Friday, August 21, 2009

Writing a Food Blog + Restaurant Rating System

I've been getting quite a few tweet responses to my blog lately, people telling me they enjoy my writing and even naming a post or two so I know they're not lying.

And it makes me feel supremely guilty because I know I don't update regularly but yet I still "promote" or link to my blog like it's some foodie treasure you all must follow. When in reality, writing about food (and in general) is a love-hate relationship for me.

In March, after a short weekend trip to Montreal to visit my sister and her husband, I revamped and revived this blog, trying to conceptualize a simple one dedicated primarily to short restaurant/food reviews of places I've eaten at. I did pretty good at first and recorded most of my Montreal hits, but it languished after I returned to Toronto and regular life, reduced to one a month if the mood struck me -- or guilt settled in.

Trust me, there are plenty of times when I've started a "review" and after the first few words, I get bored and frustrated. Frustrated because I don't think I have anything particularly unique and engaging to say about food and restaurants. Bored because I only like to write what I think I'll enjoy reading -- which is why I tried to keep the reviews short and clipped. I tried to achieve this by writing reviews in an Excel cell first, then pasting them into the blog with a few minor edits to make it more coherent. But like all self-indulgent writers, a box could only contain me for so long.

The other main reason why I often fail at keeping up a regular blog is because I think most good blogs have a mixture of (good) images and (good) writing. And I had been stealing images for my posts because I lack the photographer's instinct to snap away without self-consciousness during my food escapades. I would rather have my blog be "pure" where the photos and words are both my own. That and because I fall into a feeling where I actually think taking a photo will marginalize the real-life experience for me -- turning it into an image of the reality, instead of absorbing the moment as it happens. (Thank you Susan Sontag.)

Anyway, my love for Twitter and its fantastic food community has renewed my desire to try to be a more of a keener-blogger. Plus, I bought a camera this week that is in the mail as we speak!

Another attempt to revive this blog, of course means a review of my star rating system. Everyone knows stars are extremely subjective to the person handing them out. They are supposed to be a neat, tidy way of summing up how worthy is this a place to eat at. I found The New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni's insights to his own rating system particularly interesting, as apparently there are only six standing restaurants in New York City with four stars (the highest in NYT) that he has awarded in his past five years at the coveted position. He calls it a "gut feeling" when he gives four stars. And I think I'm the same way. Although my rating system goes up to five stars because I don't believe in giving zero. If your restaurant gets a zero from me, that means I'm warning people to not go there at all.

I'm basically demanding a flawless evening if I were to give a restaurant five stars. (Or in the case of Schwartz's, consistently outstanding food, but there are few places I can afford to frequent to know if they are consistent.)

Also, you have to take in account, I don't have an expense account to cover my meals so my ratings are actually extremely flawed because they are based on a single, stand-alone experience.

But I know the other main reason why I wanted to convert this blog into a food/restaurant review outlet is because I wanted a recording of all the places I've ever eaten at. Despite how it may seem, I don't have a ton of money to throw around to all the dining experiences I'd like to have. So I try to savour each one the best I can. And I try to make the most of them by being sure to go with other friends and family who I know will enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy what I have to write about the places I go. I'll try to keep things interesting for you as much as for myself. Here's a basic approximation of what the stars represent:

* (1 star) - satisfactory
** (2 stars) - good
*** (3 stars) - very good
**** (4 stars) - excellent
***** (5 stars) - outstanding

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