The Ethics of Restaurant Reviewing

I’m in a bit of a quandry. Normally, if I have a bad experience at a restaurant, I’ll visit a second time before writing a bad review. After all, they could be having an off night, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to pan them based on that, right??

However, I had an experience at a restaurant tonight that was SO bad, SO abysmal, SO atrocious, that my husband and I ended up walking out before we even got an opportunity to place an order. Bad sign #1 was when the hostess told us, when she seated us, that they were out of half of the items on the menu. This is less than an hour after dinner service started – after a 3-hour period after lunch when they were closed, presumably, to prep for dinner. Bad sign #2 is when said hostess comes back after a couple of minutes to tell you that your waitress will be with you “once she gets here” – meanwhile people coming in after us were being waited on by another waitress. Bad sign #3 was when the bread that they served us was so hard from toasting that it cut my gums. A half hour later when we still hadn’t been asked for our order, we left for greener pastures because we were ready to gnaw our own arms off from hunger.

The bad thing was that I *really* wanted to like this place; after all, it’s the only restaurant that serves this particular type of ethnic cuisine in town. Ethnic cuisine that I miss dearly and would drive 500 miles back to my hometown to eat. But I honestly can’t see myself going back there. I can’t attest to the food because I never got to eat any, but based on the toast and Shedd’s Spread we were served, and what we saw coming by on the way to other tables (small, overpriced portions), it didn’t look promising.

Here’s the dilemma – the place is fairly new, and I can understand some minor hiccups, but if they continue running this place in that manner, it will run itself into the ground in a matter of months. Do I keep my mouth shut, and pretend that this experience never happened, since I don’t plan on going back, OR do I write a negative review without even having tasted the food? I’m torn on this one.

February 2007 Roundup

Is it just me or did February fly by? I know it’s the shortest month and all, but still….

Dispatch readers voted Katzinger’s as the best corned beef sandwich in town. While there are others that give you much better value and meat quality for the price (Barry’s in the North Market, for instance), I grudgingly have to agree that Katzy’s has the best tasting overall. Before I went to New York, I thought their prices were outrageous, but after seeing $25 Reubens on the menus in Manhattan, $11 doesn’t seem quite as bad anymore. They’re the closest I’ve seen in town that compare to New York style sandwiches. Of course, it’s not like we have a ton of delis in town, right? And it looks like that wrapped up their weekly surveys! They’ve posted a list of all of the winners, if you’re curious.

Lorence from Lorence’s Kitchen posted a very nice tribute to the first ever Wendy’s, which will be closing soon due to lack of business. While I can understand the reasoning behind the closing, it’s still kind of sad when you see a piece of history fall by the wayside.

Recipes from around the blogosphere that I’m adding to my recipe file to make in the future: Deliciously Trashy Mac and Cheese, Cheesecake Factory White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake, and Cream of Reuben Soup from the Columbus Dispatch, Black Bean Pie from 28 Cooks, Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee from a good american wife, Shiitake and Saffron Risotto from Aidan Brooks: Trainee Chef, Nutella Cheesecake Brownies from alpineberry, Claudia’s German Sauerbraten from appetitive behavior, Rosie’s Its Too Damn Cold Outside Chili from Bitchin’ in the Kitchen with Rosie, Cauliflower and Poblano Chile “Jackpot” Gratin from Blog Appetit, Frangipane Apple Pies from Cafe of the East, Apple Torte and Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Muffins from Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once, Sesame Seed Balls from Dessert First, Italian Cheese Bread from Dine and Dish, Show Cooker Onion Soup from A Veggie Venture, Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Soup from everybody like sandwiches, Maple-Glazed Bacon on Gorgonzola Polenta Squares from Fancy Toast, Crab with Brie, Parmesan and Artichokes from Ideas in Food, Beef in Red Wine and Potato, Cheddar and Chive Soup from Kuchenlatein, Brown Sugar Bundt Cake from La Mia Cucina, Baked Hot Chocolate from Lovescool, Potato Salad from M3rNi3, Pancetta-Ricotta Crostini from My husband cooks, the most mouth watering burger I’ve ever seen from Off the Broiler, Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts from Orangette, Microwave Chocolate Pudding from thepassionatecook, Brie-stuffed French Toast with Maple Syrup and Sliced Apple from tomsaaristo’s Xanga, and Cannelé Colossus from The Traveler’s Lunchbox.

In informative posts, learn all about chocolate in the Columbus Dispatch, we are instructed on how to cook Dungeness crab from Daily Unadventures in Cooking, and chili basics from Kitchen Chick.

There was an interesting, yet controversial post over at An Exploration of Portland Food and Drink about fine dining – and the annoying things one encounters at fine dining establishments that makes the evening uncomfortable for some, such as the “thousand yard stare” when you walk in, decrumbing, etc. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not one for fine dining because I loathe the pomp and circumstance that goes along with gourmet eating. Give me casual grub any day – for me, it’s more about the preparation than the ambience. However, I’m sure that there are those who enjoy the whole experience (and can afford the cost that goes along with it). I’ve heard people rave about The Refectory (here in Columbus), or The French Laundry in CA, and look forward to it as the experience of a lifetime. I’d be too busy sweating the small details to enjoy the experience. I’d be uncomfortable because of all the rituals that come with “good service”, and agree wholeheartedly with the original poster that the definition of good service is making your customer feel comfortable.

I can remember back in my early 20′s, my roommate at the time and I went to try out a German restaurant (now gone, unfortunately) in town, not knowing it was upscale. We got there before the dinner rush, he in scruffy jeans and a wifebeater, I in scruffy jeans and a metal t-shirt. I realized we were a bit underdressed after we were seated and saw white cloth napkins and fine china, and really realized we were underdressed when others started filing in with upscale business casual/dresses/suits. By that time, we were halfway done with our meal anyway. My point is, not once during our visit there did we ever feel inferior or unwelcome. The service was exemplary, despite our appearance. And this type of attitude isn’t limited to just fine dining. There’s the potential for obnoxious waitstaff at all restaurants, upscale or not. My advice? Treat all of your customers equally well, and read their body language. If they are feeling uncomfortable, it should be obvious. You’d be surprised. I’m sure that our server was – we left a 30% tip for impeccible service. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

And while I’m on the subject – why do servers treat you differently if you don’t drink wine and just ask for water instead? I’m not cheap – I just don’t like much anything to drink other than water.

Another post that caught my eye was Culinary Muse’s Why I Didn’t Buy the $8 Eggs. And I was surprised to see she caught some flack in her comments section who didn’t think she should be taken aback by the price.

I’m a person who will eat local foods whenever possible. Who prefers organic over conventional. But also a person who was once on food stamps, with a $105 monthly food budget for 2 people. If we want local food and sustainable agriculture to catch on, it absolutely HAS to be accessible as a reasonable alternative. And $8 a dozen, my friends, is painful. I’m sure the eggs are great. And I’m sure they will still have people that will buy them.

Here’s my question: are actual costs driving up the price of the eggs? Or is it because some farmers are exploiting the popularity of organic foods to make a quick profit? As I’ve said, I’ll eat local as long as it is economically feasible for me to do so. If I see prices here in Ohio that match those in San Francisco, I’ll buy conventional – and I’m speaking as someone who understands the environmental concerns and can afford to splurge on food. If I’m balking at the price, what about your average consumer?

Oh, how I want this. Now I just need to convince my husband that a log in the kitchen is a *good* thing!

Until next month…

Friday Roundup 11/10/06

There’s a new Columbus food blogger in town – Jule from The Food Mill. If you get a chance, check out her site. It’s fairly new, but has some good recipes and food porn. I still say that we locals all need to get together for a potluck. Maybe sometime in mid-December? Any one else interested?

I also stumbled across another Columbus food-related blog – The Hot Zone Online. While I’m not a huge spicy food person, I did love their review of the local chicken wing joints. And not in Columbus, but nearby in Cincinnati, is Sorry Fugu. Check them out!

Lots of talk about Thanksgiving, with it coming up so soon now. There was a good article this week in the Dispatch about local Thanksgiving boxes and turkeys, and different options for locals. I’m personally purchasing my turkey and Thanksgiving box from my CSA, Just This Farm. I love the focus on eating local in this article.

Lisa the Restaurant Widow put together a nice list of local sources for Thanksgiving ingredients and places that will cook for you in addition to the Dispatch’s list of restaurants that are offering Thanksgiving dinners. If you’re cooking at home, check out the list of USDA Turkey Cooking Guidelines that was posted on Slashfood. And mental note: before I die, I must try a turducken.

Speaking of the Dispatch, they wrote a review on one of my favorite local brewpubs, Barley’s. We haven’t been for a while, but I’m having a craving for their sauerkraut balls and naked wings. Yum. Also, a nice mention of one of my favorite local bakeries, Pistachio, which I wrote an entry about not too long ago. Speaking of Pistachio, I just noticed that they’ve updated their menu to reflect the fall season. It looks like my husband will be making a stop there on his way home tonight! :)

So last week, Dispatch readers chose China Dynasty as the best Chinese food in town. I’ve probably passed the place a million times, but have never tried it. Now I think I’ll have to, since good Chinese is so hard to find. What I find hard to believe, though, is that a chain (P.F. Chang’s) won out over Hunan Lion. Although P.F. Chang’s is good, I have to respectfully disagree.

This week, they want to know which restaurant offers the city’s best Beat Michigan Gameday Party? Unfortunately, this is another one I’ll have to abstain from. As a New Jersey transplant, I don’t bleed Buckeye red (could care less about football, actually), so I’ve never been anywhere near a restaurant during the Michigan game. But all of you die-hard football fans, give them your input and you enter into the draw to win a $25 gift card.

With fall in full swing, and winter right around the corner, most of the recipes posted by others have been just the right thing for the cold days ahead. I’ve bookmarked a ton. Here’s this weeks keepers: Brown Sugar & Spice Pumpkin Bars from [Gluten Free] Goddess, Apple and Pear Flognarde from Cook & Eat, Chocolate Stout Cake from Smitten Kitchen, Applesauce from Gluten-Free Girl, Roasted Kobocha with Brown Butter from Oishii Eats, and Pear Clafoutis from Slashfood.

In informational posts, Chrispy of Experimentation of Taste tells us everything you ever wanted to know about winter squash, Kalyn’s Kitchen posts an archive of South Beach Diet friendly recipes, Jenny of Lox, Stock and Barrel show us how to roast garlic (old link, but first time I’m seeing it), and Slashfood provides us with a list of surprisingly healthy foods.

Recipe search time. This is a new feature in the round-ups, where I’ll post what I’m looking for, and maybe one of you can point me to a recipe for it. If I’m posting it here, trust me – I’ve searched high and low for a recipe and haven’t found one. This week? I’m looking for a recipe for bassma (Middle Eastern pistachio pastry) and roast stuffed breast of veal (w/ a bread stuffing). Also, anyone know of a local source for veal breast?

Gastroville wrote an entry about their experience at the French Laundry. What surprised me was the cost of the meal. $900 to $1500?? For one meal?? Good Lord. My mortgage payment is less than that. Even the cost of the meal before extras and beverages ($420 for a couple) is more than I usually spend on groceries in a month.

I fancy myself a foodie, and in the social circles I run in, my tastes are a little more “gourmetish” than most of my family and friends, but…lets face it folks, I’m no gourmet. And I never will be. I like food that tastes good. I could afford to eat at The French Laundry if I wanted to – but (and bring on the flames here if ya’ll want) I don’t think I want to. The descriptions of most of the food really didn’t do much for me. I’d love to try Waygu beef, but not if it’s going to cost me $100 extra on top of the $210 I’m already paying for two tiny little slices (not even a whole steak!). Give me a nicely marbled ribeye from Bluescreek anyday over that stuff.

I’m not crazy about gourmet food, which is probably why I’ll never be a regular at The Refectory or L’Antibes or any restaurants of that type. It’s pretty to look at, and it tastes good (at least most of the time), but I feel out of place eating there. It’s just not me. I’m all about comfort food, food that reaches out and hugs you in the memories that are wrapped in it. It’s all about the nostalgia factor for me. Like reproducing my Oma’s dishes in her honor and to get back some of what I lost when she died. My favorite restaurants have comfort food on the menu, almost exclusively.

I’m not crazy about wine. I, for the most part, just don’t like it. But we get strange looks in nice restaurants when we order water or pop with our meal. I’m no less of a foodie because I’m not asking for the wine list.

So even though I love to experiment, and try new things, most of what you’ll see here is the embodiment of me – simple, unassuming, excited about food and my love of sharing stuff with other people and cooking for those that I love. Plain and simple. It may never make a top 10 list of best food blogs, but it is what it is. Enjoy the ride. :)

Not to disparage those who do molecular gastronomy or high end gourmet. I love to look at your pictures, read about your experiences. I love to live vicariously through your entries. You’ll just probably never find those entries on my blog.

We’re off to Cleveland for a concert on Tuesday. Any suggestions for a good place to eat?

Until next week, folks…

Friday Round Up 10/13/06

Another Columbus food blogger has come to my attention this week: CMH Gourmand. He likes a lot of the same places I do, too. :)

I was really happy to see Jeni’s Ice Creams featured in a Dispatch article this week. Two interesting things. It mentions that the Ohio peach flavor is low-fat. I wish I would have known that at the beginning of the summer! :) I’ll have to go see if they have any pints left since it’s seasonal and won’t be around much longer. The other thing they mentioned is that the Grandview location has apple crisp! Made with Honeycrisps! (my favorite variety of apple). I need to find an excuse to go to Grandview, and soon!


So, Central Ohio readers voted Chipotle as having the best salsa. Chipotle?? I mean it’s good, but I could whip up Chipotle salsa in my kitchen. This week, they want to know which restaurant has the best grilled tuna steak. I have to abstain on this one, unfortunately – I’ve never eaten that particular dish anywhere in town. If you’ve got an opinion on the matter, let them know and you might win a $25 restaurant gift certificate.


The recipes I found this week that tempted my palate so much that I now plan on making them: Flourless Bittersweet Chocolate Cake from A Mingling of Tastes, Fall Colors Vegetable Stew (great way to use those CSA veggies!) from Albion Cooks, Ham and Caramelized Onion Omelets from The Columbus Dispatch, Balsamic Onions from blog from OUR kitchen, Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting from Coconut & Lime, Twice Baked Cauliflower from Cookin’ with Cyndi, Cheesecake with Apples and a Brulee Top from Creampuffs in Venice, Gruyere Apple Grilled Cheese from Just Braise, Baked Spaghetti Squash from Eating for One, Dill Pancakes from My Husband Cooks . Whew, I think I gained weight just by looking at pictures this week!

And, because there’s always a little room to learn something new, learn all about pumpkins from Blog Appetit
, how to make the perfect grilled cheese from Slashfood, or 10 Ways to Improve Your Cooking at Spicing Up Your Senses.

I was really, really pissed off after reading an article on CarbWire. To give you an idea, here’s an excerpt from the entry:

“Why do go around making up diseases for every problem that we have nowadays? Could it be that we don’t really have a disease, we’ve just made some really bad choices for ourselves, hmmmm? Consciously choosing to do something that is detrimental to yourself in some way does not mean you are sick. Misguided, ignorant, or even bored, perhaps, but NOT stricken with an indomitable disease that cannot be overcome.”

As someone who has struggled (yes, struggled) with super morbid obesity all my life (and I mean all my life – I weighed 106 at age 5), I think it’s detrimental to those who need to lose weight to put the blame for the weight entirely on them. While eating and a sedentary lifestyle DOES have a definite impact on someone’s weight, there are tons of hormonal and chemical issues in the body that may make it difficult or near impossible for someone to lose weight. There’s tons of research on set point theory, satiety, and the effects of cortisol and gherlin on hunger and weight loss. There are some illnesses (in my case, PCOS) that have a definite adverse effect on weight loss. Even if you want to argue that it’s a mental issue (eating disorder), it’s sad to see that obesity is vilified to the level it is. As if being obese is some sort of character flaw. Unfortunately, this attitude is not limited to this one person. Even after weight loss surgery, I weigh darn near 400 lbs. And while I could use the breakdown of my surgery as an excuse, I don’t. I know I should eat better. I know I should exercise. I know I need counseling for any eating issues I have. But in the meantime, don’t seat me in the back of the restaurant so your other patrons don’t have to look at me. Don’t talk about me behind my back. Don’t act like you’re better than I am because you’re thinner. Don’t ignore me when I talk to you, as if I don’t exist at all. Don’t perpetuate the lie that the thinner you are, the better you are, and expect our young girls to reach an unhealthy ideal. Don’t generalize – not every fattie is a fattie because they sit on the couch all day eating bon bons. Even if I ever do win the battle against the DISEASE of obesity, I’ll still be a curvy girl, and damn proud to be one. *If* I lose my weight, it will be because I want to live long enough to spend the rest of my life (whatever is left of it) with my husband. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sorry to rant on about this, but it needed to be said. While I’m sure that most (probably all) of you don’t share the opinion of this one blogger, I’d be curious to know if those of you who are overweight encounter the same attitudes in society as I do.

Speaking of which, I’m throwing around the idea to do an experiment next year that has me trying 12 different ways of eating (one per month), while exercising the same amount all year, to see which one is the most effective for weight loss, which makes me feel the best personally (for example, I know I should be eating lower carb because of PCOS, but I don’t), and which one is right for my body. I still haven’t worked out all the details, though. If I do, I’ll probably do it in a separate weight loss journal while still documenting the food aspect of it here. Nothing’s definite yet.

Until next week, folks…