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.  http://tinyurl.com/4ekd8ts

 

Comments

36 Responses to “Reviewing the Review”

  1. extramsg writes:

    Can I get an Amen! If only we lived in a world where knowledge and experienced trumped a good turn of phrase.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm
  2. julia writes:

    Thank you for a wonderful piece! I dream of the day when good food writers are paid a living wage and are afforded the space and time to present their findings with extensive research into a business’ methods, sources, and (gasp) its wine selection. While a current WSJ wine writer can’t spell half the producers reviewed and waxes on about boxed vs. jug vs. aluminum canned wine I guess it’s unfair to expect more out of a city of 200,000. But the food in this town gets better and better. Thanks for being part of that!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm
  3. Carolyn writes:

    This grammatically atrocious diatribe is all you could muster in response to a good review? I hope someone comments on the mistakes you have made over the years. They are certainly much more egregious than the colossal error that is the family of Broccoli.

    Three cheers to you, Mr. Sneed.

    When will you open your own restaurant again? We miss your raging temper, Greyhound bus-sized ego and idiotic antics. Taking on the newest Style reviewer is so beneath you, I mean, there are so many lost souls you could be saving.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:41 am
  4. Jimmy writes:

    Hey Carolyn.

    First, I was unaware that my grammar was atrocious. I try to write like I speak so I guess I take liberties. Secondly, I really didn’t/don’t see my review as a diatribe (A forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.) I am fiercely proud, and protective, of my profession and hoped to stimulate some dialogue. It worked. Third (thirdly?) I believe I said in my ‘review’ that the broccolini/broccoli rabe issue was unimportant compared to other errors, not a ‘colossal error’. Fourthly, you sound really, really angry. I’m going to call this a diatribe. If I’ve done something to upset you in the past, I’d certainly like to talk it out. I dislike negative energy, love positive energy.

    Fifth(ly), this is my own restaurant, with my elder daughter. As to my raging temper, bus-sized ego and idiotic antics, I believe you have me confused with the other Jimmy Sneed, the asshole. I assure you I have no temper, never have had. And my wife just told me that I do not have a large ego, but a healthy one. At least I think she was talking about my ego.

    Finally, I did not ‘take on’ the newest Style reviewer. I have had several good conversations with her unrelated to her writing. She seems quite nice. I merely wanted to point out that when you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods, it’s important to have the right motives, and knowledge. Fiercely proud, I am.

    By the look of the other posted comments I’d say we have an opportunity for some great discourse.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:37 am
  5. Lizzy Caston writes:

    As a professional food writer and as someone who still works in the industry (yeah, I’m a two timer), I have to say THANK YOU FOR THIS POST. You handled these obvious rubes w/ grace, professionalism and humor.

    Reviewing restaurants is tricky. It requires diplomacy, a keen eye for detail, an understanding of how restaurants operate in both the back and front of house. We want to support businesses and thus the local economy, but we also want to challenge restaurants and educate diners to embrace quality, not mediocrity. However, most importantly good food writing requires precision in the form of basic journalism 101: FACT CHECKING AND AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE SUBJECT MATTER.

    You called BS on what are some obvious amateur moves on the part of Style Weekly. It is fairly obvious to anyone who does know food that these writers have nary a clue as to what they are critiquing. Reminds me of some local reviewers who bemoaned that a soup at a Thai joint was bad because, “it had all these roots and hard to chew herbs and things in it” or a Belgian Frites place served Mayonnaise with their fries, “who does that?” One has to laugh. Then cry.

    And I mean Jesus, who the hell doesn’t know about egg on pizza at this point or authentic charred crust vs. American style pizzas.? Have the writers and editors been dining at the food court at the airport this whole time or what?

    Regardless, excellent post. Thanks!

    March 8, 2011 at 10:48 am
  6. KEK writes:

    It must be incredibly difficult to have a great chunk of your business success dependent on people who don’t know their subject enough to be writing about it credibly.

    Someone may or may not like a runny egg, but it’s not about whether you the writer LIKES that kind of food, it’s about how well that kind of food is executed at the restaurant. There are foods I don’t prefer but if I am a food writer, I need to be able to get over it the way that a political writer must overcome whether they love the right, left or the middle.

    This is the difference between critics and journalists…the latter have ethical, source, bias, etc. standards they need to live up to, while the former are simply expressing an opinion. Whether you call yourself critic or journalist, though, to make factual errors about what is printed on a wall or not to know the difference in “tools of the trade” like broccoli/broccolini/rabe/etc just proves that you (or your editor, same sin) are unqualified for either job.

    Given that food critic opinions can be so terribly uninformed, people need to try a restaurant for themselves. Be your own best judge and get the great experience of trying new restaurants/foods out along the way.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:19 am
  7. Jacqueline Willis writes:

    Love it! Just reading your review of the review makes me want to find your restaurant.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:58 am
  8. breeze386 writes:

    I used to work wine at a cafe that made Neo-Pies in a brick-oven… I watched countless pizzas fall into the trash because they were “burned.” *Sigh* A quote I’ve always found hilarious, “I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals, I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants.” Even though you are not a vegetarian, came to mind and made me laugh.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  9. elizardbeth writes:

    I used to write restaurant reviews. I was an editor at a typically understaffed daily, and I was filling a hole. The idea was editors could do reviews quickly and save the cost of hiring a full-timer. It actually worked out pretty well for me: I’d worked in restaurants a little bit, I was a competent home cook, I’d been married to a chef. (There’s an education for ya) Here’s what my employers, and many of my readers didn’t know: It was time-consuming. I asked many, many questions. I did research. I spent time online, talking to chefs, in bookstores and libraries reading dozens of variations on recipes. You know what’s a rewarding challenge? Learning the kind of history you need to know to write competently about Vietnamese food.
    In the end, the paper stopped running restaurant reviews to save the price of the meals. I think this is actually better than running lousy ones. And some of ours were lousy. I miss it, but I don’t miss the extra weight (I didn’t HAVE to finish my wine and my dessert, but c’mon) and the extra work.
    Thanks for this post. It’s so nice to hear from a chef who appreciates good food writing as much as I appreciate good food.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm
  10. Sam writes:

    Jimmy: Where is this vitriol stemming from? Maybe it is your lack of an actual job. What credibility do you possess? I only know of several failed ventures. It truly is a sad day if you are the expert.

    Breeze386: Did you actually see the pizza that was reviewed? Or taste it? I would like to know.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:38 pm
  11. Jimmy writes:

    Vitriol? (Cruel and bitter criticism). Dude, if I thought for one second it was cruel and bitter I would quit writing. Certainly not meant to be. Maybe you should reread it. Also, you may have me confused with another Jimmy Sneed. No failures here, only great and new challenges. I would change nothing about my career. It is the best. You might want to try it. Sounds like you need to be doing something you love. Good luck.

    March 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm
  12. deveron timberlake writes:

    Jimmy,

    Thanks for reiterating your thoughts about the food reviewing process at Style Weekly. We consider it a learning opportunity on all sides.

    Please know that there’s nothing casual about our process in hiring any food writer. Our reviewers must have working experience in the food service industry, demonstrate an informed passion for restaurants, and travel frequently in the United States and internationally to expand their dining experiences and knowledge of food culture. In addition, naturally, they must be able to communicate well.

    While the reviewer in question is several decades younger than our senior food writer, her enthusiasm is reminiscent of your own passion for food and for adventurous and informed eating. She’s also seen the industry up close, having spent 10-plus years doing every job possible in a restaurant.

    Other Style Weekly food reviewers include a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education who’s worked at Saveur magazine and the Food Network, and ran her own catering business; another who helped start Slow Food RVA and a food education program at a local elementary school and has written about food for years; and a former Washington Post reporter who has worked as a carhop, waiter, maitre’d and bartender, and now divides his time between Richmond and food-centric Brooklyn.

    The latter reviewer, Don Baker, had this to share about your blog post:

    “I can’t take issue with anything he said about food descriptions. He knows.

    “Where he errs, I believe, is in believing that knowing the minute details about the food and how it was prepared is of paramount interest to the reader. I think our job is to give the reader a road map to the restaurant. Is it awful, OK, good or great? Is it a pleasant place to spend an hour or two? Is it what it purports to be? If it’s Italian or just Italian-American, Chinese-Am, Irish-Am. Is the staff courteous, knowledgeable? Is the service timed properly? Are the prices in line with the product and decor? Is the music too weird or the TV (if there must be one) turned low and confined to the bar?

    “So I’ll make this offer to Jimmy: If he’ll settle down and cook the great food he is capable of (and that won’t happen at Fresca, no matter how thin the pizza), I’ll either quit reviewing or go to culinary school, and if I do the latter, I’ll become a chef, because there’s more money in it.”

    Jimmy, it’s important to clarify that this reviewer has a positive view of the restaurant industry, and is in fact part of a restaurant family in another city. Her review was well-intentioned and generous; if there are factual errors that have not been corrected, the editors take responsibility for those and will see to it that corrections are made.

    We’ll link to your post so that your comments can be seen by our readership, and we’ll take this challenge as an opportunity to improve our work and better serve the reader.

    Deveron Timberlake

    Food & Drink Editor

    Jason Roop

    Editor in Chief

    March 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm
  13. Jimmy writes:

    Devron, Jason and Don,

    This isn’t about Ms. Martin. It’s about standards, and the role of a critic. Historically, of course, there always has been and always will be a schism separating artist (actors, singers, painters, designers, chefs) and critics. If a movie critic is all that, why not direct a movie? Blah, blah,blah.

    And it’s about knowing of what one speaks. One critic raves about a nicely charred pizza while another says it shouldn’t be like that. Well, which is it? Awesome or poorly executed? Thus, critics that lack the depth of knowledge necessary to inform, or teach if you will, the dining public relies on prose and cleverness. Telling the public that a restaurant is serving burned food and raw eggs (that’s what they hear) does a tremendous disservice to our great industry.

    Ms. Martin’s writing accentuates a lack of depth. She opens the review by ridiculing our slogan saying “This statement, spray painted across the side of the new Fresca on Addison, is confusing at best and seems a bit less than straightforward”. C’mon. How is this misstatement of hers at all relevant to what a restaurant is doing? It’s a diversion.

    Even after writing the review of Fresca she blogged that we cooked our $9 pizzas in a wood burning oven. Not only have we never used wood, we can’t, I won’t. The oven is too small to accommodate even one log and does not have the proper flue. We showed Robey the oven on at least one of her several visits here. And the pizzas have always been $7.50. I am at a complete loss to understand how she can casually throw out so much bad information.

    Go back and review some of the wine-me-dine-me and in-vino-veritas blogs and you will see a plethora of rude rants. Note that the opening paragraph of our review is negative. Personally, I get why she does it, don’t really care. Professionally it’s not what our industry needs, or deserves.

    On the subject of Don Baker: without going into too much detail I do recall that he had a bit of a learning curve when he began writing reviews. The difference is that his considerable skill and experience as a journalist of some note gave him the humility (yup, I said it) to write about what he knew, and learn the rest. That, and his obvious respect and appreciation of the restaurant industry. Big difference. It allowed him to become a bona fide food writer. Two more things: his threats to quit reviewing and to become a chef. I wish for neither!

    However, he falls into the trap of thinking that the reviewer is there merely to tell the reader whether it’s awful, good or great or whether the music is weird or the TV too low. Knowing if a restaurant is good or bad is easy. Knowing why it’s good or bad takes talent, experience, insight, and an open mind. Knowing the difference between a good restaurant and a great one, however, takes much more.

    I never meant this to be about Robey on a personal level. As I said, I wrote a very similar article twenty, or was it thirty, years ago. It needs to be said. You’ve both known me long enough to know that I am absolutely not lashing out here. Au contraire. I’m enjoying the dialogue. And I’m enjoying working 12 hour days (again) because:

    1) Jenna has a huge smile all day long.
    2) We’re doing great food. There is a story and commitment behind every dish, side dish and beverage.
    3) I see growth potential.
    4) It’s a great learning experience for all of us. And the Sneeds love working together.
    5) Jenna has a huge smile all day long.
    6) And yes, I wash dishes.

    One final item. Today she tweeted “I would be forever grateful if you would post all comments. You haven’t been cowardly, why start now?” Whether or not that was directed at me, it is no way for a journalist to speak to her audience. If she was speaking to me, she should know that I have posted all comments save those I felt were personal communications to me (a couple of long lost friends), including this one. Was it your intention for me to post it? I have no problem doing so with my reply.

    Again, I’m thrilled with the dialogue but dismayed that some people see this as a vendetta or personal attack. It ain’t. It’s about all of us doing great work and working towards the same goal of giving Richmond great dining experiences.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm
  14. Bobby writes:

    She is a nice person, thanks for noticing. A really nice person with very good intentions. Somehow that didn’t stop you from criticizing very tiny mistakes and grandstanding for publicity. I wish you would cook and keep the not-so-nice actions at bay. I fail to see the problem with her having an opinion. You like your pizza. She did as well. She just prefers it without runny egg. At least, her opinion comes without bias.

    If this could have been written without so much condescension and with just the slightest amount of tact, there really could have been some real conversation.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm
  15. Alix B. writes:

    I appreciate how direct you are. It’s bound to bring up people’s defenses–especially in this town. Sounds like you had every right to make the clarifications, ask some questions, and point out some truths. I look forward to trying Fresca.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:29 am
  16. Jen writes:

    This is fantastic, and hilarious. It’s about time chefs start reviewing the reviewers back. I mean, it only raises the bar for the indusrty of food writing, right?

    It’s assumed that a critical review of a restaurant is “nothing personal” and necessary to keep chefs on their toes… but who is watching the watchmen? Funny how people view this kind of criticism as hateful… unless directed at a restaurant, in which case it’s just par for the course.

    Criticism is vital to the health of any industry and it seems you have returned the favor for food writers… surely the best of them will thank you for putting some purpose back in career that SHOULD be competetive. Looking forward to the day when critics have to contend with the same daily anxiety that a good chef has to- the knowledge that each detail of your performance is under a microscope, and that youre only as good as your last creation. That is the recipe for greatness, right? Welcome to the REAL world of food, foodies.

    March 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm
  17. allen writes:

    I find your comment hilarious and misinformed, Jen. Let me welcome you to the REAL world of food critics in Richmond. There are no full-time restaurant critics in this city. These shabbily paid individuals have full-time jobs in addition to their free lance positions. Your comment would be welcome in a market that has critics that are responsible for just critiquing. The people that write in Richmond have such benefits such as tight deadlines, crappy pay and a very small if even existent expense account all in addition to their FULL-time employment elsewhere. This essay would be better received in a market where the reviewers were dedicated to just reviewing but Richmond does not have that type of food scene….yet. Right now, as it stands, this just comes off as a bitter old man past his prime attacking a publication that he is all too familiar with. The humor in this situation is: the review was a good review, the reviewer is a good reviewer (albeit young), and this restaurant isn’t even worth this much chatter. The sad in this situation is: this probably will be the only thing anyone remembers about this non?-vegetarian restaurant. The recipe for his greatness should have been his food. Maybe if the raab/broccolini has tasted better there wouldn’t have been a mistake.

    March 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm
  18. The Marinara writes:

    “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.”

    What this paragraph is missing is a proper definition of “over-way-too-easy, egg. Only on one slice, it sat conspicuously uncooked.” Do you want the author to say the egg white was translucent? Do you want to say that was the reason she couldn’t eat it? Maybe it was the author or the editor tried doing you a favor by leaving that part out of the review. so much for giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    And then there is your diatribe on pizza. I swear, what is it with pizza makers in the town. If someone doesn’t like their pizza, it’s the consumer that is the problem. they are just one of the many ignorant diners in America. really, you are no better than Peter Caserta in the matter. sure there needs to be an appreciation for style and process, but at the end of the day good pizza doesn’t have to follow all these stupid rules (see mamma zu). And while the reviewer and myself disagree on what may be the best pizzas in town, there is a mutual respect because we both know that one thing we both do is take our pizza seriously. I look forward to trying the pizza at Fresca. I hope it lives up to the expectations, but one thing that won’t change my perspective, is thinking that I have to agree with you in order to be right.

    There are some fair criticisms of the review in this post. It would have been great, if you left it at that. As I know the reviewer is taking your criticisms very seriously, I hope you take hers the same way.

    March 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm
  19. jacqui writes:

    I applaud you for writing this post. However, I disagree that you have to have been a chef or similar to be a worthy restaurant reviewer. After all, your audience is not professional.
    But you do have to love food, know a LOT about food and be willing to learn through research what you don’t already know.

    March 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm
  20. Eric writes:

    My favorite whack-job…I”m so glad your blogging again.

    March 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm
  21. Deveron Timberlake and Jason Roop writes:

    Jimmy,

    Thanks for reiterating your thoughts about the food reviewing process at Style Weekly. We consider it a learning opportunity on all sides.

    Please know that there’s nothing casual about our process in hiring any food writer. Our reviewers must have working experience in the food service industry, demonstrate an informed passion for restaurants, and travel frequently in the United States and internationally to expand their dining experiences and knowledge of food culture. In addition, naturally, they must be able to communicate well.

    While the reviewer in question is several decades younger than our senior food writer, her enthusiasm is reminiscent of your own passion for food and for adventurous and informed eating. She’s also seen the industry up close, having spent 10-plus years doing every job possible in a restaurant.

    Other Style Weekly food reviewers include a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education who’s worked at Saveur magazine and the Food Network, and ran her own catering business; another who helped start Slow Food RVA and a food education program at a local elementary school and has written about food for years; and a former Washington Post reporter who has worked as a carhop, waiter, maitre’d and bartender, and now divides his time between Richmond and food-centric Brooklyn.

    The latter reviewer, Don Baker, had this to share about your blog post:

    “I can’t take issue with anything he said about food descriptions. He knows.

    “Where he errs, I believe, is in believing that knowing the minute details about the food and how it was prepared is of paramount interest to the reader. I think our job is to give the reader a road map to the restaurant. Is it awful, OK, good or great? Is it a pleasant place to spend an hour or two? Is it what it purports to be? If it’s Italian or just Italian-American, Chinese-Am, Irish-Am. Is the staff courteous, knowledgeable? Is the service timed properly? Are the prices in line with the product and decor? Is the music too weird or the TV (if there must be one) turned low and confined to the bar?

    “So I’ll make this offer to Jimmy: If he’ll settle down and cook the great food he is capable of (and that won’t happen at Fresca, no matter how thin the pizza), I’ll either quit reviewing or go to culinary school, and if I do the latter, I’ll become a chef, because there’s more money in it.”

    Jimmy, it’s important to clarify that this reviewer has a positive view of the restaurant industry, and is in fact part of a restaurant family in another city. Her review was well-intentioned and generous; if there are factual errors that have not been corrected, the editors take responsibility for those and will see to it that corrections are made.

    We’ll link to your post so that your comments can be seen by our readership, and we’ll take this challenge as an opportunity to improve our work and better serve the reader.

    Deveron Timberlake
    Food & Drink Editor

    Jason Roop
    Editor in Chief

    March 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm
  22. Thomas writes:

    I didn’t know what to expect when I came to this post, but I really enjoyed it, but I only respond here to give some balance to some of the egregiously ridiculous responses so typical of “foodie” commenters.

    I have a strong background in food, wine & the restaurant industry and while that colors my view of every food critique I read, there’s the inherent trust, the presumption of expertise, between a reader & reviewer that’s at issue here. I think it’s absolutely fair for a restauranteur to want to set the record straight when errors are made. There’s no ombudsperson for the food review section, no recourse, other than a personal blog, for correcting printed misinformation.

    I love Robey, but if she’s wrong, she’s wrong. If it was broccolini, not rabe, it’s fair to point that out. If she says the egg was out of place, but it was exactly where it was supposed to be, it’s fair to defend the execution of the dish as served. Are they small mistakes? Sure. But taken in total, a well-executed meal seems a little sloppier thru no fault of the chef, only the writer’s misunderstanding. I don’t think Jimmy has shied away from the nitpickiness of his “review of the reviewer”, but he was pretty even-handed, if a little snarky. Which I don’t think the writer herself would mind.

    Keep up the good work, Jimmy. I confess, even with the positive reviews from Robey & Dana Craig, as a devout carnivore, your restaurant wasn’t going to make my list. This post changes my mind. The passion for your craft, the care taken in your sourcing, & attention to detail shine through here and I’ll choose that 10 out of 10 times when I dine out.

    Best of luck to Fresca & keep up with the blog! -TM

    March 10, 2011 at 10:04 am
  23. christian writes:

    jimmy, i agree with everything you said. it’s like being graded on a test by someone 3 years behind you…
    and i also agree with jen-we chefs should take a stand and openly correct our reviewers. its only fair for us to have our say.
    ( when did they become untouchable???)
    in the last 20 years of cooking, i’ve delt with ignorant reviews-and their consequences. and i’ve always lived by the mantra ‘don’t change anything.’
    i know what i’m doing is honest and correct, they, the reviewer, does not.
    and pizza…that subject is a thorn in my side, having grown up and worked with, woodfired brick ovens most of my life.
    NYC style, chicago style, californian…”authentic” gets tossed around (get it?) like there is such a thing.
    sure, theres DOC standards, but what does that really mean? that you perchased a certificate? whatever…i don’t need that to be real and honest.
    americans were weened on more more more…more cheese, more meat..ect. when we chefs know its about balance. whatever…
    being fairly fresh to the richmond area, i’m surprised to see how the critics here are kinda behind the curve on food. and i hope theres a change in that, because i’ve seen what a couple of possitive reviews can do for business-richmonders read and follow, for reals-and i’d hate to see what a bad, or even a grossly misinformed reveiw can do…(well, i’ve had one pretty misinformed one, truth be told…and it sucked the life out of the place for a week or so…)

    cheers, brother…

    March 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm
  24. Marcus writes:

    Great post, Jimmy. Actually, better than great. You made some good points, and deserve to defend some errors in a typical Richmond food review.

    What is interesting is ‘The Marinara’ guy who is critiquing you above is apparently a blogger for said critic’s own blog (and a food critic for another mag?). Interesting that he didn’t divulge that. Does this guy have any food background other than eating out and rambling on about it (like many Richmond food bloggers)?
    Takes a lot of nerve to call out a chef with your extensive experience and background. Maybe some of these so-called experts need some actual time in the kitchen, and I don’t mean cooking at home for the fam. I mean working the line til midnight. Where is the respect with this younger, entitled generation? I suppose now everyone is an expert just because they eat and enjoy complaining about things?

    I, too, am more of a carnivore but am intrigued by your pizza stylings and will definitely check you out soon! Glad to see you back in action and putting some personality back into the food scene.

    March 10, 2011 at 9:00 pm
  25. dondolone writes:

    As casually as the media accepts these poor reviews , so too does the public accept poor food conceived and prepared by equally half cocked kids. They truly don’t know any better, yet are sickly gratified in their mutualism. It’s like little kids dressing up like their parents, leaving the house, driving to work, and when they get there we let them stay and boy do we pay.

    March 11, 2011 at 7:54 am
  26. The Marinara writes:

    Marcus, thanks for outing me. I used to contribute on WhineMeDineMe, but I am no longer doing so. I have done some freelance food writing, but never for Style Weekly.

    I have immense respect for Jimmy Sneed. He truly is a legend and should be respected for his work and for what he has done for this city. I only wish Mr. Sneed would give me and others the opportunity to taste his high end creations once again.

    That being said, I have the right to defend my friend as much as he has the right to defend his work. Robey Martin was not being stupid when commenting on the egg and the pizza. trying to disqualify her based on her broccolini error is classic case of the straw man argument. You may not like her style, but I think it is unwise to doubt her intelligence.

    Secondly, I am sure Mr. Sneed can appreciate this, he would like for his creations to stand on their own. It is common logic for one to think their creations are the best. I have yet to find a restaurant owner that doesn’t think that. So, all I was asking Mr. Sneed was to not doubt our food intellect by telling us we were dumb. instead wow us with his creations. If Fresca is as good as he thinks, then we can only hope that it will stay in business long enough to get the attention in deserves.

    I am an informed customer, and that gives me the right to have an opinion. I don’t have to be a film maker to appreciate good film, as such I don’t have to be a restaurant professional to appreciate good food. I, however, don’t take my online status lightly. I rarely write anything negative. I generally use my position to create positive awareness of chefs in the Richmond dining scene.

    Mr. Sneed, I look forward to trying your pies in the near future.

    -Matt Sadler

    March 11, 2011 at 10:00 am
  27. Brandon writes:

    When you said “In order to critique food, you have to know about food,” it comes across as “if you don’t know about the details, you cannot have an opinion.” Everyone has an opinion- every customer that eats your food, and many of them have no knowledge (like myself). If I were to ever visit, not knowing the details, would I miss the experience with the egg? Would your staff explain the recommended way to eat/try it? If your staff saw the egg staring at customers, why did they not step in and provide guidance for a customer? I could be missing out on many things in life had it not been for a few people who took the time to demonstrate (like pho, for instance).

    Also, an article written by a person in the know for people that are not, has to dance a fine line of detail. The review was written for the public to read, not solely other critics.

    March 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm
  28. Jimmy writes:

    Hey,

    More than one person has defended their position using the same logic. Read Don Baker’s statements on Style’s comment to this blog. This topic is interesting enough to warrant a full blown newsletter/blog of its own. If I get a free second (I need a nap) I’m going to write one on the subject. But for now let me say this. An art critic, food critic, theater critic or music critic is not invested with our trust for their opinion. It’s for their knowledge, insight and expertise. If one says “Picasso is one of the greatest artists of our time” and another says “Picasso sucks”, you have two opinions.

    Personally, I don’t know if Picasso rocked or sucked. I’m not educated enough in art to understand proportions, composition, perspective or any other terms I can find by googling. So, I can write a review and give my opinion but I can never be a credible critic. If you want to publish an opinion, start a blog

    March 11, 2011 at 7:07 pm
  29. Jen writes:

    Allen,

    Your description of Richmond food writers sounds a lot like the life of a chef- crappy pay, tight deadlines, no benefits… so what? Life is difficult. But if youre passionate about food, you cook your ass off regardless, and any writer worth his or her salt will do the same. So why not review eachother? Stellar and long overdue idea I’d say- and one that is mutually beneficial.

    To say that Richmond critics should not be held to high standards because their jobs are less than glamorous is an insult to them, and to the people who consider them experts. This may be a matter of our differening work ethics, but I was raised (and trained) to believe that no matter the job, or the compensation, he or she who accepts it commits to giving 100%. And the ones who want to excel do their research on their own time simply because they want to be great.

    In this case, the reviewer did some sloppy research and got called out on it. Big deal! Chefs and business owners of all sorts get publicly criticized daily by every bored yelper with time to kill and a computer. I’m sure she doesnt need you to defend her by calling her a shabbily paid part timer. She’s probably a great writer who appreciates the value of constructive criticism.

    Get on board, Allen, because your theory that this town ‘has no market’ for great food writing will only serve to hold its writers back.

    March 11, 2011 at 7:19 pm
  30. 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
  31. 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
  32. 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
  33. christian writes:

    i want to mispel somethng…

    March 13, 2011 at 10:47 am
  34. 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
  35. 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
  36. 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