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Criticizing the Critics

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Having seen people in this forum get all uppity over other people who order their beef well done or commit some other culinary error, I'm not sure that I can get too upset with Todd for holding this out as an example of how not to explore another culture's cuisine (which it is).  All of us foodies snicker about the (possibly mythical) American who goes to dinner in Paris and asks for ketchup, or stays here and complains that the middle of their DOC pizza in soggy.  He has a point, however inartfully made, and I suspect that if he'd said "Midwestern tourists" instead of "Indians," we'd all snicker along with him in our superior sort of way.

He did seem to be a little dyspeptic today, though.

Kudos for using the word "dyspeptic", which I've never heard anyone actually say (but I feel I know exactly what they mean when written!)

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Kudos for using the word "dyspeptic", which I've never heard anyone actually say (but I feel I know exactly what they mean when written!)

Todd was extremely cranky today when dealing with this.  He seemed especially unkind to the person who was, I thought rather gently, asking what the tweet meant.  I've seen the term "armchair traveler" before but never actually thought about what it meant.  It made me immediately think of "armchair quarterback" and "backseat driver," neither of which is positive.  That was an overreaction on his part.  I also thought the "out of context" complaint he made misfired, as it seems easier to misunderstand a brief tweet than a long article.

The Post just ran a story about how Chipotle is causing everybody to want to customize everything, so maybe that's why the restaurant obliged.

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Having seen people in this forum get all uppity over other people who order their beef well done or commit some other culinary error

I'm calling strawman. Challenge!

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Exceprt from today's Kliman chat below.  I can't stand him.  He comes off as so judgemental of anyone who doesn't follow his strict ideas about what is right and wrong in dining.  Would it be better if these folks ate the injera? Sure.  But if they didn't want to, and the restaurant happily served rice, why should he call these people out?  He comes off as a real dick.

But aren't you being just as judgmental as you say he is?

I agree with Waitman.

Some people take the view that anything goes, including in how we choose to sample artifacts of other cultures.  Others, such as Todd, think you need to experience other cultures on their own terms in order to actually experience them.

To me, both views have merit, and anyone is free to advocate one or the other (and we often do).  To say someone is a dick for taking one of these two positions is, to me, really not much different from what Todd did in the first place.  It is true that he did it in, shall we say, a forceful manner, but as I read it that wasn't the basis of your criticism.

(Note, no aspersions were cast on the four diners as people because nobody knows who they were and because they will almost certainly never become aware of this exchange, unless you want to argue that he shouldn't have mentioned their ethnicity, which to me is another and separate issue, and which you might argue he did principally as a way to say indirectly that he wasn't casting his aspersions on still another bunch of clueless Americans and that's not what his comment was about).

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I'm calling strawman. Challenge!

Follow this thread about a certain prominent politician's visit to a certain prominent hamburglar.

But, speaking of strawmen (and red herrings), this avoids the central issue of whether Todd had a legitimate point.

Unless you want to argue that he shouldn't have mentioned their ethnicity, which to me is another and separate issue, and which you might argue he did principally as a way to say indirectly that he wasn't casting his aspersions on still another bunch of clueless Americans and that's not what his comment was about).

I actually suspect that he considered it relevant because the evidence that they were armchairing is that they ate the food off their rice, they way they eat dinner at home, in their armchairs, watching cricket and laughing about the potential partitioning of the British Isle -- jJust as it would have been relevant to underscore their Italian-ness if they'd requested it be served on capellini.

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Follow this thread about a certain prominent politician's visit to a certain prominent hamburglar.

But, speaking of strawmen (and red herrings), this avoids the central issue of whether Todd had a legitimate point.

Okay, I figured you'd find one, but I wasn't going to let you slip that by without working for it because I think that, as a rule, we are a very friendly, non-intimidating community, always happy to jump in and help newcomers. But, point made and acknowledged.

I actually suspect that he considered it relevant because the evidence that they were armchairing is that they ate the food off their rice, they way they eat dinner at home, in their armchairs, watching cricket and laughing about the potential partitioning of the British Isle -- jJust as it would have been relevant to underscore their Italian-ness if they'd requested it be served on capellini. 

I think the biggest irony here is that many Indians, and many regions in India, do not spoon food onto rice so much as they take their right hand, break off a piece of bread, pinch it into the curry or main dishes, and bring it to their mouths and eat it ... not unlike Ethiopians do with injera. I've dined dozens of times with a friend from Northern India who didn't eat rice at all, and we've eaten entire meals together with just our right hands and bread as our only utensil. (Becoming adept at this twisting, tearing, breaking, swirling, swabbing dance is about equal in difficulty to developing a facility for using chopsticks - it's more difficult with Indian cuisine than with Ethiopian cuisine, and it's more difficult with paratha than naan.)

Your rule of thumb: "The spongier the bread, the harder it is to rip; the easier it is to dip."

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I think Todd Kliman was simply mistaken. Clearly this family was enjoying their meal over rice as part of a gluten free diet. :D

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I think Todd Kliman was simply mistaken. Clearly this family was enjoying their meal over rice as part of a gluten free diet. :D

Injera is traditionally made with teff flour, which is gluten-free. ^_^

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Injera is traditionally made with teff flour, which is gluten-free. ^_^

Yes, but these savvy diners clearly know that in this country wheat flour is also used liberally, posing a threat to their enlightened but irritable bowels. Hence their decision to ask for rice.

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"Always remember, there is no city in the world that has erected a statue to a critic."

-- Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

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"Always remember, there is no city in the world that has erected a statue to a critic."

-- Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

When I read this, I thought surely that can't be right. Surely there's a statue in some city, such as London, of one of the great English-language critics of the 20th century, George Orwell. Well, not yet. Remarkably, the idea was considered controversial, with the BBC rejecting the proposed statue because Orwell was too left-wing! So much for the lefty press. There apparently is a sculpture of Orwell at his birthplace in Motihari.

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*Very* off-topic, but I need to say it: it's Allegro non Molto, and assuming the author is talking about "The Four Seasons," it's still ambiguous because two of the twelve pieces are marked as such - I could take a pretty good guess and say it was probably the first piece in Winter, not Summer, since that's the most famous of the twelve (believe it or not, I didn't Google this; the CD is sitting in my car as I type).

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*Very* off-topic, but I need to say it: it's Allegro non Molto, and assuming the author is talking about "The Four Seasons," it's still ambiguous because two of the twelve pieces are marked as such - I could take a pretty good guess and say it was probably the first piece in Winter, not Summer, since that's the most famous of the twelve (believe it or not, I didn't Google this; the CD is sitting in my car as I type).

I kick myself for never traveling down to that fest when he was living (though it's still going on in his memory). I used to love his blog, he was a great writer there on a number of subjects well beyond film.

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I kick myself for never traveling down to that fest when he was living (though it's still going on in his memory). I used to love his blog, he was a great writer there on a number of subjects well beyond film.

As long as you have expertise in multiple subjects, the writing skills transfer quite nicely. ;)

But without expertise, the writing skills are irrelevant, and can do more harm than good.

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Thanks Don, glad you enjoyed your food. JonS I encourage you and anyone who dines in our restaurant to make your issues known while you are eating. It doesn't do any good to read this here if you didn't enjoy something. If its not enjoyable then there was clearly a mistake in preparation, I would much rather prepare another dish properly. Its the only way my staff and I can learn and get better. Thanks for the comments.

Nick,

There is *no way* I'm putting this in your thread because I don't want this conversation to drag your restaurant down. Also, you know I'm a supporter of yours and a fan of your cooking, so I have no reason to want to disagree with you.

That said, you are in a *tough* situation here, in that I *know* that you mean what you say. You really *would* rather make things right on the spot than read about them here, but think about what that would involve. What if a diner you didn't know sent something back, the complaint being "the pork chop is dry in parts, and the gravy surprisingly bland." Seriously, what would the server think, what would the line cooks think, and what would you think? You would be *howling* at what a douche the diner was! (Correct me if I'm wrong; I'm making assumptions here that may not be true.)

Let me defend Jon: He is totally legitimate, and has the courage to use something resembling his real name; he was not ripping your restaurant, or attacking you - merely discussing the overall presentation of the food. I cannot imagine sending a dish back, citing those two reasons to the server, under any circumstances. I remember once I was at Pesce, and Regine Palladin came out and talked to me. I commented on how good I thought my fish dish was (and I meant it). She merely shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Eh, sometimes we overcook it." That was wisdom speaking - she didn't let my compliment go to her head, and I suspect she takes criticism with an equal grain of salt. Come to think of it: Damn it, I wish she'd participate here. I'm going to write her right this very moment.

Then why post about it here? Well, for the same reason I posted about how much I enjoyed my meal: dissemination of information, and the sharing of perfectly valid opinions with our readers. Let me say again: I support you, and you're in a tough position here. And I'm also going to say this a third time: I support you, and you're in a tough position here. Yes, you *would* rather make things right than read about it here, but our readers are smart enough to know that these two things are not trashing your restaurant in any way, that post is not going to keep people away from dining there, and I have *no doubt* that if you had a second chance at those dishes, you would have made them *awesome*, but then the diner would have had to wait while his companion eats, and for a diner, that is awful. Look, I thought the batter on my fried chicken - a wonderful fried chicken! - was a little too salty, but instead of coming out and saying that, I said that I compensated for it by deconstructing my salad and chasing it with my compressed watermelon. Is that not saying the same thing, just in slightly different language? I figured you could read between the lines. There is *no way* I would have sent that chicken back, saying "the batter is a little too salty" - I would have felt like an entitled A-hole. So, it wasn't perfect - big deal! It was still wonderful, and I enjoyed it very much; I just have more experience writing about meals than Jon does, and have learned to use code words to send softer messages rather than use blunt-force descriptions - it comes with years of experience, but it's still saying the same thing.

Case in point: I recently walked into a legendary DC restaurant, worthy of every possible accolade that could be bestowed upon it. I was *instantly* recognized by the bartender, and even the chef-owner - who I rarely see there - poked his head out of the kitchen, standing six feet away from me for about thirty seconds, and I don't think it was random. (Yes, I *am* impressed that the chef was there - maybe even a little star-struck.) Let me tell you: The things I ordered are typical of why this is such a fantastic place to dine, and I if I were to send them back because I thought they were too rich, I would feel like the world's biggest schmuck. But they *were* too rich, and I could help this restaurant in a big way by detailing *why*, but there is a zero-percent possibility I would complain about the food with other people sitting two feet away from me (there is literally *nothing* they could do to change it in this circumstance) - I had a wonderful meal, was treated like a king, and so what if my meal was too rich? It's my fault for ordering like I did, but I *had* to have every single thing I ordered because they were just so *cool* to see on a menu. A drink was even missing from the bill (which I compensated for by leaving a dollar-for-dollar addition to the tip). Trust me, I would feel like the biggest jerk to ever walk the face of the earth had I given my exact thoughts to my server. See, you're in a bad position, but so are we! I even alerted my bartender to this post after writing it, asking her to chime in on this thread with her opinion - I think this could make for a fantastic, constructive discussion. My thoughts? We're *all* on the same team: restaurant, diner, writer, reader. Nobody is trying to hurt anyone else, and we're all friends. Am I being hopelessly naive? Is this an inherently hostile situation, and I'm trying to make it, futilely, into a luv-fest which can't be done due to the inherently conflicting nature of things? I refuse to believe that. I refuse to accept it. Color me a blind optimist.

What's the answer here? I beseech people not to lay into Nick for merely stating that he wants to make things right on the spot, instead of reading about it later on the internet. There's *nothing* wrong with that attitude; in fact, every restaurant should have that attitude because it means they care, they have pride in their product, and they want diners to enjoy themselves. So again I ask: What's the answer here? I want Nick to be an active participant here in a big way - it makes this community richer and more vibrant; yet, I also want Jon to post his thoughts because they were moderate and responsible. Maybe I'm the one who's being selfish, wanting the best of both worlds. I'd rather be the one to be criticized than for anyone else to be, because it is entirely possible that I'm seeking the best of all worlds, and that just isn't possible. Honest, thoughtful opinions more than welcome.

Cheers,

Leslie Knope

PS - I've pointed out this thread to several people in the industry and asked them to chime in with their opinions, even if they're completely different than mine. These people would add great depth and complexity to the conversation. *Everyone* in the industry (as well as everyone who's a diner) is welcome to chime in here - I'm naive enough to think we're all friends. And if I'm wrong, then, by damn, I'm going to keep working until we are. Please do not be afraid to criticize me here - I don't know the answer, but I do know that this issue is very complex and nuanced. I can take criticism, and I know it's nothing personal - goodness knows, I don't have all the answers - especially in a situation such as this.

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Several years ago, we had dinner at a Bethesda restaurant that we had previously enjoyed for lunch. When done with our mains, the owner came over to clear plates and asked me "how was the dorade?" I said, "it was OK." He then proceeds to discuss it with me, even offering excuses as to why it might not have met expectations (the season). My beautiful wife was embarrassed -- "why couldn't you have just said it was good?" I wished I had said exactly that. There was nothing wrong with the fish other than being bland. Now when asked about my food I say it is good even when I think it's disappointing -- just trying to reduce the wear and tear on everyone's nervous system.

Looking forward to trying Barrel & Crow...

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Twice I have run into chefs/cooks whose dinners I'd just eaten and to whom -- in response to their questions -- I politely and briefly outlined the shortcomings of the meal. In neither case did the chef appear at all grateful for my feedback.  Clearly their chefly egos were more acclimated to gushy praise.

Which brings me to another subject.....

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Twice I have run into chefs/cooks whose dinners I'd just eaten and to whom -- in response to their questions -- I politely and briefly outlined the shortcomings of the meal. In neither case did the chef appear at all grateful for my feedback.  Clearly their chefly egos were more acclimated to gushy praise.

Which brings me to another subject.....

I'll add that I've heard from some people in the industry who have read these past few posts (not anyone I've mentioned), and they unanimously side with Nick, seemingly without even considering the other argument. I hate to say this, but restaurateurs think diners don't get it; diners think restaurateurs don't get it, and I'm afraid this could devolve into a crisis of Middle-Eastern proportions. Regardless, I fully understand both sides of this problem, and remain determined to stay neutral and bridge the gap.

lunch.gif <--- A future Yelper.

kerrigan460.jpg <--- "Give me a second chance before rating me."

18cedl8nc52l8jpg.jpg <--- Happens all the time.

angry-customer.png <--- Attorney? Doctor?

people-love-us-on-yelp-large.png <--- You play? You pay.

asshole-kid.jpg <--- Well, yeah.

post-2-0-19718100-1438869617_thumb.png <--- See that tab on your website called "Awards and Press?"

post-2-0-45789100-1438869770_thumb.png <--- Ever think of calling it "Hypocrisy and Double-Standards?"

---

You're ALL wrong, and you're ALL right. And that, my friends, is the way Don Rockwell is evaluating this situation.

Since the internet is not going away, and neither are crowd-sourced reviews, there is one, and only one, solution:

Being fair to BOTH parties, respecting freedom of speech, and disallowing immoral, petty, and malicious revenge.

In other words, donrockwell.com is the answer.

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Nick,

There is *no way* I'm putting this in your thread because I don't want this conversation to drag your restaurant down. Also, you know I'm a supporter of yours and a fan of your cooking, so I have no reason to want to disagree with you.

That said, you are in a *tough* situation here, in that I *know* that you mean what you say. You really *would* rather make things right on the spot than read about them here, but think about what that would involve. What if a diner you didn't know sent something back, the complaint being "the pork chop is dry in parts, and the gravy surprisingly bland." Seriously, what would the server think, what would the line cooks think, and what would you think? You would be *howling* at what a douche the diner was! (Correct me if I'm wrong; I'm making assumptions here that may not be true.)

I would very much imagine a restaurant staff would prefer to know about problems so they can rectify them in real time. Diners want better experiences as well. It is a delicate balance because diners generally do not want to cause a commotion and the restaurant doesn't really want diners to walk away unhappy.

That said, I do not think I have ever asked for a dish to be re-done. I have sent wine back, the same bottling, three times in a row at one place. But that's it.

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Twice I have run into chefs/cooks whose dinners I'd just eaten and to whom -- in response to their questions -- I politely and briefly outlined the shortcomings of the meal. In neither case did the chef appear at all grateful for my feedback.  Clearly their chefly egos were more acclimated to gushy praise.  

And this has occurred on this site more than once. As much as restaurant folks want to hear how folks truly feel, many truly don't. 

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And this has occurred on this site more than once. As much as restaurant folks want to hear how folks truly feel, many truly don't. 

In a sense you're right, and in a sense you're wrong.

As a rule, I tend not to detail all the problems in a meal during service - there's not enough time to talk, to convey, to reflect, or to remember. It's not something that works for me, and never has been.

That said, I cannot ever recall writing an email to a chef afterwards that wasn't met with some sort of thanks.

It also depends on the nature of the issues. Some can be corrected by the manager on the spot (<whisper>you might want to check the restroom</whisper>); others are intractable flaws.

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