Thursday, June 21, 2012

Death of the Restaurant Critic

Restaurant critics are finished. Yes, finished. Oh sure there will be the odd few that can hang on and keep their sixty to seventy thousand dollar a year expense accounts and six figure salaries going. This is only because there are people with more money than brains, and love to hear about multiple course tasting menus of overly tortured food that nobody but them can easily afford. And by them I mean the restaurant critics themselves.

For the most part I find restaurant critics amusing, but as a whole superfluous. Sure it’s fun on occasion to hear how someone is stuffing a whole chicken with foie gras butter. The chicken had to be bought special with nearly everything intact so the skin wasn’t ripped. After having the dish presented to the customer once, and then taken away so the legs could be cooked properly and a bouquet of herbs and whatnot shoved up its ass only to have them disappear in the final presentation…sounds like quite a long ways to go for “perfect” chicken.

Quite frankly I hate waiting for a roast chicken at home, but at least I have my trusty bottle of Jameson there to keep me company and if I’d like to do so in flip flops and a pink tutu…I can let my freak flag fly! Besides that, presenting a dish to me and then trying to take it away would be a fool’s errand. I poured a carton of milk over Michael Carter’s head in 7th grade for touching my tater tots...only because it was served on prison issued trays and with forks made of something more delicate than aluminum foil. Imagine if someone touched my perfectly cooked chicken what I could do with fine cutlery and sizzle platters close at hand!

“But Pav, don’t you want to know what it’s like to eat at places like Gramercy Tavern, The Monkey Bar or the like?! First of all let me just say this…I grew up eating at some of the finest eating establishments Keene and Swanzey, NH had to offer such as Tower Pizza (Now defunct awful pizza joint), Papa Ginos (Greasy awful pizza and Italian food…errr…ok spaghetti and meatballs a la chef boyardee….barely), The Black Lantern (Continental Crap), Valley Green Restaurant (Continental Crap if the continent were an island of garbage floating in an ocean of water ready to go to a wastewater treatment plant) and The Creamy Cone (Soft Serve/Hot Dogs/Hamburgers of dubious origin)

I’ve eaten the finest chow the U.S. Marine Corps offers all their men in the field while visiting my buddy Mikko at Camp Lejeune…with such tempting delicacies as spaghetti with meat sauce, ham slab with potatoes au gratin or the pièce de résistance  …ham and chicken loaf, think Spam but less identifiable!  Then there were sides and you hoped you didn’t get peanut butter…which I did. Mikko told me to trade some candy I had for the “Chocolate Graham Cookie”….he said “spread the peanut butter on the cookie and you got yourself a white trash Twix bar” It was always better to get the baby Tabasco bottle (which used to only come in some MRE’s) so you could trade for something useful…Like toilet paper or Imodium!

So I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that the Oysters on the half shell, Cobb salad and dry aged Sirloin with grilled asparagus for $114 dollars at The Monkey Bar  is most probably... not going to suck! What will suck… is the final tally after I’ve spent double that because I want to impress someone, paid for drinks and a bottle of wine, dessert, tips and tax…That’s easily three hundred dollars I just spent and unless the asshole critic can guarantee I’m going to get laid, he or she wasn’t worth shit in that three hundred dollar scenario.

“But Pav what about the ambience, Isn’t that important to you?!” “And what about the service or cleanliness these are all things the restaurant critics look at just for you?!” Excellent point’s kind and thoughtful people… lets address both of those. Short of cannon fire or screaming babies throwing up on my table, after eating MRE’s in ninety-five degree heat listening to a gaggle of staff sergeant’s screaming “eat faster clay heads” to the late teen and early twenty something’s going through Marine Combat Training…the atmosphere of anything short of hell will be groovy. As for cleanliness, if something is dirty I will bring it to their attention…If it’s absolutely disgusting, I’m either not eating there or something’s coming off my bill. I’m not what some would call a “fragile flower” when it comes to speaking my mind.

What the critic does do is more of a dis-service to the restaurant industry than a service. First off if you’re a critic who has done more than say 10 reviews, chances are… people at the restaurants know who you are. Chances are your face has been emailed to and pinned up at every hostess station in whatever little shithole jerkwater town you’re reporting in. Then you’re getting preferred and therefore…different treatment. So what could you possibly be critiquing that would hold true for the people you’re supposed to be reviewing for?!

Also in the same vein of preferential treatment is the ability and motivation to be a corrupt critic. I know, I know, your word is your bond and all that other bullshit. But I’m guessing in exchange for a good review the restaurant stands to make one hell of a lot of money. From all the tourists and shithead foodies who will be traipsing through with their fancy DSLR and snapping photos of the chair where Joey Buttafuoco sat, to the truckload of bloggers taking pictures and describing the food that everybody else has described and taken pictures of.

 Lastly and probably worst of all, the four flushers and shitheels from Yelp telling the world their woes one star at a time, not knowing the difference between shit or shinola but angry nonetheless because the waitstaff forgot to drape the napkin on the back of the chair when they went to the shitter!  I know bribery probably isn’t the norm, but I’m sure it happens somewhere…and the bigger the city, the bigger the fortunes are at stake.

Lastly there is the problem with reservations. Because (insert high profile restaurant name here) got a great and rave review means you’re never going to be able to eat there…ever… and even if you can it will not be in the most ideal circumstances for a meal they can justify overcharging for. Forget the level of service you read about if you do get in…that was for the critic, not for you. You’re one of the masses. You’re going to be gouged, ignored and having the privilege of sitting if not in...At the very least… near the bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still gonna get some good chow and decent service, but not at the level the hard-on who wrote the review did.

I for one am glad it’s coming to a close, it’s like a show that has gone on too long and instead of jumping the shark…they’ve served it sous vide with fruit compote and some kind of sea urchin foam. How many ways can you describe the four star restaurant you described three times before?! You might do yourself a favor Mr/Mrs Critic and go to some place others haven’t had the chance to go. Like Al’s Pizza, or that new BBQ Joint across from the car wash. But I’m guessing you’d probably find that beneath you and poisonous besides. You’d probably have to gargle with bleach and go through a 5 gallon pail of white tea and truffle sorbet to cleanse your palate after getting ahold of a decent slice, or pub style bangers and mash.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, maybe they don’t all have to go…Take Marilyn Hagerty, I’m sure you all remember her but I’ll throw it out there again in case you’ve been doing too much reading on where to find good bottarga in your area…seems my neighborhood Super Wal-Mart is fresh out. Marilyn is the 85 yr. old who did a review of an Olive Garden, and people at first made fun of her and jumped her shit. Then in the end is a media darling, a crowd favorite and has people falling all over her vying for their five minutes of glory. The problem was you shitbricks didn’t understand that she was doing what critics should be doing…her job…eating where the readership ate…and reporting on it in an honest manner.  

Maybe you can learn a lesson from her…start going to places most people can afford, understanding what it is people can and want to eat then searching these more humble places out. Mixing it up and doing a high end restaurant then a neighborhood sub shop... but my guess is you won’t. You’re gonna head back to yet another highly praised and much sought after restaurant…be lauded on and praised for your brilliance in picking yet another excellent restaurant while at the same time playing the lyre and singing for your adoring public, and at the same time the newspaper you write for... is burning…


  1. Let that freak flag fly Bro ! Great writing !!!

  2. Yelp is the fucking worst necessary evil of the restaurant world. When used correctly (weeding out ridiculous criticism or praise) it can be a decent tool to get an overview of the place.

    I like to read reports on places that I find interesting,from people who are knowledgeable about food, write well, and great pictures are always a plus. Sometimes their biased, but I don't like the whole disconnect between chef/proprietor and the diner/guest/reviewer anyway. Why miss out on connecting with someone who has similar interest? So I'm kind of with you on traditional criticism not being as appealing, but I like reading other reviews.

    1. I mentioned this elswhere Roddy, but I find I can get all the info I need from Twitter with regards to recs. I can go direct to well respected chefs in any city of the country and ask who's doing interesting food? Who's doing great sandwiches? etc...I sometimes read Yelp but usually for an address and entertainment. I have yet to meet anybody from Yelp... but then again I don't really spend much time there...Thanks for reading my friend!

  3. I can't believe you referenced Chef Boyardee the same week I did! LOL

    1. LOL... I just happened to eat a lot of their "excellent" ravioli product growing up Shelby. Although mybe subliminally I was channeling your blog! LOL Thanks for reading!

  4. Awesome piece. I must say that I agree with Roddy: I do use Yelp to find and review places, and it can be helpful. Although there is a high percentage of asshats using the site to write reviews, they're not all bad. I can't say much about "real" critics, because as much as I'd love to make fun of their uselessness, if someone offered me that salary and expense account, I'd take it without a second's thought.

  5. You got more faith in Yelp then I ever would J.K.... but I love ya anyways! Thanks for reading and inspiring my response for who do you trust in restaurant reviews...

  6. Very well said.

    I'll never understand why people use Yelp as a source for finding good food. If you want a good meal, just ask the locals. They'll give you the straight dope 99% of the time. Eat where the locals eat. Chances are good you won't be disappointed.