In Nation's Restaurant News--a fat, tabloid-sized weekly trade publication that I should imagine most American food business pros find as indispensable as I do--editor Charles Bernstein came up with an interesting idea about restaurant reviewing:
"Restaurants today are in many ways entertainment, just as much as a Broadway show, and should be entitled to the same treatment: If a reviewer insists on blasting away with both barrels, at least give the show or restaurant the benefit of the doubt and give it an opportunity to get its act together."
What he suggests specifically is that restaurateurs, like theatrical producers, be allowed to establish a "preview" period during which their establishment would be open to the public but would be immune from review. Critics would be free to show up, of course, but would agree in a gentlemanly fashion not to write a jot about the place until the owner announced that its opening was now official.
Well, now . . . I think that's a dandy idea--but how about adopting a couple of other theatrical traditions at the same time? How about knocking 20% or 30% off the regular tariffs during the preview period in recognition of the fact that the "show" isn't yet up to snuff? Perhaps even more important, how about informing potential customers upon arrival if and when the star of the show (in this case, the celebrity chef whose reputation may well have drawn them to the restaurant in the first place) will not be performing?
Somehow, I don't think that very many restaurants would go along with those suggestions--though why the general public should be asked to pay full price for food and service that even the restaurant admits (or would be admitting if it had a preview period) isn't as good as it should be, or for cooking done by an assistant rather than by a master, is beyond me. Restaurateurs whose places have been unfavorably reviewed often complain that critics are robbing them of their livelihood--but what are they doing to their hard-working patrons when they take what is sometimes a big chunk of their customers' wages and give them back poor value?
Bernstein adds that if preview periods were in effect, "Some of the most noted critics might well be disappointed in that they would find themselves hard-pressed to write a negative review once a place is really on its feet."
I don't know who he has in mind, but I doubt that any genuine, responsible critic of restaurants would ever be disappointed by a meal he or she couldn't criticize. Believe it or not, when we go into a place, we're pretty much like lay diners: We want everything to be perfect, and quite often like a place even when it isn't--but we occasionally get mad as hell, with very good reason, when our palates or our persons are insulted. The only difference is that we can do a little more about it than just writing an angry letter or storming out and vowing never to come back.
OLLA PODRIDA: Chef Peter Roelants, formerly of L'Orangerie and for the last few months involved in the planning of a new restaurant on the site of the old Gatsby's in Brentwood with Philippe Baril (whose brother Max owns the Beverly Rodeo and Beverly Pavilion hotels), has resigned from the latter project to devote himself to teaching and to a series of cooking-lesson videotapes. . . . La Masia in West Hollywood has opened a new upstairs tapas bar, serving nibbles and drinks from 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday only. . . . The Garden Pavilion at the Century Plaza Hotel is swinging, with a $22 prix-fixe dinner and dancing to a live band on Fridays and Saturdays, in addition to breakfast and lunch. . . . Bouzy Rouge in Newport Beach will serve fish couscous, for what is said to be only the second time ever in America (which I highly doubt), on April 21, and a special Cajun menu cooked by a guest chef on April 28. . . . The Royal Khyber, also in Newport Beach, and its Fullerton counterpart, the Taj, will host a "Taste India Gourmet Tour" of their homeland, leaving Los Angeles for Bombay on Oct. 9 and including three weeks of Indian restaurants, cooking classes, brief talks on the country's cuisines, etc. The cost is $3,925 per person, including almost everything--even a free dinner for four at one of the two restaurants here, just to sort of get you in the mood. Call one of the establishments, or Odyssey Tours at (213) 453-1042, for more information. . . . And the California Restaurant Writers Assn., which held its annual award banquet here a few weeks back, offers a complete list of honored restaurants at $3.50 per copy. Write the group at 2410 Beverly Blvd., Suite 1, Los Angeles 90057.
NEW TABLES IN TOWN: Phyllis Hosn has launched the Italia Express-O Cafe in Santa Monica, featuring "the exciting combination of America's hottest 'in' foods"--i.e., dishes from Italian, Cajun and California kitchens. . . . Pigalle has opened on Fairfax, across from the Farmers Market, where the City Slicker used to be. The chef is Duc Huynh, former head chef at Au Chambertin in Santa Monica, and his wife Lien is in charge of the dining room.