Why Chowhound (and Yelp) Should Warrant Your Disdain

November 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

1. Nonsensical, arbitrary moderation.

The rules, and moderators that enforce them, at Chowhound are striking. In the current climate of the internet, one might expect a moderator’s calling to be most intimately concerned with deleting spam, or perhaps calling out reviews that reek of shill. I am not in the employ of a restaurant or advertising agency, nor am I interested in promoting my blog. I’m not even a terrorist. I started posting on Chowhound in the past few weeks from the desire to share the restaurants I love with other people, for the benefit of those not privileged enough to be my friend. Plus I’m bored and Hokkaido is cold.

I have had approximately four posts deleted. And I know I’m not the first.

My first post was in response to a thread about restaurants everyone loves — except for you. I said, more or less, ‘The Breslin. Overly salty and just… gross. Made me sick.’ Were you aware that it is against Chowhound rules to assert a restaurant made you sick — in any sense? I wasn’t.

Chowhound does not believe that you are qualified to gauge whether something you ate made you sick or not. Here is a portion of the email they sent me:

Medical authorities inform us that it’s extremely difficult, given the differing gestation times of different agents and organisms, to determine when/where a bad stomach originated.

What’s more, even if one could pinpoint the origin, it’d be even more difficult to make a determination as to whether the sanitary issues at that place are ongoing or were a strictly one-time problem. We chowhounds are expert in gauging food quality. We are anything but expert in gauging these sorts of issues. For this reason, such accusations are unfair and perhaps even libelous.

The moderator assumed that 1) I was asserting I had gotten food poisoning (I wasn’t) and that 2) a ‘one-time problem’ at an establishment should not be enough to damn them (it should). I will acknowledge the fact that some diners will get sick and wrongly blame an establishment which was not responsible. But are the people reading these posts so guileless that they are unable to take such claims with a grain of salt? And how do we not know that all bad food/service is not a ‘strictly one-time problem’? Are we to be trusted at all and why is this message board even here if we are too stupid to use it?

Is it not my right to make the claim that a restaurant’s food made me feel ill? Is this not an important factor in my review of their food and of my experience at the establishment? And is Chowhound claiming that I am not qualified to understand what makes me ill? As soon as a restaurant makes you sick you better shut your mouth because you’re automatically disqualified from talking about that restaurant on Chowhound.

I was equally taken aback by the following incidents in which I had posts deleted. I responded to a post in which someone recommended Yan Toh Heen (a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong) saying that I had found it disappointing. I was asked to elaborate. I provided a summary of what I found disappointing. I did not want to bother anyone with a blow-by-blow, but I provided a link to my blog post in case they were interested in a more in depth description of my experience.

The post was deleted and I was informed that I had to ‘cut/past’ my blog opinions or ‘encapsulate’ them in my posting. The guidelines I was linked to, however, state that one may provide a link where there is supplementary information you want to provide that Chowhound’s formatting does not support (i.e. photos, videos). My post does have this supporting information (photos). I responded to the moderator stating that I had encapsulated my post and was providing the link as an extra resource (for photos, etc). I received no response so I reposted my comment, explaining the link and my post. It was deleted again. This is the email I received:

Sorry, we’ve removed your post again.

If you have pictures to go along with your post, you may include a link to a specific entry in your blog, but only if you’ve already included the ENTIRE relevant text of your blog entry in your Chowhound post. Otherwise, the only allowable link to your blog is as a simple signature with the main URL of the blog (not a link to a specific page) at the end of your post, without any text telling readers to see a review on your blog.

The goal is not to post the minimum possible in order to be permitted to link, but rather, to include as much information as possible in the thread. Chowhound is a conversation, and it’s difficult to have a good discussion of information that only exists off-site.

So the point, one would assume, is to cut back on the practice of posting self-promoting links. The previous email I received said:

We understand that there’s a fine line between sincerely wanting to point your fellow hounds to good info which happens to be elsewhere and plotting to steer our large audience elsewhere for promotion/ self-promotion. The problem is that we have far too many users and far too little time to draw this distinction. We need to stave off the considerable desire to use our loud microphone for promotion.

Yet the practices described by the second email seem to entirely negate this point. So I can post my blog link as my signature but I am not allowed to add a link where relevant? Unless I’ve copied ‘the ENTIRE’ text from my blog entry? So the seemingly logical practice of summarizing your blog post so that the other user doesn’t have to read it, and then providing a link in case they want to, is somehow SELF PROMOTION. Sorry guys, I guess I’m just a dick. My response (which was never acknowledged):

I didn’t want to inundate the thread with an entire review when I was not asked for one. You’re right, the point is that we’re having a conversation. So i’m going to respond to someone like it’s a conversation, not like I’m trying to promote the content of my blog by copying and pasting it. I provided a link IN CASE there was interest. I am not assuming there is. It seems pretty ridiculous that you would permit me to link to my blog but not the specific entry that has to do with the post. I thought the point was adding to the conversation not ‘promoting my blog’.

If you need to have such a long list of completely nonsensical rules I think I will refrain from using your site in the future.

2. The uncultivated palate of the masses.

Refraining from using Chowhound is hardly a loss. A more extreme example of the problem with trusting Chowhound reviews can be seen in Yelp, the voice of the people. The problem is that the people don’t have very good taste in food. Yelp is a very poor indicator of the actual quality of a restaurant, and this is because the majority of people have a very low standard of acceptable food. For me to take the recommendations of people who don’t have the experience or distinction of taste to truly understand what they’re eating is a recipe for disaster. I don’t deny that these people are enthusiastic about food, and that’s great. Why else would they be on a food website? (Well, maybe not Yelp.) Let me put it this way. Just because you’re enthusiastic about reading doesn’t mean you know the first thing about literature. And it doesn’t mean that I am going to take your Twilight book recommendations with anything but derision.

It is truly unfortunate that there is no better forum for the discussion of food world-wide. In New York there is Eater, NYMag, NYTimes, and a handful of trustworthy bloggers and critics. Researching the best places to eat outside of NY, however, is problematic. In this sense Chowhound and Yelp are truly wasted opportunities. Not only have they failed to fill this void, but they have failed in a way which is frankly insulting.


Vietnamese Bun Cha, Pho in Hanoi

November 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The last of our Hanoi eats.

Kayo is really happy about the chicken pho at Cafe Mai Anh. I was honestly pretty skeptical when I saw this place, which Kayo’s guidebook recommended, but this pho was miles ahead of anything I’ve had in New York.

We paid about $1 for some tasty, satisfying street food (spring roles, pork belly, morning glory greens, etc).

On our last day we had bun cha at 1 Hang Manh Street. This was my first time eating bun cha, so I kind of peeped around to see how all the Vietnamese people were doing it. Basically you put all the things together and dip them in one of the broths. I really wanted to try banh cuon, bun bo nam bo, and real Vietnamese banh mi, but sadly we didn’t have enough time (or room in our stomachs). All the more reason to return!

Here is my favorite lady in the world making spring rolls.

La Badiane, Hanoi, Vietnam

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

La Badiane in Hanoi showcases the marriage of rustic French cooking with the sophistication of Vietnamese-inspired flavors. Despite the relative complexity of the dishes, they taste effortless and comfortable, neither overwrought nor unrefined. The food here might not wow everyone, but it has a quiet sophistication which I was delighted with.

Red tuna tartar with fresh coriander & herbs, passion fruit juice, fresh coconut & spices to start. Lovely, bright.

Duck leg candied pastilla, dry fruit syrup, roasted apple in honey and goat cheese, cinnamon flavor, flamed in Calvados for my main. Really perfect. The duck meat was wonderfully tender, flavors were robust.

My dining companion’s main was also fantastic. Grilled prawns marinated in saffron, “la lot” & candied pepper lasagna, chorizo bisque.

Hot mellow chocolate, pistachio ice cream, caramelized coffee to finish.

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