Greg Cox Just Doesn’t Get It

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.

Interesting.

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48 Responses to Greg Cox Just Doesn’t Get It

  1. Fuzzy says:

    quote:
    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.
    endquote:

    I get this and agree with you.

    quote:
    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.
    endquote:

    I will agree with Greg Cox that “locally” this isn’t going to win many fans. Out of a total of about a dozen people that I have been known to eat out with enough to comment, I would guess that maybe one (1) might go for this, the rest would not enjoy it particularly.

    I know maybe 2 people I could take to the Mint and hope that they actually enjoyed it, and at the prices on the menu one of them would need to get the “ladies” menu.

    I wanted to comment on the esoteric menu at the Menu in the posting on it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So I’ll say it here now that I have a better example to refer to — it *might* be that the Mint’s gastronomic menu might not appeal to as many people in the Triangle as they could hope for the money side of their business.

  2. Varmint says:

    Greg Cox’s complaints with the restaurant aren’t related to the menu or the techniques. He had three negative things to say: chewy veal and crab cakes and a limp egg. That’s it. But then the review is filled with not-so-subtle comments about the opulence of The Mint. It seems he’s penalized the restaurant for daring to invest more money in the space and design and offering a somewhat luxurious experience.

    Yes, it may be that Raleigh is ready for The Mint. Greg Cox certainly isn’t.

  3. Jason Perlow says:

    to quote the Joker in the original Jack Nicholson Batman movie:

    “Wait until they get a load of me”

  4. RayRoadie says:

    Cox isn’t writing for foodies. He’s writing for the average N&O reader. Call them the unwashed masses if you will. Call them the normal, everyday consumer. You can even call them your next door neighbors.

    Point is, he doesn’t agree with you. His opinion vs. your opinion. That doesn’t make him obtuse, dense, or otherwise incompetent. His job is to convey his opinion of the restaurant to the diner who says, “Hey, honey, let’s go out tonight,” not the diner who says, “Where can I find the latest, most exotic trend to finally make it’s way down here.” That includes a visual impression, his take on service, and the quality/appeal of the food served.

    Most of the time I respect your take on the local dining scene but this time you’re way off base. You’re coming pretty close to sounding downright elitist.

  5. Chops says:

    I agree that Greg is way off base by giving the same number of stars to a walk up. I think the move to 5 stars has screwed his ratings up a bit. In my opinion Greg has been spot on for most of his reviews, but this one does not make sense. In 95% of the review he loved the place, so price had to be a major factor in dropping it to 3 1/2 stars.
    I would disagree with “RayRoadie” in that Greg Cox is writing for the foodies as well as the every day diner. Who reads his reviews and gives them the most critique? Foodies. Thanks to “foodies” there is now a whole Wednesday section dedicated to food. I think this all could be solved by Greg including price as a conditional factor for his ratings.

  6. Pam says:

    I am most certainly ‘the girl next door’ and most appreciate the posts about where to find the best burger or how to make a monster strawberry shortcake. However, I also enjoyed reading about the Mint very much, so much so that it was dinner conversation (over burgers, ha!) that evening with my husband. While I’m not likely to be one of those to like that controversial egg either (I’ve already told you that you eat some really strange things, Varmint!) it still is an experience that I hope to have (the restaurant, not the egg). If someone like myself who is most definately the “Hey honey, let’s go grab a beer and something fried tonight” type does happen to want to ‘clean up’ and go somewhere a little (or lot!) nicer, it’s nice to have a variety of opinions to help make my decision.

    You’re right, it’s one opinion vs. another – that’s the point of reviews, right? If you’re going to put it out there, there are going to be comments. I’m sure Mr. Cox knows that – especially since I doubt he pulls any punches while doing his own reviews. He gave a review of the restaurant, Varmint gave a review of his review. Now it’s Mr. Cox’s turn to review the review of the review if he has a blog somewhere…this could go on a while!

    I’m most disturbed about the fact you were up at 2:30 writing this, Varmint!

  7. Varmint says:

    I completely agree that Greg isn’t writing for foodies.

    But to me, the entire review had a negative tone that was tied into the restaurant’s opulence. He really doesn’t appear to like it.

    It reminded me of the way that the New York Times reviewed Alain Ducasse’s first venture into New York. They slammed it as much (or more) for its preciousness rather than about the food. It was too much luxury. But the Times’ bias blinded them about the food.

    It’s important to note that Cox’s criticisms with the food had nothing to do with it being cutting edge — he didn’t say the flavor combinations or the techniques didn’t work (with perhaps the exception of his comment on the egg — in his mind, it didn’t work, particularly in Raleigh — I’ll concede the point that this comment was directed toward the Raleigh diner). Complaining about chewy crab or veal is a legitimate grip. Heck, he called some of the dishes “stunning,” “harmonious” and “inspired.”

    I’ve now read the review several times, and I just can’t get it out of my head that he’s being overly critical not based on the food or the service or the wine, but for the trappings.

    Finally, to make the mistakes he did — including calling the City’s $1 million upfitting allowance “seed money” — comes off as sloppy at best.

    I agree with Greg Cox 95% of the time, but I think he’s dead wrong with this review.

  8. Varmint says:

    One more thing. Look at the review of Poole’s Downtown Diner: http://www.newsobserver.com/1132/story/1041302.html. You know that I’m a good friend of Ashley Christensen and love her cooking.

    Look at the tone of the review. It’s pretty darned positive.

    Were there problems with the food? Yup. An overcooked poached egg (geesh, I don’t think I want to be cooking Greg’s eggs anytime soon) and oversalted greens, Greg had some major service problems. He gave Poole’s 4 stars, which I thought was right on the money. Had the service been better, I bet he would have given it 4-1/2, much like he did with Watts Grocery.

    But because The Mint is a luxury dining destination, he downgrades it. There’s no doubt that calling it The Mint and glitzing it up the way they did was a bit pretentious and over the top. That’s why I was determined not to like it — until I met the chefs and had the food, that is. That’s a bias to me, one that I’ve personally had to work to overcome. I used to write glowingly only about the chef-owned restaurants, and slam the ornate, “corporate” establishments. The opulence of The Mint is certainly not my cup of tea, but damn, the food is really top notch — not really “weird” or foodie-focused, either. It’s just creative and incredibly tasty.

  9. Since my husband and I are buying a home, we haven’t done any serious dining like we used to – but we are the kind of folks who will drop $100-200 on a meal if it causes our tastebuds to have a transcendant, spiritual experience.

    Pure flavors, sauces, ethnic, burgers, whatever. Foodies we are not and we have no biases.

    I will say, however, that when I do drop serious dough on a meal, I expect more from the meal and server. We could be sitting in a barn, as long as my waiter is attentive and the food is a sublime combination of textures and flavor.

    One thing I have noticed about Raleigh is the yuppie restaurant. It’s the restaurant that offers you the opportunity to pay more for something ‘normal’, but at least you can have it with a glass of wine. (Yes, I am STILL BITTER about my potato chip experience at Firebirds. Excuse me, “House fried Yukon Gold potatoes topped with bleu cheese sauce.”)

    When I go to an expensive restaurant, I expect adventurous textural and flavor combinations, not just another burger which just happens to be made with Kobe beef. It should be an experience like no other. If the restaurant is not about innovative dining, then it should be a perfectly executed, sumptuous meal. The absolute epitome of French cuisine, or the perfectly cooked steak, or the elegantly prepared duck.

    I don’t think it is elitist to have that expectation. I also don’t think it is elitist to have a different expectation for fine dining than for fish & chips, or to expect the rating system to reflect that.

  10. By the way, that is NOT a smiley face in my last comment!

  11. Tom from Raleigh says:

    I’ve haven’t read his review of The Mint yet, but I thought his review of Poole’s Diner was spot on and may have been one of his best reviews I’ve read. Poole’s Diner is a very good place that cooks food as it’s ordered. Be prepared for a wait.

    I, too, was pretty shocked he gave The Mint 3.5 stars. If he’s going to knock The Mint for being luxurious, he should have also dinged Poole’s for being slow. At the end of the day, though, The Mint’s luster is part of their overall concept as much as Poole’s slowness, so neither should matter.

  12. Dana says:

    I’ve actually heard complaints that “Cox must be on Heron’s payroll” from someone who really knows food. They thought Cox’s review was far too generous for Herons.

  13. Varmint says:

    OK, that’s a bit over the top, Jason!

    As I said before, and in defense of Greg, I don’t think he has problems with the techniques used. Whether or not he’s familiar with them is another question, but to come off that harshly is certainly excessive.

    I guess we in the South are a bit nicer than you Jersey boys!

  14. dave says:

    I don’t get it. What’s so great about the Mint in the first place?
    Is there some hidden reason why it should’ve gotten a great review?
    The review makes it sound like it’s good (maybe even “very good”) but not great. That doesn’t sound like a reason to break out the torches and pitchforks.

    To my way of thinking, all reviews are relative to their context. I wouldn’t grade a taqueria in the same way I’d grade the French Laundry, but both could get super high marks, if they do what _they_ do well. Part of that is, of course, what kind of value they represent. If I’m paying $100 a person, I expect to get something better than what I’d get at a place charging $5 a person, and that’s a reasonable expectation.

  15. This may be the the final push that gets me to write on sous-vide. Thanks. This was a very entertaining read, I’ll be back, as the governator once said

    His “clarification” doesn’t seem to address the other flaws in his review that you raised.

    If you like pork, and something tells me you do, (so perceptive, she is) check out my column and blog. I frequently write about heritage breeds and artisan producers like Allan Benton’s Smoky Mountain ham or Armandino Batali’s Salumi…Kurobuta.

    Yes, I’m a Yankee, but one with a growing appreciation for Southern Food culture. See what magic food can work?

    Th-th-that’s all folks,
    Jacqueline Church

  16. Steve B says:

    So for Dean and the egullet guy on here. Ojne question: When you dined at the Mint did the chef know you guys were food critics?

  17. ab says:

    Bottom line is this. Greg Cox was way over his head when he stepped foot into The Mint. He experienced and sampled things he knew nothing about (i.e. the lukewarm comment. Seriously?) Whether he is writing for the Foodies or for the Average Joe, he needed to be a little ( a lot!) more informed before he attempted this review.
    Iam super excited that this level of food has been brought to Raleigh, hell, maybe eventually we will have out of towners coming to visit just for the food.
    I am just so glad that Greg Cox could check out VarmintBites to find out what “sous vide” cooking was so he could correct himself in his review! Again….seriously??????

  18. Steve B Says:
    May 9, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    So for Dean and the egullet guy on here. One question: When you dined at the Mint did the chef know you guys were food critics?

    *****

    Steve: I can’t speak for Dean, but the Mint was aware of my reservation, and I was asked to dine there by the restaurant’s public relations firm. However, I paid in full when presented with a bill and I tipped twenty percent. Thanks.

    It should be made perfectly clear that neither Varmint or I are “Food Critics”. We do not write as members of staff for any newspaper (susch as Mr. Cox does — and they most certainly knew he was dining there) or other food publication. We are independent food bloggers and only have our own personal ethics and principles to be held to.

  19. burgeoningfoodie says:

    So I’ve read both articles, what I want to know is what most people should NOT expect at The Mint? My girlfriend and I are avid fans of the show Top Chef and between that and articles on Mr. Zupon, we have a good idea of what sous vide. If we wanted to dine there before a show, what time should we allot to not feel rushed eventhough it’s not more than 2 blocks or so from Progress Energy?

  20. If you do a long degulstation menu like I had, two and a half hours. If you order a la carte, an hour and a half.

  21. Varmint says:

    Steve B:
    The Mint knew me and invited me. At one point, they offered to comp me dinner for 4. I won’t do that. I did accept some complementary appetizers, but we also ordered and paid for 4 salads, 4 entrees, 4 desserts, 2 bottles of wine, and 1 additional glass of wine. It was an expensive meal. We were treated to two appetizers that were off menu. But this is the type of treatment that a regular would get. OK, maybe not free apps across the board, but regulars typically get an extra dish or two. And I was the only “foodie” in our group of 4. The other three LOVED their dinners.

    Again, I want to remind everyone here that I admire and respect Greg Cox. We’re lucky to have him reviewing restaurants in our region, and our tastes are aligned the vast majority of time. But if I think he’s wrong, or I completely disagree, then I’ll bring it up. It’s a healthy debate and nothing more. And frankly, Greg actually invites debate on his blog, where he asks his readers every week if they agree or disagree.

    Burgeoningfoodie, it took us 2-1/2 to 3 hours for our meal, but we were being VERY leisurely. We wanted to take our time, and the restaurant sensed that. If we were in a hurry, we could have told them that, and we would have been out quickly.

  22. --Lisa S. says:

    I think it reasonable that Greg Cox would scale his reviews based on category and, thus, on cost. That is, I’m for relative vs. absolute ratings.

    Next to The Mint, perhaps even the finest BBQ joint in town would rate more than 1 star. My standards for a place that serves on paper plates is necessarily different from my standards for fine dining, and so I think the rating should take such differences into account.

    Heck, I even give PEOPLE relative ratings. Ask yourself, “What are they trying to be?” and “Are they good at it?”

  23. Steve B says:

    The reason I asked is that I think when a chef knows a food critic is there of course he is going to pull out all the stops and put on his best performance. Dining anonomously, like Greg Cox does, gives a much more accurate representaion of what the average joe on the streeet is going to get. I would hope that any reasonably talented chef can cook a great meal for one or two (or even four Varmint) if he knows it is a critic. But do you really think that the treatment you both received is the treatment that everyone receives or is Greg Cox a more accurate representation of what MOST diners are getting there. Just some food for thought!

  24. Rochelle says:

    It is remarkably difficult for one reviewer to be all things to all people in a single community. I occasionally review restaurants for the Frederick (MD) News-Post and I’ve been given plenty of invective about the reviews published in that paper (though fortunately not mine, not yet anyway). There are so many politics around who does the reviewing and what the paper does and does not cover and what they expect of the reviewer and what the reviewer expects of herself that are mostly invisible to the readership. The FNP sends me to restaurants mostly when they know that my experience and training mean I’ll have a better grasp of explaining the restaurant to the readership than your standard features writer.

    My parents live next door to Greensboro’s main reviewer, who went to high school with my dad. They’ve become good friends as adults. I’ve talked to John Batchelor before about his experience of reviewing. He tries to get to NY and other dining cities a few times a year, partly to stay educated and partly to enjoy the experiences a town like Greensboro won’t support. I seriously doubt he gets any compensation for these trips. Batchelor has a long career that has always been his “real job,” supporting his ability to do the dining that is his primary extracurricular passion.

    This is not to say I’d let Cox off the hook, mind you. But I do wonder how Cox gets the resources to stay on top of new trends in dining like those on display at the Mint. I also wonder where he comes down on the split between promoting the restaurant scene and serving as a consumer advocate for the dining public, and how that affects what he writes.

  25. Steve B Says:
    May 9, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    The reason I asked is that I think when a chef knows a food critic is there of course he is going to pull out all the stops and put on his best performance. Dining anonomously, like Greg Cox does, gives a much more accurate representaion of what the average joe on the streeet is going to get. I would hope that any reasonably talented chef can cook a great meal for one or two (or even four Varmint) if he knows it is a critic. But do you really think that the treatment you both received is the treatment that everyone receives or is Greg Cox a more accurate representation of what MOST diners are getting there. Just some food for thought!

    *********************

    Steve:

    Whatever you might presume about Raleigh, its not as big as a city as New York. Greg Cox may dine “anonymously” but you can be assured that every single restaurant knows what he looks like. The same can be said about Frank Bruni in New York City — his picture is pasted in every kitchen and every member of waitstaff is warned about him the second they get hired. And New York is a LOT bigger than Raleigh. So to say he got any less a dining experience than either Dean or I is a big supposition.

    The other thing I want to add is that the staff of The Mint is small and the only two people doing the cooking are Jeremy Clayman and Eric Foster and their line cooks. Its not like a huge New York restaurant where the chefs get nights off or are more in a supervisory position, they are doing the actual cooking themselves.

  26. Varmint says:

    I’m not sure many people know what Greg Cox looks like. There were pictures of Frank Bruni floating around from his previous gig as a news correspondent.

    I think Rochelle has made the best point of all in her post. I’d say Greg is first and foremost a consumer advocate, and when he’s dining at a top dollar restaurant, he wants to make sure that his readers get a great experience in return.

    But on the other hand, he owes the restaurants he reviews a duty, too, and I might argue that he owes those top dollar restaurants more care. A smaller restaurant, such as a fish and chips place, doesn’t need a great review. They’re going to be mostly a neighborhood restaurant, with loyal fans, as long as the product and service are decent. A great review will help bring in customers from outside the neighborhood, but that’s it.

    With a large, expensive restaurant — particularly an independent one without a national reputation and PR department — the local paper’s review is critical. A good review won’t necessarily make it, but a bad one could possible kill it. So it’s important that if a critic is going to give even a middling review, that he be absolutely sure his review is at least factually correct and is written objectively.

    With his review of The Mint, it came off as sloppy at best. The “sous vide” definition, the misunderstanding of a 64 degree egg, calling veal flank — a naturally less tender cut — “chewy,” and then mischaracterizing the relationship between the City and the restaurant, well, it was clearly wrong.

    I believe Jason Perlow has been so passionate in his comments here is because he thinks Greg Cox’s review will cause the death of The Mint, a restaurant Jason believes is on a par with New York’s Gramercy Tavern or Blue Hill. I have higher hopes in the restaurant’s future. It’s an innovative restaurant, and yes, it is expensive and opulent. But it’s a very accessible place. What Jeremy and Eric are doing is complementary to their standard cooking. Molecular gastronomy is not the focus, just one more tool to put out great tasting food.

  27. “I believe Jason Perlow has been so passionate in his comments here is because he thinks Greg Cox’s review will cause the death of The Mint, a restaurant Jason believes is on a par with New York’s Gramercy Tavern or Blue Hill.”

    You presume correctly. All it takes is one bad review to put a restaurant out of business.

    I spoke to Greg Cox at length this morning and I understand better where he is coming from. He has explained to me that he dined at the restaurant on four separate occasions, and that his experience has been inconsistent. Given the fact that the Mint was aware of by my and Dean’s dining experience, I have no doubt that the deck was “loaded”. Still, I believe it is possible for an average diner to have an exceptional experience at The Mint if a diner “loads the deck” by themselves and ask for a degustation menu and professes to be a foodie and asks for a special experience. I am certain Jeremy and Eric will bend over backwards to make it special, because that’s what they really want to do — they don’t want to have to dumb down their cuisine for the locals, they want to do more inventive stuff if given the opportunity.

    Mr Cox does intend to revisit the Mint in his “Second Helpings” column in several months. I just hope the restaurant can stick around and gain the following it needs to achieve critical mass in that time. In New York, all you need is three bad months and you can end up shutting your doors. Maybe Raleigh is more forgiving.

  28. VaNC says:

    I agree with previous posters that restaurants should be expected to do what “they do” well. I have had amazing culinary experiences at some VERY low rent places and I think places like that should get high “marks”…okay, maybe not 5 stars, but close. If I am paying Mint prices (or Fins prices) I expect a flawless meal…its that simple. I expect great service and memorable food.

    I am amazed that Jason can defend a place by saying that for an “average diner” to be assured an “exceptional experience” they have to “load the deck” by ordering a degustation menu or telling the staff they are a foodie. I expect a high end, expensive restaurant to be a flawless experience for EVERYONE!

    I was at the Mint last night for drinks outside and an appetizer with some friends before a show. The service was good (although the music of the DJ made it almost impossible to talk). We ordered the lobster dish with the caramel/popcorn and the beef tartare. I just did not get the lobster dish. I had been looking forward to it based on reviews on this and other sites. The lobster was tender, but it was totally submerged in the caramel sauce which made it impossible to taste the lobster. The caramel, for me, overwhelmed any other flavors on the dish. The beef was fine, just can’t say it was incredible. Neither dish would make me rush back to the Mint.

    In contrast, after the show, we went to Poole’s for dinner. Each starter (quail/crostini) was perfect, three of us ordered halibut which was perfectly cooked and we all practically licked our plates. (We resisted picking them up, Varmint) The one person who ordered the chicken said it was great too (but admitted he liked the halibut better).

    It is important to note that we had four people. At Mint, we ordered 8 drinks and two apps. At Poole’s we had 5 drinks, two apps, four entrees and two sides. The check totals were virtually the same. Comparing dining value, I say Poole’s rates WAY higher.

    At Poole’s, we did not get there til after 10, there weren’t many people in the place, but the service was still attentive and the food was perfect. I did not have to tell anybody my expectations or that I was a foodie.

    All of this is to say that I agree with Greg. When spending my “eating out dollar” I look at value, service, consistency and food. A place that can not deliver all those things most of the time, should not be rated highly. And it should deliver these things without me having to remind them to.

  29. dave says:

    I just wanted to say VaNC’s comments were spot on.
    I had the same reaction when I read Jason’s comments (and I love his blog, which I have just started reading). If I’m paying top dollar, I shouldn’t have to “work” to get a great meal. I’ve already done my part by accepting the prices they’re charging.

  30. Varmint says:

    I really don’t think you need to ask for special attention to get it at The Mint. At the tables near ours, I heard a lot of “oohs,” “aahs,” and even more “mmms.” People were enjoying their meals and their experiences. People walked out of the restaurant with smiles on their faces. And if they were foodies or conveyed their expectations to the restaurant, well, that’s a lot of foodies, I guess.

    I also agree with VaNC’s comments, as she’s the one individual whose tastes come closest to mine. It’s unfortunate that she didn’t like the lobster dish, as I thought it was one of the best tasting things I’ve had in ages. But ultimately, it’s a completely different restaurant than Poole’s.

    Ultimately, had Greg Cox given The Mint the same rating AND gotten his facts correct, I doubt I would have raised such a fuss. If he had inconsistent meals there, then he has a duty to give it the rating it deserves. But WITH the mistakes, it hurt his cause and makes it look as if he had an agenda. And although I’ve never met Greg, I’m pretty damn sure he doesn’t have agendas. He wants to like — no, love — every restaurant he visits. And then he visited The Mint four times and wrote about it, a review that was clearly not HIS best work.

  31. “If he had inconsistent meals there, then he has a duty to give it the rating it deserves. But WITH the mistakes, it hurt his cause and makes it look as if he had an agenda.”

    Exactly. If he had said in plain English “We dined at the Mint on four separate occasions and had an inconsistent experience with the food” and gotten his facts correct we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  32. By the way in response to the “loading of the deck” thing — that’s a tactic that has been advocated by my former partner in eGullet, Steven Shaw in his book “Turning the Tables”. While I disagree with Shaw on a many number of things and we no longer even speak to each other, I happen to believe that if you are going to spend a lot of money on a meal (and by NYC standards, the Mint is not a “lot” of money, its a medium-range meal) you should do anything in your power to ensure its success. It is a practice I frequently engage in, particularly with high-end restaurants. You don’t need to have a popular food blog or be the former co-founder of one of the highest trafficked food discussion sites on the Internet to engage in this practice either. In a small city like Raleigh, any diner’s experience could have significant influence on a restaurant’s success, just by word of mouth alone.

  33. detlef says:

    Sorry, I’ve got to chime in here. For starters, I will agree that a restaurants ratings system should operate independent of the price. I think a bowl of Tofu Soup at Vit Goal is about as tasty a dish as I’m going to find around and at $10 a steal. However, this doesn’t mean I’d give the place 5 stars. They use plastic dishes, and the service is course. It’s just, flat out, not 5 star. I’d give it 3 or so and say how delicious everything was.

    Then, it is up to the consumer to connect the dots. If a very expensive place gets 3 stars, that’s quite frankly a bit of a failure. The fancy ambiance, the fine silver, the elevated service (if it, in fact, is so) got it as far as 3 stars but they failed to deliver what should be a 4 or 5 star experience for the money.

    That said, Dean and Jason, you guys are a waaayyyy off base here with your outrage in this regard. Just because you paid, does not mean that your experiences aren’t going to be as good as possible at these places. Assuming Greg is still maintaining his cover (I still don’t know who he is) he may have gotten a different experience. I don’t make it Raleigh much and have only dined at the Mint once. It was during the soft opening so all bets are off. That said, they certainly had some work to do in every aspect of the experience. Now, that’s what soft openings are for so I am not passing judgment based on that.

    I will say this, because I’m in the industry, I hear a lot of talk. I have heard people wax poetic about their meals there (though not to the degree you did) and I have also heard some less than glowing. Sounds pretty much like what many new places go through. However, I’ve heard enough to know that it is quite possible that Greg simply did not get the amazing meal that you did. Dean, you should know this.

    Dean, I respect your opinion and love your blog but I must say I’m a bit surprised here.

    Just like nobody should pan a place after one bad meal, somebody shouldn’t assume that anybody who doesn’t get the same amazing meal they did (especially if they didn’t spend a few hours in the kitchen with the chef prior to it) they must not know what they’re talking about.

    It does seem that Greg needs to bone up on his molecular gastronomy. Hell, that makes a lot of us. I will say, however, that I’ve been reviewed by a number of critics in a number of cities and have never had somebody bother to fact check to the extent he does prior to going to press.

  34. Varmint says:

    First, please remember that Jason’s opinions are his and his alone. Mine are mine and mine alone.

    Go back and read my original post — and the only edit I’ve made is to add the provision regarding Greg’s post on correcting the improper definition of sous vide.

    Here’s what I said, in summary:

    1. I usually like Greg Cox’s reviews.

    2. I believe Greg Cox varies his ratings depending on the price, something to which he’s pretty much admitted.

    3. He gave the same rating to a fish and chips place with counter service as he did The Mint. I said that to call the two restaurants equally good is ludicrous.

    4. I conceded that if Greg were to give The Mint 3-1/2 stars, then he’s entitled to do so. It’s his objective opinion, and I’ve disagreed with him before.

    5. I then criticized him on the definition of “sous vide” and saying the egg was cooked sous vide. I also criticized him for not knowing the egg is supposed to be that way.

    That’s it. The only thing I might have said differently in hindsight was to say that giving The Mint 3-1/2 stars was laughable. That might have been unduly harsh. But until the News & Observer formally comes out and says that under their star system higher-priced restaurants are held to a higher standard, then I’ll continue to offer my criticisms.

    And when it comes to the factual errors, I thought they were big enough to challenge Greg, particularly in light of his ultimate rating. This wasn’t just a matter of fact checking. He wrote about the techniques used. And frankly, I was shocked to read them, which certainly gives credence to the copy editor gaffe. But when I read that review with those mistakes at 2AM, I felt compelled to write this piece.

    With respect to the food I ate, the only things I truly believe were different for me than for any other person was the attentiveness of the staff (it wasn’t fawning, at least) and the two off menu dishes we received. The size of lobster we received was substantially smaller than what I tasted when I visited earlier in the week. The plating was OK, but it didn’t appear any fancier than what I saw going to other tables. Did I get the best pork chop they had in the place? Beats me.

    In the end, I think this dialogue has been helpful to everyone involved. We all have a better understanding on how the N&O rates its restaurants. We know that mistakes are made, by restaurants, critics and bloggers. We know that everyone has an opinion, and they may not disagree.

    But in the end, I stand behind what I’ve written and believe I had some important points to make. Well, at least as important as restaurant criticism ever could get!

  35. quazi says:

    I usually approach reviews differently. After reading a reviewer for months or years I get to know their taste relative to mine. In my case a bad review would not necessarily discourage me just inform me on how to approach the restaurant and have a meal that will appeal to me. Though I do realize many people read a review look at the stars and make their go/not to go decision.

    For what its worth I would trade Greg Cox for John Batchelor any day, though I suspect it is the N&R more than the reviewer

  36. Moose says:

    What a great discussion! I certainly have my differences with Greg, but he did say the error on sous vide was edited in – every writer has been a victim of that. And, I’m sorry, but if you are invited and/or known to the restaurant when you dine there, your experience will be different from an average person’s. Also, Greg’s job is not to advocate for restaurants, but to look at them from the diners’ or consumers’ POV. Actually, one complaint I have is he should be tougher on high-end restaurants as the Triangle begins to get more of them. There are restaurants that I love and will talk up to friends, but it’s not a reviewer’s job to get behind a certain restaurant and push it. Bloggers can serve different functions, in fact, determine their own functions. Dean can show enthusiasm and advocacy for certain restaurants (although I disagree strongly in at least one case) because that’s part of what his blog is about. This is all just my opinion.

  37. Hi Debbie 🙂 love them deviled eggs!

  38. Moose says:

    Hey back at ya, Jason!

  39. John says:

    The fish and chips place is pretty good. You think Greg Cox has a bias against opulence but you seem to have a bias against places that use paper plates and plastic forks. I don’t think the food at the Mint is something that you have to “get” or that it has to be dumbed down to the level of the locals if it wants to survive. I have been to the Mint 4 or 5 times and it was really good, but it’s not as good as Red Palace, where I (before it closed) eat for $10-$15. Does that mean that Red Palace cannot have more stars because it is cheaper and in a strip mall? If it is better then it should get more stars. I don’t see why decor should make any differences. If the service is fast and the food is good, who cares what the place looks like?

  40. I can’t speak for Dean but I have no bias whatsoever against the$25 and under low end restaurants. While I will admit only one place I ate at during my six weeks in Raleigh-Durham used paper plates I certainly have done a TREMENDOUS amount of greasy spoon, burger, pizza, fried, blue collar places in my writings on nearly 8 years between eGullet and Off The Broiler. In fact you could almost say I am the former poster child for this type of food.

  41. And by the way, in reference to Red Palace, you should check out Fortune Palace (Raleigh) and China Palace (Durham) both of which are being covered on my blog.

  42. Varmint says:

    I guess I do have a bias against paper plates and plastic forks. I hate them, quite honestly. But melamine plates with ultra-cheap flatware is fine. And I really hate plastic soup spoons — they cut into the corners of your mouth.

    But I don’t really think I have a bias against cheap eats sort of places at all. Read the articles on this blog, and you’ll see that I’m as big of a fan of cheap eats as anyone.

    To me, the issue ultimately comes down to this: what does the star system mean? For example, with Michelin, you have to have an over the top, deluxe, no expense spared restaurant to get its highest rating of 3 stars. With the New York Times, the only restaurants to get 4 stars are extremely expensive with formal service. Three stars for the Times is accomplished only by high-end restaurants. As far as I know, the only “cheap eats” restaurant to get 2 stars from the Times was Sripraphai, a Thai place in Queens, and there was an endless debate about whether such a place deserved two stars.

    I talked to Greg Cox shortly after his review of The Mint came out, and he told me his method for giving stars. Generally, he grades a restaurant based on what it aspires to be and how well they attain that. One caveat: Greg said that under the 5 star system, the highest rating a cheap eats place could get is 4 stars. Only high end places can get 5 stars.

    This is a problematic system and makes it nearly doubly subjective. First, Greg must make up his mind about what the restaurant is trying to be. Second, he must determine how well it reached its objective. So he’s established two subjective criteria to create what is intended to be an objective standard. Thus you get this type of process. Fish and chips place? OK. It can get 4 stars at most, and it was really, really good, so it got 3-1/2. The Mint? It’s a high end place, aspiring for elegance and luxury. It can possibly reach 5 stars. It didn’t do very well, so it got 3-1/2.

    Ultimately, Greg is using two totally different systems. How are we to know which one he’s using? For example, what about mid-priced places like Poole’s Downtown Diner? What’s its highest possible rating, 4 stars or 5? Was the 4 star rating the best it could do? I don’t think so.

    And again, I’ve never heard Greg say or write that the star system he uses is based on value.

    Ultimately, a star-based system along the lines of what Michelin and the NY Times does makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than what the N&O uses. They use objective standards for the most part regarding service, ambiance, luxuriousness, and the like. Only the fanciest places get top marks.

    Or, if we must, have separate food and service/ambiance ratings, sort of like Zagat (and please, I’m NOT saying the Zagat method is good), but their numerical system gives me a lot more information than a simple star method).

  43. detlef says:

    Interesting bit about what Greg was saying. With regards to that, I agree with you. In as much as the value element should be a variable that the consumer adds to the equation. That is, a fancy place that costs a ton only getting 1/2 star more than a humble place would imply that the food must be much better at the cheaper place to make up for the other elements.

    Of course, that implies that the fancy place automatically has better ambiance because of the nicer linens, etc. Rude service can undo this just as much as poor food. Oh, and BTW, I am completely speaking in general here and am not in anyway implying that the specific restaurant in question is guilty of this!

    None the less, you’ll notice with wines, they sort of do both things. Wines are rated independent of price point so the consumer ends up doing the math. A $10 wine with an 89 is likely more impressive to him than a $50 wine with a 90. However, when the Speculator releases it’s top 100, they do take value into play which explains the likes of Columbia Crest Chard making the top 20 over many far more remarkable wines.

    The thing is, it’s much easier to do this with wine than with restaurants. A critic can taste blind and evaluate the wine without any knowledge of how expensive or highly regarded it is. The same can’t be done for restaurants. Thus, even if Greg truly made a point of not taking expectation into account, it would be quite hard to do. I know that my standards change drastically depending on how seriously a restaurant takes itself (and of course, how much they’re charging).

    Dean, think about it this way, your own ability to be impartial was compromised by the fact that you and Greg did not agree with how nice a place The Mint is. As a result, you attacked the sous vide mess up with much more fervor. I’m guessing that, had he loved the meal and the review simply included the misstatement about sous vide, you wouldn’t have been inspired to title or begin your piece in the way you did. However, you were stunned that a professional had less than glowing things to say about a place that had produced what may be the finest meal you’d ever eaten. Thus, for the same reason Greg was more critical of their missteps, you were more critical of his. It’s hard for any of us to completely distance ourselves from expectation.

    Now, I understand that you have confirmed that Greg does evaluate places differently and, like you, I think that creates a confusing situation. However, that doesn’t mean a fish and chips place has no business getting the same score as a place such as The Mint (or any other place of that level). If the fish and chips place serves perfectly fried fish, great chips, and has great service in a pleasant environment (even if you order at a counter), it can certainly overcome the ambient head start that a higher end place has even if both are evaluated exactly the same. I mean, how many points do cloth napkins and heavy weight silver get you? Sounds to me like it’s worth a point according to Greg’s theory. I’ve had enough uninspired food brought to me by self-important pricks who didn’t know nearly as much as they led on at very fancy places to know first hand that one point handicap can easily be made up.

  44. Varmint says:

    Thank god for people like Charlie. Thanks for thinking this through and coming up with some very good points.

    You’re probably absolutely right about the fact that I went after Greg with greater emotion because I thought The Mint was exceptional and he didn’t. But the difference between Greg being more critical of a high end restaurant and my being critical of his review of a high end restaurant is that I didn’t attach a star rating to my review. In a month or two or 12, that star rating will be the only thing left in the N&O by which to judge the restaurant. A 3-1/2 star rating could be the death knell of a high end restaurant. If he had just written the review, including the mistakes, with no star rating, I might have been less likely to attack the piece. If he had given it 4 stars or above, I would have probably pointed out the mistakes, but with less emotion. And if he had given it 3-1/2 stars without the mistakes, I may have written something that I disagree with his conclusion. I’ve said a couple of times that if Greg had a sub-par experience there, then I have no problem with him giving it a sub-par rating.

    However, if he’s going to give a sub-par rating to such a high profile restaurant, then he and the N&O better get their facts right.

    But for the umpteenth time, I think we’re damn lucky to have Greg Cox as our restaurant reviewer. I criticized him on this review, but I still give him worlds of credit on how hard he works. I wouldn’t want his job, that’s for sure. Especially when there’s bloggers like me watching him!

  45. Joe says:

    Bloomsbury Bistro is one of the biggest wastes of money in Raleigh. The wait staff is arrogant, the tables are stacked on top of each other, and the food is sub-par. There are better — and less expensive — date night restaurants in town.

  46. Jeremy says:

    I’ve posted a few times here about The Mint because I feel so strongly.

    The Mint gave my wife and I the best meal we’ve ever had. We had some unreal food at the 5-star Inn at Little Washington in VA, but the service and overall experience were better at The Mint.

    I’d do about anything to see this place thrive. Naturally, that includes returning for more chef’s tastings.

    When we returned to our Wilson home after our Mint dinner, I could barely go to sleep. I was completely overwhelmed by the food and the service. I have been to A LOT of high-end restaurants and have ever been so well taken care of as at The Mint. We felt very, very special and I was simply blown away.

    Amazing, amazing, amazing. If you haven’t been you must go. I don’t know what else to say.

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