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Giving Negative Restaurant Feedback


winegeek
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(If you want an example on how not to handle customer complaints, see the Irish Heather DOV 2005 thread in the Vancouver forum)

Oyster Guy,

I can't agree with you here.

This has worked in Sean's favour, oddly enough.

People come from far and wide to see the "crazed Irishman" in his natural habitat. They think he is some sort of urban legend. Word on the street is someone is going start a tour where you get to have your picture taken with him !

Sean is poised to open his fifth establishment in Canada's toughest neighbourhood, two of them after his little tirade.

A marketing genius, I tell you.

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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Having been in the Bizz years ago, one of the most annoying things was to have a client tell me that everything was great when I know that we were sending out c—p that particular night. Honest, well-reasoned criticism should be welcomed. I think I would pay for that kind of critique. I can’t tell you how many times, on leaving a restaurant, I have been asked, “was every think o.k” and then stupidly grunting “yes” when the truth was – IT WAS AWFUL and I was just grateful to pay and get out.

If the consumer just told the truth – and people in the business listened – things might improve.

What do you think?

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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If the consumer just told the truth –  and people in the business listened – things might improve. 

This is exactly the point of constructive criticism, which is the type of criticism we should all be striving for: it might improve things. Constructive criticism is non-oppositional. Although negative comments are certainly an important part of constructive criticism, they're usually part of a larger evaluation that includes positive comments as well as suggestions for improvement.

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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If the consumer just told the truth –  and people in the business listened – things might improve. 

This is exactly the point of constructive criticism, which is the type of criticism we should all be striving for: it might improve things. Constructive criticism is non-oppositional. Although negative comments are certainly an important part of constructive criticism, they're usually part of a larger evaluation that includes positive comments as well as suggestions for improvement.

Constructive criticism. That's the point. It get's back to Steven's comments on "community." I agree that if nobody said anything negative the community would suffer. But I also agree that critiquing recklessly and without concern for common decency would also cause the community to suffer. I'm not suggesting one sugar-coat a negative review, but surely flying in with a "that tasted like shit" is only serving to make the reviewer fell better.

On another issue (Gill's review of Rare) I have no issue with her review of the restaurant. But IMO she crossed the line BIG TIME by attacking members here who had NOTHING to do with her meal.

Needed to get that off my chest.

A.

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On another issue (Gill's review of Rare) I have no issue with her review of the restaurant.  But IMO she crossed the line BIG TIME by attacking members here who had NOTHING to do with her meal.

Thanks for that.

As one of the EG members targeted in her review, all I can say is that I'm really upset at the way I was portrayed.

"Aspiring pastry chef"? Hardly. I've been asked both in person and on EG whether I plan on working in the professional kitchen, and my answer is always that I'm honoured to help out, but that I do pastries for fun.

"Alluring heartbreaker"? I date casually, yes. But unless Alex Gill has contacted the five or six guys I've dated in the past year and they all confess to having their hearts stomped on, I don't think I live up to that description.

There are a lot of people who are similarly upset by her characterization of me, and letters are being sent to the editor.

Edited by Ling (log)
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There's just more to it than that. It's not just our meal and our experience in that restaurant. It's their light bill and mortgage payment, it's the baby's milk money. It's their livelihood and the livelihoods of every employee, plus the linen guy, the tomato farmer, you get the drift. Yeah for sure dang straight everything outghta be top notch first class, no less so than when I'm dining there. But we need to not ignore the fact that this is a permanent and powerful tool we are weilding, whichever way we turn it.

IMO, this kind of thinking, while quite humane, renders criticism useless.

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... To reiterate, I am a diner. Once I pay my bill and leave the doors of a restaurant, I owe the staff, management, and ownership of that establishment nothing. I am under no obligation whatsoever to approach anyone associated with the restaurant before posting my unvarnished report on my experience there. The role of diner is the same as the role of customer. The rules of that role are lawful and proper behavior while in the establishment and complete payment for services rendered. Period. Well, one other thing, I suppose: A customer can libel or slander a restaurant only at his/her own potential risk. And of course, libel is completely prohibited on these boards. But that's it. Again: I owe the restaurant and its personnel nothing. And furthermore, if the place sucks, I want it to close, because I don't believe in rewarding incompetent work just because the employees are supporting themselves or their families. That's not my concern. If you want good reports on your establishment, do a good job.

I am a happy capitalist. I agree with most of what you write. "...I owe the restaurant and its personnel nothing..." You have invested in that establishment, they have invested in you. If your experience was below expectation, it makes more sense to inform them than to inform us but of course there's no obligation for you to do so. It seems fair to do that though before we wax eloquent elsewhere.

And then when we come together as a cyber food force to be reckoned with here on egullet, we need to be discreet in our negative reports because it's recorded permanently and is so much bigger than any one person or place. We would all want bad establishments to close but that is not any part of my personal mission statement, to help it (the closure) be accomplished. Certainly not a goal of egullet's.

If in each of our professions at any given moment we were observed and our work was measured and judged, put up for scrutiny and this information was posted for all to see, our bosses, our friends, our everybody--might this affect our next raise, our standing in the community, our interaction with co-workers, etc. This might affect a great many things.

There's a privilege and power in the medium thus the irrefutable and tremendous responsibility.

I honestly don't understand what you think the point of a forum like this is.

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I think it's apt to quote something posted here by the person who is my own personal favorite restaurant critic of all time:

As entertaining as it may be to read of a restaurant's critic's experience as waiter or cook, the idea behind such a stunt is that the critic then will "understand" what restaurant owners have to contend with. And then what? Make allowances in reviews placing onus on customers? A critic should not "understand" anything.Only how it works out, front-of-the-house for the customer.  Restaurant prices are high, meaning owners are playing hard ball. So should customers and critics.

It might be argued that this site isn't really a forum for restaurant criticism, but rather a community where food professionals and consumers can hang out together. I suppose it's some of one and some of the other -- but to me if the "happy community" forestalls the useful criticism, this site becomes fairly useless. Of course, that's just my view.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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But IMO she crossed the line BIG TIME by attacking members here who had NOTHING to do with her meal.

This is what I found as well with the review. A line was crossed. Food critics regardless of whether people regard them as good or bad or whatever should talk about the food and the restaurant and even the ambience. But when they move on onto talking about the individual people I think they cross a line.

Stick with the food. I agree with the posts above, if you don't like a particular review written by a food critic, don't read their damn reviews . But on the other had if you are a food critic, lay off the reviews of personality or people. Review the food/place. Leave the personal stuff to you discussions with friends or whatnot. Keep it out of the column.

"There are two things every chef needs in the kitchen: fish sauce and duck fat" - Tony Minichiello

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Isn't it all subjective?  I have gone to a movie after a fight with a friend and hated the movie and then later seen the same movie after a wonderful picnic, and had a completly different experiance. 

I think that the important reviews on egullet are the positive ones.  I would prefer a recommendation to a warning.

At the same time I have friends in the industry and I am without a doubt bias.  Also when I go to thier establishments I will recieve a different level of service than the avrage Joe.  It is Garlic and Saffires.  So how can a person objectivly judge anything?

I don't think that the important reviews on egullet are the positive ones. It is important to get positive and negative reviews on restaurant. It helps other people avoiding bad restaurants and waisting money. Or would you recommend a lousy book to somebody else because it might hurt the author. At the end restaurants are "just" businesses like everything else and a bad business deserves to get bad reviews if it doesn't deliver what it is promising. And there shouldn't be a difference if you know the owner or not.

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Something else. Please excuse me if it's been said before, but this thread is getting a bit too long for me to catch up with everything since its inception.

AG seems to be questioning the owner of RARE's use of eGullet during the period leading up to the opening of the restaurant. Her criticism implies that he's kind of asking for it when the entire process is so visible and open for scrutiny. Then there are ethical concerns, issues of marketing and so forth. Am I reading her correctly?

Put aside a less cynical reading of the chef's thread on RARE, i.e., a desire to hear from the kinds of people who eat in restaurants with or without cameras, other professionals in the food business and share with those curious all that goes into such an event. Okay, don't put it aside. I have no problem in seeing multiple motives. Publicity is not dirty.

I would like to know how this is different from a restaurant critic joining eGullet, asking members what their favorite undiscovered places in Vancouver are, being clever and witty and not just furthering our knowledge of all things culinary.

Nothing wrong with that either, right?

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Second, when does 'entertaining" get nasty in journalism--not just the writing of restaurant critics?

I got upset about the references to Ling and Zucchini Mama, etc. earlier. I am going to assume the critic does not have any real grudge against these women. She apparently is not comfortable with everything that goes on in eGullet. Fine.

However, I'm going to give her the benefit of doubt for a moment (nice string of two unoriginal phrases there) and say that she found the eGullet angle interesting. She is a member. She knows more than the majority of her readers: the RARE thread, the voices of society members, their aspirations (so she thought) and their interests. She is privy to the world online and, at that opening event, in real life.

She thought it would be a good hook, an interesting focus. Every writer who teaches tells her/his students, "BE SPECIFIC" so she named individuals and thought there was a little Dorothy Parker does Dave Barry there. She'll entertain.

Obviously, as this post indicates, I am not immune. However, lately I have noticed that journalists tend to get just a little too folksy and personal in an effort to be read.

Is this what happened? Went wrong?

When did it go wrong?

And to quote one of those guys who has nothing to do with cooking: "What is to be done?"

(Edited because everyone has to be.)

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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What I've been wondering since reading all the hullaballoo is this: How would it be if a 'critic' wrote about a restaurant visit and mentioned the people who had been at the nearest table in a snippy way, by name and avocation? The first time I ever got a newspaper mention was terrifying to me, and my father wasn't too happy, either. I realized pretty quickly that if I was with someone public, I would become public, by association. If you're not out there for or with fame though, or you're simply a guest, aren't you off limits? What I mean is, if you're not a public figure, don't you have reasonable expectation of privacy, OR, does simply posting on eGullet remove your rights to public privacy? I'm really curious. And, I'm definitely NOT mentioning ANY of my boys by name. :raz:

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I just checked my emails from my Media liason...

I have been rolling on the ground laughing for over an hour!

Hi Cate,

I'm trying not to do invite dinners for new restaurants. I will attend media dinners once in a while, but only for a big event, like an anniversary or something.

My review of Rare will be in the paper this Friday. I was impressed with the attention to detail.

Cheers,

Alex

I must have missed the part about AG being impressed by anything!

Edited by Chef Fowke (log)

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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I just checked my emails from my Media liason...

I have been rolling on the ground laughing for over an hour!

Hi Cate,

I'm trying not to do invite dinners for new restaurants. I will attend media dinners once in a while, but only for a big event, like an anniversary or something.

My review of Rare will be in the paper this Friday. I was impressed with the attention to detail.

Cheers,

Alex

I must gave missed the part about AG being impressed by anything!

Fuck, that is funny !

If I was drinking coffee, it would have come shooting out my nose like a fountain.

See you tuesday, only if you schlep out of the kitchen to see me.

cheers

Neil

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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I must have missed the part about AG being impressed by anything!

Maybe it was someone's idea of an April Fool's joke, albeit a day early? It sure as heck doesn't make sense otherwise. I guess no editor reviews it before print, oh well, whatever. :rolleyes:

Edited by ~cayenne~ (log)

"If cookin' with tabasco makes me white trash, I don't wanna be recycled."

courtesy of jsolomon

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Being the chef/owner originally written about by AG I thought this would be a good time to pipe in. I have found this thread to be informative and well thought out.

My issue with criticism is not about the criticism, but rather the format that it is presented in. It helps me develop my business to hear what people like and dislike about the environment and food I am providing. I did not create Rare to nurture some deep, dark ego that needs feeding. It was created to share my passion of food on the West Coast.

To start: being a chef/owner and posting on eGullet means that you need to be ready to live by the sword and die by the sword. eGullet is internationally read and is a great medium to share new ideas and concepts. It is also a vehicle that can cause unimaginable grief, uncontrollable and unmanageable.

Years ago, when I worked at a Vancouver Chophouse, I received criticism for only catering to VIPS. While this was not true, an eGullet’er witnesses a wealthy Vancouver business man getting special attention because he had pre-ordered live King Crab to be served to his Chinese guests. The eGullet’er felt that you had to be VIP to get anything good at this restaurant…After reading the thread I approached the other managers and we formed a new understanding that we had to be careful not to make anyone feel like a second class citizen and we formed a new set of policies, understanding that the bulk of profits were produced through the regular diner. In this case, the criticism posted by an eGullet’er was useful and used by an establishment to better itself, as all establishments should. It would be suicidal for any restaurant in North American not to regularly read eGullet to get a comprehensive review of the needs of its customers.

When it comes to the G&M review the negativity about the food was acceptable and embraced. We had a management meeting, talked about the food program and made a decision to stick to our direction and continue producing the food we have branded for Rare. This decision was made by using data, not emotion. We reviewed comments, tip averages and velocities. And in the end we read the reviews on eGullet. The quail with sweetbreads was slightly altered ~ we hit the final sauce with a touch of sherry vinegar to tone down the sweetness.

Everyone posting on eGullet needs to know that restaurants do read the threads and that they are important to us. They cause change.

But reviews that say “I hated the food because it was bad, and I will never go back” mean nothing. They are not thought out. They are just emotions.

I will not flog a dead horse. I get it. AG is not a fan of eGullet. I am. She does not like Tuna and Cheese ~ I do, but I am in the crosshairs for my belief and ‘use’ of eGullet and online blogs. If eGullet had a fan club I would be the president. I use it to find new and conventional items for my menus, recipes, direction and culture. I also use it personally for pleasure.

But when it comes to reviewing a restaurant, be it online or in print, integrity starts with being factual and not using emotions. And if you post using emotions you need to be ready to defend your position. As an example I look at the AG piece in the G&M.

1. Tuna and Cheese ~ simple, Google ~ 8 380 000 hits. Not so unusual.

2. Food Comments ~ the customers will decide ~ please read Mia’s review and 4.5/5 on food.

a. We re-introduced the tuna and cheese and sold out by 9:30pm each night ~ with only positive responses

b. The amuse for the weekend was Ahi tuna melts and a beef cheek crostini ~ unfortunately very few of our customers read AG and only two tables knew what a Gillwich was.

3. ‘These chefs are obviously tying too hard to perform acrobatic feats of culinary invention before firmly planting their feet on the floor’ ~ I am a 40 year old chef who has been in the industry 28 years and Quang is 27 and has worked his way to Sous Chef in Canada’s finest restaurants, including going to the Bocuse d’or. What team is better suited to push the envelop of cuisine in BC?

4. AG criticises that we do not have chocolate on the menu? We don’t have a Caesar salad, chicken wings or burger on our menu ~ we are not everything for everyone ~ as Mia said, this is no steak and potato place.

5. The group of rowdy industry people in the lounge were a group of real estate developers having drinks.

6. Pre-opening we did not host a eGullet party, we had two edible BC parties and a charity event for the Children’s Heart Fund.

7. I remember dropping by the table and saying hello and asking about the meal. Tim paired and served the wine pairing with help of the server and floor manager.

Flogging a dead horse? Venting?

Someone does not like the quail, tuna and cheese or desserts. I understand. Be specific. If you do not like the way the server served you, explain. If the room is wrong for your demograph, I understand that as well. It helps the restaurateur when they get feedback and nobody should be afraid to post what they believe is true, just be ready to back up what you have said.

I will continue to proceed in the direction that I originally planned. I plan on sticking to my guns and being successful. There will be people who do not like or get (usually because we dropped the ball) what we are doing. POST!

In my case, and in closing. The reason I posted on this topic is because I received this letter on Sunday ~ a letter from a Vancouver Concierge who thought it was his duty to write a letter to the G&M in response to AG’s article. This gentleman is standing up for us, and I have never met him, but he wanted to be heard ~ just like all of us on eGullet.

"After having a wonderful meal for the first time at Rare One last evening, as Globe subscribers and "foodies" (not food industry workers) we were very displeased by Alexander Gill's opinionated rant of this new shining star on the Vancouver culinary scene. Like Ms. Gill, we chose the six-course tasting menus, although we selected our courses (twelve in all) from the menu rather than picking the "chef's choice" option. With the exception of a foie gras course that didn't tickle our fancy, and two desserts that fell rather flat, the food was, frankly, stunning: artistically presented, perfectly prepared, featuring both classic and innovative combinations of ingredients (the latter, with the exception of the foie gras course, worked perfectly) and blended with some of the most succulent sauces we've had in Vancouver, easily on a par with

Lumiere, West, Diva at the Met, and other top tables in this city. In particular, the yellowfin tuna course (which included reggiano crisps and creamy couscous) was superb. Good thing we didn't read Gill's review before we went, as she found the tuna and cheese

combination "stood out as an exceptionally odd clash". We would've guessed the same a priori, but in fact this blend worked surprisingly well, the buttery richness of the couscous and cheese bringing out flavors in the perfectly seared tuna that we'd never

tasted before. Gill is getting a well-deserved reputation among Vancouver's Globe readers for being narcisstic (who except Gill would be offended "that neither chef bothered to schlep out from the kitchen on a quiet night and lend a hand with the food explanations" ... we'd rather have them concentrate on the food!), gustatorily

"challenged", gratuitously snide, and more interested in writing a gossip column than a restaurant review. Her trenchant critiques of Watermark and Habit fortunately seem to have had little negative impact. When we've been to the former, the place has been packed, and for good reason: some of the food we've had there has been stellar, and none half as bad as we would have expected from Gill's devastating diatribe. Habit remains jammed, consistent with excellent reviews from other more experienced local food critics and the persisting lineups for tables. We suggest confining Gill to reporting on new bar openings (or some other area that would satisfy her overarching need to impress readers with just how "cool", trendy and chic she is). The Globe prides itself on objective reporting and good journalism ... so so give us a critic instead who is fair, balanced, experienced, and above all, has an educated palate and a focus on the food!”

( chef fowke note: name withheld to protect the innocent)

Chef/Owner/Teacher

Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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Part of what's so special about posting in eGullet is that even when anyone impulsively flames another member in a nasty manner our moderators will quietly delete the in-appropriate posting.

It is interesting that it can work both ways since often the party doing the flaming may be 100% wrong both from a professional criteria as well as a personal one so that removing the posting allows them the chance to get their foot out of their mouth figuratively.

One only could hope that after this type of incident the original poster has enough class to apologize thru a "PM" or "email" to the wronged party.

I know that after reading a deleted posting I decided to respond, something I rarely do but under the circumstances it needed doing. Certainly the fact that the recipient was a very classy person who would never answer any obvious flamed response should have made me mind my own business.

However I feel that we are all fellow eGulleters and every topic we feel a need to post upon it where always in good taste we should post since we all are interested in others thoughts and opinions.

I'm positive that no where else could this topic "Replying in Giving Negative Restaurant Feedback" be actually read, commented upon and circulated to more professional reviews, critic's in the food media business then through eGullet. I have been told by many persons involved with every aspect of Hotels, Restaurants, or Food related topic's that almost every professional diligently reads our posting every day by ritually after turning on their computers almost automatically winds up sometime during the day where we all are now.

There are many professionals who post regularly on eGullet on topics all over the spectrum and it seems that by being open, objective and interested in sharing together it has enhanced their credibility and well as providing informative sources for material.

It delights me to think that every posting is helping to add to the learning curve all over the world from every major newspaper or all other media everywhere to benefits all mutually. I always felt that all our regular visitors who weren't members were paying attention to eGullet.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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In this case, the criticism posted by an eGullet’er was useful and used by an establishment to better itself, as all establishments should. It would be suicidal for any restaurant in North American not to regularly read eGullet to get a comprehensive review of the needs of its customers.

`

I do have to agree with that statement. Here is another example. After reading the following review,

Check, please.

I had a dreadful bowl of CC the other night and thought that I should share it with you, if for no other reason than to explain how some restaurants can get it so very, very wrong. Even those who--I believe quite mistakenly--think that they know better.

The first thing that I order at any restauarant is soup. It's a lead indicator of just how closely Chef is paying attention. In Vancouver restaurants it varies from the clean to the uncouth; for me, it's an instant barometer of how the whole kitchen's going.

My younger daughter, A-2 and I snuck out of the rain and into Joe Fortes last weekend. The weather was blustery; Maws aussi. A-2 has a clever palate...........

Then came the bowl of the most turgid, depressing bowl of clam chowder that I've not-quite-eaten in many years. Library paste: The roux was not browned off (although we soon became so with each disbelieving, uncandescent bite). The skin was so thick that the Sedin sisters could have scored a hat trick. And I believe that might have been a bell pepper (the Kelly Bundy of the entire pepper universe) that ensnared my Zamboni.

The chopped clams in our congealing soup almost tasted canned, but with the greatest respect to them, they were the only clammy thing in this unholy admixture.

After readin this, I sent an email to our Chef and management and this is what happened.

There are some restaurant owners who handle criticism by writing letters to me or to the editor, spilling spleen and vitriol across the page. One went to the trouble of stalking us. The police went in at 8pm on a Friday night; being Greek, they dressed him down in front of his wife, the real decision-maker in the family. Others handle it with grumpy phone calls.

But few will acknowledge that they’re at fault, or that something’s broken: if you want to see denial up close, find the closest scorned chef.

Real professionals react though, and effect positive changes. Such was the case this past week with Joe Fortes and its proprietor, Bud Kanke, whom I’ve known for many years as he built his restaurant empire, and then sold many of the assets such as Mulvaney’s and The Cannery. Now he's concentrated on operations at Joe’s, one of the top grossing and most profitable restaurants in Canada, and has made his managers, Darren and Frenchy, his partners.

Last week I reported on this thread (see above post no. TK) about a lamentable bowl of New England style clam chowder that I tried to eat there. On Thursday night though, I found myself back at the restaurant to judge—with Colleen Christie, John Bishop and Murray Bancroft—the annual Slurp and Swirl Oyster Shuck-Off.

I entered the restaurant with a little trepidation, thinking that an oyster shiv might soon be visited upon my own bi-valves.

Such was not the case. An affable Bud Kanke awaited me at the stroke of six, and, while not exactly thanking me (He said “I understand we were eGulleted this week"), said that the recipe had been revisited at a chef/management staff meeting and that improvements had already been made.

Executive chef Scott Pratico escorted me into the kitchen and then ladled the new and improved version from a bain marie. Thickened with potato instead of flour, it carried the essence of the sea. Later, during the judging, and in addition to other courses, Chef made another point with a bowl of seafood chowder, Manhattan-style, that was even better. In fact it was outstanding—everyone at the table looked up after the first spoonful, and John Bishop and I agreed it was a superior bowl.

Commendations to the Joe Fortes crew for reacting quickly and decisively. And thanks to you, winegeek, for getting the ball rolling.

Derek

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Great example winegeek.

The same thing happened not too long after Chmabar opened in Vancouver. This time the culprite was the frites. Someone on eGullet commented that the fries were not up to their usual standard. Lo and behold it turned out the deep friers were not operating properly (temperatures were too low) and needed servicing.

Win win.

A.

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I think at the heart of the issue here is whether it's appropriate to review the clientele along with the restaurant.

I believe that it is useful in some cases. For instance, my recent review of the Congee Noodle House here in Vancouver.

As for the atmosphere, it is nearly as austere as the congee itself. Plain walls surround plain tables and chairs that during peak hours are packed with congee lovers. The clientele is predominantly Chinese, many of whom probably have a jook recipe or two up their sleeve, yet come here anyway – a very good sign.

Clearly, there is some informational value gleaned from describing who frequents an establishment, and Gill's mention of egulleters loving this place may have served this end. But when she began to judge the clientele, well, she lost the mission.

Edited by eatvancouver (log)

Jason

Editor

EatVancouver.net

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