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inovasi invitation to food journalists


Karen Anderson
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I live in Seattle, not Chicago, so I'm curious to hear what people in the Heartland think of chef John Des Rosiers' invitation for food journalists to dine free (and anonymously) at Inovasi in Lake Bluff.

Is the restaurant good? Is this a realistic way to get reviews from hardcore foodies? Are any of you going to do it?

Des Rosiers posted the invitation on his blog "Inovasi Thought" this morning.

Karen

Edited by Karen Anderson (log)

Editor of Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner, a Take Control series ebook.

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Is the restaurant good?

I'm happy to answer this question, with an enthusiastic "Yes!" I think Inovasi is absolutely terrific. The food is as good as any contemporary American restaurant in the city (excluding big-bucks places like Alinea). I have enjoyed my dinners there as much as anywhere in the city (and I've tried most of the more publicized comparable places, and some of the less publicized ones). And the prices are substantially less than comparable places in the city. For food of that quality, including moderate wine and tax/tip, I'm accustomed to paying $80-100/pp in the city and suburbs, and my jaw dropped when I saw the bill ($50/pp).

I've posted detailed reports on my two dinners at Inovasi this year in the topic about Lake County dining (click here).

I don't have any specific thoughts about your other questions, other than to note that Inovasi is indeed at a geographic disadvantage in terms of media coverage, due to its location in a distant suburb of Chicago. It just doesn't get much coverage, or even many postings on food boards like eGullet.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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I think this is a really cool idea. About 30 years ago, my wife and I were the most-read legitimate restaurant critics in the city, with approximately a million readers of our monthly Chicago magazine columns. (Back then, the mag had 225K readers and an average pass-along of seven readers a copy. Ours was the most-read feature and we the most influential critics, for what that's worth. But that's another discussion.)

I love the positivity of Des Rosier's outlook and, even though I wrote upwards of half a dozen pieces for Bon Appétit once I left Chicago, I went over to the other side, professionally telling restaurateurs how they could improve what they do, especially when it comes to establishing and meeting customers' expectations. I'll do the same for Inovasi, sans my usual bill, which is typically based on a sizable retainer, plus costs. The content of my notes will be seen only by him, and though he may want to discuss it (and how and where I think he may want to develop his work), I won't take him on as a client. He can post my comments if he chooses, as long as he leaves my name off.

BTW, most critics haven't done their homework or had much experience. I think Des Rosier will get truly actionable comments mostly from chefs, servers, and others pros in the restaurant field.

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I am interested in being judged in a perfect, open and fair manner, and I am not asking a single thing beyond you writing your opinion and your thoughts on us.

One doesn't need restaurant writers and critics to tell a restaurant how it is doing. Customers and plates arriving at the dishwasher station do that quite adequately. One simply needs journalists to spread the word about the restaurant and hopefully drive traffic to it.

Let’s see if inovasi really has what it takes to impress you, and maybe help to change your opinion of restaurants outside of the city.

A valid concern for out-of-the-way restaurants. But I don't believe picking up the tab and other expenses is a legitimate way to accomplish this additional goal.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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Wait, I missed something. How could a potential dining critic/journalist both have their bill taken care of *and* remain anonymous? Somewhere there's a disconnect, methinks, not to mention that it's hardly necessary.

To paraphrase the mischievious chef from "Ratatouille": "I find this whole thing highly suspect!"

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Wait, I missed something. How could a potential dining critic/journalist both have their bill taken care of *and* remain anonymous? Somewhere there's a disconnect, methinks, not to mention that it's hardly necessary.

To paraphrase the mischievious chef from "Ratatouille": "I find this whole thing highly suspect!"

Seems easy enough...critic contacts restaurant and offers to review. Restaurant sends a voucher of some sort for dinner. Critic arrives at an unannounced date and time and when presented with the check presents the voucher. This assumes the critic in question is not immediately recognizable, of course.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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One doesn't need restaurant writers and critics to tell a restaurant how it is doing. Customers and plates arriving at the dishwasher station do that quite adequately.

FWIW, at both my visits to Inovasi, the restaurant was about 3/4 full on a weekday evening, and I heard that they are booking up 1-2 weeks out for weekends. This means they are doing very well in the current economic environment.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Seems easy enough...critic contacts restaurant and offers to review. Restaurant sends a voucher of some sort for dinner. Critic arrives at an unannounced date and time and when presented with the check presents the voucher. This assumes the critic in question is not immediately recognizable, of course.

But that's basically my entire point: in presenting the voucher, anonymity is then lost. Sure, you may have had anonymity during the actual meal, but then it's gone in a flash. Sounds pretty backwards to me.

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Regardless of when and how the bill is taken care of, you are still going into the experience knowing that you will be getting a free meal, which in my mind compromises your ability to write a truly honest review of the place.

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But that's basically my entire point: in presenting the voucher, anonymity is then lost. Sure, you may have had anonymity during the actual meal, but then it's gone in a flash. Sounds pretty backwards to me.

So anonymity is lost after the restaurant has any power to change the meal or your impressions by "pulling out all the stops." Why cares if you are anonymous as you walk out the door? A much bigger issue is the inherent bias in reviewing a meal you got for free.

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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Actually, a much bigger issue is the fact that apparently I'm the only one here who has actually dined there. And I paid for my meals on both occasions. So even though he's turning out some great food (IMHO) and filling the place, he's indeed "flying under the radar" when it comes to the media.

My recommendation is that, instead of complaining about the technicalities of this offer, you just go there to eat and to enjoy a nice dinner, regardless of whether or not you accept the offer. (Even if you decide to pay for it yourself, it's NOT an expensive restaurant.) Decide for yourself if the food is as good as I'm telling you it is, and let us know what you think.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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At last...another of our all-too-rare forums about ethics, food philosophy, etc. Seriously. I wish we had more of these.

Tino27 makes a good point: Simply knowing that the meal is free might have an effect on a reviewer's report. We know, of course, that our perceptions, emotions and behavior can be influenced by things we're not consciously aware of. One of my favorite examples is a study in which men were asked to view a particular new car, then rate various qualities about it. The men who looked at the car with an attractive female model standing next to it tended to rate it as more appealing than those who looked at it by itself -- yet the "model" men consistently denied that the model's presence had any influence on their judgement. For Chef Des Rosiers' type of compensation I doubt this influence would be terribly large, but it might be there, and I believe a reviewer must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

However, I also believe that his offer was a innovative marketing technique that was made in perfectly good faith. Also, having written regular restaurant reviews for relatively small publications in Detroit and Grand Rapids, I know that compensation for such reviews can be quite limited. In my opinion, doing a write-up after only one visit is a report, not a review. I usually visited a place at least three times (or at least twice, if dining with a party of four or more) before writing my column. I therefore would have less of a problem if a reviewer used Chef Rosiers' offer to see if inovasi was a place worth reviewing (well, duh, although you never know...), then visiting twice more on the publication's dime.

Here's another thought. It looks like he's offering to pay for a meal for one. Because the offer is targeted at reviewers, do you perceive it differently than, say, the restaurant's offering a "buy one, get one" coupon to the general public. If so, how?

On a related note, it's good knowing about the place; the menu looks great. (And thanks for your reports, Ken.) Given that it's so close to the Lake Bluff Metra station, and that there's a $7 weekend Metra pass (or $11 R/T weekday fare), it may go on the list for my next Chicago trip.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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