Anyone can be a food critic, right? Not so fast. With the proliferation of Instagram food photos and amateur review clearinghouses like Yelp, pretty much everyone can act the critic. But I caution readers to be careful what they read — and write — about dining out.
Before I set out to review a new burger joint in McMinnville, I glanced at the restaurant’s Yelp posts and was struck by one review unequivocally stating that something was wrong with the fry sauce.
After I visited the restaurant myself, I formed my own opinion: There was nothing wrong with the fry sauce. In fact, it was several steps elevated from the dreary versions served at greasy spoons everywhere — a secret ingredient or two will do that, you know. Because the complaining customer didn’t receive the fry sauce she expected, something must be “wrong” with it. Sorry, but “different from what you expected” isn’t a synonym for “bad” or “wrong.” You don’t have to like a particular item but you should at least be honest about the reason. Perhaps, more than anything else, reviewing restaurants requires an adventurous palate, an unconstrained mind and a commitment to honesty. Enter Mike Blackwell, the frontman at Print Northwest in McMinnville. I’ve known him for years but only recently discovered his truly adventurous palate and maverick mealtime spirit. In addition to a boldly brave appetite, Mike is possessed of an ability to clearly articulate his culinary experiences. In short, he pays attention to the details and knows how to discuss them. Mike is particularly well-versed in street food and Asian cuisine — he’s a sushi guru. In the cover story of this Indulge edition, Mike and I explore a dozen McMinnville food carts and all they have to offer. From classic American diner fare and pub grub, to Mexican, to Thai and Mediterranean food, the city’s carts offer dishes for every taste. During our cart crawl, Mike and I didn’t agree on every detail, but we had a heck of a good time visiting each one. And we were both committed to honest assessments. As dependent as we are on social media-based information, honesty may be more important now than ever. Just because it’s on Yelp doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Many disparate details influence a particular experience, so one person’s perspective can differ markedly from another’s — even for the same dish, on the same day, at the same restaurant. Plus, just like their customers, restaurants occasionally experience off-moments, too — it might pay to withhold judgment at first. If you’re posting a review online, consider your words. Was something truly awful or was it just not to your taste? Chances are the restaurant you’re about to slam is run by local folks who actually care about your opinion and would jump at a chance to rectify it if you believe you’ve received substandard service or food. Likewise, if you’re checking out online reviews before you try a new restaurant, don’t accept such posts as gospel — they may or may not be true descriptions of what you can expect. So eat with boldness as you check out the food scene in the Yamhill Valley.
Share your experiences with everyone — but do so with a candid enthusiasm.