Westchester Magazine. What’s a Review Really Worth?
In the October issue of Westchester magazine, there were two interesting reviews printed from Julia Sexton, who I’ve been following for quite some time through Westchester Magazine, as well as the New York Times, and the team of Marge Perry & David Bonom.
I’ll begin with the latter of reviewers and their “4 star” take on Palomino (Old Greenwich). Now, understand that I’ve been to both reviewed restaurants, so I’m going to approach this post with quite an objective view. What really got me was the award of 4 stars to Palomino vs. Julia’s 3 star review for Nessa (Port Chester).
First off, I’d like to throw out a few quotes from the Palomino review. There are 4 that really say it all.
1. “It would have been unfair to expect every dish to thrill us. But only one truly disappointed. A seared magret duck breast was oddly tough, thickly sliced, and even somewhat mealy. It was a shame…”.
2. “… if only the meat had been good.”
3. “Many desserts fell short.”
4. “…it’s gummy thick filling, and the soggy-crusted and somewhat bland Key lime tart.”
Now, here’s my question. With these quotes right out of page 202, does this sound like a 4 star, top of the line, nothing can top this, best on the block review? If your answer is yes, please stop reading and begin again from the top of the page. Repeat as necessary.
What happens when a really amazing place comes along (uh, like, duh… say… uh… on the Hudson)? Can Westchester Magazine all of a sudden say “crap guys… we need to add a fifth star to our reviews cause Marge & David were giving out 4 stars like candy!”? Well, I would surmise probably not.
How about an easier solution; tougher standards for Westchester! Yea! Hooray!
Anyone that’s seen Julia Sexton’s work knows she’s frugal with her ratings. Read her food blog and you’ll get the distinct impression she’s not out to make friends when it comes to food writing. Case in point; Nessa in Port Chester.
Nessa is loud, yea I agree. And yea, the menu can sometimes be a bit confusing. But I’ve been there a few times and crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge just to go there. I’m not sure if Palomeno can really be categorized with Nessa. But I’ll admit, that’s my subjective opinion. But why the heck did Julia only award 3 stars while Marge & David threw 4 stars out to Palomino?
The answer is experience and acceptable standards.
Julia, being a contributor to the New York Times, has set herself to a bit higher of a standard, benchmark if you will. Don’t agree? Well, I didn’t make this up.
Earlier this week I had a few customers sitting at my bar talking about reviewers and discussing past issues of Westchester Magazine. I can say for sure at least one them worked for the magazine. Seems as of right now, the hottest draft going around the office at Westchester Magazine is Julia’s newest review of Peter Kelly’s X20. Since I’m not looking to make any friends here either, and these guys were a bit obnoxious anyway, I’m pleased to tell you that she gave X20 the 4 stars they deserve. If you don’t see the review in November, it’s probably because they caught wind of this post.
So here’s my dilemma. With a November (possibly now December) review of 4 stars for X20, and a 4 star review for Palomino, how much credibility can you really give the Westchester Magazine review process? Do readers really respond to a review with “yea, but who wrote the review?”
As a quick footnote, anyone that’s ever dined at X20, taken their glass of wine out to the steel balcony overlooking the Hudson, can’t help but say the same thing; holy crap, there’s nothing like this. If anyone ever contemplates suicide, bring them to the deck at X20. All of a sudden, life is good again.
Not so long ago I provided links to the review of Avenida on Greenwich Avenue that showed this particular New York Times reviewer, Patricia Brooks, had given the last 3 reviews she published as “2 Excellent(s) & 1 Very Good”! That’s absolutely insane! When I see this reviewers work, I just flip the page. I’d rather read the comics or make believe I’m completing the crossword puzzle.
So here’s where I’d like to set the stage. I know I prefer a hard line reviewer like Sexton (actually I live for Bruni’s reviews every Wednesday), but how about the chowhound community. Do you enjoy reading sugar coated reviews only to get there and be let down? Or do you prefer a 3 star review that you know will lead to an evening of stellar food, great service and a smile on your face when you pay the check?