April 12, 2011
Why I sometimes pull the plug on writing a review

photo (8).JPGOver the years, I have found that journalism - and my career as a writer - is full of ups and downs. You get on a roll, bang out a few good stories in a row, then you look around, run into a few obstacles and false starts and, suddenly, you're stumped. Yes, it's a dry spell.

During my years as a features writer, specializing in profiles, there were times when I thought I would never come up with another compelling person to write about.

I am in one of those dry spells at the moment, though readers of the newspaper might not have any inkling. That's because I have visited several restaurants in recent weeks, tried the food, looked at what they're all about, judged the quality of the overall experience and then, unfortunately, pulled the plug.

The tally includes two Indian restaurants that don't give any indication they want to stay in business or are concerned about the fundamentals of good service and decent cooking; a Mexican restaurant that is like every cookie-cutter Mexican restaurant on earth and pretty much bored me from the moment the stale tortilla chips and watery salsa were plunked down on our table; and a marginally upscale restaurant specializing in American cuisine where the host led us to our table, put down the menus and walked away without saying a word. It would have been helpful if she had at least uttered something along the lines of, "Watch out, the food here is really boring, your server will act flustered even though the place is nearly empty, and, it will soon become apparent that we don't really know what we're doing." Oh, this "host" did acknowledge us when we left - with a smile and a "good night" -- but that's probably because she was standing next to the owner at the time. I'll leave it to readers to try and figure out who I'm talking about.

That's right. I don't review every restaurant I visit. In fact, if the restaurant looks as if it is going to be mediocre or bad, I am likely to bail out. There will come a point in the evening when I'll invariably say to my girlfriend, "What am I going to write about this place that will be the least bit interesting, educational or entertaining?" It can get depressing when this happens three or four different places in a row.

Regular readers of my reviews may do a double-take at this point, as I have been known to publish harsh and sometimes even unpleasant reviews of restaurants. Let's just say it would be far uglier if I didn't pull the plug as often as I do. This costs quite a bit of money to do so, but the primary goal is to publish something that is worthwhile in some way to readers.

Some restaurants will not be overlooked, even if they fumble the ball. I believe that the most visible restaurants in town have to be reviewed no matter what. They are newsworthy, and our readers want to know if they are worth their while. It's the more obscure, under-the-radar places that tend to make me pull the plug and not do a review. Here is my thinking: How does it serve anyone's interests if I tell you about a place you've never heard of, then go on at length about why you should never visit? That can come off as bullying, self-indulgent and boring - like hanging out with Glenn Beck.

The closest I have come to writing a negative review of a mom-and-pop restaurant was the piece I did on Kaveri. In that case, I thought the shortcomings I encountered were universal enough that I could highlight them to make a broader point. I also once considered Kaveri to be a very good Indian restaurant and felt obligated to examine where things had gone wrong.

As I said, this business is cyclical, a series of ups and downs. I'm certainly looking forward to an upswing soon.

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