"Trout à la green plague."
Fish that "tasted like old ski boots."
Peking duck pancakes "the size of a saucer and the thickness of a finger."
"Bring a can of Raid if you plan to eat here."
These are all lines that restaurant critics wielded and which court rulings have let slide as hyperbole and metaphor.
What about the Philadelphia critic's assertion that a meal "was expensive and disappointing, from the soggy and sour chopped salad to a miserably tough and fatty strip steak"?
If the earlier cases are a reliable guide, it is doomed, the New York Times said in a story today about critical reviews and litigious restaurateurs headlined "Serving You Tonight Will Be Our Lawyer."
"Reviews, although they may be unkind, are not normally a breeding ground for successful libel actions," federal appeals court in Manhattan stated in 1985.
I've had restaurant owners show up at my office to protest a negative review, but none have ever served me legal papers.
"As a critic," Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "I figure I'm always one misplaced adjective away from getting slapped with legal action. When I write a truly negative review, I always refrain from listing all the offenses, and I generally return to the restaurant more than the standard three times. That way if I am sued, I can demonstrate that I took extra precautions and bent over backward to be fair. I only hope the criticism is taken as constructive, rather than destructive."