Saturday, November 17, 2012

Seacoast Food, the Truth.

I’ve lived in the Portsmouth, NH area now for about four years and a majority of that time I have been traveling to other areas of the country for work, and eating out non-stop. So when I come home I spend most of my eating time at home in the comfort of my own kitchen. Being a former chef it’s hard to beat the food cost, quality and drink prices at home. 

When I did decide to venture out to eat I’d check local reviews and “Best Of” lists. I was assured each and every time that I’d receive a great meal at a great price from great people giving great service as if I’d be going to Mister Rogers Restaurant with Elmo as my server! Sadly, on several occasions I’d come away wondering if I had been to the wrong place.

Within the past six months I’ve started talking to a lot of cooks and chefs in the area. With my limited experience of local restaurants I would ask these cooks if I had gone to these places on a bad day, or inquire about restaurants I wanted to try based on reviews and write-ups I’ve read, I mean can they all be “great”? I was met with eye rolling and laughter…”Haven’t you heard?! There’s no such thing as a bad restaurant or bad review on the seacoast!” I don’t understand, I’ve had bad meals and at least one of the local/regional reviewers has had a bad meal as well.

What followed from these cooks was in a word…Disturbing. Theories from the cooks/chefs went from “It has to do with advertising dollars/ It’s a money grab” to “A poor review from a critic would destroy them, the critic or restaurant” to “It’s too small of a town” and “it’s considered bad taste and it may hurt…feelings.” This may come as a shock to you kind and gentle people but my response to hurt feelings and poor taste as a result of a poor but honest review can be summed up in two words, tough shit.

Warm fuzzy reviews are not only a disservice to the cooks and restaurant owners, but to you and the local economy as well. A chef who is an owner put their name, money, personal life and reputation on the line. They need feedback good bad or indifferent to gauge whether their product is good or not. Smiling and nodding like the village idiot when what you really want to do is vomit on the chef’s clogs doesn’t help the chef improve.

Even if the chef isn’t an owner they still deserve the truth which in theory will benefit you with a better end product. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. Somewhere along the line as a young cook, they made something that prompted their chef and mentor to compare their food to something lower than whale shit. They are a tough breed of people who are used to dealing with things going wrong and fixing them, that’s what makes a great cook. A cook that can’t handle adversity or criticism is a shoemaker.

The restaurant owner of a bad restaurant, reading how “great” the restaurant is will make them question why else could the bottom line be so damned bad? They need honest feedback, they already have friends who kiss their ass and smile… they don’t need another. A restaurateur armed with good honest information will be able to make a better decision regarding menu, personnel changes or just plain pulling the plug on an operation gone pear shaped.

Tourists: Yup, the rumor is that the seacoast gets its share of tourists. When I go to a strange little hamlet for some R&R I check out local reviews, blogs, and “Best Of” articles to discern where I’m going to eat. If the reviews, articles and “best of” pieces are skewed popularity contests or fluff, and the places in reality suck… I’m going to write that town off as a culinary wasteland. This in turn is going to hurt local businesses because if there’s nothing good to eat why would you stay there?

I’m not saying we need to do bad reviews for the sake of doing bad reviews like Pete Wells of the New York Times did to Guy Fieri’s Restaurant in NY. If a place is that bad maybe just leave them alone and don’t say anything about them…ever. When it comes to a Restaurant that has a good concept, chef and staff just missing the mark…let them know about it like Brian Aldrich of @SeacoastBevLab did this week in his review of The Thirsty Moose. It was smart, honest, on the mark and, it was about damn time!

So heads up cooks I’m going to be out there eating…a lot. You cooks asked for it because as one put it “We deserve more than vanilla reviews.” I’m not looking to run anybody over, but if a restaurant or its food is not being delivered as advertised I’ll let you know. This upcoming spring I’ll be giving you a Top Five Restaurants of the Seacoast list that you can take to the bank and a Top Five “Up and Coming” List as well. The chefs and restaurateurs deserve it, the tourists deserve it, local businesses deserve it and seacoast…YOU DESERVE IT! 


  1. I loved Pete Wells review as a piece of writing. I also think he did a good job of reminding that newly minted category of celebrity chef (by which I mean one that spends ihs time in front of a camera and not in front of a stove) that not everything they touch turns to gold, simply because they have touched it. Maybe the next dude who decides to use his name to sell crap will think twice about it.

  2. Here here! I hate giving negative reviews, but even places I rate above average often have areas of weakness, and I always try to point them out with tact and humor. No restaurant is perfect - even Wolfgang Puck and Jose Andres have points to fix in their superb restaurants.