Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When Going Large Is Not Better

I don't know why I do it, but I do.

Every day (or most days), as part of my daily reading, I peruse the blog of Elizabeth Large, the restaurant critic for the once-venerable Baltimore Sun, and each day I reel in pain wondering why I subject myself to what is the literary equivalent of dragging a shiv across my neck. You would think that the critic for Baltimore's paper of record could reach no lower, yet every day, she manages to stupend and amaze with mediocrity even more mediocre than the day before (bet you didn't know that was possible).

For the record, I've been banned by Elizabeth Large from commenting on her blog. She long ago tired of my constant criticism of her lack of discretion and standards and stopped approving my comments. I mean, what better way to live ensconced in your own mediocrity when there's no one to critique you?

A couple of weeks ago, the level of mediocrity was even noted by CapitolSwell on his blog, where he writes:

"A good food critic can remind people of what is amazing about a city. It expresses who we are as a people. A good food critic can elevate a great city like Baltimore unto a whole new level."

Read Elizabeth Large's blog and your constantly reminded of the mediocrity that this city has to offer. Cheap "top ten" lists of places she hasn't visited that are written "just because" and a never-ending stream of posts that demonstrate that Large has very little concept of food or cuisine. I mean, any critic that perjoratively states that a restaurants' kale soup "...tastes, well, like kale" is just beyond credibility.

But why am I ranting about this today - when I've been trying to be nice for the past couple of months? When these public criticisms of Large will only guarantee that my shops or restaurants are slaughtered on the day she decides to write about them? Because CapitolSwell is right. It is the restaurant critic that upholds the standard for a city. If the critic of record has low standards and champions them, then the restaurants of Baltimore falter because they know that they don't have to strive for very much to receive a favorable review.

In today's blog entry, Large writes:

" Once, a positive or negative review from the critic of the city's main newspaper would have made a huge difference. My reviews were prominently placed in the Sun's Sunday magazine. They were a must read if you loved going out to dinner because there weren't many other places where you could read about local restaurants in town.

Now we have, to mention just a few other places to find reviews, Baltimore magazine, the City Paper, Zagat, Yelp, Urban Spoon, City Search, MetroMix, and many local bloggers. People may like to read what I have to say about a restaurant, but they certainly aren't going to spend their hard-earned dollars (or not) on just my word anymore.

That's a relief to me. If anyone thinks I enjoy eating a bad meal or writing something that hurts the feelings -- or the business -- of people who are trying to run a restaurant the best they can, he or she is very much mistaken."

Maybe I'm just a bit strange, but I always thought competition (like Baltimore Magazine, Zagat, Yelp and Chowhound) made you work harder and strive better. I always thought the idea was to demonstrate why you're better than the competition. But the critic for Baltimore's paper of record thinks it's a "relief" that the readership isn't "going to spend their hard-earned dollars (or not)" on her word anymore? Am I in some sort of messed up culinary twilight zone???

Today, Elizabeth Large's reviews are no longer placed in a position of prominence, it's no longer a "must read" - and yet, somehow, she's thinks this is okay. It doesn't dawn on her that perhaps her reviews no longer have an impact, not because of the emergence of Chowhound and UrbanSpoon, but because the readership has come to realize that Elizabeth Large has no standards and proudly parades that fact daily on her blog. She doesn't realize that her position has lost its' prominence because of her own fault.

Critics like Tom Sietsema (Washington Post) and Frank Bruni (New York Times) are feared and respected because they have standards. Standards that they aren't afraid to hold anyone and everyone accountable. The emergence of Internet sources hasn't diminished the power and respect of the Washington Post and New York Times reviews, yet Elizabeth Large claims that it's the reason why her words no longer have prominence - total baloney.

Talk to chefs and restauranteurs in New York City and there's the very real concern that Bruni (et al) will not find their establishment up to par. The reviewer for the New York Times is feared and respected. Mention Elizabeth Large to chefs and restauranteurs in Baltimore and you hear ridicule and derision - even the cook slinging thighs doesn't think Elizabeth Large is credible enough to review Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I hear from many people that Baltimore doesn't have the food scene that Washington D.C. has but few people consider that much of the reason we're swimming in a sea of mediocrity and Applebee's is because of The Baltimore Sun's food critic, Elizabeth Large.