It's apparently very competitive out here in the blogosphere. Eater just launched a Chicago edition last week, adding yet another voice for local, intensive food coverage - thereby raising the stakes for everyone else who tries to make a living at it. Today, anyone who ever ate in a restaurant is a potential reviewer/reporter/opinion-maker (what up, Yelp), and for those of us on the "professional eating" side, we're all trying to keep those eyeballs clicking back for more. I used to think there was an "arms race" in terms of the speed with which we were covering restaurant openings. I, too, used to tweet or write in my blog after one visit, within the first week of operation. But I'm starting to notice the next iteration of local food coverage: the habit of "premature e-adulation."
First, some definitions. Adulation, of course, means offering flattery or praise. Much of what I'm referring to takes place online (hence, the speed) and all of it is being printed or published before the restaurants are even open to the public. I can understand reporters wanting to get the word out; to be the "first" with new information. We all thrive on it, and we all want to have "exclusive" material, so that people will click on our stories first and then forward them to their friends and family and so on, resulting in big numbers and high traffic volumes for our web departments, so they can go out and sell more banner ads to Feldco and Walter E. Smithe. I've been guilty of this - at least once - with a preview of Masu, a well-liked but short-lived Izakaya in Lincoln Park (it lasted all of a few months). It taught me a lesson, which is to write about something after I've actually experienced it. The "breaking news" and "early warnings" I leave to my 140-character tweets, as do most writers these days. If I preview something - like Mastro's plans for opening here - I keep my prose fairly dry.
But now I've noticed this practice of early praise and adulation, before the place in question is even open to the public. Take Thrillist this week, for example. I'm a loyal subscriber, and there on Monday, I noticed a glowing story about Mastro's, a West Coast-based steakhouse chain opening in the old Spago/Blue Water Grill space this Friday.
It's apparently "an opulent meatery" that hails from Beverly Hills. There's also "a two-story temple of elegance centered around a piano-flanked bar. Prime steaks are covered in a secret 15-ingredient dry rub and served sizzling on 400-degree plates." In addition to the meats, there are appetizers, which include "three-level towers of fresh seafood." Finally, for dessert, there's apparently a "rich chocolate pudding cake and their signature warm butter cake." It all sounds so wonderful and appealing, and heck, I'd like to check it out based on those descriptions. But since Mastro's isn't open for business yet, and no one has been to the place to review it, are we to take the word of the restaurant's marketing department that all of this information is accurate? Who is calling the place "opulent" and "elegant?" Do the steaks truly "sizzle?" Is the seafood really that "fresh?" Who tasted the pudding and declared it "rich" and did the kitchen manage to get the butter cake out to the table still "warm?"
I don't mean to pick on Thrillist here. They do a fine job of covering what's cool and soon-to-be-cool in Chicago; in fact, they're a lot hipper than I am, and like I said at the top, it's important to give people "early warnings" and previews of "what's on the horizon." Their example is simply the most recent. Lots of people (and organizations) are doing this now. We're writing descriptions of places, based on hearsay and rumor and marketing department propaganda. As Dragnet's Jack Webb used to say, "just the facts, ma'am."