Cooking, and everything that goes along with being a 'foodie' - dining out, planning trips or vacations around the restaurants, pre-ordering cookbooks 9 months out, spending a lot of money on kitchen gadgets etc, DVRs full of cooking shows and Top Chef, has become such a passionate hobby for me.
I unfortunately live in Western Massachusetts,which isn't exactly a culinary hotbed. There are a few great places, sure, but it's chain restaurant heavy and most of the local places do the same uninspired dishes like baked stuff scrod and chicken marsala. I went into a Vietnamese restaurant and asked for a banh mi and the server never heard of one before; the Lebonese place is always advertising specials for NY Strip; a Greek place in CT made me a gyro with store bought tzaziki. The great restaurants, I feel, are big fish in a small pond and while good I'm not sure where they'd stack up in a bigger city.
I like reviewing restaurants but my friends and family are constantly telling me I'm way too critical, that the area I live in isn't a New York or San Francisco. I guess I view things on one scale - while I have never been to a Thomas Keller restaurant, lets just pretend for conversations sake it's a 5 star dining experience like everyone says. Well how would you rate my local restaurant that uses all Sysco foodservice products and hasn't changed it's menu in forever? I don't know if it's fair to use for comparison sake but look at movie reviews. There's a very easy ratings scale so while Dumb and Dumber is still one of my favorite movies, it's only getting a one star review from critics.
I understand food is subjective and I don't look down at people who eat at Applebees or the local family owned place that hasn't changed the menu in 20 years. You like what you like, and sometimes for a lot of people, including my family growing up, even going to a chain is a big deal in terms of fast casual convenience and price.
I was inspired to write this post after reviewing a new donut shop in the area. I haven't necessarily sought to snuff out the best donuts in the country but have happened to have visited The Doughnut Plant in NYC, Dough in Brooklyn, Top Pot in Seattle, Voodoo in Portland. I feel like I've had a decent donut. They have different flavored glazed donuts here and none of three we tried delivered on the flavors promised and the donuts themselves, in terms of shape, size, and 'mouthfeel' were very similar to Dunkin Donuts. The apple fritter had crunch but no fluffy, pillowy middle. Now how do you review this place? Where I live, most people wouldn't care about anything I'm saying. And is there such thing as a bad donut? They weren't inedible. But I've tasted some of the best donuts in the country and these pale in comparison. There's a part of me that feels awful writing something bad about a place that seems so popular.
I also had a recent dining experience at Talde in Brooklyn that let me down, but after rethinking things, while the food wasn't necessarily bad, I felt the flavors were very average for a guy on Top Chef. Is that unfair to say?
What's fair grounds for criticism in your reviews?