Reviewing the Review

Fresca on Addison got reviewed by Style Weekly a couple of weeks ago.  All in all, a positive review.  “A Big Yes to No Meat.”  I guess I should be happy.  I am happy.  Really, I am.  It’s just that something’s bothering me, something I should probably just let go.  But goddammit, I just can’t.  It’s not in my DNA.


First, let’s deal with some of the, um, incorrections:


  • It’s not that we don’t eat meat.  (Actually, I do.  Jenna doesn’t though).
  • We serve broccolini, not broccoli rabe.
  • Eggs baked at 800° are not ‘uncooked’.
  • What you’re used to is not real pizza (just like chop suey is not Chinese).


Agreed, the quote “We are not vegetarian.  We just don’t eat meat.” is a bit vague, odd, weird.  I grant you that.  According to the reviewer, “This statement, spray painted across the side of the new Fresca on Addison, is confusing at best and seems a bit less than straightforward.”


Problem is, THAT’S NOT OUR QUOTE.  Our quote is “We’re not vegetarian, we just don’t serve meat.”  The whole premise is that we want people to think of us as a great little neighborhood bistro with awesome pizzas, sandwiches, soups, snacks and entrees, not some freaky vegan joint.  We think it’s pretty self explanatory but first you have to get the quote right.  (We see you changed the quote on your web site, but left the snarky remarks.)  wtf?


The reviewer mistook broccolini for broccoli rabe.  No big deal.  For future reference, broccoli rabe is very leafy while broccolini is similar in appearance to broccoli but with long, slender stems.  We use broccolini.  Each is also sometimes referred to as rapini. Or broccoletti.  It can get confusing.


So, the egg pizza threw you for a loop, eh?  Yolks are made to be runny, in my humble opinion.  I like mine sunny side up.  Here the egg is cooked in the pizza at 800° for the entire 90 seconds it takes to cook the pizza.  Note: it’s still runny!  Learn to love dipping the crust into the yolk.  Damn good I tell ya.  And the reason it’s off to one side of the pizza is, um, kinda obvious as well.  If it were in the center then you can’t cut the pizza into slices.  We put it to one side for dipping.  Oh, and when you said “we ended up staring at the slice [with the yolk] for the entirety of the meal” we took a vote and decided you guys needed a hobby.  Just kidding.


Now, about the pizza.  (I love teaching about food).  If you’re going to critique someone’s food, you have to know about food.  That’s really, really important.  Really important.  I know, most food critics in most cities don’t really know food, they know how to write.  But this is someone’s livelihood you’re dealing with.  And readers trust you to give them good information, the ‘scoop’ if you will.  You’re not to be blamed for not knowing about pizza.  Like most people you probably grew up on Americanized pizza, cooked at 550 degrees in a big, steel commercial pizza oven.  Thick crust, lots of cheese.


Here’s the deal:

Brick ovens rock.  The reason they rock is that the brick holds temperature so well.  All 800°.  Naturally only a thin crust pizza can take that kind of temperature.  As any Italian knows, what makes it sensational is when you char the crust without it tasting burned.  Having eaten a shit ton of good pizza, I have to tell you that our oven is magic.  If you want a golden, chewy crust there are plenty of options out there.  Plenty.  And as providence would have it, the NY Times came out just last week with a review of Donatella and said of their pizza it is undeniably good: a thin-crusted and just-charred specimen, beautifully shaped and cooked with great rapidity”. Phtttttt……


So, after years of making pizzas in brick ovens, I’ve finally achieved pizza nirvana, only to have a writer miss the whole point.  It’s important that restaurant reviewers get better or the customers will continue to get average food served to them and cooks will cook down to the level of the norm.  As one of my mentors once said, “It’s a sad day when mediocrity rules.”


I want you to understand that I am not talking about this writer.  I am talking about how casually the media hires people to critique food.  Unless you’ve been a chef or are a chef, it must be difficult to judge.  Sort of like reviewing cars because you like to ride in them, but don’t actually drive.  I don’t blame the writers for taking the jobs, I blame the publications for hiring them.  It seems they care more about writing style than accuracy.  (Uh oh, some of my memory cells are telling me I wrote a very similar article 20 years ago.)  And as a footnote, it does the industry and dining public the same disservice to praise a mediocre restaurant as it does to misjudge a good (or great) restaurant.  And, I have been recently informed that this reviewer is also the blogger that writes winemedineme and vinoveratas which portray a very negative attitude towards the restaurant industry.  And at one point she chastises the reviewer at the RTD by saying “sir, i know you work hard, i do. but can we clean it up a little? you and your cohort dana write THE food reviews in this town. if we can’t count on you to know the scotch bonnet was cultivated from the habanero and they are both chili peppers, who do we turn to”.  (Oh my god.)


Now I’m not saying we’re perfect.  We have our faults.  We’re just glad the reviewer didn’t pick up on any of them.


Here’s my advice:  Love this industry.  Embrace it.  Be its friend.  Help it grow and get better.  Become a food critic that chefs admire.  And above all, know your shit.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some years back I had a meal at Full Kee (awesome place) with a food writer who, coincidently wrote for Style Weekly.  I ordered the usual: spicy squid with sour cabbage, live scallop with black bean sauce, tripe with ginger and scallions, you know.   When it came her turn to order she told the waiter she wanted ‘authentic’ Chinese food.

“How about the moo goo gai pan?” she asked.

“American food” said the waiter.

“OK, what about General Tsao’s Chicken?”

“American food” came the reply.

“Well, what do you have that’s authentic Chinese?” she asked.

“Everything he ordered” said the waiter.

“I’ll have the moo goo gai pan”.


Here’s the Style Weekly review.



36 Responses to “Reviewing the Review”

  1. brandon (2) writes:

    why write “if you want to publish an opinion, start a blog” and criticize the reviewer for having her own? by that very statement, her blog is her opinion and everything on it defensible as such. i enjoyed the review and this blog entry. i think your argument presents validity. i think that the argument has been diluted by the pointing of fingers toward a twitter feed and blog entries. focus on the point. you are hoping to police the reviewers, writing style aside. everyone has their own style of writing (you with your “liberties”). let’s discuss the next steps and move on. this is a coach-able moment not a smear campaign. “know your shit” and “be a critic that chef’s admire” are statements that can be expounded upon with worthy constructive criticism.

    March 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm
  2. ed vasaio writes:

    I am an astronaut and I have been to the moon, but if I were a film maker, I would skip this foodie frenzy, bow down to the plate before me , and STFU!

    March 12, 2011 at 12:13 am
  3. RICavore writes:

    Go Jimmy and yay internet for enabling 2-way feedback with reviewers and their editors! A poor review might kill a restaurant less able to defend itself. Keep your hair on, people, and let the conversation improve your game.

    March 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm
  4. christian writes:

    i want to mispel somethng…

    March 13, 2011 at 10:47 am
  5. Chris writes:

    I really like that a restaurant guy has the time to respond. Helps everyone. I wish more would do it whether it’s the main chef, head line cook or owner.

    Squido ed, can you explain your posts or am I too ignorant?

    March 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm
  6. Zach writes:

    If you would have put the “vegitar” on the menu none of this happens. But you get all awkward and half paint over your slogan and get all bent when someone flubs your catch phrase … Maybe it’s all that illy coffee you have been drinking lately ..or maybe it just wasn’t as catchy as you thought it was…… Just kidding ..err saying… Err … Whatevz..

    March 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm
  7. Dawn writes:

    I think it’s really great you responded. Having worked in the restaurant industry for years I understand what a bad blog or review can do your business. Or more importantly what a good review can do. Richmond has so many food bloggers, which is great but they do not realize how much influence it has on the industry.
    I have read many reviews that contained incorrect information because I was there, we know who the bloggers and reviewers are. We watch them from the moment the enter the restaurant and smooze them a little extra and pay extra attention to everything. They look for things to complain about more than things to compliment.
    Uninformed statements can really impact a new restaurant.
    I applaud you for trying to hold someone accountable for mistakes. Why is it fair that they are getting paid to point out mistakes and you aren’t allowed to?
    It is a shame that everyone is trying to put the restaurants down from the beginning of the visit, trying to find controversy, People should be drawing attention to the good and encourage dining out and trying to new restaurants.

    I haven’t been to fresca yet, but it sounds great.

    March 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm