Checking Out a Restaurant Before It's "Ready"

Moving from Dallas to Seattle means I get to do a few things I've never before done, including piloting a U-Haul truck across the Rocky Mountains and visiting restaurants before they're ready for review.

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I've held out on eating at Cane Rosso, Jay Jerrier's immobile pizza kitchen in Deep Ellum, because the restaurant hadn't yet reached its 2-month birthday. As a critic, I believe in delaying my first meal at an eatery until it's had adequate time to find its stride. But with my moving date just weeks away, and the possibility of my reviewing Cane Rosso removed, I decided there was no good reason not to go for dinner.

As I expected, the restaurant was still very much unpolished when I ate there Friday night. The room had a frantic energy: Our server, who seemed unfamiliar with the menu, had trouble keeping track of our order. When he was approached at our table by an overwhelmed hostess who wanted to know whether he could manage another two-top, I was almost tempted to answer for him. (I later learned from Jerrier that he'd had a significant staffing turnover the previous night.) Yet my experience made me wonder whether I've been too strict in enforcing my self-imposed exile from new restaurants.

There are eaters who believe restaurants should be considered eligible for review as soon as customers are forced to pay full prices, but since it's impossible to rehearse a restaurant in the same way as a ballet or a piano concerto, I support the waiting period on writing. It's fair to customers, who want an accurate depiction of the restaurant, and it's fair to restaurant owners, who don't deserve to have their beginner mistakes immortalized in a bad review -- and typically aren't yet equipped to handle the traffic spurred by a good review.

The rules regarding the review calendar are generally accepted, but there are no formal policies governing when a critic should first show up at a restaurant. I've always avoided premature visits, fearing a horrible dish or inexcusable service error could unfairly bias me against the restaurant. What I've missed out on, though, is watching a restaurant's progression.

I think of my reviews as snapshots, but perhaps reviews should function more like flip books, showing a restaurant's growth. A restaurant's core values and strengths might be clearer to the eater who has a chance to observe the sorting out of problematic issues. Having endured and enjoyed the madcap mood at Cane Rosso, I wonder if visiting a restaurant sooner would heighten my appreciation and emotional investment.

I probably won't change my reviewing strategies. But I have two more weeks in Dallas to visit young restaurants, including Sutra, Komali and Cedars Social. Should be fun.



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17 comments
You suck
You suck

You are a fucking idiot, your reviews suck, and Seattle sucks. Seattle food is THE WORST and the "city" (small dirty town really) is chock-full of junkies, drunks, bums, out-of-control black thugs and pussy naive politically-correct white liberal "progressives" who kiss the asses of the black thugs who mug them. Good riddance to you and I hope the earthquake that will destroy Seattle hits while you are there. Go hang out at 3rd and Pine bitch.

Coleman Chance
Coleman Chance

Weird that you would say il Cane Rosso was unpolished when you went friday, because I went saturday night and had a great time. our server was well-versed on the menu and personable, the hostess knew her shit, and the pizza was amazing. The bartender was kinda in his own little world, but other than that I thought, if nothing else, Il Cane Rosso was well on it's way down the right track. Maybe you'll be happier in Seattle, because your reviews sound like you've had an absolutely horrible time in Dallas.

Lee
Lee

First you retread the whole "Dallas has had no restaurant identity since the Southwestern heyday" thing when you get here, relying on the same opening article that every new food writer in Dallas has used for the past 20 years. Now, on your way out, you retread perhaps the most tired topic in the food blog world. This was talked about ad nauseum on Eats and again less than two weeks ago on Sidedish (Let's Discuss: When Is It Too Early to Review a New Restaruant on the Web?).

Have fun in Seattle. Maybe you can write something about the burgeoning coffee scene that is developing there.

Nancy White
Nancy White

An early welcome to Seattle. After Nancy Leson pointed out your blog I wanted to take a peek at the new gal (soon to be) in town. I like what I read here. I hope your truck trip is painless with lots of road food stops.

monkee
monkee

Well.... I'm happy you are finally getting out to eat here in Dallas.

Sandyfrank
Sandyfrank

I think I am allergic to your methodology. Seriously.

Marvinlee1504
Marvinlee1504

I am really trying not to think a "scorched earth strategy" is being applied here. I got a lot more out of the impressions you had of the experience rather than your methodology.

luniz
luniz

I wouldn't use a visit within the first 2 weeks of opening as a basis for a review. Mainly because it doesn't benefit the consumer of the reviews. There's too much that changes in the first month after opening. Yes restaurants should be "held accountable" or whatever for delivering a satisfactory product, but that's not really the point of a review. The point of a review is to inform readers about what they can expect, and a review that's obsolete because the reviewer was in a rush to establish their credibility doesn't inform so much as it creates gossip.

You suck
You suck

Oh yeah enjoy the nine months of cold rain you stupid whore

G_David
G_David

Why is it weird that her experience was different that yours? You went there on a different day, and more than likely had a different server. Maybe you need to look up the word "snapshot"?

Hanna Raskin
Hanna Raskin

Coleman, I had a great time too. As I said in the second-to-last paragraph, I really enjoyed my meal there. This essay was in no way intended as a review: At one-month old, the restaurant's far too young to merit any critical assessment.

The question I had hoped to tackle here was not whether a restaurant should be reviewed before it's ready, nor whether early service slip-ups should be mentioned in a review. Clearly, both of those questions merit a resounding no. What interested me was whether the prohibition on setting foot in a new restaurant -- a tenet of reviewing I religiously observe -- serves the reader, or whether critics could gain a more nuanced appreciation of a restaurant by observing its evolution. Since my goal is to always do right by restaurants and readers, I was interested in City of Ate's take on the issue. Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts.

Harriet Blythe
Harriet Blythe

You will see through the pap as quickly as we did. Why bother reviewing anyone days before leaving?

G_David
G_David

Well, apparently I gave "you suck" (how original) WAY too much credit. Some idiot that calls himself Perpetual Warfare has just come along and proven that it's not really that difficult after all. You and "suck" are probably teabagging each other even as I type this.

G_David
G_David

Thanks for reinforcing the stereotype that Texas is full of close-minded bigots. It takes a lot of effort to embarrass oneself on the level that you just did. You must have lots of practice.

Marvinlee1504
Marvinlee1504

Ah yes, within a week she'll be complaining that the clam chowder sucks in Seattle...and then move to Ontario (too moldy in Washington State, dontcha' know) and claim the poutine fries are lacking in culture...yeesh...get a job in a bike shop.

Perpetual Warfare
Perpetual Warfare

And G_David has obviously never actually been to Seattle. If he had he would know that everything written about Seattle by "You Suck" is true. Suck it you politically correct wimp G_David!

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