Friday, April 2, 2010

The Food Critiquing Comes to an End

I was working on an article for Lily's when I got the email that the Lancaster Sunday News would no longer be printing my column.  It was a bittersweet feeling.  

Bitter because… well, let’s face it.  Being paid to dine out wherever you want and say whatever you want about it is pretty special.  What a privilege.  But while it was great entertainment to dine in the wealth of diversity in the area, I took my column very seriously.  My dining experiences weren’t laissez-faire.  I picked at the food, I delayered lasagna, I would completely ignore my companions for long stretches of silence, maddeningly trying to place a spice.  Coriander?  No.  Cardamom?  No.  Then furiously typing away at my iPhone, hoping that the server would think I was a really rude dining partner, texting my friends or answering email, and not the food critic taking notes about the food and service.

Many times, I would do hours of research on a single topic, like what it would take to make the base broth of a Vietnamese Pho, or agonize over what I had meant by "tangy" in my notes; I didn't want to describe the dish inaccurately.  Sometimes, I would go back to a restaurant when I had eaten something pretty foul, just to see whether it was a bad night.  Usually it wasn't, and I subjected myself to a bad meal twice.

I never missed a deadline, and I would say only a few times did I think I was unfair to a restaurant.  Most notably is McCleary’s in Marietta.  They were my second or third article, and I wrote that the food was solid, but that I would go back for the atmosphere, not the food.  Well, I hadn’t really gotten enough of a taste for the area, because had I known then what I know now, I would have given its food much better marks.  It’s actually a great place to go for food AND atmosphere.

But for as much grief and the death threat that I got from the Hilltop Inn, I still say THAT PLACE IS A DIVE and no one with live tastebuds would actually want to go there primarily for the food.  The fact that the owner would write to me and type the words “poison” and “die” in it shows what you are dealing with.

And for as much agita as the newspaper got from Tony Wang about my not-so-complimentary article about his restaurant, I stand by my claim that their Chinese food is average at best.  It’s a travesty it should be synonymous with Chinese cuisine for many Lancastrians.   

Yet, I’m happy to be moving on.  I’ve been enjoying my recent dining trips out with friends, really just kicking back and taking it all in.  And most of all, I’m loving that I can go back to my favorite haunts and not feel the pressure of a looming deadline to find something new.  It's been sweet!  


Keith said...

I enjoy your blog very much (only wish you'd post more often)...I'm very interested to know why Lancaster Newspapers decided to stop publishing your reviews. I suspect there was pressure from some establishments to which you were less than complimentary. In any case, it was refreshing to read any sort of constructive (or destructive) criticism about our local establishments...all too often, restaurant "reviewers" seem like nothing more than shills for places which have contributed significant advertising dollars to the host publication. Thanks for breaking the mold!!

Lina Bierker said...

Keith, thanks for your comment. Postings more often - duly noted! And I'll be traveling much more internationally, so that should add a more global flair.

I actually don't know the exact reason why LNP stopped publishing the reviews. I suspect there was both the financial pressures of a dying industry overall as well as the angst from those certain establishments. Combine them both, and I'm sure it left a bad aftertaste. On a positive note, LNP never asked me to "adjust" my reviews or issue some apology or anything crazy like that.

Please stay in touch and add your own experiences at these different places - I'm sure you have some great things to say!