(Mentioned in list towards the bottom. A screenshot of our Bacchanalia review accompanied the original article)!
Reviews and reaction stir the pot
Published on: 03/01/07
Readers of the Feb. 21 Dining In/Dining Out section of The New York Times got an extra something to read a full-page ad in which restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow took the Times' lead restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, to task in an excoriating 1,100-word letter to the food editor.
The back story, briefly, goes like this:
Chodorow is best known as the financier behind the short-lived Rocco's on 22nd, the opening of which was documented on the NBC reality TV show "The Restaurant." But he also runs a couple dozen big, splashy restaurants from L.A. to London.
His latest baby is Kobe Club, a Midtown Manhattan draw for wealthy beef fetishists who would consider paying $190 for a tasting of wagyu beef raised on three different continents. Bruni gave Kobe Club a majorly harsh zero-star review — he complained of "insipid or insulting dishes" and compared the decor to a "torture chamber" — and Chodorow hit the proverbial roof.
Chodorow's assertion that Bruni lacks the "food background" and thus the credentials to review restaurants is what got everyone talking. But the part I found most fascinating is where Chodorow announces — catch this — a blog (http
www.chinagrillmgt.com/blog in which he promises to follow food critics in their steps.
Chodorow writes that his blog will contain "a special section entitled Following Frank [Bruni] and After Adam [Platt, critic for New York Magazine], in which I will make a follow-up visit to restaurants they write about for the purpose of reviewing their reviews."
I've never met a restaurant critic with a hidden agenda or a closet full of axes to grind. But I imagine they exist, and anything that exposes them is good.
Rather, most critics see their reviews as salvos launched into a public debate and strive to be accurate with fact and honest with opinion. No more, no less. If Chodorow really has the time, the energy and the stomach to parse two restaurant reviews a week, his efforts will only deepen the meaning of the review.
Chodorow will also find that his is one of many voices. Nowadays, when general-circulation publications come out with restaurant reviews, blogs and message boards everywhere light up. The review itself becomes a list of talking points around which conventional wisdom collects.
Alternate reviews have also started to proliferate on personal blogs. Some are dashed-off paragraphs; others thoughtful, graded looks at the food, decor and service at a particular restaurant. Many begin with the phrase, "After reading about ..."
In Atlanta, there is no shortage of people who follow restaurants and want to get their opinions heard. Often, these opinions are expressed pointedly in response to reviews written by the city's troika of food opinion: Meridith Ford here at the AJC, Besha Rodell at Creative Loafing and Christiane Lauterbach at Atlanta Magazine.
Here's a sampling:
• http://www.atlantacuisine.com/: Far and away the most active local site, this board features reviews, coupons and a lively discussion board where local print reviews are often parsed as a jumping-off point for a thorough, often intelligent, sometimes mean-spirited back-and-forth. Reading the posts reminds me of crashing a cocktail party where everyone knows everybody else, has had a couple of drinks and talks loudly. The site has spawned a fun free paper, published monthly, called Atlanta Cuisine.
• www.accessatlanta.com/restaurants/content/restaurants/talk.html: This is AJC's board, where people can post their restaurant experiences.
• http://www.atlantafoodies.blogspot.com/: Formatted reviews (i.e., questions with answers) of both upscale and casual restaurants. The writer identifies herself as a native Atlantan and dyed-in-the-wool foodie.
• http://www.blissfulglutton.blogspot.com/: Nice diary of the writer's food amblings, with plenty of photos and terse reviews that don't stint on opinion. Lots of appealing ethnic finds. The writer identifies herself as a former chef.
• http://www.chowdownatlanta.com/: A new site that promises to offer a good mix of cooking, dining, carryout and deli-case dinner ideas. The writer is a woman who abhors leftovers.
• http://www.atlantaeats.blogspot.com/: An opinionated, guy's-guy food blog written by a writer who calls himself "Steakhead," won't eat foie gras and lists "Animal House" among his favorite movies.
• http://www.runningwithtweezers.typepad.com/: This is a local cooking rather than restaurant blog, so it doesn't quite fit with the others. But I include it because it's the best written, warmest of spirit and most visually appealing of the bunch. If this writer (a professional stylist) turns to restaurant reviews I, for one, would be tempted to follow her advice.