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Reviewing the Reviewers: A Preview

Thursday, January 27, 2011 - 11:28 AM

On tomorrow’s show, Leonard will be discussing the current state of restaurant reviewing with Adam Platt, the restaurant reviewer for New York magazine, and Raphael Brion, the national editor of the restaurant website Eater. But before we jump into the discussion, we wanted to hear your thoughts on what sources you find most useful when deciding where to eat.

Towards that end, we’ve decided to focus on two restaurants (for now): Del Posto, the first Italian restaurant to receive a four star review from the New York Times in decades, and Fatty ‘Cue, a new-ish Asian barbeque fusion restaurant in Williamsburg. Both have been talked about and reviewed quite a bit in the past year. We’ve posted links to the Yelp and UrbanSpoon pages, as well as to reviews from Zagat, New York and the New York Times. Read them and tell us what you think – which review gives you the best sense of the ambiance of the place? Helps you decide what to order? And, ultimately, tells you whether or not you should go?

DEL POSTO

  • Yelp – Currently rates the restaurant at 4 stars and says that cost is $$$$ (Splurge).
  • UrbanSpoon – 81% of people “like” Del Posto (compared to 90%+ at other, similar restaurants according to the site). Price is listed as $$$, $30+ per entre.
  • Zagat – Gave the restaurant a 26/30 for Food (extraordinary to perfection), 26/30 for Décor (extraordinary to perfection), 25/30 for Service (very good to excellent) and said the price point was $94.
  • New York – Adam Platt gave the restaurant 3* stars in 2006, before the renovations. The restaurant’s page at New York lists it as a critics’ pick and puts the price point at $$$ (Expensive).
  • New York Times – Sam Sifton gave the restaurant 4 stars—the last time an Italian restaurant was given 4 stars by the Times was in 1974. (Frank Bruni gave the restaurant 3 stars in 2006 – when Platt reviewed it). The price point is listed as $$$$. (Readers at the Times’s restaurant page have only rated the restaurant worthy of 3 stars.)

BONUS: Compare the Yelp reviews over time.

Del Posto reviews by Yelp Users Over Time

FATTY ‘CUE

  • Yelp – Currently rates the restaurant at 3 ½ stars and says that the cost is $$$ (Expensive).
  • UrbanSpoon – 88% of people “like” Fatty ‘Cue (slightly higher than the average at other, similar restaurants according to the site). Price is listed as $$, $10 - $20 per entre.
  • Zagat – Gave the restaurant 23/30 for food (very good to excellent), 16/30 for Décor (good to very good), and 18/30 for Service (good to very good). Price point was $43.
  • New York – Adam Platt gave the restaurant 2 stars in August. There price is listed as $$$.*
  • New York Times – Sam Sifton gave the restaurant 1 star in June. Price is listed as $$.

BONUS: Compare the Yelp reviews over time.

Fatty 'Cue Reviews by Yelp Users Over Time

If you’d like to point out other restaurants or reviews for us to consider, let us know in the comments!

*Updated after New York Magazine contacted us to inform us of updates to their website that fixed earlier errors.

Guests:

Raphael Brion and Adam Platt

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Comments [12]

Chuck Webster

In Sifton We Trust. Always
Comprehensive, funny, to the point and makes you feel like you are in the place yourself. He notices things that make sense, as though we were talking about the Jets game with a real sports buff at the local bar. All Hail Sifton.

Jan. 28 2011 12:44 PM
Grace from Queens

As a twentysomething who loves dining out several times a week in NYC and follows the NYT, NY Mag, Serious Eats, Eater, Yelp, etc., I find that I use them all to create my own perception of a restaurant before I visit.

Yelp for location and perhaps some must-try dishes other reviewers have mentioned. I generally ignore everything else.

NYT, NY Mag for more thoughtful, thorough reviews with ambience, cultural context. Also, to compare with each other to see what's universally praised or panned or where they disagree.

Serious Eats for the same, but with great photos of many of the dishes.

These outlets, plus whatever else pops up in my google search (maybe Chowhound) inform my decision of when I'll go to a restaurant, who I'll go with, and what I'll order.

And then sometimes I'll be hungry, walk by a place that smells great, and walk in.

Jan. 28 2011 12:40 PM

ED the shill--- EATER is great but they have thier favorites AND ONE TRIP BEACUSE YOU CANT GET IN FOR SIX MONTHS THEY KNEW WHO HE WAS THEY NEEDED ONE GOOD NIGHT TO GET A GRET REVIEW MOST OF US NEED MORE BTW I LOVE BOTH THE GUYS ON THE SHOW

BROOKLYN IMPORTANT RENT!!!!!!!!!!

Jan. 28 2011 12:32 PM
Allen Bank from Brooklyn, NY

I've had been a contributor to Chowhound for many years since it's inception. Back "in the day" > it was about someone finding a hidden gem; an ethnic joint in "the sticks" it's now become no more the an entertainament / a show with an inordinante no. of the comments being no more then > " where SHOULD I go to find a... since it was bought by CNET it's become no more then an advertising platform. It's become meaningless!

Jan. 28 2011 12:31 PM
Chuck Webster

In Sifton We Trust. Always
Comprehensive, funny, to the point and makes you feel like you are in the place yourself. He notices things that make sense, as though we were talking about the Jets game with a real sports buff at the local bar. All Hail Sifton.

Jan. 28 2011 12:10 PM
Liam from New Jersey from currently, Charlottesville, VA

I'm currently a first-year at the University of Virginia and I find myself constantly relying on sites like Yelp and iPhone apps such as Urbanspoon that are useful in almost any small city with a decent dining scene. When I'm home or in the City, Grub Street tends to be my go-to source for restaurant reviews. In my experience, they've had at least an insightful blurb for every place I've ever searched for, no matter how far off the beaten path. I've also really grown to love Ozersky.TV, a sleek, snarky, video-based site run by Time magazine's polarizing food writer Josh Ozersky. Josh puts together some really excellent short pieces that are refreshingly focused on individual dishes and the chefs that create them (my personal favorite: http://ozersky.tv/2010/06/daniel-boulud-skybox/). But at the end of the day, no one is better than Sam Sifton (except, perhaps, his predecessor Frank Bruni). He's like F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig with a twist of 1950s Brooklyn grit.

Jan. 28 2011 12:08 PM
Doug from Manhattan

oops, I forgot one point. My final decision to dismiss Yelp came when I finally noticed the way that they'd like you to rate user reviews as "funny," "helpful," or "cool." I don't want a review that strives to be anything other than helpful.

Jan. 27 2011 10:39 PM
kathryn from NYC

A friend calls Yelp "what happens when you give LiveJournal users credit cards." Yelpers are good at identifying overall trends, like restaurant duds if the sample size is large enough.

However, if a significant number of the low reviews come from diners whose dining experience is obviously limited, or whose expectations are clearly unrealistic, or who are giving a low review due to some imagined slight from a host/server/bartender, I'm more willing to give the restaurant a pass. It's worse for non-Western cuisines where the consumers don't even know how specific dishes are supposed to taste in the first place.

Also if a significant number of high reviews come from users who are merely rating based upon comped food/drink or "hot bartenders," I'm more likely to be skeptical. Particularly since some Yelp users now use negative reviews as a threat when negotiating with restaurant management.

It's best to view them in aggregate and to keep in mind that many of the users are new to fine dining in general and a more expensive meal is a less common affair.

Jan. 27 2011 10:34 PM
Doug from Manhattan

I do like to read reviews by publications that I trust- the Times, New York Magazine (somewhat) and Time Out (usually).

I sometimes look at Zagat, but less and less every year.

I have given up on Yelp. I like to read reviews by *reviewers.* Too many times I've looked at Yelp scores that are skewed because the patron (reviewer) simply doesn't understand what their money is going towards- not everything is supposed to be cheap, and that is what many Yelpers seem to be after. Not every portion should be huge, and the standard by which you review every hamburger should not be Shake Shack.

If I want recommendations, I'll ask my many trusted friends. I won't look for guidance from the many people who seem to write on Yelp simply because their friends aren't interested in their advice.

If I can't find a review from a trusted source (the magazine above, or website such as Eater, Grub Street, and Serious Eats) I'll search the restaurant's name to see what private bloggers have said. The average food blogger has a much more refined view than the average Yelper.

Jan. 27 2011 10:31 PM

The cheap eats from Time Out NY and New York Magazine are my annual food bibles.

On a daily basis, I follow the Grub Street blog, which is an online appendage of New York Magazine.

Jan. 27 2011 06:23 PM
Nancy from South Salem, New York

We've relied on and paid for Zagat's online for years. We've nearly always agreed with the assessments. We've also used Yelp and Places on our Droids. While they're useful to find a place to eat that is near where you are, the unfiltered user reviews often contradict one another. It was great, though, to be able to find a barbecue spot in the middle of West Virginia on a recent road trip.

Jan. 27 2011 05:16 PM
hazy from brooklyn

I only use Yelp; in fact, it's become part of my vocabulary, "i'm going to yelp this place"

Jan. 27 2011 04:37 PM

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