Monday, June 29, 2009

Concerning Morals

I would like to go to a Yelp event and just start randomly stabbing people with a jagged piece of rusted metal. In the restaurant business criticism is a double edged sword. We bask in the adulation of the good review and wither beneath the scorching words of a negative review. The life of a restaurant depends on positive feedback. In the past at the very least a chef or restaurateur could be assured that the critic was up to the task of his criticism. The critic had some understood expertise in their chosen field of observation. The critic was an asshole inevitably but he or she was an asshole with some credentials to back up their pronouncements. Not so with the advent of the Internet and the ensuing revolution in digital journalism.

I am not about to get into a discussion about the myriad ways that our world is changing thanks almost wholly to the Devil introducing mankind to the world wide web. Other than to say thank you Devil for Sasha Grey, this is not the place for such a debate. But it can be said without much argument that print media is fast expiring and that the Internet has put the role of the journalist and the role of the critic into the hands of the public. Yes, that dreaded entity (I initially wrote breaded entity obviously already thinking of lunch).

Enter the bottom feeders that make up the website Yelp! Much in the news over the past two years, Yelpers have terrorized businesses all across the bay area and beyond and if their website is to be believed they are in the process of spreading their disease across the pond now. Keep your eye out for Yelp! Czech Republic! I'm waiting for Yelp! Tehran! Yelp! has gained such a stranglehold on the psyches of so many restaurant owners in San Francisco that at one point its less scrupulous members demanded special treatment and discounts in exchange for kind words on their stupid ass Yelp! pages. And some of the owners complied. They probably still do. Kids, we call this extortion.

I am currently in recovery. While I was not a rabid Yelper myself, I did become incurably addicted to checkng the posts concerning our restaurant. I should say that we have for the most part maintained a scoring on Yelp! of four out of five stars for however many years this dumb site has existed. But we have gotten some zingers too. And it is the zingers that get to me. Negative criticisms I have found fall into two camps. You have one group who are complete morons. These reviewers are the most frustrating. They will never once actually reference a concrete incident or item that has caused them consternation or if there is it is something along the lines of this: "Mitzy was talking on her cellphone to that mulatto guy she met at the mall and we missed getting a parking space right in front of the restaurant." and then you find yourself with two stars. And those stars burn. The comment: "The food wasn't good." or "The pizza was weird." hardly helps a conscientious chef get to the root of a potential problem unless you want him perhaps to give up on life completely and stick his fucking head in a fucking vat of fucking boiling chicken bones.

In the other camp, and I hate to use this word because as soon as I even start thinking about this word I want to go all Travis Bickle on some one's ass, are the foodies. They can be spotted usually almost immediately when after being seated in your restaurant and given menus they start setting up a photo shoot. Now I admit I have been guilty of snapping a picture of a particularly cool dish or two in a joint but these fuckers are notable for roaming the dining room with a light meter. The foodies dissect every morsel, every sip, every slight movement in the building. And yet despite the fact that they may be able to name the farm where the straw was purchased to nestle the organic sun nettle blossoms delivered to your kitchen back stoop earlier that day what gives them license to pontificate online about your food? the mantra is simple: write it and they will read it. And so much more so does this become true when they have networked into a incestuous little pack of self endorsed authorities.

But as pretentious as these prigs in the latter bunch are at least they give you something to work with as opposed to the former grouping. A Yelper! decimates your brunch service one Saturday in a one star posting. Everything from the hollandaise to the english muffin sucked. Just maybe somehow there was something wrong with the hollandaise, just maybe the guy making the hollandaise in general is fucking up. This happened to me. So I went back that next brunch and I asked the cook who was making the sauce what his ratio of egg to butter was for the recipe. I believe that it should be somewhere around six extra large egg yolks per pound of unsalted butter; he was using a flat of eggs for two pounds of butter. Holy shit. I politely adjusted his recipe and this week the hollandaise was very good.

This kind of mishap of course leads to what I like to call Crushing Self-Doubt and Recrimination. I try to make it a habit as much as possible when I come into the kitchen most days to taste a few things randomly, why did I leave hollandaise off of my list? Fuck. Jesus Christ there's a thousand things to check. I should have better written recipes. These guys are fucking with me! I should be in here at 8 AM checking this shit. I should be checking everything. fuck! I shouldn't even be doing this. I'm a loser. Finally I had to make myself realize that Yelp! is what it is; it's just public commentary and like so much of what makes up public commentary some of it is shit and some of it is half worth paying attention to shit. Critics are assholes and everybody is a critic. And it is a bitch when they're actually right. Oh, and also the guys, they are fucking with me. Constantly.

I sat down and I averaged our customer count out over the course of a month from this year's records and it came out to be somewhere around two hundred people a day and then I went back and counted how many Yelpers had commented on our restaurant in that same month period and it was a grand total of six people. There was one five star review; one four star review; two three star reviews; one two star review; and a one star review. Now I am sure that someone with math skills could crunch these figures into something meaningful but I don't need no stinking math skills to know that the majority of people who leave my restaurant are happy satisfied bumpkins. And that makes me an occasionally happy and satisfied chef bumpkin. And so with that conclusion in mind I decided that I didn't need to check Yelp! every three hours.

And then Kathy happened.

I had come home from a long day and as I cracked open a beer I told myself that it couldn't hurt to take a peek. Clicking to our initial listing I could see that we had received a new review and with baited breath I opened the link. It was a two star posting from someone named Kathy. As I began to read the reviewer's entry I could feel my blood pressure rising. I could recognize just by the description of her cobbled together writing that she had eaten in the cafe earlier in the day and so therefore i would have been on the line and it was directly my cooking that she was defaming. Or was it? What seemed to have raised her ire was that the dining room smelled like fish. Granted, not necessarily a desired ambiance. But here is what had happened and in fact it was kind of funny. That morning I had impressed upon Paulo that if he wanted to upsell anything that day he should try to sell the fish. It was rock cod and it had come in the day before. Having begun my career in a seafood restaurant lo these many years past, to this day I am obsessive about maintaining a fresh product. I am probably guilty of throwing away fish that could probably pass just because I would prefer to err on the side of caution. Or I would feed it to the wait staff. It doesn't matter if they die.

That lunch service I proved to be the source of my own undoing as Paulo took it upon himself to unload the fish in volume. One table in particular, a party of eight, ordered six fish entrees. So there was fish coming out of the kitchen in waves. I can only imagine that this troll Kathy had lumbered in during this rush. Another clue in her review which also apparently cost me favor was that she noticed a single older lady diner in the corner seemed to have to wait an inordinate amount of time for her food. How the fuck she would notice this or come to this conclusion is beyond me and why it would factor into a restaurant review also leaves me without a clue. How could she know that the single older lady diner of which she spoke was our restaurant mascot, the Sad Clown Lady? The Sad Clown Lady comes in almost everyday and sits in the corner and always orders something special and yes God I admit it that very day when I had been jammed up on the line hunched over a full stove top of sauting fish and accompanying sauces I had recognized her ticket when it came out of the chattering machine and knowing having talked with her many times that her conception of the time space continuum was a bit skewed I pushed her order back until I could send out the other tickets.

I was pissed after finishing Kathy's review. But why didn't I just absorb it and let it go as I had done in the past with other assinine comments? Of course the fucking restaurant had smelled a bit of fish perhaps...everyone in the dining room had a piece on their fucking table. And I can tell you of all that fish I served that day no one called with any sort of gastronomical complaint or protest. But yet there I had to sit and swallow this bitch getting online and proclaiming that I served bad fish when her ass hadn't even fucking eaten the fish. Sure, she'd had a pizza. She didn't like it, fine, but shut the fuck up about the fish. Twenty years I have been working in kitchens and religiously following proper procedure with regards to seafood and this whore is going to punk me in the public arena?! Aw, hells no. It got to me. And so I wrote her a private email through an old Yelp! account in which I said two things of insult: one, I suggested that if she smelled fish around her she might want to seek solice in the purchase of a case of summer's eve and two, for some reason I am myself not even sure of now, I implied that she had a uni-brow and that she should peel it off her face and hang herself with it. Good stuff.

About a month passed. I had fogotten about the incident. And then a rebuttal from Kathy suddenly appeared on our Yelp! page and she was none too happy with us. It was one star and it began with an exclaimation in all capital letters: RACISM!!! I was a little bit shocked. I read on. Kathy ranted about her family's ethnicity, about her penchant for arab cock, but mostly about the email that I had sent her which she had interpreted as a racist screed. She went on to call the restaurant a shithole that served bad shitty food to tourists and this that and the other. I was confused. No, not the part about serving bad shitty food to tourists, the part about being racist. Apparently she had consulted with her friends and they had come to the conclusion that my uni-brow remark had been a racist crack about middle easterners. Now remember in the first place I have never even fucking seen this person or know who the fuck she is, so how in God's name would I know whether or not she was of middle eastern descent? But the next mindfuck was that she is not. She's not even middle eastern, she's some white girl from Bradybunchland. I mean what kind of weird white burden had this woman decided either consciously or unconsciously to assume. Finally and most puzzling to me was her association of the term "uni-brow" with a particular ethnicity. I did my own survey and found no one who made the connection. Her terrible review and rant stayed on the Yelp! site for several days and then I guess they pulled it. I was a bit ashamed of myself for having succumbed to something that should be against my principles. I was also a little worried that I might get fired. But my friends all I can say is that Fortune smiles on The Just. That being said I composed a response to her response to my insulting email responding to her stupid review. It was never published on Yelp! But several people asked me to publish it here.

I will leave you with these final crushing lethal blows from my pen:

"Kathy, it must be a blessing to have friends that can help you decipher big words like uni-brow. Are these the same friends that bring buckets of apples to feed you when you are released into your viewing pen? I’ll bet these are the same friends who when not puzzling over their lexicons probably volunteer their time to scrub the calcium deposits off the bottoms of your hooves. Wait a minute, are these the friends who helped explain to you that one of the definitions of love really is to have a fist inserted into your warted acne scarred fur clogged anal slot? I suggest that you use some of your next disability check to buy a dictionary of your own instead of trolling north beach in search of whatever discarded morsels you can lap up off of the sidewalk.

But I digress. I suppose clarification is in order when dealing with a talking beast of the field. When I suggested that you hang yourself with your uni-brow I was not making any reference to your ethnic or racial background. I apologize if you took offense. I wasn’t commenting on your ancestors or anyone else’s ancestors for that matter. I was merely accusing you of being a moron (further evidenced by your bizarre misinterpretation and ensuing hissy fit). If it makes you feel any better I have to admit my fault. It seems as though my vocabulary deserted me in my moment of need. Perhaps I should have used mono-brow or low brow or protruding brow or even heavy of brow, something that would have better captured the essence of your hulking hunchbacked mange coated flea bitten existence. Truly lack of clarity is the bane of a mediocre writer. It did not even occur to me that uni-brow might somehow be defined as a racial slur, perhaps it says something about your own personal prejudices that you in fact did come to that conclusion. You should be ashamed of yourself.

So I hope that you will accept this proffered olive branch and allow me to retract my rather muddled suggestion that you tie something, whether your uni-brow or an electrical cord, around your neck and hang suspend without oxygen until you cease to be. Heck, I should have just made it simple: GO FUCK YOURSELF. There. You can understand that one, right? If not, the next time one of your Rhodes Scholar admirers comes to fetch you to the trough just ask them."


  1. as always, ted, i enjoy reading your blog, what i don't enjoy is turning my face away from the screen only to find that my vision now includes white and black lines from straining to read bright white words on a black background. ouch. are you trying to blind me? racist!
    also, i demand photography credits...

  2. How did she know that you were a racist?