Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fearless? Or biased, extreme, and unreliable?, January 17, 2011
This review is from: Fearless Critic Seattle Restaurant Guide (Fearless Critic Restaurant Guides) (Paperback)
I'm a foodie, live in Seattle, and love restaurant guides with editorial opinion -- so I like the concept of this guide. Unfortunately, when I read it, I was rapidly appalled. Instead of the guide being "fearless," a better adjective would be "insulting." Those insulted include both the restaurants being reviewed and readers who are presumed to want extreme and overly opinionated ratings where summary judgments stand in for reasoned analysis.

To take one example: a high-end restaurant I won't name appears in various other "top 10" lists (and no, I have no connection to them). It is dismissed here as being a "tourist trap" and as having "bad" food, and is rated below places such as student restaurants in the University District. This could be justified, arguably, by a quality-to-price score but not by any rational comparison of the dining experience. To state baldly that a long-time, successful restaurant that others rate highly has categorically "bad" food is a disservice to the reader and an insult to those whose tastes are different.

Much better would be to explain exactly why the authors think this, what would be better, and to offer contrasting examples or simply to state more judiciously that the food appeals to some but not to others. And again, say why that is the case, so readers can filter the information appropriately. To be sure, I agreed with some reviews here, but that is beside the point. Rather, the point is that an opinionated guide can be useful without being aggressive. A good model there would be the Time Out restaurant guides.

The book triumphs its "independence" but also takes pride that its panel includes "undercover chefs." What? It is not independent when chefs are given printed space to run down their competitors anonymously. If you're familiar with how restaurateurs often judge each other, you'd be hesitant to trust their comments.

A recipe for a better guide would be: full disclosure of the parties' interests; consideration of alternate points of view and different tastes; and toning down extreme comments that are passed off as analysis. Wit, point of view, personal tastes, and vigorous writing are all good; unbridled opinion and insults are not.

To be "brutal" in their model, I would give the book only 1 star, but I'm adding 1 more because -- unlike the authors -- I recognize the limits to my own opinions and I understand that others might want a guide that pushes extreme points of view. And, unfortunately, there are guides that I think are even worse (namely, ones that average ratings, emphasize "points," and provide single paragraph blurbs).

There are admittedly few printed restaurant guides to Seattle ... exactly because the town is so highly connected and "digital." Skip this book and instead look to editorially coherent online sources that match your taste, the local newspaper's coverage of restaurants, or the detailed and generally trustworthy review and reservation aggregators that are popular with foodies (although, as another review mentions, avoid the general-public popularity engines).

Find a critic who agrees with your taste, not just one who is "fearless" in random directions. And most of all, enjoy the great food in Seattle!
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