Readers react to taste and 'tasty'
Sunday’s ombudsman column about Post food writer Tom Sietsema prompted questions from readers about how much a restaurant review really comes down to personal preferences of the food critic.
One caller Sunday noted that a Sietsema review several few months ago complained about the noise and “controlled chaos” at Potenza, a restaurant on H Street, NW. “That’s his opinion,” she said, countering that the din and the hectic feel of the place captured the “fun” of an Italian eatery.
Another caller this morning complained about Sietsema’s mixed review of Blue Ridge, a Southern-style restaurant in Glover Park. Noting that my column had said Sietsema is from Minnesota, the reader wondered whether Sietsema has the “sensitivity” to judge cuisine with a Southern accent.
“To some degree, taste is subjective,” said celebrated chef Eric Ziebold, whose new Sou’Wester restaurant in the District got panned by Sietsema. During an interview for my column, Ziebold noted how different newspaper food critics had reacted to Sou-Wester’s corned beef short ribs.
In his Nov. 15 review, Sietsema raved about the short ribs. Noting that they are prepared using a recipe from Ziebold’s mother, Sietsema said the “tender entrée raises the notion of home cooking to high art."
But a review three days later by Corinna Lothar in The Washington Times said: “Corned-beef short ribs are an interesting idea, but they fail. What comes to the table is a slab of dry corned beef lacking even the suggestion of the rich succulence of traditional beef short ribs.”
“So, who’s right?” Ziebold asked.
Food aside, Ziebold said he is more concerned with the reviewer’s “interpretation” of the restaurant. “Did they get the spirit, the feel, of the restaurant? If they didn’t, then you have to reflect for a moment and ask: What can we do to make a clearer impression?”
Of the restaurant owners and chefs I interviewed, most agreed that Sietsema wields tremendous power. A negative Sietsema review can mean that would-be patrons are less enthusiastic about trying a new restaurant. It removes the “pop” of a new eatery, said Ziebold.
But he said another, bigger, problem, especially for high-end restaurants, is that a bad review makes it harder to recruit or retain top-level staff. “Young cooks always want to go to work at the hottest or brightest restaurant in town,” he said. “Very few people want to work on a losing team.” Fortunately for Ziebold, his other District restaurant, pricey CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, received a four-star rave from Sietsema in The Post’s recent Fall Dining Guide.
Even a bad Sietsema review won’t necessarily dent business at an already-established restaurant. In a May review, Sietsema gave a low one-star rating to Founding Farmers, located at 19th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW. He noted that each time he had visited Founding Farmers, he encountered a “swarm” of customers waiting to be seated. But “with four meals under my belt,” he wrote “I’m eager to point the crowds in other directions.”
Dan Simons, a Founding Farmers partner, said he considered the review “mean.”
“I remember thinking he was actually sort of instructing people not to come to the restaurant,” he said. “He was almost offended that so many people liked the restaurant. It was like he was he was saying: ‘This place is crowded. I can’t figure out why. Don’t go there.’”
Finally, several readers complained about a part of my column that mentioned the range of good and bad food Sietsema must consume as food critic. I wrote that his dining “can include mouth-watering chateaubriand or tasty foie gras. But just as often, it’s brick-weight dumplings or soggy salads.”
A reader from Bethesda wrote that foie gras “is the swollen, diseased liver of ducks and geese who are force-fed just up until the point of death before being slaughtered. Birds suffer tremendously, both during and after the force-feeding process, as their physical condition rapidly deteriorates. In just a few weeks, their livers swell up to ten times their normal size, and the birds can scarcely stand, walk or even breathe. At this point, they are slaughtered, and their livers are peddled as a ‘gourmet’ delicacy.”
Another reader from Potomac wrote that “calling foie gras ‘tasty’ is quite surprising and deeply offensive to anyone interested in compassion toward animals.”
The fact that foie gras is on many restaurant menus and is widely sold in gourmet food stores attests to the fact that many consumers like it. That aside, complaining readers are reflecting a growing movement by some states and municipalities to ban the sale of foie gras produced through force-feeding.
Posted by: waterfrontproperty | November 23, 2009 11:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TeddySanFran | November 24, 2009 3:52 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ronjaboy | November 24, 2009 7:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: subwayguy | November 24, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gary4books | November 25, 2009 5:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dermitt | November 25, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.