Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Critic Speaks Out

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As many of you know, I have been embroiled for the last week in a particularly ugly situation with the management of a restaurant I recently reviewed for The Hartford Courant. As there was a positive "feature" piece about the same restaurant printed by the Courant several weeks prior to my reviewing it (rather than following it, which is typical practice), I have reason to believe that the restaurant assumed that it would receive a positive review, which it did not.

The Hartford Courant today released a clarification in their A section, and will re-release it again to run in next Thursday's Dining section. Because my request for space to comment on the Courant's clarification was ignored, I feel that I must respond to you--my colleagues and friends--directly. 

First: While the clarification implies that I was fired from my freelance position--which I held for 7 years--I resigned, in writing. Since December, I have been working full time in Westchester, and simply don't have the schedule (or the inclination) to make repeat visits to restaurants for the sake of feature reviewing.

Second: While the paper stated that I only tasted a few dishes and based my review on those, I tasted 9 dishes: 2 apps, 2 entrees, 2 desserts, 3 sides. While the implication was that I did not taste everything I wrote about, I did, with the exception of a suspect rib eye, which a neighboring diner was eating. In this case, I did not write of its flavor but of its apparent tenderness, as evidenced by the manner in which the diner was eating it. While this is common practice, I regret any confusion this may have caused.

Third: While I referred in my review to my "dining companions" -- plural -- I was indeed dining with one other person. This is, to my understanding, accepted and commonplace reviewing practice done both for the sake of maintaining anonymity and when the budget ($150 per restaurant--not per visit--in my case) places limitations on both the number of guests a reviewer is able to bring, and the number of times a reviewer is able to visit. The ways around this are a) to pay out of pocket, which many if not most freelancers critics are forced to do; and b) to accept free meals during the reviewing process. While I have done the former, I have never done the latter. 

Finally: At the time the review originally ran, the restaurant had no website. Any regrettable error in pricing was simply oversight. 

I have called The Hartford Courant my second home for the last seven years and I maintain that it is one of our nation's finest newspapers; I regret that our longstanding relationship has been marred by a negative review. 

And to paraphrase the immortal lyrics from Life of Brian, there has indeed been a sunnyside of life for me this last week: I've lost 6 pounds from aggravation. 

Warmest wishes to you all, and thanks for your continued support.
Elissa Altman