Whiny Wednesday

I have now designated Hump Day as the day for grievances to be aired. Everyone is grouchy on Wednesdays anyway.

This week, several people have complained to me about the food and service at Naked Fish, a restaurant I have often touted and which has won our "Best Japanese" dining award twice.

The complaints?

"Service was ridiculously slow. So slow they comped our dessert." Alas, free dessert can't make up for lost time.

"The service was slow and the sushi wasn't very good. My roll just sort of fell apart." This was a first visit to Naked Fish for this diner; chances are slim he'll be back.

As restaurateurs know, disappointed diners seldom give a restaurant a second chance. 

But most of the complaining I heard this week was about me, mostly regarding my post "Finca: First Bite."

It sounds like a lot of people thought I was too easy on this new restaurant from the owner of Pago. And others thought I was too hard. A Goldilocks dilemma. My aim is simply to be honest, but it is my opinion, and it may not jibe with yours. I do appreciate everyone reading the blog and even more, I appreciate everyone giving a, um, darn about what they eat.
That said, in explanation and not defense, I would like to make clear where I'm coming from.

First of all: I think food writing is about people because food is about people. How do you separate food from its creator or its consumer? And restaurants are about the community they are in. So there are no absolutes.

Secondly: Restaurant criticism and food writing were once two separate jobs. That is not true now.

It's not true for a number of reasons—including John Mariani and other celebrity "national critics," the Food Network and the rise of the TV food star, the death of newspapers, the preponderance of "citizen journalism," food blogs and the decline of print advertising.

Except for some markets and a few publications, food writers do it all, if they want to make a living.

Anonymity is a luxury food writers and their publications cannot afford. In this market, Ted Scheffler writes everything there is to say about food for City Weekly, covering new restaurants, new products, new people, new events. Last year, to cut costs, the bosses moved him from the status of staff writer to contract writer.

At the Salt Lake Tribune, the two current restaurant reviewers, Stuart Melling and Heather King, are freelance writers who maintain their own blogs, separate from the Tribune's, and their own independent food writing careers. When I reviewed for the Tribune, I was paid $300 per review, out of which I had to pay for my meals. The only anonymous reviewer around, one restaurateurs may not know, is Leslie Neilsen, who makes her living as a Tribune copy editor and reviews sometimes.

That's how it is when you're trying to make a living writing about food, as Amanda Hesser pointed out recently, causing a great kerfuffle.

So, sometimes I'm anonymous when I review a restaurant, and sometimes I'm not. If I'm known, I may get extra attention and I may know more about the restaurateur's plans and dreams for the place (I'd written several pieces about the future Finca, before the place even opened). But chances are, my food won't be better than the food served to another table. As my visit to Finca showed.

And, as I've said before, if a restaurant is open, it's fair game to review. As part consumer advocate, I see no reason why a business should open before it's ready and expect customers to make allowances.

"De gustibus..." and all that keep those virtual cards and letters coming. Like I said, I'm glad you care. Obviously, we do share a desire for more, better restaurants in the city we live in.