Monday, May 11, 2015

Opinions Good. Reviews Bad.

Writing about food is hard, and whoever said it wasn't is pretentious or lying. Writing about food is hard, because it's an attempt to describe something that's indescribable. (You're better off snapping a picture and posting it to Instagram. Maybe.) If you write about food in a restaurant review, you also present your writing as a solid and objective look at something that can only be subjective. I have a big problem with that. It feels like opinions are being shoved down my throat, and this is not the feeling I want to associate with food.

What are being passed off as restaurant reviews are opinions - glorified and authoritative sometimes, but opinions. Of course, the same can be said about pretty much any other review - wine, film, music album, a poem, a novel, your friend's new haircut.

Are opinions wrong? No. But when it comes to entertainment and hospitality, opinions sometimes count for too much while offering very little. People who share them elevate their experiences and thoughts to the level of universal usefulness and applicability, but these experiences can never be truly universal - there are 7 billion people on the planet, after all. And restaurant reviews are the worst offenders, because there is nothing more subjective than sensory experience of food. It is dependent so much on everything else besides the food itself, that the experience may not even be applicable to the next time you, the reviewer, visit that eatery, let alone to someone else's visit.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, yada yada. I agree. Everyone is. What irks me is the belief that opinions and experiences transfer. The belief that subjective can ever become objective if imparted by someone smart, someone older, someone with 10 thousand Twitter followers. A trusted source is a better source when it comes to facts, but food experience can never be a fact. Wine experience can never be a fact. Even experience of weather can differ a whole lot.

The jist of the post is not "Don't read restaurant reviews". Read whatever you want to read, but take it with a grain of salt and don't let it limit you. Don't feel bad if you hear a bad opinion disguised as a review of a place you like. Please don't think that you shouldn't drink a certain wine if someone said it wasn't good. You can drink anything you damn well please (if you are of legal drinking age). Ain't no such thing as a bad wine or a bad dish - if you like it.

If I post something about a restaurant I went to, just remember that everything I say about the food or drinks specifically is just my opinion and you can safely ignore it if you feel like it. Better yet - share your own opinion with me, and we can have a discussion.

Opinions are great and interesting and open doors to interesting debates. Opinions aren't great when they shove something down the public's throat - no matter how subtly. Just share tips on when to beat the line at Uncle Tetsu's Cheesecake in Toronto or recommend a place to eat if you want soft jazz music and table candles. Don't tell me if eggs benedict are too buttery - maybe I like them just this way.

(I'm aware that these are not eggs benedict. It was a delicious potato salad from Cañota, Barcelona.)