Bait & Switch: Have You Ever Been Conned by Good Restaurant Review?

Horne & Dekker proves it: You can't trust the media.
You know the feeling you get when you read a music review, and the critic is all "You gotta hear this one song, it'll change your life, I swear!" and then you go buy the CD and it sucks and you feel like a chump?

I had that feeling at Horne & Dekker on Saturday night. It was like:

  • Taking your kids to the circus, but right before the elephants and acrobats go on, a clown walks up and kicks you in the balls.
  • Looking forward to seeing the latest Helen Mirren movie and then finding out after you've bought a ticket that it also stars Russell Brand.
  • Dunking a piece of fried chicken into cream gravy that some jackass has dumped a bunch of sugar into.

Every year in December, D Magazine and The Dallas Morning News release their lists of the top new restaurants of the year, and every year I look forward to trying every place on them. Last year, Horne & Dekker made the cut for both.

Hanna Raskin (bless her allergy-ridden heart) didn't agree, saying in her August review that they needed to work on their cooking. But like a trusting fool, I believed Nancy Nichols and Leslie Brenner, and now I have nothing but wasted money and a fresh case of hypertension to show for it (the kitchen has crazy monkey-love for salt).

Intrigued by the Frogs & Fries appetizer (tempura fried frog legs served with french fries), we ordered it only to be told that the kitchen had run out of fries. No problem, we said. Just bring the frogs. Later, here comes the plate, fries and all. Unfortunately, it tasted like they solved the fry problem by running to McDonald's, picking some up, and letting them sit on the counter for a while so they'd be all nice and congeal-y.

We also tried the Seasonal Gnocchi, which is where the salt-monkey and the hypertension come in. The gnocchi themselves were nice -- the right kind of springy and lightly browned. But the broth the gnocchi were bobbing around in was straight out of the Dead Sea.

The Finger Lickin' Fried Chicken started out all right. The chicken was fried perfectly, although the meat itself seemed a little under-seasoned. But the cream gravy served on the side? Come on: YOU DO NOT ADD A BUNCH OF SUGAR TO CREAM GRAVY. IT IS VILE.

The Red Velvet Twinkies were a great concept, but a disappointing result: The cake was dried out, and the greasy and slick filling was somehow worse than the white fluff in the processed-to-a-fare-thee-well original.

Not everything was terrible. Our server was great; the restaurant's space is very appealing; and the PB&J Cups, a house-made spin on the Reese's classic, were outstanding. But overall, there were way too many WTF moments for a place that had been hosanna'd all over the place just a few months ago.

What about you, City of Aters? Have you gone to a restaurant based on a glowing review, only to be bitterly disappointed?

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Jonas M Luster
Jonas M Luster

Here's the thing about restaurant critics. It's not their job to have the finest palate in the world or to be a destroyer and builder of empires. Good critics are consistent and allow their readers to calibrate themselves to the writer. I have a decent list of critics whose tastes are exactly opposite to my own, others I know will judge things I don't care about, and some are right on the money for my own likes and dislikes. All three kinds are useful to me - as long as the critic stays consistent they do their job and allow me to choose my dining venues accordingly.

If Bauer dislikes it, I can be certain I won't be too happy, either. On the other hand, if Bruni hated it, I often found myself laughing with glee over the great food. I pity the diner who follows any critic based on a star rating (even more so if the critic is a Michelin inspector, driving up the prices for something that might really not be someone else's best choice) instead of reading the review, knowing the writer's preferences, and then deciding based on compatibility and incompatibility.


Some Brenner bashing again... when was the last time? You guys are fantastic, too much time on your hands, need traffic for the blog, what else? By the way who is Anthony Marks? What credentials? You're talking about reviews written in August and September 2010 and you visit the restaurant 7 months later in April 2011 and you're bitching? Get a life...


Zinski's 3 star review. I literally had to spit my brisket out, it still tasted like the plastic bag it had been cooked in. A "guest reviewer" was allowed to review (and I assume give out the star rating), so much for standards. It was the last DMN recommendation I dined on.

And I have to say, for all the "hoopla" about Ms. Brenner's literary excellence, I don't find her writing particularly compelling. It's more about "her", and seems slightly tilted towards being the King-maker in her new empire.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Im starting to believe Leslie Brenner isnt playing straight both w/ local restauranteurs and her readers, as she is notorious for taking huge, vitrol-laden dumps on good places and praising people who, for all we know, are kissing her ass behind the scenes, no matter how bad the restaurant is. I prefer reviewers like Hanna Raskin and Jenni Hanley over at Try Something Different In Dallas, as both these ladies are both impartial plus honest in their reviews, without all the bitter-face and excuses.

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