The following South Sound restaurants provided free meals to "Best Places Northwest" reviewer:
The Hardware Store
Ferrara on Vashon
The Green Turtle
From the Bayou
The book recommends 17 restaurants in the South Sound, from Vashon Island to Olympia, including six in Tacoma, where the controversy began.
Ted Kenney, the owner of Galanga Thai restaurant in downtown Tacoma, takes the guide book's publication with a grain of salt large enough to crush Gandhi.
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Kenney stirred things up when he refused to play along with the publisher's new policy of making reviewers solicit free food and wine from restaurants, no promise of reviews implied.
Galanga is not among the South Sound restaurants featured in the "Best Places" guide to restaurants, lodging, shopping and more.
"It would certainly be beneficial to our restaurant to be in there," Kenney told me. "I get a little pang of regret when I see potential competitors that are in the book and realize I threw the chance away."
"Best Places" publisher, Sasquatch Books of Seattle, apparently threw something away, too: disclosure that its reviewers solicit and accept free meals. I couldn't find any references in the book or on Sasquatch's Web site.
Sasquatch's Tacoma reviewer, Kate Van Gelder (who writes for The News Tribune's special advertising sections), and two of the restaurant owners whose businesses are featured in "Best Places" confirmed that free meals were solicited, proffered and accepted.
"He requested not to be in the book," Van Gelder said of Kenney. "You can't argue with his conviction. I was very well received everywhere I went. Most were very glad that we were there. They were very flattered that they were considered. Obviously, if you're dining on a restaurant, you don't want to write a bad review."
"I don't want to seem to be a Pollyanna or overly moralistic about Best Places' new policy," Kenney said. "If you want to launch a guidebook that lets its reviewers identify themselves to review subjects and ask for freebies, go ahead. I'd probably turn down your request for a free meal – and the pertinent facts (the free meals, the non-anonymity) surrounding the reviews published in this book should be disclosed. What's definitely obnoxious is to claim to be anonymous/non-beholden and to go out and do otherwise."
I didn't bother calling Sasquatch or editor Sally Farhat for their side of the story. They have a Web site and they have more than 660 pages in their new book to explain themselves. They don't.
But let me explain myself: The News Tribune pays for all meals and services I incur in the course of my job. I never announce my presence. I expect nothing more than what the average customer receives. If free food is sent to the table – the chef's newest invention at TwoKoi, or the amuse buche at Stadium Bistro – I'll only eat it if I see other customers receiving the same freebies.
My reviews, too, should be taken with grains of salt. I am, after all, just one guy with a mouth, opinions and an expense account.