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Bistrot Le Zinc, National Cathedral - Chef Herbert Kerschbaumer Fills In For Janis McLean - Closed


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Not sure if they allow corkage but can report having given Bistro Le Zinc (BLZ) a try tonight with friends.

HEADLINE

A good and fun neighborhood spot with nice food but prices high enough to probably not earn regular rotation status with many locals who can walk. Success will likely hinge on whether enough people frequent it from other neighborhoods to compensate. A faithful french bistro in a cool and interesting space with competent cooking at reasonable (but not inexpensive) prices given the quality of the grub. Nice mix of classic bistro fare with some local sourcing and a few mildly innovative items. Ex Robert Weidmaier/Brasserie Beck chef David Ashwell and GM John Warner are the co-owners. Decent desserts. A place to enjoy and socialize more than to celebrate a big career milestone or propose marriage.

BACKGROUND

The Washingtonian quotes Chef David Ashwell as saying "We're not here to reinvent the wheel. We're here to make the wheel roll nicely." I think they've done exactly that successfully. Both Ashwell and Warner are ex Brasserie Beck and some of BLZ's menu reflects that. As always, getting the space and permits in order was a huge pain but they did it and now are open on the southern side of Macomb (just west of Wisconsin) where restaurants have had less staying power than the northern side where Two Amys and Cactus Cantina sit. BLZ has a very good chance to change that trend.

VENUE

A solid thumbs up because it interestingly and thoughtfully achieves its goal of being a simple, well executed french bistro. The place was packed tonight and, with more than 60 seats, a metal ceiling and hard floors on a Tuesday, that's pretty good but also ensures some raucousness. I anticipate some folks will not like aspects of BLZ's ambience including noise level and close table proximity. But these were not issues for us. While a bit noisy, we were able to have a conversation without too much trouble and given it's a bistro, it seems appropriate to be more animated than, say, Marcel, City Zen or Citronelle. While I can't claim with a straight face that I felt transported back to turn of the (last) century Paris, the thought did cross my mind at a couple points during the dinner. There's an irreverence and fun about BLZ that makes me appreciate some noise.

Co-owner and former music exec (pre Beck) Warner has the walls adorned with cool, fun and quality photography ranging from shots of Winston Churchill, Gina Lollobrigida and Bill Clinton to Bob Marley, a few members of John's family and a bunch of cool 60s era Parisian restaurant menus. He's a not-so-hard-core collector but nevertheless a thoughtful one and the collection on the walls reflects exactly that. Open and very bright kitchen at the front of the restaurant with a canopy of large copper cookware. The kitchen is also adjacent to upper level seating that's only two or three steps up from the main level. Large bathrooms with separate hot and cold faucets (cute, authentic I suppose but hate these :mellow:) on the euro-style sink and the kind of Moulin Rouge posters that lower priced, less interesting french bistros hang in the main dining room. Our waiter thought BLZ's name was inspired by the material used for the bar but, from a distance, it looked like marble or stone to us and we forgot to ask John when we met him. 20 or so seats outside should be ready to go if the temps dip below 90 come fall :unsure:

SERVICE

Surprisingly good given how new BLZ is and how busy it was. Big props to John and the staff on this. I wouldn't knock it if it was disappointing since BLZ is just a couple of weeks old but do want to give credit here given how often new places struggle with this. After waiting a bit to order, we had very good service from Kwon and other staff who helped with some delivery and clearing. All were very efficient and Kwon answered our various questions patiently and knowledgeably. Water glass refills, course pacing and tableside manner all great. And, I liked that the staff is trained (and motivated) to support each other with customers the focus (versus just looking out for their own assigned tables whilst ignoring others).

FOOD & DRINK

Very good with just minor picks I'll share since my overall view is quite positive. We had:

- Bottle of 2009 Domaine Gachot-Monot Cote de Nuits-Villages Burgundy ($56): Not sure if a 2X markup is a good deal but know I like it better than the 3 to 5X and higher markups found elsewhere. This paired well with our food and was smooth, full, a bit smoky and and with rich fruit.

- Classic French Onion Soup with Gruyere Cheese ($11): Very nice with plenty of tender onion and rich flavors perfect with the wine. I got this because it's a classic french bistro item to compare. This one is better than many. Maybe a bit better than Bistro du Coin and similar to Mussel Bar.

- Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Puree, Caper and White Raisin Sauce ($12): Two among us ordered these. Very good and very nicely cooked. Scallop quality excellent. Searing spot on with nice crisp tops and bottoms but tender sweet body. The caper/raisin sauce was something different that worked well. Likewise we appreciated and enjoyed the cauliflower puree which, while not as much in color contrast as the more typical pea or green vegetable puree, tasted good. I cared much less that the presentation wasn't perhaps as striking as the norm since the execution was perfect and the flavors great.

- Roasted West Coast Halibut, Celery Root Puree, Mussels and Chanterelles ($26): Our friend who ordered this really enjoyed it. Excellent quality fish nicely prepared. As with most of the BLZ dishes, simple honest preparations with a reasonable number of complementary ingredients.

- P.E.I. Blue Bay Mussels Classic Style: White Wine, Garlic, Cream and Italian Parsley ($18): We all loved when this came to the table in a large, round and bright yellow Le Creuset french oven. Perfect for a dramatic lifting of the lid and escape of steam. The mussels themselves were plump; very nice. The sauce a bit mild (more garlic maybe?) but a very nice dish.

- Pan-Seared Red Snapper, Eggplant Tapenade, Basil Brioche Crust and Red Pepper Reduction ($24): This was very good but different from advertised on the menu. First, beautiful, fresh and flavorful fish but maybe a bit overcooked; surely more than seared but not at all problematic. Flavors like the eggplant and basil were somewhat marginalized by a mustard used for the crust but it was really good. The tapenade was very nice and the red pepper reduction more about presentation than adding a lot flavor wise. All in all though, a very good dish I'd gladly order again. If they identified the mustard as a one or two word modifier for the "crust" on the menu (instead of "basil brioche," flavors that weren't really perceptible) it might better describe the flavor palette while still selling the dish nicely.

- Selection of American Cheeses, Baby Arugula Salad and Toasted Walnut Bread ($9): Our friend who ordered this enjoyed it and finished it but I didn't try it and can't say what the cheeses were. Looked good though.

- Poached Bartlett Pear Baked in Puff Pastry, Kirsch Sabayon, Creme Fraiche Ice Cream ($10): I had to order this given its name to compare with a similar sounding dish at my favorite Eastern Shore restaurant (and one of my favorite DC area restaurants). Totally different from that, it had a nicely poached pear with just a bit of firmness. The puff pastry was a minor but nice player adding crispness underneath the pear. Refreshing ice cream and something in the middle of the pear I couldn't identify (maybe some nuts or chopped cherry to pick up the kirsch? had a reddish color).

- Valrhona Dark Chocolate and Mustard Fruits Bread Pudding, Vanilla Anglaise ($11): Our friend who ordered this finished it happily. Can't say much more.

VALUE & BOTTOM LINE

BLZ reminded me of another new neighborhood spot, Salt & Pepper in Palisades, in just one way. Both places know who they are and then walk that talk. The similarities end there but that's a big-deal quality worthy of praise.

I have to call BLZ a good value. It's not cheap but I think it fairly priced for what it offers. The closest competition in shouting distance is Glover Park's Bistro Lepic, which has a more serious, more romantic feel with a more extensive and marginally lower priced menu. Will have to visit BLZ a couple times more and revisit Lepic to better assess the relative merits of the cooking--has been awhile since my last Lepic visit. Bistro du Coin in Dupont has a more similar (albeit much larger) environment with broader menu, less refined cooking and lower prices. My guess is that BLZ should and likely will introduce some value menus to encourage more frequent visitation. We liked it. It was fun. The food was good. We'll go back and get to know it better.

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The place was packed tonight

Well that in itself is a positive change from the places that preceded it in that location. Thanks for the report, and looking forward to trying it soon. I have only peeked through the window while walking by, and it's a little hard to tell from the facebook photos: are there any seats at a bar, or is it all dinner seating?

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...reasonable (but not inexpensive) prices given the quality of the grub.

Quality AND quantity. The lamb shank was huge. Of course, I don't have an extensive lamb shank history to compare it to, but it was much more meat than I was expecting.

The place was packed tonight...

Good to hear because it was far from packed when I was there July 24th. We arrived around 6 and were the only ones there. Maybe 15 minutes later, a table of 3 arrived. Another 15 minutes and a table of 2 sat down. And maybe a little after 7, another table of 3. We left around 7:30 and that's all we saw.

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Good to hear because it was far from packed when I was there July 24th. We arrived around 6 and were the only ones there. Maybe 15 minutes later, a table of 3 arrived. Another 15 minutes and a table of 2 sat down. And maybe a little after 7, another table of 3. We left around 7:30 and that's all we saw.

Agreed. Was good to see so many people packing the place last night. I have a sense there's a lot of first-time/trial going on. They'll need to figure out ways to convert some of those to regulars and encourage enough repeat visitors but they're off to a good start.

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Agreed. Was good to see so many people packing the place last night. I have a sense there's a lot of first-time/trial going on. They'll need to figure out ways to convert some of those to regulars and encourage enough repeat visitors but they're off to a good start.

Might be helpful if they added a menu to the website. At least in my case I like to get a general idea of options/pricing before heading to a new place.

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Might be helpful if they added a menu to the website.

Is it just me or does the restaurant industry in general just suck at websites? Yeah, some places have great sites, but it definitely doesn't seem like a priority for a lot of restaurants.

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Right or wrong, many restaurants along with many small businesses of any type don't prioritize websites. Can be costly and and time consuming depending on functionality, design and content. Some owners probably feel that cash and time are better spent on getting open (no small task here in the District), hiring/retaining staff, putting great food on plates, etc, etc. Some small biz owners lack tech savvy and resources. Probably safe to say restaurants don't live or die based on web site prowess. That said, of course a decent website can play an important role in getting the word out and making it easier for prospective customers to try the place. Can't speak for BLZ but I'd guess they'll get a site and menus up; they're a savvy team.

In the interim, if you click on the Washingtonian link in the post I made upthread (under "BACKGROUND" toward the top of the post), the menus are right there for the viewing. Or, BLZ has a facebook page here which is increasingly common with restaurants/small businesses since faster, cheaper and easier to do. Then again, we probably ordered a good 30% of the menu last night so that may give some idea for pricing too :mellow: .

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Dined here on Saturday night. Had a superb meal in every way - food and service were spot on. If you like french bistro food, run here. It is wonderful.

Very quick rundown:

For appetizers we had baked oysters with hollandaise and the onion soup. Both were delicious. The oysters were fresh, topped with a perfect hollandaise and were rather hearty. The onion soup was great - had a nice rich broth with a heavy ham flavor. I'd rank it in the top three onion soups in town - after Central and Du Parc.

For mains my wife had the roasted chicken which was perfectly roasted, juicy and and very nice crisp skin. I had the steak frites which were wonderful. Perfectly crisp fries, a delicious horseradish "flan" which was basically a horseradish sauce and a delicious, tender, perfectly cooked steak topped with a nice wine reduction. I was very surprised how tender the steak was.

For dessert we split the bread pudding which was very good. It was served in a ramekin. The bottom being chocolate and the top being the bread pudding. A sauce anglaise was served alongside it.

Overall, a very very enjoyable meal. This is definitely going into the regular rotation.

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Steve and I had dinner here a few nights ago, and generally it was good. The problems I had with the meal were all my own, so it's hard to tell the tale and still be fair. For example, had I carefully read darkstar965's excellent write-up I wouldn't have ordered the red snapper, because I detest mustard. So I didn't like it, yet nothing was wrong with it; the fish was properly cooked, and the accompaniments quite tasty. (They really should change the menu description, though.)

Our waitress did a good job with respect to my food allergies, running to the kitchen to ask if a dish contained walnuts or if substitutions could be made. For example, I was going to get the fried goat cheese salad (hold the walnut vinaigrette), but she found out that there are walnuts in the croquette, too.

One warning, though: the lemon tart has to be about the worst dessert I've ever had. The crust was bland and soggy, the custard slightly curdled and lemonless, the lemon slices on top were just too sour, and powdered sugar was either unmelted or totally burned.

Still, though, the space is lovely, the ambiance charming, the waitstaff helpful, and Steve quite enjoyed his dishes (though there was nothing exceptional). This is really the kind of place we want to see more of in DC: neighborhood restaurants of good enough quality to raise our dining-out standards and expectations without being budget-blowing destinations. Also, if BLZ is successful, maybe it'll be a little easier to get into 2 Amys. Hope springs eternal...

So, yeah, like Adam23 said: if you like French bistro food, go.

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Still, though, the space is lovely, the ambiance charming, the waitstaff helpful, and Steve quite enjoyed his dishes (though there was nothing exceptional). This is really the kind of place we want to see more of in DC: neighborhood restaurants of good enough quality to raise our dining-out standards and expectations without being budget-blowing destinations. Also, if BLZ is successful, maybe it'll be a little easier to get into 2 Amys. Hope springs eternal...

So, yeah, like Adam23 said: if you like French bistro food, go.

Agreed! As a Cleveland Parker this has to be the most exciting restaurant to open on the Wisconsin side of the neighborhood in awhile. There is something so appealing about a spot within walking distance that has ambience and charm in addition to serving very respectable food. Unlike its neighbors, Two Amy's or Cafe Deluxe, it is less kid friendly which is a plus or a minus depending on your perspective. The restaurant is really noisy when crowded and if you are seated on the banquette you might feel a little claustrophobic- two other factors which may add to or detract from the charm depending on your perspective.

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David Ashwell got completely screwed by a bogus Washington Post review. When Bistrot Le Zinc opened, it was one of the finest - if not the finest - bistro in the DC area. Yes, even a step up from Et Voila.

That said, since Chef Ashwell (who was Chef de Cuisine at Marcel's, by the way - do you think he all of a sudden forget how to cook? Answer: no.) left, undoubtedly due to his completely unfair and flat-out wrong lynching from the Washington Post, the restaurant kept going downhill - first Janis Mclean (a huge step down from Ashwell), then Kerschbaumer (who came from Jack's Restaurant and Bar - 'nuff said).

So, they relied too much on one person's completely incorrect opinion about their quality, and paid the ultimate price for it. It's very hard for me to feel sorry for them.

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I can tell you every fault in every dish I've had at Le Diplomate (over-salting is a consistent issue and the steak tartar is over-seasoned to mask uninteresting beef, for example), but it doesn't matter.  Even with the flaws, the food is still good (I've always cleaned my plate) and the place is fun.  I was there twice last week -- mostly because I was meeting people that wanted to be there, but I was more than a willing participant.  This is where Bistrot Le Zinc failed -- from my one visit (with the last chef), I thought the food was average (or below, depending on your average), a bit too expensive, and, above all, nothing I'd go out of my way for.  And the place was terribly boring to me (as a person who lives outside of the neighborhood).  From the closure, I'm thinking it didn't capture the heart and minds of the locals.  The locals don't have a lot of options, but I can't say I blame them.  Regardless, I don't think I'd fault Tom Sietsema for the closure. 

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I can tell you every fault in every dish I've had at Le Diplomate (over-salting is a consistent issue and the steak tartar is over-seasoned to mask uninteresting beef, for example), but it doesn't matter.  Even with the flaws, the food is still good (I've always cleaned my plate) and the place is fun.  I was there twice last week -- mostly because I was meeting people that wanted to be there, but I was more than a willing participant.  This is where Bistrot Le Zinc failed -- from my one visit (with the last chef), I thought the food was average (or below, depending on your average), a bit too expensive, and, above all, nothing I'd go out of my way for.  And the place was terribly boring to me (as a person who lives outside of the neighborhood).  From the closure, I'm thinking it didn't capture the heart and minds of the locals.  The locals don't have a lot of options, but I can't say I blame them.  Regardless, I don't think I'd fault Tom Sietsema for the closure. 

Bistrot Le Zinc was a three-star restaurant under David Ashwell. I don't think anyone faults Tom Sietsema for the closure, but I can assure you that his review had a devastating psychological effect on Chef Ashwell, who considered himself a Chef (uppercase "C"), a craftsman, and perhaps even an artist. Did that lead to his departure? If so, then it led to the restaurant's closure.

Now, should a restaurant care that much about any one person's opinion? I certainly don't think so, but it seems like they might have, and if so, then ... it's very hard for me to feel sorry for them. I could name you 50 restaurants making so much money you couldn't believe it, and none of them would get more than one star from Tom Sietsema. Take any of the Chef Geoff's, for example. Could they care less about their Washington Post rating? Hell no. Does Spike Mendelsohn care about what I think of his places? Hell no. Five Guys? No! Sweetgreen? No! Pinkberry? No! Old Ebbitt Grill? No! Sweetwater Tavern? No! Lauriol Plaza? Hell No! And quite frankly, I don't blame them because they're pure businessmen; not craftsmen, chefs, or artists, and yet, they're making money hand-over-fist because there's a sucker born every minute. Think PassionFoods or ThinkFoodGroup keeps opening mediocre restaurants because they're gunning for three stars? Nope, although before I came on the scene, they used to automatically receive them until I singlehandedly put a stop to it; that has all changed now. (And having had dinner last night at Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, I can say in no uncertain terms that it was glop, it was packed, and they care about the know-nothing Clarendon children more than about what Don Rockwell thinks - they wouldn't keep opening mediocre restaurants if they were losing money).

But Bistrot Le Zinc was a legimately excellent French bistro when it opened, thanks to Chef Ashwell, and the wine list was first-rate, too.

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From David Ashwell, reprinted at his request:

Don thanks for your kind words. Firstly i would like to say that it was certainly NOT because of T.S review that i left... i would never ever let a his review scare me off...HELL NO. Its just one mans opinion here. FYI the reason i left was for family reasons alone. I truly believe i could of made the restaurant a success with or without T.S review, of course im sad to see the restaurant close down but to say one mans amateurish review closed the place down,would be giving him to much respect.

Cheers David

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Bistrot Le Zinc was a three-star restaurant under David Ashwell. I don't think anyone faults Tom Sietsema for the closure, but I can assure you that his review had a devastating psychological effect on Chef Ashwell, who considered himself a Chef (uppercase "C"), a craftsman, and perhaps even an artist. Did that lead to his departure? If so, then it led to the restaurant's closure. 

Let me start by saying I don't care much for Tom Sietsema's work, and I never ate at Le Zinc. But were Sietsema's remarks about the food he ate there untrue? Are you saying he's dishonest? Or are you saying he's incompetent? I can't really think of a third alternative.

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So here's the point well made upstream .. It's not always about the food. A great "place" succeeds on lots of levels. Mainly because people want to "be there". It's atmosphere , vibe, decor, style, a feeling of coolness, belonging, hanging in the neighborhood .... great food ,even good enough food isn't enough anymore . you've got to stand above the crowd. Lots of well reviewed restaurants fail, probbably at an equal rate as poorly reviewed restaurants do. I dont think its the review.

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Let me start by saying I don't care much for Tom Sietsema's work, and I never ate at Le Zinc. But were Sietsema's remarks about the food he ate there untrue? Are you saying he's dishonest? Or are you saying he's incompetent? I can't really think of a third alternative.

Tom is both honest and competent; he was just wrong about Le Zinc in terms of assigning it one star - it happens. And I'm quite certain that he thinks I am wrong, so we have a classic case of two reasonable people disagreeing.

The Hersch's questions deserve a reasoned response. My question: Where is Chef Ashwell currently working? 

In London.

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This explains a lot.  I'd reported on this place upthread when Chef Ashwell was there and quite liked it. That was almost exactly two years ago and think it was the first visit description.  Went a few times in the first several months and thought it consistent with the first visit.  It was then several months until a next visit and, not knowing the chefs had changed prior, was there at lunch with raised eyebrows.  From food to service, was not the same.  Neglected to post on that visit.  Wasn't sure what to make of it and didn't go back again.  It's a real shame to see a place with such promise decline and then close.  I think the neighborhood really appreciated it with Chef Ashwell. The western edge of Cleveland Park doesn't have any special/very good restaurants save 2Amys.

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Tom is both honest and competent; he was just wrong about Le Zinc in terms of assigning it one star - it happens. And I'm quite certain that he thinks I am wrong, so we have a classic case of two reasonable people disagreeing.

This explains a lot.  I'd reported on this place upthread when Chef Ashwell was there and quite liked it. That was almost exactly two years ago and think it was the first visit description.  Went a few times in the first several months and thought it consistent with the first visit.  It was then several months until a next visit and, not knowing the chefs had changed prior, was there at lunch with raised eyebrows.  From food to service, was not the same.  Neglected to post on that visit.  Wasn't sure what to make of it and didn't go back again.  It's a real shame to see a place with such promise decline and then close.  I think the neighborhood really appreciated it with Chef Ashwell. The western edge of Cleveland Park doesn't have any special/very good restaurants save 2Amys.

Bistro Le Zinc got one star under Chef Ashwell, Suna got 1/2 star under Chef Spero. Mockingbird Hill (*) - which serves Sherry and jamí³n (and God love them for doing so), got two stars, perhaps without even having a range.

It's not right. We're supposed to be able to debate restaurants, and professional reviews of restaurants, without allowing any personal attacks, right? How is this correct? How in God's name is this correct?

It makes me so sad.

Minibar got two stars (*).

Please allow me to criticize these recent reviews without being considered as "going after Tom," whom I genuinely like and consider to be a friend - a friend on whom I could call and who would certainly help me out if I needed help (and has in the past). And, I believe, a friend who encourages and would welcome open debate about his reviews.

It's not right. It's just not. Damn it, it just isn't. :(

(*) I've not been to either Mockingbird Hill or the new Minibar, but I don't feel like I need to go to either in order to question these ratings based on all my past experience. Sherry and ham? God. Jesus.

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FWIW, I don't take your comments as "going after Tom." Rather, they're clearly heartfelt given all you've put into this site and everything you've written and done prior.

Speaking for myself and maybe a few other regular joes and janes who aren't food journalists (or even bloggers), I just don't take reviews that seriously. Certainly not reviews with star ratings. I'll read them and, depending on the substance, maybe use them in making decisions.  The only thing "sad" to me about the most visible reviewers is when they occasionally can really hurt a promising restaurant.  That's not what happened here by Chef Atwell's own telling and I'd have to agree with him: had he been able to stay, he'd likely have made the place successful in spite of the WaPo review.

That philosophy is what first attracted me to this site several years ago: quality substance with real expertise and thoughtful/civil discussion.  Rarely steers me wrong and I learn regularly.  All very good things in my book.

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FWIW, I don't take your comments as "going after Tom." Rather, they're clearly heartfelt given all you've put into this site and everything you've written and done prior.

Speaking for myself and maybe a few other regular joes and janes who aren't food journalists (or even bloggers), I just don't take reviews that seriously. Certainly not reviews with star ratings. I'll read them and, depending on the substance, maybe use them in making decisions.  The only thing "sad" to me about the most visible reviewers is when they occasionally can really hurt a promising restaurant.  That's not what happened here by Chef Atwell's own telling and I'd have to agree with him: had he been able to stay, he'd likely have made the place successful in spite of the WaPo review.

That philosophy is what first attracted me to this site several years ago: quality substance with real expertise and thoughtful/civil discussion.  Rarely steers me wrong and I learn regularly.  All very good things in my book.

darkstar, people come in from around the nation and world, wondering where to dine no, eat!, and regardless of whether I like it or not, WaPo is a reference of significant influence, likely to become more so with the more globally thinking Jeff Bezos as its owner. These star ratings (forget the text; *just* the star ratings) matter more than you could possibly imagine. Zagat, Fodor's, Frommer's, TripAdvisor, and yes, even Yelp, are probably even more important than the Post, but the concept is the same.

Do I need to start issuing star ratings to get the world spinning back in its proper orbit? God, I hope not, because they're just flat-out bullshit. I suppose I'm as qualified as anyone to do so, but I don't want to because they're so inaccurate - not to mention quickly outdated, illogical, and just plain, flat-out wrong - that I can't even begin to tell you. Yet, people - the average travelers who know nothing at all, and are completely lost, stuck, desperately looking for a decent meal on their mobile devices on short notice - need a quick reference. And I feel like that's a need I'm not fulfilling.

Case in point: I'm in Vancouver, and I'm having a dickens of a time sifting through the various guides and reference material. I haven't gone wrong yet because I know how to fairly quickly find things I can trust, but what about the other 99.999% of people?

Maybe this isn't a question of me switching to star ratings as me getting off my duff and getting some PR for our website.

Damn, damn, damn, I know exactly what needs to be done; I just don't know how to do it.

Damn. This is where the $250 million-worth of guidance comes in handy - I'm doing this all on my own. One person trying to compete against multi-billion dollar companies. There are times when I just want to lay down my pen, and give up; yet, I can't, I won't, and I'm tired of grousing about it instead of doing something about it.

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(*) I've not been to either Mockingbird Hill or the new Minibar, but I don't feel like I need to go to either in order to question these ratings based on all my past experience. Sherry and ham? God. Jesus. 

See I see this statement as problematic. Even if a professional journalist or chef with lots of experience (let alone the more occassional diners who make of the bulk of this board) said I disagree with another person's assessment but I haven't even eaten there myself, I don't think that is fair or helpful. Food and restaurants are fickle, personal experiences - we all have our own personal tastes and places/chefs have on and off nights.  All of the non-paid foodie reviewers such as those who post on this board all bring different levels of experiences/backgrounds with food and different approaches to their reviews (just like the paid reviewers) so I think the only way to sift through it all is to take it with a grain of salt, learn what you personally like and whose opinion you think to rely on and go taste it for yourself.  Some people post reviews on this board after only 1 visit or even to say they are excited about something based on past experience with the chef or even the type of dish (myself included), whereas a minority seem to post reviews only after multiple visits checking on consistency (like the paid reviewers).  Is one review better than another? I think it depends on what aspect of the restaurant you are looking for. All of that being said, I generally think it is unhelpful and unfair to share one's judgment about a place in a post here without having eaten there - it is a false judgment without basis on experience.  Now, plenty of times people will say I've heard great things about X place or Y dish - which may be helpful, but broad generalizations about the quality/star rating/etc of a place without any experience there is a waste of space and can be misleading.  I don't generally see a problem with this on this site, where people regularly preface statements saying their post how much experience they've had eating at a particular place (first time/multiple times recently, only heard from friends, etc.) - but Don's statement worries me - hence this rant.  My thought is to continue to be transparent and not make subjective judgments based on a eating/subjective experience unless you've had the experience.

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See I see this statement as problematic. Even if a professional journalist or chef with lots of experience (let alone the more occassional diners who make of the bulk of this board) said I disagree with another person's assessment but I haven't even eaten there myself, I don't think that is fair or helpful. Food and restaurants are fickle, personal experiences - we all have our own personal tastes and places/chefs have on and off nights.  All of the non-paid foodie reviewers such as those who post on this board all bring different levels of experiences/backgrounds with food and different approaches to their reviews (just like the paid reviewers) so I think the only way to sift through it all is to take it with a grain of salt, learn what you personally like and whose opinion you think to rely on and go taste it for yourself.  Some people post reviews on this board after only 1 visit or even to say they are excited about something based on past experience with the chef or even the type of dish (myself included), whereas a minority seem to post reviews only after multiple visits checking on consistency (like the paid reviewers).  Is one review better than another? I think it depends on what aspect of the restaurant you are looking for. All of that being said, I generally think it is unhelpful and unfair to share one's judgment about a place in a post here without having eaten there - it is a false judgment without basis on experience.  Now, plenty of times people will say I've heard great things about X place or Y dish - which may be helpful, but broad generalizations about the quality/star rating/etc of a place without any experience there is a waste of space and can be misleading.  I don't generally see a problem with this on this site, where people regularly preface statements saying their post how much experience they've had eating at a particular place (first time/multiple times recently, only heard from friends, etc.) - but Don's statement worries me - hence this rant.  My thought is to continue to be transparent and not make subjective judgments based on a eating/subjective experience unless you've had the experience.

Well, I've got the transparency part down pat, which is why I said what I did, and why I assume you said what you did about transparency. And my post is by no means a dis of Mockingbird Hill which I've heard is a lovely bar and a fine way to spend an evening. But a bar that serves primarily Sherry and ham can not be rated vis-a-vis Minibar (as an aside, I've been to the old Minibar three times, and the new BarMini once - and thought the food there was wonderful). Based on my previous experiences at Minibar and BarMini, I do not have to go drop $350 to know that certain restaurants cannot be related vis-a-vis one another - my beef here is with forcing *all* culinary experiences into the exact same, non-comparable star-rating system, and not with any particular restaurant itself. Restated, it's not the assessments I disagree with - certainly not the textual descriptions - but the very notion of comparing apples and oranges with the same rating system which (and I speak from experience here) people rely on *heavily*... It's the exact same problem I have about assigning different types of wines (young Muscadet vs. aged Red Bordeaux) "point scores," which I've been railing about for longer than I can remember - and I don't have to have a particular young Muscadet or aged Red Bordeaux to criticize the system itself - what about this do you have a problem with?

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darkstar, people come in from around the nation and world, wondering where to dine no, eat!, and regardless of whether I like it or not, WaPo is a reference of significant influence, likely to become more so with the more globally thinking Jeff Bezos as its owner. These star ratings (forget the text; *just* the star ratings) matter more than you could possibly imagine. ..

Do I need to start issuing star ratings to get the world spinning back in its proper orbit? God, I hope not, because they're just flat-out bullshit. ...

Case in point: I'm in Vancouver, and I'm having a dickens of a time sifting through the various guides and reference material. I haven't gone wrong yet because I know how to fairly quickly find things I can trust, but what about the other 99.999% of people? 

...

Damn. This is where the $250 million-worth of guidance comes in handy - I'm doing this all on my own. One person trying to compete against multi-billion dollar companies. There are times when I just want to lay down my pen, and give up; yet, I can't, I won't, and I'm tired of grousing about it instead of doing something about it.

Well, I've got the transparency part down pat, which is why I said what I did, and why I assume you said what you did about transparency. And my post is by no means a dis of Mockingbird Hill which I've heard is a lovely bar and a fine way to spend an evening. ... - my beef here is with forcing *all* culinary experiences into the exact same, non-comparable star-rating system, and not with any particular restaurant itself. Restated, it's not the assessments I disagree with - certainly not the textual descriptions - but the very notion of comparing apples and oranges with the same rating system which (and I speak from experience here) people rely on *heavily*...

Okay. We're well off topic now but I guess not so bad since BLZ isn't a topic anymore.

Of course we all realize that legions of people use star ratings (whether WaPo, Yelp or whatever) to entirely guide their dining decisions.  Those large websites get more eyeballs, have much more capital and all the rest because they are serious and large businesses.  And, there's something to be said for those legions of people who are generally happy with what they get. They keep places open that you or I might not frequent and have different priorities than others.

We've talked and posted about this much before.  donrockwell.com serves a good-sized market of people with unique characteristics.  I think members are well aware of the limitations of the platform but don't weight that as much because they so value the insight, quality and community offered by a zillion pages of generally well-written perspective, organized at least into neighborhood and specific location buckets.

The "dilemma" here, if there is one, has to do with aspirations and goals.  It's a rhetorical question: what do you want to be when you grow up? Is this to be a passion/hobby or a much larger business?  The Post's situation is a bit analogous.  They sold not just because Bezos wrote a big check.  I fully believe they sold because they realized the tension between journalistic quality and earnings growth was one they wouldn't be able to manage and which would get worse rather than better.  As a private company (as the Post will now become), the pressure to cut staff, fortify paywalls and insert ever more ad pages crowding out news and analysis should lessen depending on where Bezos wants to take the paper. That probably means the NY Times "wins."  Or, the Post wins. Again only depending on how one defines a finish line.

At a much smaller but disproportionately visible level, this website provides a wonderful and unusual service not just to serious diners and food people but also to the community of restaurant, shop, culinary and store professionals who make great food and related experiences possible. It's a unique and special thing.  Seriously monetizing it would require a large number of tradeoffs and compromises with which you might not be comfortable given you care about quality as much as you do.  It's not just about a big check imho.

But it is solely your decision.  So far, your decision to stay the course has led to some pretty impressive results with just over 4000 members and some multiple of that on regular but unregistered visitors. More to the point, this site has more than 230,000 posts of content which are generally much better, more insightful and more useful than anything else online.  Pretty damn good for an entity that isn't a "company" speeding toward an IPO. And maybe that's exactly the point of what makes this community what it is.

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