I’ve always thought the N&O’s Greg Cox did a good job with his restaurant reviews. But when he reviewed the Umstead Hotel’s Herons restaurant, he didn’t love it as much as I did. In fact, he admitted on his blog that he has somewhat of a price-oriented bias when he said about Herons, “My experiences at Herons were for the most part very good, and certainly showed Top 20 potential, but – especially given the price – didn’t quite live up to expectations.” (emphasis mine) Those restaurants that have higher prices have to perform better to get the highest ratings. Thus, Herons didn’t get the love it might have received if its prices were lower.
I guess I can live with that, but it creates an awkward situation when he gives 3-1/2 stars (on his 5 star scale) to a counter-service fish and chips place and the exact same 3-1/2 star rating to The Mint, which is serving some of the best and most creative food in North Carolina. Nowhere on Cox’s star rating guide does it list that “value” is taken into account, but he certainly has built that into his equation. I love fish and chips as much as the next guy, but to say that a low-priced counter-service joint is as good as The Mint is ludicrous.
But the real kicker came from when I read today’s review of The Mint — frankly, I just about lost it. It was bad enough for Cox to give it only 3-1/2 stars, but he’s offering his objective opinion. Good enough. I’ve disagreed with him before (he loves Bloomsbury Bistro, and I’ve yet to have a good meal there after 4 tries). But when Cox referred to sous vide cooking as “a type of cooking with pressure,” I had to ask, “Huh?” Greg, “sous vide” means “under vacuum,” and maybe the food that’s in the vacuum bag might be under some pressure, I guess, but that’s not what sous vide cooking is about at all. It’s the bag and the anaerobic conditions and the water bath with controlled temperatures.
And then he gave us this gem: “[T]he lukewarm temperature and semiliquid white of the accompanying sous vide-cooked ‘hot spring egg’ isn’t likely to win many fans.” Um, Greg, that’s what the egg is supposed to be like. The egg white is barely set while the yolk has turned a bit custardy. They’ve been serving ’em like that in Japan for centuries. And it’s not cooked in a bag, sous vide style. It’s cooked in its shell. No vacuum at all.
To give The Mint 3-1/2 stars is laughable. But to not understand cooking methods or the way the food is supposed to be is inexcusable.
Edit — 8:30 AM, 5/9/08 — I posted this review of Cox’s review at something like 2:30, Friday morning. At 5:07 AM, Greg Cox posted this on his blog:
Note: I just read the final copy of my review in the N & O, and noticed that someone – presumably a copy editor trying to be helpful – had inserted a “definition” of the term “sous vide,” describing it as “a type of cooking with pressure.” While that description may be scientifically correct (I’m certainly no scientist), it misses the point. “Sous vide” is French for “under vacuum,” and it’s just that: cooking under vacuum, usually in an airtight plastic bag. Just wanted to clear that up.