even healthy thing for all concerned. (certainly for consumers).

OK, that's what I was asking - thanks. Just didn't want my question to be lost in the whole "are reviews obsolete" issue. Sometimes it helps to get another perspective.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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As I understand it, we're not talking about standard-issue reviewer anonymity here.

In a typical situation, a reviewer like Frank Bruni of the New York Times tries to make reservations under different names and not reveal his identity when eating. But he publishes his reviews under the byline Frank Bruni.

Here, it seem the critic is writing anonymously. In other words, there is no such person as "G.E. Fellrath," even though Kansas City Magazine publishes reviews under that byline.

Although writing under a pseudonym is a time-honored tradition -- e.g., Mark Twain -- it is not really appropriate in this journalistic context. A mainstream publication in a society where a free press is guaranteed should not be shielding its writers from public accountability. So I sympathize with the desire to "out" the writer, who appears to be using this pseudonym as a sword not a shield.

In addition, I think it's good to give restaurateurs a voice in the press. Critics shouldn't always have the last word. The knowledge that, if you treat restaurants unfairly, restaurateurs can go to other media outlets to challenge you can help keep reviewers from getting out of control.

And yet another consideration. That might be an interesting dialog to begin with the magazine's editorial staff. I don't know if that has been their M.O. in the past (allowing critics to write using a nom de plume - or may nom de guerre is more appropos here :wink:). I'll do some more homework and see what I can find out.

Edited to correct spelling.

Edited by moosnsqrl (log)

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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I disagree with FG about the "nom de plume" issue.

Publications often do not print bylines under stories.

Entities rather than specific people are cited as well--eg: AP or Reuters.

I think he is correct in that disclosure is ideal and most often the best policy.

Anything printed in a paper or magazine is representative of that publication no matter whose words are printed and whether or not the individuals are cited.

Sometimes I wish there were more editorial oversight period!

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i was in this situation for a couple of years--writing restaurant reviews under a nom de fork--and it was uncomfortable. the editors of the papers felt it was necessary because our last critic had been blatantly un-anonymous (she was married to the president of the restaurant association for chrissake). so to emphasize the fact that i was dining anonymously, they decided i should not write under my own name (it was a small city and i'd been covering other beats there for a few years, so it might follow that some people would recognize me).

it let to several uncomfortable situations where I would write something and then not be able to stand up for the criticisms that followed. and, following a restaurant critic whose motto seemed to be "pour me another one", there was a period of fairly intense criticism until restaurateurs realized that i was taking dining seriously (and my readers were taking my reviews seriously).

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I disagree with FG about the "nom de plume" issue.

Publications often do not print bylines under stories.

Entities rather than specific people are cited as well--eg: AP or Reuters.

I think he is correct in that disclosure is ideal and most often the best policy.

Anything printed in a paper or magazine is representative of that publication no matter whose words are printed and whether or not the individuals are cited.

Sometimes I wish there were more editorial oversight period!

I think opinion pieces are different from news articles.

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I have quoted this here before but the person who said (I forget who--possibly Shakespeare) "trust the tale not the teller" was pretty sharp. The truth is the quality and veracity are really in the words themselves. A critic who is not honest will not write honestly and readers will not have the respect for his or her writing.

Whether or not we know the name of, say, the "Style Guy" in GQ is not as important as the veracity and sensibility of his words.

The whole critic's anonymity thing is to me pretty ridiculous.

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One thing you can't forget is that Kansas City Magazine is in the business of selling magazines, hence increasing circulation for higher ad revenues. If readers pick up every issue to see the latest outrageous restaurant review, the reviewer has done thier job, biased or unbiased. They aren't looking for jounalistic integrity; they're searching for rack sales and subscriptions. The whole blow-up in the KC Star has done exactly what KCM wanted it to do, generating interest and awareness of their publication.

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There's an issue here which we haven't gotten into- and it's a tough one, because criticism is by nature subjective. We've got a whole thread here dedicated to the KC Star's critic and the quality of her reviews (or, more to the point, how they're lacking). The KC Mag reviewer is pretty much her polar opposite, in terms of calling restaurants on the carpet and not just handing away 3 stars.

Perhaps Piropos' GM gotten complacent after being handed non-challenging reviews for so long. Don't we, as consumers, deserve good restaurant criticism? What message does it send to not only critics but also consumers if restauranteurs shop around for a bully pulpit to shut down critics?

(Edited for pesky pronouns)

Edited by chicagowench (log)

What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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There's an issue here which we haven't gotten into- and it's a tough one, because criticism is by nature subjective.  We've got a whole thread here dedicated to the KC Star's critic and the quality of her reviews (or, more to the point, how they're lacking).  The KC Mag reviewer is pretty much her polar opposite, in terms of calling restaurants on the carpet and not just handing away 3 stars. 

Perhaps Piropos' GM gotten complacent after being handed non-challenging reviews for so long.  Don't we, as consumers, deserve good restaurant criticism?  What message does it send to not only critics but also consumers if restauranteurs shop around for a bully pulpit to shut down critics?

(Edited for pesky pronouns)

I think you're right, we do deserve good restaurant criticism. Fellrath (KC Mag) has really done a great job detailing specific situations during her dining experiences. If the review matches the star rating, then there shouldn't be any problem. Also, people tend to forget this is one person's (with whoever else the reviewer is eating with) thoughts on their meal. That's the problem with other reviewers in KC...they tend to have the strangest reviews and then it seems as if they just chose the star rating based off what they should get and not based off of what they really deserve but that's another thread.

Edited by JWest (log)

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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One thing you can't forget is that Kansas City Magazine is in the business of selling magazines, hence increasing circulation for higher ad revenues. If readers pick up every issue to see the latest outrageous restaurant review, the reviewer has done thier job, biased or unbiased. They aren't looking for jounalistic integrity; they're searching for rack sales and subscriptions. The whole blow-up in the KC Star has done exactly what KCM wanted it to do, generating interest and awareness of their publication.

So, does your comment imply that no one was reading/buying KC Mag until the recent critic began posting "outrageous restaurant reviews"? That is was a deliberate decision to publish negative reviews for the sake of boosting sales/ads/revenue? I honestly don't know if this is a major departure from what they were doing before (my damn life keeps getting in the way of my research :angry:). I honestly don't know - I need to go back to some back issues of both the Star and KC Mag to see if this appears to be the case.

Again, my issue (and I do apologize as I apparently didn't make it clear in the beginning) is that it seems odd that, if one publication finds fault with your operation, you go to another (and, arguably nearly the only other in the market in which you might tend to advertise) for an opportunity to refute the findings.

And another thing, which speaks to a comment made upthread, the other restaurants that have received less-than-stellar reviews from the same critic, have not chosen to take their case to the court of public opinion in The Star, although the gossip columnist cites their only-slightly-better reviews in today's piece. Did they ask to be heard? Were they contacted before today's piece and declined to reply? Or did they take the criticism as an opportunity to improve their operation and learn from it?

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Or did they take the criticism as an opportunity to improve their operation and learn from it?

Moosnsqrl, I can vouch for one place which did not receive a 4 star approaching the review honestly and with sincerity and humility. I had a great conversation with some of the staff there about some very specific points in the KC Mag review, and their long-term plans to address them. It was the sort of thing which affirmed for me that those are the kinds of places that I want to frequent- with a good regard for the customers, respect for the people and the food.

The response of Mr. Silvio certainly bolsters my opinion that he's not the kind of businessman I want to give my hard-earned cash to, moreso than the review itself did. Which I suspect was not his intention!

What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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One thing you can't forget is that Kansas City Magazine is in the business of selling magazines, hence increasing circulation for higher ad revenues. If readers pick up every issue to see the latest outrageous restaurant review, the reviewer has done thier job, biased or unbiased. They aren't looking for jounalistic integrity; they're searching for rack sales and subscriptions. The whole blow-up in the KC Star has done exactly what KCM wanted it to do, generating interest and awareness of their publication.

heyjb,

I'm not sure that magazines' revenue comes from subscription sales - rather more from advertising. I think this is more true with journal publications than with other print media (e.g. books).

I went back to look at Fellrath's reviews, here's his track record:

bluestem 4 stars

Cafe Sebastienne 1 star

The American Restaurant 2 stars

Tatsu's 3 stars

Starker's Reserve 3 stars

Piropos no stars

With three out of six restaurants getting 3 stars or better, I would hardly call this sensationalist journalism.

I know this ain't NYC, but chefs in other cities clutch their 2 stars like they've won the Oscar. Here, it's almost expected. I noticed that the KC Star article said nothing about the restaurants that received high marks. I also noticed that the article only cited negative comments about the restaurants listed. Surely Fellrath had positive things to say about those restaurants in his review?

u.e.

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One thing you can't forget is that Kansas City Magazine is in the business of selling magazines, hence increasing circulation for higher ad revenues. If readers pick up every issue to see the latest outrageous restaurant review, the reviewer has done thier job, biased or unbiased. They aren't looking for jounalistic integrity; they're searching for rack sales and subscriptions. The whole blow-up in the KC Star has done exactly what KCM wanted it to do, generating interest and awareness of their publication.

heyjb,

I'm not sure that magazines' revenue comes from subscription sales - rather more from advertising. I think this is more true with journal publications than with other print media (e.g. books).

I went back to look at Fellrath's reviews, here's his track record:

bluestem 4 stars

Cafe Sebastienne 1 star

The American Restaurant 2 stars

Tatsu's 3 stars

Starker's Reserve 3 stars

Piropos no stars

With three out of six restaurants getting 3 stars or better, I would hardly call this sensationalist journalism.

I know this ain't NYC, but chefs in other cities clutch their 2 stars like they've won the Oscar. Here, it's almost expected. I noticed that the KC Star article said nothing about the restaurants that received high marks. I also noticed that the article only cited negative comments about the restaurants listed. Surely Fellrath had positive things to say about those restaurants in his review?

u.e.

My comment does mention that rack sales/subscriptions = higher ad revenues, FWIW.

If the reviewer were sensationalistic on every review, no one would take him seriously. The sensationalism is often in the things said, i.e. the "wood" reference.

I also have to say that I've never read the KCM reviews before, so I can comment directly on what the reviewer said. The Star piece is all the info about KCM I have.

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Again, my issue (and I do apologize as I apparently didn't make it clear in the beginning) is that it seems odd that, if one publication finds fault with your operation, you go to another (and, arguably nearly the only other in the market in which you might tend to advertise) for an opportunity to refute the findings.

And another thing, which speaks to a comment made upthread, the other restaurants that have received less-than-stellar reviews from the same critic, have not chosen to take their case to the court of public opinion in The Star, although the gossip columnist cites their only-slightly-better reviews in today's piece. Did they ask to be heard? Were they contacted before today's piece and declined to reply? Or did they take the criticism as an opportunity to improve their operation and learn from it?

While it would be interesting to know for sure, I don't think it matters. The story is in print in two different publications. Both are probably benefitting from the heightened interest on the part of the public. Feuds are great for business--for everyone!

(usually)

:wink:

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One thing you can't forget is that Kansas City Magazine is in the business of selling magazines, hence increasing circulation for higher ad revenues. If readers pick up every issue to see the latest outrageous restaurant review, the reviewer has done thier job, biased or unbiased. They aren't looking for jounalistic integrity; they're searching for rack sales and subscriptions. The whole blow-up in the KC Star has done exactly what KCM wanted it to do, generating interest and awareness of their publication.

heyjb,

I'm not sure that magazines' revenue comes from subscription sales - rather more from advertising. I think this is more true with journal publications than with other print media (e.g. books).

I went back to look at Fellrath's reviews, here's his track record:

bluestem 4 stars

Cafe Sebastienne 1 star

The American Restaurant 2 stars

Tatsu's 3 stars

Starker's Reserve 3 stars

Piropos no stars

With three out of six restaurants getting 3 stars or better, I would hardly call this sensationalist journalism.

I know this ain't NYC, but chefs in other cities clutch their 2 stars like they've won the Oscar. Here, it's almost expected. I noticed that the KC Star article said nothing about the restaurants that received high marks. I also noticed that the article only cited negative comments about the restaurants listed. Surely Fellrath had positive things to say about those restaurants in his review?

u.e.

My comment does mention that rack sales/subscriptions = higher ad revenues, FWIW.

If the reviewer were sensationalistic on every review, no one would take him seriously. The sensationalism is often in the things said, i.e. the "wood" reference.

I also have to say that I've never read the KCM reviews before, so I can comment directly on what the reviewer said. The Star piece is all the info about KCM I have.

You can still read each review at KCMAG.com

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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  • 2 weeks later...
This morning, a gossip columnist in our local daily used his column to provide a bully pulpit to a local restaurateur who felt wronged by the critic of a semi-monthly glossy.

Hearne Christopher apparently doesn't have a lot of respect for G.E. Fellrath's m.o.

Take a number:KC Magazine eatery executor — who writes under the nom de plume G.E. Fellrath — sinks his or her fangs this month into popular downtown eatery 1924 Main. Verdict: One of four stars. Since nobody knows for certain who Fellrath actually is, the jury is out on his or her culinary credentials. A sample of this month’s spanking: “I frowned on a cold and chewy lobster saffron Israeli couscous and lamented over a crab ‘crust’ on a filet of escolar.”

http://www.kansascity.com/216/story/57597.html

As far as Fellrath goes, while I appreciate a willingness for "harsh" criticism, I have mixed feelings. The reviewer seems to be angling toward the British over-the-top reviewing style, though considerably scaled back. That can be amusing but only moderately helpful.

The review of Piropos, it seemed to me, seemed borne out of disgust that the food wasn' t "authentic" Argentine. I have great appreciation of the nuances of that line of argument, but it struck me as a too-dominant note in this sort of review.

Even though I don't make a habit of researching critics' professional history and qualifications, the anonymity strikes me as a bit either cowardly or precious for someone who wants to build their rep by delivering a good dressing down.

Fellrath? Wrathful? Please.

Edit: And to address the Judy's main question, I have no problem with Christopher taking this issue on. There seems to me a long tradition of opinion writers, reviewers, and gossip columnists across town calling each other on the carpet.

Edited by Aaron Deacon (log)
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