Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reviewing Mosaic

A glimpse into the critic's head

Posted by Brys Stephens on Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 9:13 PM

Last week's review of Mosaic Cafe and Catering drew passionate disagreement in the comments online, and we thought this might be a good time to shed some light on the review process.

What goes into reviewing a restaurant? For me it's decades of cooking and dining all over the world, multiple visits to the restaurant being reviewed, and a fair, articulate, reasoned, and mostly dispassionate analysis of a restaurant's atmosphere, service, cooking, and value — taking into account what options are available in Charleston.

The Mosaic comments offer insight into what doesn't go into a review. Let's look at one:

"This review leaves me wondering if the author sucked on a hot fire poker the day before he/she decided to eat at this establishment, or if there is a personal issue going on here."


"The writer of this article must have some personal vendetta against someone at Mosaic, because everything written in this article is not true in any way."

Now, to the extent it's relevant, I try to avoid sucking on hot fire pokers. Also, each of the five times I walked into Mosaic leading up to my review I was actually in a great mood — mostly because I love this part of my job (eating and writing about it), but also because I'm a cook myself, and am always excited to taste what other cooks are cooking.

More importantly, each time I walked into Mosaic I was hungry and looking to eat some good food, which is basically why it ended up that I was pleased with three of the dishes at Mosaic I tried, and relatively disappointed in three others.

I have no substantive personal relationship with anyone at any of the restaurants I review (I do call them after to check my facts), and no interest in the review except that I like to eat good food just like everyone else in Charleston. If I did have a personal conflict, I would recuse myself — as a judge would say — and let someone else do it. My job is to judge a place on how it offers itself to its patrons, and on how I think it lives up to offer. It's nothing personal.

Speaking of facts, I got one wrong in the Mosaic review, which I regret (and called the manager to say so). Let's look at a comment on that subject:

"You might have a shot at credibility of you can master how to decipher and articulate the difference between a fried tortilla chip and a baked pita chip."


"'fried tortilla chips,' there is no fryer even in that restaurant"

It was helpful for the reader to point out that Mosaic's nacho chips are baked, not fried. I shouldn't have missed that. I wish I could say my analysis of the cooking method accounted for the problems with the Nacho dish, but as the review and the reader's comment makes clear, that wasn't the problem (there's nothing inherently bad or unhealthy about deep frying, by the way).

My professional obligation is to look objectively and impersonally at a restaurant, and say what I think — ideally in a helpful way — and be as transparent as possible in the process (except I don't want the restaurant to know I'm reviewing it since I want to get the same treatment as everyone else). If I do have a personal weakness, it's that I want the cooking in Charleston to be great and keep getting better.


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