When Should a Critic Just Trash a Place?
Not the lamb chops in question but a nice picture for you to enjoy.
My first bite of the crawfish beignets forced me to immediately take another. Not because the bite was so tasty but because it was so bland. I couldn't believe my palate. How could something so fried and golden be so flavorless? Best I could tell, the problems were many: a lack of seasoning, a gummy dough, barely a hint of the signature ingredient.
My meal didn't get much better from there. The miniature lamb chops were decently grilled but were almost without a grain of seasoning; even worse, they were paired with a spicy pesto that all but killed whatever charm the chops had to begin with. The baby back ribs certainly didn't taste like they were "grilled to perfection." They tasted like they were roasted to death, til all the meat just fell from the bone in loose, easy chunks. The tuna sashimi was drenched in soy, which at least provided some flavor, if way too much salt.
It was one of those meals that, as a critic, presents a dilemma: Do I trash the place and prevent you, the readers, from wasting your money or do I spare a small, independent restaurant from a vicious attack and let it die on its own (assuming it will)? I mean, it's not like this place is a new José Andrés venture that must be reviewed.
This isn't the first time I've been confronted with such a dilemma. It happened recently at a small Indian restaurant and at a tavern, both of which didn't seem strong enough to withstand an attack. I was explaining this problem to my colleague Ruth Samuelson, aka Housing Complex, and she made an excellent suggestion: Throw it out to the blogosphere.
OK, blogosphere: Where do you stand? Should the critic never hold back and just tear into a restaurant, regardless of the consequences? Or should there be times when restraint is in order? Should the critic, in other words, just let the restaurant die on its own failings, without an assist from the professional palate?
I want your honest opinion here, but I also don't want you to suggest that I tear into a restaurant out of pure Schadenfreude, just so you can watch a place writhe in pain. Your motivation must have a higher purpose.
Photo by thebittenword.com via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License