Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who are the readers in the Readers' Choice?

While looking at the Sauce magazine's Readers' Choice for best of places around St. Louis, I start to wonder: who are these Readers?  I'm not an expert on every type of food, but I have a hard time getting through my own head that the Readers' Favorite choice is not necessarily the best.  (As in, food quality, taste, price and so forth.)  Obviously, if you had two bars: Bar A and Bar B, and even though the same bars serve the same thing in every way, if Bar B charges $1 less than Bar A for the same thing, then it will score as a favorite for the people; the Readers.  With this idea though, it seems to bring a false concept or a little white lie to the reader now, because those "Favorite" places may not be the "best" places.

Here's a rant: The Drunken Fish gets picked by many St. Louisans as the best place for sushi in the area.  When I was last there, about 2 years ago, the sushi was warm and so was the sashimi.  They also had a dish that was basically a pork katsu with BBQ sauce.  Now, my wife and I tried and collaborated on the review of the Drunken Fish and while they may claim to do sushi the best and most Japanese like or most traditional they are sadly mistaken.  We have been to Japan and we have eaten sushi there.  So, someone telling us that "this is how it is prepared in Japan" when we know it isn't, doesn't work.  Their Jedi mind tricks are fruitless.  Furthermore, the reason that the Drunken Fish must always be on top, with warm or frozen food when it is supposed to be cool or room temperature, must have to do with the prices of their alcohol.  I know that may seem shallow, but I would dare say that 90% of St. Louis residents are drinkers and if it is a few bucks less, then it is always a plus.  It could be the worst looking bar in the city, but if it sold quarter pints of Guinness, I'd call in my favorite too.

So what does something have to be to be a real favorite?  This is why I wrote earlier on why St. Louis has no food culture, or didn't and is only now slowly starting to rebuild what it once had.  When a sushi place and bar is best known for its bar, then it still makes the list.  Also, when you have 3-4 places and they are all bad, the least bad is chosen.  Lastly, like any voting process, the most votes win.  So, if a bad restaurant has a lot of family, relatives or friends and they all put in votes and win, they could be the worst but still win the popular vote.

Now, what should be done?  I am taking it upon myself to ask foodies, anyone who knows anything about food at all, to tell me their favorite places and why.  Not just "blank is my favorite because it is..." but "blank is my favorite because the staff were knowledgeable and the food was great".  Looking at the lists, almost turn my stomach and brings up some topics from past restaurant reviewers in the media.

1. Most restaurant reviewers never paid a thing for their meals.  You go to a restaurant, get a free meal, and then comp the restaurant by giving them really good marks and overlooking the really salty steak or the $200 price meal that you would have had to pay otherwise.  So, they write off the bill and you think it is the greatest thing ever.

2.  Most restaurants give special treatment to reviewers.  This is more than just getting your meal paid for.  In the case of Niche and Taste.  I have tried to make reservations multiple times and the best time that they can give me is 9:30 in the evening.  I am willing to bet, that if I told them that I was a restaurant writer/reviewer, they would be able to squeeze me in at 7pm any night on any day.  I may also get the best table or the kitchen table, if they have one.  I may also get to meet the chef.  The reason why I don't let anyone know, is that I want to give a real and honest review of my first visit, which is something that not a single restaurant reviewer does any more. 

3.  Reviews after one visit.  I read online that the number 1 complaint of restaurant owners is that the reviewer should not make a judgment and review a location based on one visit.  But how else can we get an honest opinion of a restaurant?  If someone comes in from out of town and asks me where they should go, what should I tell them?  Should I tell them that I have no idea because I've only been there once or twice?  When someone goes to a restaurant, and doesn't expect special treatment because they didn't identify that they were a reviewer or affiliated with a media, news or periodical agency or company, they are treated to what could be a good or bad dining experience.  I have gone to restaurants before and had bad experiences on the first visit, I have gone and had bad experiences on the 5th visit also.  So, what this person is going to experience doesn't matter how many times they visit, really, because the number of times just comes up with an average experience, not a first-time visit.  It is the most important as well as it is a first impression.  If I take a bite of a new food, I can tell in that first bite if I like it or not.  I try to take a second bite, but the first one determines if I should take a second.  If I go to a restaurant and it is bad the first time, I will not want to go back.  Therefore, I find it adequate to write reviews after one visit.

So, what should be done now?  I will attempt my own best of list.  I will start it and ask friends and family and fans and then I will visit the best one chosen and check it out.

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