Recent high profile disputes between restaurateurs and their critics are the exception, not the rule. Blogs and community Web sites dilute the power of a critic and offer an opportunity for restaurateurs to start a dialog.
While the relationship between chefs and restaurant reviewers has never been an easy one, one could draw the conclusion that animosity between the two groups is reaching fever pitch. This is probably not the case, though. As Mimi Sheraton explains in a February column on Slate.com, restaurateurs and critics—who can be the most felicitous of allies when the praise is positive—long have sparred over negative reviews. Today, however, with the proliferation of Web sites such as Yelp.com, Chowhound.com and Citysearch.com as well as personal blogs, a critic's word is rarely the only one read. Just as too many chefs spoil the soup, too many critics diffuse the criticism.
And these paragraphs, which, respectively, give a Tacoma chef and a Tacoma critic the penultimate and final words:
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For Chef Gordon Naccarato, the desire to set restaurant misconceptions straight led him to post comments on Ed's Diner, a blog started by Tacoma, Wash. -based The News Tribune's restaurant critic, Ed Murrieta. "I noticed that several contributors to the blog were saying crazy things about other people's restaurants. I felt compelled to give the other side of the story," says Naccarato, who owns Pacific Grill in Tacoma.
In past posts, he has explained why restaurants mark up wines and he has defended competitor restaurants from negative comments posted on the blog. Now Naccarato admits that he checks the blog frequently, even receiving gentle ribbing from fellow contributors who tell him that he needs to spend more time in his kitchen.
According to Murrieta, this was an unintentional, though welcome, result of the blog. "Gordon has become one of the regular posters on the blog. He's even championed other chefs in town. That's what I think has been a remarkable outcome. He is signing his name. He is offering his advice and experience. He's not out there ranting and raving," Murrieta says. For Murrieta, Naccarato and other contributors also ground him in another way. "The word community– it always has bothered me. Now I'm almost flipped the other way. It's hard to work without it."