When should a dining critic visit a restaurant and when should they write a review? What constitutes a review? Is it a preview notice for the readers or is any written word from a critic technically a form of dining criticism?
My last blog raised the issue of whose voice is mattering most these days, the dining columnist or the average Joe. With the growth of internet communities the zone is getting grayer as many of us log on to sites like Chowhound to get a taste of what our fellow diners think of restaurants. I use sites like these when I travel, and I have found ways to utilize them to my best advantage when planning food trips to other cities.
This month the issue of when is it OK for a columnist to visit a restaurant and write about it has been burning up the water coolers in my world.
Most dailies and monthlies run benign previews of or first looks at restaurants as soon as they open as a heads-up to the reader. Then each entity sends a reviewer to check out the restaurant on whatever timetable the company has established as appropriate, sometimes two weeks, sometimes a month, sometimes ninety days, depending on the media company’s policy.
Recently the Pi Press sent Kathie Jenkins to the Chambers Kitchen, the new Jean-Georges Vongerichten eatery in the Chambers Hotel, to dine and write a conventional heads-up notice as part of her Small Bites column, which are intended as “first glances, not definitive reviews,” according to the paper.
In the Small Bites column published on September 14, Jenkins highlighted several dishes favorably, and knocked the restaurant for shoddy service. The Chambers people were, according to all of my buddies in the food world, pretty ticked off, since the press release sent out to the whole world noted the opening of the restaurant was on September 14 and apparently Jenkins had “managed to get a reservation via one of her friends during the ‘family & friends’ pre-opening” earlier in the week, according to the Chambers' PR rep who I spoke to. Jenkins may have been trying to scoop the Strib on the preview notice, but that seems like a weak reason to walk into a restaurant before it opens, and she may have felt that if the door is open, hey, then they are open and ready to be talked about, good or bad.
What do you think? When is a restaurant ready to be written about, and how should it be treated? Any differences between a day-old eatery and a six-month-old toddler restaurant? Theatrical performances are reviewed on opening night; what about restaurants?