Hip or Hype? French Food Critics Lie?

Ever go out with a food critic and have them blast the meal to you as they ate it; then miraculously a few weeks later, review it positively? Or, ever read a host of reviews about a place that when you go, turns out to be a dud? Then you (and I) are not alone. How does it happen that this issue hits me at this time? Backstory: I think it’s fair to say that there have been two restos that have opened this late spring that have received almost universally exciting reviews: ETC…. and l’Agapé. A dining partner one day volunteered that he had been greatly disappointed in both; had I been? Well, in the case of ETC…., I’d been warned by another critic that he had eaten there with lots of other critics the first week and that it was pathetic – and not to go unless I wanted to endanger our friendship/colleagueship. In the case of l’Agapé, Colette and I had scoped the menu its first week and were less than positive; but when the reviews from the big boys came rolling in, they rolled me over and I went with guy who knows his food and wine and pretension and we were not happy at all, to say the least. So how does this happen? How can this be? Let me try to posit some possibilities. First, they are all, like politicians, a lying bunch of hypocrites who don’t give a damn about you and me and telling the truth. Second, they’re venal and on the take and will say anything for a free meal. Third, because they all write for publications that exist on advertising, they twist the truth so their publishers won’t hold up their paychecks because the banks and syndicates that really own the restaurants will pull their advertising. Fourth, they have very short, inaccurate memories. Fifth, despite their poses, they’re members of a pack and if the group decides to boost a place, they go along with the bunch. Sixth, they don’t know the difference between hip and hype. Seventh, they cannot help saying one thing in private and another on the record. And last, they’re not journalists cutting to the bone, they’re nice guys who want to be liked. Which of these is it then? I dunno. Do you? The place where I pondered this deep question was: Valentin 64, rue Rebeval, 19th (Metro: Belleville or Pyrenees) T: Closed Sundays Menus: one dish = 10, 2 = 13.50 and 3 = 16.50 € ©2008 John A. Talbott

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