This week hasn't been the best for an American expat in London. I had a little spat with a British food writer who did an opinion piece on Thanksgiving dinner for Waitrose Food Illustrated. She said the holiday had a huge downside (upsides included no presents, no cards, and no religious ceremonies) and that the feast was "downright bizarre". She also knocked Americans for not knowing how to roast potatoes...this all from a Brit...because the British are so much more gastronomically inclined than Americans.
In her defense she did write me to say that her piece was meant to be humorous. As I was reading it I thought maybe that was her intention and kept waiting for the funny bit, the sarcastic jab, but it never emerged. I also thought that any reader who has never experienced a "proper" Thanksgiving dinner would be left with an idea of Thanksgiving that is so far from the truth.
This got me thinking about food writing...what about food critics and restaurant reviewers? More harm than good?
Having worked in a high profile restaurant I've experienced first hand that all critics are not created equal and not all critiques are purely objective. You can also be sure if the restaurant staff knows there's a critic in the house the critic isn't being treated like the average diner.
Restaurant reviews only give me the ability to imagine the critic's experience. I can't feel the ambiance or taste the food. I don't know if the critic has had a bad day or that I'm interpreting his description the way he meant. I recently read a negative review where the critic described the bread pudding as soggy. Um, isn't bread pudding soaked in liquid, and therefore at its essence, soggy? There are also times when something sounds so deliciously descriptive, like on a menu, and then my tastebuds are totally disappointed.And then, there are those restaurants that have gotten great reviews where its like the Emperor's New Clothes and some are afraid to say how they truly feel.
So what to do? Never treat one review as the gold standard. Ask your friends, check out some blogs and other food sites, like Yelp, where users generate reviews. I've been to many of the best restaurants in food capitals all around the world and I have to say the best meals (food+service+ambiance) are rarely the ones with multiple Michelin stars.
And now I leave you with a simple Apple Crisp. You be the critic.
- 3 oz unsalted butter (melted)
- 3/4 c + 1 Tbs all purpose flour
- 1/4 c rolled oats
- 1/4 c almond flour
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground clove
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 c + 2 Tbs packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 currants or cranberries (optional)
- 4-5 medium firm, tart apples (like granny smith)
- 1/2 juice of 1 lemon
Melt butter over low heat. Meanwhile, slice apples (I don't peel mine but peel them if you prefer it) and toss with lemon juice, 1 Tbs flour, and 2 Tbs brown sugar in a small baking dish. Sprinkle currants or cranberries over the apples. Combine all other ingredients, pour melted butter over top, and stir with a large spoon or fork. It should come together in a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over top of the apples. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour in 350 Fahrenheit/ 180 Celsius oven. Serve warm, and maybe with a little vanilla ice cream. This recipe only serves up to four people and the perfect ending to a dinner for two. Double it if you need more.