Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A New Restaurant Review Ratings System.

  • = 1 visit

  • = 2 visits

  • = 3 or more visits

  • = Currently really love this place

  • = No intention to ever return

  • I started blogging because a colleague was fed up with hearing me talking about restaurants. "Why don't you write it down", he said, "Get yourself a blog". And so I did. Becks & Posh was born. During the two years since then, my thoughts about reviewing restaurants have evolved and are still evolving. I am constantly questioning myself these days. My readership has grown to a number where maybe I need to accept an even higher level of responsibility for what I write. Hundreds of google searches a day point to my dining reviews and even though my aim has always been to be completely transparent and nothing other than honest, I now feel the need to make some things even more clear to any potential readers.

    Although I am not actually sure that all restaurant critics, especially those working for less successful publications, do in fact follow this rule, one of the biggest criticisms by professionals of amateur reviewers is that they don't visit restaurants the standard three times before forming and scribing an opinion. It was this fact that gave me the idea for the basis of my ratings system. Although I have been trying to include the number of visits in my reviews for quite a while, from now on I intend to show this information much more clearly using the symbols at the top of this post.

    It is very simple. Symbols indicating one visit, two visits and three or more visits will give readers a clear picture about the regularity with which I eat at certain places. I included an extra two symbols that illustrate the extremes of my relationship with local dining establishments. The black cross is reserved for restaurants which for one reason or another, and unless someone persuasive convinces me otherwise, I never want to return to again. The pink heart is signifies my love for certain places and their food. These are the restaurants always on my mind, the ones I am mentally plotting to revisit, as soon as I possibly can, the ones that I think are totally delicious.

    I also decided to add some of the restaurants I have eaten at, but haven't actually reviewed yet, to the list. I just don't have time to write about everywhere I dine but I thought it might be interesting for my readers to be aware of other places around town I am inclined to visit - particularly since some of them have been awarded with that coveted little pink heart. I am only including more recently visited restaurants that could be candidates for a future review.

    Why read me in addition to the professionals?
    -I have to pay for my food unlike professional food critics. Sometimes dipping into your own pocket for a meal can really hurt. As a genuine consumer, I bring another perspective that those who never pay for a meal can't possibly match.
    -I try my hardest to stay anonymous, I book under false names and don't accept free meals or vouchers in return for a review like other local websites, blogs and newsletters sometimes do.
    -Sometimes, and usually for reasons unknown to me, I am comped some free food or drink in a restaurant. If this happens, I make the incident clear in my review.
    -I aim for transparency and make it perfectly clear if I have any personal connection with those restaurants I write about.
    -I try and include details about the number of visits I have made to the restaurant I am reviewing to give the reader a better perspective of where I am coming from.

    Here is a copy of my current, updated San Francisco and East Bay Restaurant index, with all of the new symbols in place:

    Baker Street Bistro
    Bar Crudo
    Beard Papa Cream Puffs
    Blowfish, Sushi to Die For
    Blue Plate, The
    Burma Superstar
    Cafe Bastille
    Cafe Claude
    Cafe Rouge
    Chaat Cafe
    Chez Maman
    Chez Panisse
    Chez Papa
    Cocina Primavera
    Couleur Cafe
    Citizen Cake
    Citizen Cupcake
    Coco500 Take 1
    Coco500 Take 2
    NOW CLOSED Crepuscule
    NOW CLOSED Desiree Retrospective
    Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
    Farmer Brown
    Foreign Cinema
    Gary Danko
    Gratitude, Cafe
    Hayes Street Grill
    Imperial Tea Court
    India Chaat and Sweets
    Just For You
    Jack Falstaff
    NOW CLOSED La Suite
    Le Petit Robert
    Les Amis
    Levende Lounge
    Liberty Cafe
    L'Osteria del Forno
    Luka's Tap Room
    Mad Dog in the Fog
    Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store
    Medicine Eatstation
    Le Metro Cafe
    Mi Lindo Peru
    Monte Cristo Cafe
    Moshi Moshi Sushi
    Myth Cafe
    Naan & Curry
    NOW CLOSED Opera Plaza Sushi
    Out The Door
    Park Chalet
    Pizzeria Delfina
    Pizzetta 211
    La Provence
    Rosamunde's Sausage Grill
    Rose's Cafe
    Rotunda at Nieman Marcus
    The Slow Club
    South Park Cafe
    Sushi Groove
    Taylor's Automatic Refresher
    Ti Couz
    Town Hall
    Tres Agaves
    21st Amendment
    Vino E Cucina
    Warming Hut, The
    NOW CLOSED Watercress
    Yum Yum
    Zuni Cafe

    PS. Gingerly, because I am not the biggest Jim Leff fan in the world, I have rejoined the new-look Chowhound. You can find my conversational, more casual dining tips here.

    Links, Resources and Further Reading

    Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: Monte Cristo Cafe

    | | | | | |
    A New Restaurant Review Ratings System.


    • At 11/7/06 21:04, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Wow, that's a lot of eating out Sam.

    • At 11/7/06 21:11, Blogger Robyn said…

      Wow, that's a great idea! COLOR CODED!!! My list is not flashy, but now I want to steal your idea. ;)

    • At 11/7/06 21:33, Blogger deborah said…

      Sam, I really like that you have taken this approach. I think it brings more authority to your words. Its an indication that blogging about restuarants is just as valid as a review you read in traditional media. Also that restuarant blogging is more than pictures. I often want to find out what the person liked or disliked about a place. Shame you aren't in Sydney ...

    • At 11/7/06 22:10, Blogger Passionate Eater said…

      Very cool Sam! Wow, I see many restaurants on your list, but also I know of a few I'd like for you to try too! Interesting that you'd never go back to Chaya. I've been there once, and I thought it was actually quite good. I've also gone to Foreign Cinema once, and I thought the food tasted like an overcooked, soiled tissue. I'll definitely keep busy on this post, because I'll refer back to it before I visit a "new to me, but tried by Sam" restaurant.


    • At 12/7/06 07:15, Blogger Papa Squirrel said…

      Congrats on implementing your new system. I really like your new approach. As one of the Googlers who found your blog planning a visit, I really appreciate your reviews. This will only make things better.

    • At 12/7/06 08:34, Blogger Joy said…

      Love it!

    • At 12/7/06 09:40, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      what do u like at Piperade? I'd like to see your review of it.

    • At 12/7/06 12:38, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Very nice Sam! What a job indeed! Maybe it is time you come to do this on the East Coast...like Boston! ;-)

    • At 12/7/06 13:58, Blogger Delphine said…

      Great! I love your color code!

      And it was a good occasion to re-read some of your excellent reviews :)

    • At 12/7/06 15:42, Blogger Amy Sherman said…

      Hey! You left Mama's off the list!

      Really great system. I wish you had a special icon for "overrated" kind of like Zagat's critic-proof category, but the other way around.

      This list has surprises on it for me. When did La Suite close? Also since you are so fond of Piperade (me too) you should really try Bocadillos.

    • At 12/7/06 19:23, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      LOVE THIS!!!! You're so awesome.

    • At 12/7/06 19:27, Blogger Catherine said…

      Well, you have been busy...

      This is fabulous and very attractive!

    • At 12/7/06 22:44, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I was examining your list and I noticed that my favorite SF restaurant is not there. I've only been to San Fran a few times, even though it's my favorite city, but I always go to Piazza Pellegrini. I looove their pizza and pasta dishes. Please, please try it if you haven't already and let us know what you think!

    • At 12/7/06 23:45, Blogger Ced said…

      Aha, I was wondering if Sixy was you. Your input is valuable, no matter what Jim Leff thinks, so it's great that you changed your mind. And that color coded scheme is pretty neat.

      Just for reference: the association of food journalists only recommends two visits in their guidelines. Three or more is of course better, but not standard.

    • At 13/7/06 07:43, Blogger Sam said…

      Barbara, shhh, or my mum will start nagging me again ;)

      Robyn - please steal away, although perhaps you could use different colours?

      saffron - thanks - I think it is good to cross reference reviews from all the different media available to us these days!

      passionate eater - Chaya was ok but a bit too expensive and not spirited enough for me want to ever go back now, especially since I no longer live in that 'hood. Foreign cinema is special to us. It's not our favourite food by any means, (we were there at the end of may and the food was so unmemorable I dont even recall what we had) but it is where we actually met, so we do go back and celebrate that event every year.

      papa squirrel - thank you - i hope it doesn't cause you to change your mind again.

      Joy - love you x

      Anon - I love piperade for its hushed atmosphere, its tasty appetizers, its delcious meat and its Biarritz Chocolate Rocher, mm.
      I dont care much for the actual piperade though.

      Bea - I wish - I would love to visit one Boston one day.

      Del - if you like the colours then I must be doing something right

      Amy - I havent updated my recent archives yet which is why mama's isnt there yet. You need to read Amanda's column. I read about the La Suite closure the week i was in NY.
      meaning to try Bocadillos for the longest time...

      Talking of Amanda - thank you my sweet!

      Catherine - thanks - see you later

      Natalia - well I don't dine to order, but I will put that place on my radar and see what I can find out about it.

      Ced - thank you - and thank you again for the tip - I do think three times is better too.

    • At 13/7/06 09:46, Blogger Dive said…

      This is an awesome ratings system...

      and I also appreciate your standards for reviewing a restaurant!


    • At 13/7/06 09:59, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      great system!!!!

      i have some restaurant suggestions to put on your list! :)

      1. chez spencer - check out nihon lounge afterwards
      2. zushi-puzzle - their crunchy rolls are amazing
      3. mamacita - it is rocking!
      4. walzwek - maybe you'll like it better than suppenkuche? i am curious.
      5. club waziema - soooo tasty
      6. new korea house
      7. ziryab
      8. ozumo
      9. alamo square seafood grill - same owners as baker st bistro?
      10. bangkok noodles - the best fast food in the city???
      11. kushi tsuru
      12. memphis minnie's bbq
      13. brothers (korean bbq) restaurant
      14. pacific catch
      15. e'angolo
      16. el metate


    • At 13/7/06 12:38, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Adding my applause for the new system! I've puzzled over how to handle ratings and visits as well and this gives me a good nudge to pick up the project again. :)

      One of the things I've struggled with, that I would love to also see incorporated into your system, is how to reflect impressions of a place you've only been to once or twice that doesn't fall into the extremes. I would love to know, for places with less than 3 visits and no X or heart, how keen you are to go back. Will it be weeks, months, or years before you expect to find yourself there again?

    • At 13/7/06 13:12, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I wasn't going to comment but since you mention it!!! dont undo all the WW effort and mothers are allowed to nag because they love you. If you stopped eating out you might stop blogging and then I would miss my daily visit which I look forward to. Continue to enjoy xx

    • At 13/7/06 13:33, Blogger Dive said…


      I usually don't plug fancy-shmancy restaurants, but I just went to Frisson for lunch today and it was AMAZING.

      (Think: Pork croquettes and tuna tartare. The barkeep mentioned that the burger was also to die for.)

      I really think you and Fred should revisit it (for lunch or dinner).


    • At 13/7/06 14:04, Blogger shuna fish lydon said…

      I like that you are always nice.

      And sometimes cheeky!

    • At 13/7/06 23:45, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      wow, yes, i *heart* bar crudo too. i just went there for the first time last night, not expecting much... but WOW, it knocked my socks off. glad you liked it too. :)

    • At 14/7/06 12:06, Blogger Sal said…

      We've been to Frisson twice. The first time was Easter 2005, just after Daniel Patterson left. The menu that night was abbreviated because of the holiday or because of whatever. The food was okay but we weren't impressed. We decided maybe we hadn't given it a fair shake, so we went back last fall. (Plus! they'd given us two chits on Easter Sunday for $$ off our next meal ...)

      I ordered what I thought was supposed to be pork ribs -- or at least that's how I remember the menu -- which turned out to be a pork chop. Okay, fine. Pork chop I can deal with, but it's not my favorite pork dish. The pork chop was so tough I couldn't cut it with my table (unserrated) knife. I flagged down our waiter and explained the problem.

      He rummaged through their bin of knives and brought me back a "newer" knife (as he called it). Still unserrated. Still next to useless against the pork chop. It was a bit sharper, though, so with a bunch of sawing, I was able to cut pieces off to eat.

      We aren't planning to go back. There are too many good restaurants and restaurants we've never tried in this town to go back a third time to a restaurant we weren't impressed with the first two times.

      Any restaurant that serves meat or anything else for that matter without flatware capable of handling the dish is clueless in my book.

    • At 15/7/06 13:11, Blogger Unknown said…

      Brava. I try to make approachable reviews too. Though I do wish I had a newspaper to back me up and pay for repeat visits. LOL.

    • At 20/7/06 04:19, Blogger Jeanne said…

      OMG you eat out more than I do!! I think I will have to start a list like this somewhere on my blog (oh yes, and I actually have to get round to writing up all the places I go. This century!!!)

    • At 22/7/06 04:02, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Oh there's no place like home! What I'd give for a martini and hamburger at Zuni's right now...

      Btw, if you have the time check out Luella (http://www.luellasf.com/) in Russian Hill. I used to cook with the owners at Ristorante Ecco in SouthPark years ago when they were just starting out. The menu is outstanding.

      Let me know what you think – I'd love to pass on the review.

      Ms. Glaze

    • At 11/2/08 17:30, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I must say, you are one who seems full of opinion, but appear to be more focused on the negatives of the experiences. I'm sure this approach creates a more entertaining read, due the extensive choice of negative adjectives, but can you truly give a comprehensive review of an establishment throught the opinion of one person making very few visits to any one location.
      By their very nature, an eatery will never get it 100% right 100% of the time. To leave without giving any direct feedback, as opposed to hints that the staff must decode, reduces the credibility of your obviously entertainment, as opposed to informative driven blog.
      Again, this is a personal opinion from a single mind's point of view.
      I do not clain to be right, or hold the view of the majority, but I will be interested to see if this is posted.

    • At 11/2/08 17:42, Blogger Sam said…

      Of course I post constructive criticisms, Anonymous, even though I admit I prefer it when criticisms come from non-anonymous commenters.

      I agree with some of the things you say, actually, and am curious about which of my restaurant reviews you have actually read before coming to this conclusion.

      You might find that the number of times I visit a restaurant is often several before posting a detailed review. I do not only post negative reviews, contrary to your belief, I do try and strive to be constructive.

      Try reading my Scott Howard review or my Perbacco review. These are each more recent reviews after several visits.

      If you read some of my older reviews, I might agree that they were less fair and more negative and absed on less visits. It is an issue I have worked hard to improve over the life of my blog and I have determined to improve the quality of my reviews.

      Only last week I wrote about how I try and contact the restaurants directly with criticisms rather than going straight to my blog to bad mouth them.

      I have indeed tried to change for the better. (After all - this particular post you are commenting on is from 2006).

      I hope readers can appreciate that to some extent.

      I hope you find time to read all my positive reviews too, and then you will understand that I am not totally one sided.

    • At 11/7/08 09:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I had an English roomate while living in Aix-en-Provence, named Sam. So for that, I feel we are off to a good start.

      Your creativity has almost brought a tear to my eye, and I envy all the restaurants and places you and the Frenchie get to enjoy, good or bad. And, I especially admire going with the Frenchie! Seriously, the massive content you have gathered is a magnanimous feat for one individual, who does this on the side.

      Thank you for offering your opinions on your food related adventures; but can a Brit have developed the right taste buds to accurately advise the rest of us on what is tasty? Just kidding. It seems all your suggestions are right my alley. Now, when are you coming to Chicago?


    • At 11/7/08 09:30, Blogger Sam said…

      thanks, cheeky!
      Now I would love to go to Chicago, but pennies are too tight right now :(


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