Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Let's Talk LaBan


MarketStEl
 Share

Recommended Posts

As Vadouvan pointed out in another discussion on this board, the work of our region's top restaurant reviewer, Craig LaBan of The Philadelphia Inquirer, probably deserves a thread of its own much like the one on the New York board devoted to the Times' Frank Bruni.

There are several aspects of his work that we can discuss. One, does he know what he's talking about when he writes a review? Two, has he fairly critiqued a particular establishment? Three, how does his style sit with you, the reader? I'm sure we can come up with more questions to bat around.

To start this ball rolling, I'll address Question Three, as I'm more comfortable dealing with that than with the first two right off the bat.

I still remember reading the column in which Craig LaBan introduced himself to Philadelphia. It began with a description of a story he wrote as a reporter for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. The story was about a local soup kitchen (IIRC), and it was supposed to capture how the kitchen operated and its relationship with the homeless people who patronized it.

I don't recall the exact phrasing of the anecdote, but the thing that left the greatest impression on both me and LaBan was his editor's question when he turned in the story: "But did you eat the meal?" In order to really get at what this place was about, his editor said, "you've got to eat the meal!"

After that, LaBan spent what seemed to me like an interminable number of column inches explaining how profoundly that exhortation influenced him and his approach to writing stories, and how, as the Inky's new restaurant critic, he would never pass judgement on a place without experiencing it fully -- literally, eating the meal.

"Nice sentiment," I thought to myself as I finished the article. "But this guy overwrites horribly."

Given my own occasional tendency towards prolixity, this may strike you as a case of the pot calling the kettle black. But I did think that his first several reviews for the Inquirer said in 2000 words or so what could have been said more effectively in 750.

I no longer think this, and the funny thing is, his reviews are still a good bit longer than 750 words. But they're packed with protein now, not fat. He has improved his eye for a good anecdote--which his opening column demonstrated he could spot--and he has a lively style that is fun to read. That, combined with a solid knowledge of food, cooking and ingredients, makes him a first-rate reviewer and one of the Inquirer's better regular columnists (so you can understand how I calibrate my meter, this group includes Trudy Rubin, Andrew Cassel, Stephen A. Smith and often but not always Tom Ferrick Jr.)

But all this is commentary on style. Let's get down to substance. Take it away, folks.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How about some laughs for starters.

I *LOVE IT* when Craig is Harsh and humorous.

My favourite Labanism.

In relation to the defunct TRUST restaurant now elvez.

Craig Laban

On one of my visits, I walked in, greeted the hostess and showed her to my table.

:laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a good one.

That review -- probably his best trashing of a restaurant ever -- also ended with a tour de force sentence which listed all the things that went wrong on his review visits and then ended logically enough, "well, then, who can you trust?" I think the only thing he liked about the place was the restrooms that made you feel like you were going to the john under water.

Any other elegant/witty lines folks out there recall?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think this topic will ever approach the amusing heights of the Bruni and Beyond thread, because it's just such a different situation. New Yorkers go apoplectic about Bruni because they feel that he just doesn't know enough about food, an assertion one would have a hard time making about LaBan, and Bruni is writing for the paper of record, in the freaking center of the freaking universe!!!

I think LaBan is a very knowledgeable diner, and a good writer. I look forward to his reviews, and generally agree with them. He's free of most of the weird quirks that Bruni serves up as easy targets: the sometimes florid language, the obsession with decor, beautiful people and bathrooms... I'm actually kind of sad that Laban seems to have mothballed his decibel meter, I liked those reports on the ambient noise levels.

But speaking of quirks, do we think that LaBan's buddy Paul won a drinking game at Kitchen 223 or something? He got mentioned by name 4 times in this one review - certainly a stylistic anomaly. I started having flashbacks to Sono Motoyama's frequent namechecking her husband Stephane (he's French, you know...)

I think it will be good to have a dedicated topic here to discuss the Inky reviews, and the online chats, but I'm afraid we won't have anywhere near as much fun as our New York friends are having...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I get a kick out of his Tuesday afternoon online chats. I know there's some people on here who also check in on those. It's a nice break from the beginning-of-the-work-week blues. I think the Crumb Tracker quiz is pretty cool. Yes, it's borderline cheesy, but the point comes across. I was all psyched this week when I knew that the bone marrow crostini was served at Ansill, only to be told that he threw that one in there as a layup. Yep, I'm still a rookie :laugh: .

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, it's borderline cheesy

It's Ubercheesy.

It makes the chat become like a gameshow such that you cant actually get a lot of questions in.

The chat is a great idea but I would like to see it be more of a Q and A discussion on restaurants.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh don't get me wrong, I could care less about winning a free book. I just like the fact that he's highlighting what he considers to be 3 good dishes from various places around the area.

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

Link to comment
Share on other sites

maybe it should be expanded to cover more than just laban.

I don't think that's a bad idea, even if my topic title is restrictive on that score.

Certainly there are other critics in this town worthy of critique, and they should not be spared commentary.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I never-- or almost never-- read LaBan. 

Should I?  Am I missing anything?

If you read any local restaurant reviews regularly, or even occasionally, I'd say yes, you are missing something. Specifically, the best-written, wittiest reviews in the region.

If you're not in the habit of reading restaurant reviews at all, then unless you're a connoisseur of fine writing, I wouldn't say that you have to start reading LaBan. But I think he does know his stuff better than many regional practitioners (present company excluded, of course).

I don't read him as often as I should. After plowing through "Currents," I'm usually all opinioned out, and that feeling will in all likelihood get only worse now that Michael Smerconish and Mark Bowden are joining the stable of Sunday Inquirer pontificators.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will never forget his Waterworks review... "That's not a chipmunk!"

That was hilarious.

We've been debating whether it was a low-blow, in that the restaurant doesn't really have control over the river, and theoretically a rat could run from the sidewalk into any restaurant in town. But if a river rat was patrolling around my table, it would creep me out, and you can be sure I'd tell people about it, so I think I agree with LaBan's decision to mention it. And part of the point of the story was the restaurant's blasé attitude about it... But I'm sure a mention in a major review would tend to light a fire under management to fix something like this!

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

now that Michael Smerconish and Mark Bowden are joining the stable of Sunday Inquirer pontificators.

Please say you're kidding about that.

LaBan is ok. I like Rick Nichols column better than LaBan's. I'm more likely to go the places he goes to. But that doesn't mean he's bad. If you want bad - and I mean real bad - try the reviews in the Neighbors section. I get the camden county edition and the nameless "reviewer" is absolutely horrible. LaBan looks like Shakespeare in comparison.

Dum vivimus, vivamus!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will never forget his Waterworks review... "That's not a chipmunk!"

That was hilarious.

Actually, that reminds me of LaBan's anecdote about that short-lived BBQ place on Delaware Ave., where he discovered that his smoked bologna had a big ol' bite taken out of it. His server, on being confronted with it, blurted out "Well, I didn't do it!"

Comedy gold, I tells ya.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

now that Michael Smerconish and Mark Bowden are joining the stable of Sunday Inquirer pontificators.

Please say you're kidding about that.

Sorry. I'm not.

Both of their columns -- Bowden's is called "The Point," and Smerconish's is appropriately titled "Head Strong" -- begin tomorrow.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Laban's review of Zento's sushi in this week's paper has me drooling and dialing for a reservation. For a small place like this, a review of this magnitude is likely incredibly influential on their future. Vonda Bucci at John's Roast Pork has told me more than once that Laban's naming theirs' the best cheesesteak in the Philly area changed their lives.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I love a hater; what's especially great about his hate, however, is that when he is actually moved to praise rather than bury, he goes so large I wanna break out one of those big styrofoam "we're #1" fingers and do a victory lap around the room for the restaurant under review. Case in point: Horizons.

"I've been served a parsley mojito. Shit happens." - philadining

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I hadn't thought of LaBan as a hater. He seems to me to praise at least as often as he pans, with the difference made up of weakly positive or mixed reviews.

Pardon the tangent, V. Like any critic, LaBan is expressing an opinion, and to that extent, I lump him in with the pontificators, even if they are writing about vastly different subjects. I hold them all to the same standard, though: Make me think about what you're saying, and do it in an engaging fashion. LaBan passes this test.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a fondness for Criag Laban, as a former restaurnt owner I found him a delight to speak to and though he gave us 1 bell, it was an optimistic lovely 1 bell though unfortunately well deserved since my chef at the time decided that cooking food without burning it was less important than her boyfriend.

nonetheless I have always enjoyed my conversations with him finding him extremely knowledgable about food, very charming and kinder than anyone suspects, and in regard to his review of Bella, I was somewhat ashamed to have dissappointed him since he had professed high hopes and was incredibly proud when he chose to highlight the Smoked Joint in a super bowl food review.

I can't say that I agree with him 100 percent all the time, but I do trust that I am reading a review by a food professional.

hmm re-reading this I seem to react to him just like I do to my dad, weird.

"sometimes I comb my hair with a fork" Eloise

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Saw this on foobooz: Craig LaBan has apparently been sued for libel. Story in the Daily News.

Obviously we're only hearing the restaurant's side of the story there, but it's an interesting concept. Does a restaurant have a leg to stand on, to sue over a bad comment from a critic? Even if it's legally viable, is it a good idea? For it to be considered libel, I believe they'd need to show both that the comments were false, and that he knew they were false. But then, I'm not a lawyer...

LaBan says (in a sidebar to the Flemings review, not in a full review) he was served a "miserably tough and fatty strip steak" at a place called Chops. The restaurant says he was served a steak sandwich without the bread, not a strip steak. Whatever it was called on the menu, even if it was a breadless steak sandwich, do they really want to draw attention to its tough, fatty miserableness? Sure, one has different expectations for a strip steak than for a steak sandwich, but still...

And I don't know, I suppose anything's possible, but ordering a steak sandwich without the bread just doesn't sound like something a food reviewer would do. Even if he didn't want the bread, he'd get it, just to see what it was like. Of course that's wild conjecture, but I'm just saying... And one has to wonder, was the complaint technically true? Was it a piece of strip steak, even if it wasn't the item called a strip steak on the menu? I'm not going to insist that LaBan is infallible, but I'm confident that he knows what a strip steak is... In the end does it matter what he called it?

But I'm just wondering if it's a good idea for a restaurant to do this, especially in this case. It wasn't a full review, it wasn't even an outright trashing of the place. LaBan simply saying "A recent meal, though, was expensive and disappointing,..." in a sidebar seems unlikely to have a huge impact on their business. I think people overestimate the tangible impact of comments from critics.

I don't think Eddie Murphy is going to sue any critics that trashed Norbit, he's too busy cashing checks...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The last good Eddie murphy movie was trading places.

On the subject at hand....the obvious question Phil is.....

So they somehow are admitting that they served Laban, they knew it was Laban, the "anonymous" Laban, The "Laban who hides at public speaking engagements like Penn's library" and YET........somehow they efffed it up ???????

Dude If I had a steakhouse and I really cared about Laban's opinion to the point of suing him, I would have a heffer on standby strapped to a guillotine (sorry vegans)....and (Foiegrans).

Seems to me they should concentrate on what they do, I certainly had no idea till the fact that they are suing was brought up.

People are just dumb, the quickest solution to bad PR is to say nothing instead of suing for a retraction which only convinces more people that you suck.

Edited to add : I believe you are correct, libel requires will , intent and knowledge.

basically reckless and obvious disregard for the truth. Perhaps we should download and send them a copy of the first amendment.

Edited by Vadouvan (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Saw this on foobooz: Craig LaBan has apparently been sued for libel. Story in the Daily News.

[...]Inqwaster food critic[....]

Inqwaster :laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

I've heard persistent rumors on the journalistic gossip circuit that Brian Tierney is actually much fonder of the Daily News than he is of the "prestige" paper. I wouldn't say that this little dig in the pages of the Paper With Addytood confirms those rumors, but something tells me that Knight-Ridder management wouldn't have let that slide.

Back to the subject, this suit strikes me as more likely to be settled out of court than to go to trial, and if it's not settled out of court, the plaintiff's crazy. I don't think that LaBan's comments meet the three-part test for libel against public figures (statement is false, was made knowing it was false, and was made with malicious intent), and businesses open to the public count as "public figures."

--Sandy, who interviewed Tierney for the next issue of Widener Law magazine (he's Widener Law '87) and is looking forward to hearing him speak before the Delaware County Press Club in May

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...