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Q & A: The AJC’s new restaurant reviews

Courtesy assembly.learn.net.in

Courtesy assembly.learn.net.in

I can see there are some questions out there about our new set up for dining reviews, and what it means now that I return to a role that requires more anonymity.

I’m going to survey the group and pick out a few questions. Feel free to ask any more in the space below.

Yes, you, skeptical-looking gray-haired man with the goatee in the back row.

Q: Kessler, your picture has been all over the paper. Can you really write an honest review when everyone knows your ugly mug?

A: Good question! I will tell you: this situation is not ideal. Obviously, recipes don’t change and waiters don’t learn better manners because they recognize me. But I get a much better sense of a restaurant’s ability to handle volume and prepare consistent food when I’m not dining as a known critic. That said, most reviewers are well recognized after a couple of years on the job. I’ll do what they do: make reservations in friends’ names, keep a low profile and pay with alias credit cards if I haven’t been spotted. At least, chefs will never know I’m coming and can’t plan on being in the kitchen or preparing extra-special specials. I’ll also pay close attention to other tables and see if their experiences differ.

Next question: You, dubious woman in the Wilma Flintstone pearls.

Q: Surely you’ve become friends with chefs after all those events and dinners you’ve gone to. Can we trust you to report on an industry where you’re a player?

A: Of course you can trust me, and don’t call me Shirley. I do have one close friend who is a chef, and so I will pass all coverage of his restaurant to other writers. I generally stay away from media dinners, parties and food events, though I have crossed paths with several Atlanta chefs at conferences. I like some of these people but that won’t stop me from being critical of their restaurants.

My duty is to readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ajc.com, not to anyone in the food industry. I want to encourage you to visit restaurants that will make you happy, but also discourage you from wasting your money – whether it’s on a hamburger that isn’t worth no $14 or an anniversary dinner that will put you back $200. You can be certain that the more expensive a restaurant is, the more critical I’ll be.

Okay, you sir, in the Argyle sweater vest, straining your arm to be picked.

Q: Thank you. I have an important question to ask. I like to go out to eat as much as the next guy, but all you critics write about restaurants I can’t afford. Will you ever review anything for real people?

A: Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of exploring international cuisines, which is one of the great ways of dining on a budget in Atlanta. I also plan to show readers ways to share, split and order less, yet still leave satisfied in more expensive places. There’s nothing worse than paying too much for oversized portions of food and leaving with doggie bags.

Okay, one last question. You, miss, in the yoga pants.

Q: I’m sure the next hot new gastritis-pub or whatever it is you call it will open in Midtown, but that’s an hour drive from my house. Any chance you can find something for me closer to where I live that isn’t just another chain restaurant?

A: That will be one of my top priorities as I start this gig. I plan to find the best restaurants throughout greater Atlanta to write about. Some will be more special-occasion kinds of places, others more options for a weeknight meal out.

In the coming weeks as our team of dining critics comes on board, you can look for a renewed commitment to covering neighborhood dining throughout the metro area. We plan to cram as much information as we can into print and online about the many dining options we are so lucky to have in Atlanta. Whether that hot new place is a gastritis-pub or a gastropub, you can be sure we’ll have an opinion on it to share.

15 comments Add your comment

Rick

August 23rd, 2010
1:26 pm

Taqueria del Sol will be having their Hatch Chile celebration at their Howell Mill Location Sept 12th. I would love to see what you think about this event. I spoke with Eddie Hernandez this past Saturday about it. The hatch chiles are arriving today and he has a brand new chile roaster. After the outstanding piece in last Thursday’s food section I think we wil be arriving early.
Glad to have you writing John. Looking forward to all your reviews.
Rick

Lauren

August 23rd, 2010
1:28 pm

Good Luck, John! I’m looking forward to enjoying your posts already.

Art

August 23rd, 2010
1:56 pm

Congrats JK! I’ve always thought you were the best we’ve ever had in Atlanta. I look forward to reading more…

Caren

August 23rd, 2010
3:02 pm

Please review the Oak Street Cafe in Roswell. On Oak Street.

Patrick

August 23rd, 2010
3:43 pm

Just please do an article on how horrible Tin Lizzy’s is so all of my co-workers can stop saying how good it is.

mandym

August 23rd, 2010
5:18 pm

Welcome back John; have missed your droll wit (as in “don’t call me Shirley”) and insightful comments. Are you planning on going postal , sorry Coastal, anytime soon?

Dunwoody Don

August 23rd, 2010
5:45 pm

JK – I will forever defer to your palate. When it comes to one’s wallet, however, I’ll take you on mano a mano any day. Not having a corporate card at our disposal, my girl and I must rely on our own hard-won resources to cover a tab. We do it at several of the area’s best (Rathbun’s, Restaurant Eugene, Bacchanalia) and many more of the less-than-best (Mimi’s, Carrabba’s, Longhorn). It took us awhile to perfect our style, but we’re now black belt experts – and nobody at any of our regular haunts thinks we’re cheap. Excluding the Buford Highway area (you’re too good there), I’ll bet you a Varsity fried pie that we can experience the same 3-to-8 course meal (plus accompanying beverages) at any restaurant in the ATL for less than you and your girl spend.

Lisa

August 23rd, 2010
8:37 pm

I am glad you are back on the beat and I hope you will continue the great job you do covering all the food events, well not all, but what you have done so successfully the last few months. OTP would be great.

Eric Heller

August 24th, 2010
10:56 am

John – I followed your blog for a long time. One key thing that is missing in the AJC reviews is that they don’t include enough *criticism*. Not every restaurant can be good and it is important for a critic to point that out. The old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” should never apply to this job. Reviews need to have both in order to be truly credible.

RAK

August 24th, 2010
12:25 pm

Another thing I think is missing in many Atlanta restaurant reviews are comments regarding service. Obviuosly food is the single most important item being sold, but a dining experience is made up of many elements including technical service, hospitality, product knowledge (food, wine, beer and cocktails) and the entire restaurant staff being friendly and appreciative of their guests….just to name a few. I believe you all are restaurant critics, not just food critics.

John Soilis

August 24th, 2010
3:57 pm

Mr Kessler,
Please come and review Lucianos Ristorante Italiano Sugarloaf Parkway .
Thanks

Leslie

August 24th, 2010
3:58 pm

RE: the yoga lady who asked the last ‘official’ question: In North Alpharetta, on Mayfield Rd, Milton’s Cuisine. On a budget? Sit at the bar and order a few appetizers. The place is wonderful. Mr Kessler: put this on your list.

John Kessler

August 24th, 2010
5:53 pm

Thanks for the recommendations about where to go and what to include in the review. I very much want to sharpen the tone across the board — not just in my reviews, but in the paper as a whole. I think anyone who gets sent to eat on the paper should offer informed criticism — not just of the food, but of the service, amenities, wine program, atmosphere and general vibe. Dining at any level has to be fun and engaging to be good. You will also notice in my first review that publishes on Friday that I have rethought the rating system and made it more difficult to earn stars. I think a good reviewer is friendly, positive, constructive — and tough.

Les duLunch

August 24th, 2010
9:57 pm

I’ve enjoyed Food and More, but I’m glad to see you doing reviews again. I do ask you, though, to see what Clayton and Henry Counties might have to offer. Sometimes the AJC gives the impression that the metro area extends no farther south than East Atlanta and Grant Park.

Greg

August 25th, 2010
11:12 am

Am I the only one who is getting tired of this “gastro-pub” thing? I don’t care if you think you know the best new way to make a grilled cheese sandwich, or add an odd green vegetable to a burger – it’s getting hard to tell one of these places from another.