I’m not sure whether either Mrs. Crappy or I would qualify as foodies, but one of our great joys in life is giving a new — or new to us — restaurant a try for the first time.
And we’ve been pretty lucky in the time we’ve lived in or around Pittsburgh. We’ve had very few poor experiences, and a ton that were good to excellent.
I have opinions about restaurants, like everyone else. I’m happy to share them, especially when the experience was a good one. But I feel like I need to be careful about offering negative opinions about a place, especially if I’ve been there only once. I know this from writing about beer — the batch it came from, the store or bar where it was purchased, even the mood I’m in can color my reaction, and writing a review based on my one and only taste isn’t fair to the brewer or to anyone who might be reading my review.
Joe Harvey, the guy behind Pittsburgh Local Restaurant Week, came across a review of three Pittsburgh restaurants yesterday; he had some trouble with it, and rightly so. The blog is called Refined Palate; the reviewer is a Californian who appears to have a great deal more experience in fine dining than I could claim, and she has kept the blog going steadily for a couple years, so she shouldn’t be considered a rookie in that realm either. I didn’t take a lot of time to go through her other posts, but I did check out her Pittsburgh review, which was based on a recent visit.
I had some trouble with it too.
The initial red flag for me was a one-off comment about Yuengling being a local beer; I suppose you could say Budweiser is a local beer as well — since it’s brewed 200 miles away in Columbus — but right off the bat, I found myself wondering about the credibility of this expert.
A bunch of other folks, a few of whom I know, left comments for the post. I didn’t feel like I could let it go without comment either, because while the author makes some valid(ish) observations, there are also a few glaring problems.
With one caveat — that’s it’s tough to come up with a solid opinion based on one visit — I didn’t have too much of a problem with the author’s comments on Eleven or Lidia’s. The reviews stuck mostly to the quality of food and service, which is what she should do. But the author seemed to lose sight of context when she wrote about her visit to Primanti Brothers, though. She said in the comments that she’s a native Pittsburgher, so I would expect her to have at least a little knowledge of Primanti’s, its history and the fact that the fries and slaw come on the sandwich. To expect four-star service in a sandwich joint that specializes in moving people through the line quickly is unrealistic.
In the section about Lidia’s, the author makes three references to large Pittsburghers, or the fact that we seem to like buffets more than other cities. I’m a fat Pittsburgher, but really — does this kind of snide, obnoxious name-calling belong in a restaurant review? The answer, of course, is no; if she’s a competent reviewer, she should know to stay away from sweeping generalities, just as I know I can’t get away with saying all Californians are hippie airheads who eat twig-and-berry salads three times a day.
And then there’s the biggest problem of all. It’s just one line, at the end of the post: “Final comment: You don’t go to Pittsburgh to eat.” I’ve already discussed the difficulty I have with writing a valid restaurant review based on one visit; it’s even more egregious to write off an entire city’s restaurant scene based on three meals over a single weekend. I understand that the author’s time might have been limited, but perhaps if she had ventured out of one neighborhood — or, worse, one single street — she might have found some pleasant surprises.
We don’t have a French Laundry here in town; not many places do. But we have classic, old-school restaurants; pubs and diners that frequently exceed the expectations you’d have when you stroll in joint; and an impressive number of places willing to bend — or break — the rules in the name of bringing new experiences here. She could have found some of those places, if she had tried; as a native, I’m sure she’s aware of how friendly the people are (unless you’re a server at Primanti’s in the Strip), and I’m sure she would have found some recommendations. When Mrs. Crappy and I visit a new town, we take a minute to do some research before we leave. When we arrive we ask the locals where they go. And almost without exception, we’ve had great meals and a great time.
I guess that’s my biggest problem with Refined Palate’s Pittsburgh review — she didn’t try. If she had, she might have left town with a better taste in her mouth.