Monday, January 28, 2013

A criticism of a critic’s critique

I originally posted this comment on my "Dowd On Drinks" blog on the Times Union's website. It resulted in a number of reader responses, which I've reprinted here.

As a loooongtime restaurant critic, I rarely comment on someone else’s opinions about particular establishments. Knowing how difficult it is to assess such businesses — given all the vagaries of time, place, weather, supplier reliability, economic times, etc. — I usually prefer to let critiques stand or fall on their own.

That said, I have to take exception with freelance critic Cheryl Clark’s review in the Sunday Times Union of the fledgling Charles F. Lucas Confectionary & Wine Bar in downtown Troy.

Clark, who used to operate Chez Sophie, gives the establishment a whopping 3½ of a possible 4 stars, an outstanding rating. And, to my mind, a peculiar one for a wine bar that does virtually no cooking. That’s right. It’s a funky-pretty place, what with its old Troy feel, and has a nice wine list, but the majority of its foodstuffs are already prepared by other vendors to allow presentation as cheese platters, charcuterie plates, etc.

How can one give such an outstanding rating to a place that doesn’t cook after holding other establishments she reviews to strict standards? Makes zero sense to me.

Of course, Clark’s descriptions often mystify me, as I have noted in other postings. Today’s example: She refers to the wine bar as both “post-apocalyptic industrial chic” and “pre-disastered in the John Irving sense.”


1.     Bill In Glens Falls says:
Why would a publication allow one of its bloggers to dump on one of its writers? The T-U should exert some control here. This is as bad as a random comment on Table Hopping.

2.     Bill Dowd says:
Gosh, "Bill In Glens Falls," apparently you prefer that no one express anything other than a paid-for opinion. Curious stance.

3.     Jango Davis says:
Bill: Solid call on Clark’s review. I give the Charles F. Lucas Confectionary & Wine Bar about a year to fail. In this economy, I’m not sure why anyone would open a place that serves alcohol but does no cooking, I’ve been to those places, they’re usually called dive bars. Sounds like someone in love with NYC urban street chic thinks Troy is tony enough for such experiments.

4.     JB in Clifton Park says:

I’m glad to post this. I can’t stand her pompous, over the top writing style. I am puzzled at why the TU continues to employ her. Did you read her “clever Anglo” review?

5.     oriel says:
i agree with you mr. dowd.

6.     colleen (with a little c) says:

Bill I couldn’t agree more. How some place that cuts cheese and plates food is worthy of 3.5 stars is beyond me. People are so smitten with the atmosphere of this place they are blinded.

7.     Woodrow says:

Good points, Bill, (Dowd, that is). It does sound like an interesting place with some great offerings that I’d like to go to. But the high rating is odd.

8.     Steve says:

The woman is an island of herself.

9.     enough already! says:

Agree on all points. Glad I’m not alone. Thanks.

10.   The Restaurant Geek says:

Bill -- Cheryl clearly explains that C.F. Lucas does not have a real kitchen and their limited food offerings are made off-premise (neither she or the establishment hide that fact). Surely it’s a mater of opinion, but I’m more impressed with their selections of artisian cheeses, local cured meats, salads and dips, versus a lot of heat and serve cryo-pack stuff too many other places serve. Her rating seems perfectly reasonable because C.F. Lucas does a great job at what they set out to do. They’re not claiming to be anything they are not. “Restaurant” ratings only mean something to me when I compare them to similar type establishments. A 4-Star pizza joint isn’t necessarily a better dining experience than a 3-Star Fine Dining restaurant. C.F. Lucas serves food and therefore should be reviewed, and after all is said and done, where the food was actually made, might mean less than the meal in it’s entirty.

11.   Kim says:
I was already thinking what Mr. Dowd posted. I often think Clark’s reviews are overly harsh on minor offenses so I take them with a grain of salt anyway.

12.   ljp says:

My opinion is that the original review provides useful information about a place I might want to patronize. Another opinion of mine is that your (Mr. Dowd’s) critique does not do that.

13.   Chad9976 says:
Perhaps she was grading on a curve? Maybe she gave them a lofty handicap?

14.   Mickey says:
Right on Bill Dowd. And point well taken that Cheryl’s over the top attempts at clever turns of phrase are a distraction and detract from the overall review.

15.   momof2 says:
Bill in Glens Falls — I enjoy your contributions to the Table Hopping comments, and you are always a gentleman. But, as a reader of the Times Union and other free press, I value the right to share a dissenting viewpoint. I rarely criticize Cheryl Clark’s reviews because negative comments bring out the childish banter on Table Hopping. Contrary to what many Table Hopping readers believe, it is possible to dislike Cheryl’s writing style without lacking a formal education or being unable to read beyond a 3rd grade reading level. Bill Dowd raised a valid point about the restaurant’s 3 1/2 star rating. Despite working for the same newspaper as Cheryl Clark, he has the right to share his opinion with Time Union readers.

16.   Michael Huber, says:
@Bill in Glens Falls: I didn’t find Bill Dowd’s post to be particularly harsh. Go to any water cooler in any office around town, and if there are foodies around, I’ll bet you’ll find some who agree with Cheryl’s review and others who agree with this post. I’m all for the fair and civil exchange of opinions.

17.   Riccy says:

I disagree with Mr. Dowd on this one. First I will state that I am NOT a restaurant critic, simply a woman who relies heavily on reviews when deciding where to spend my ever increasingly hard earned money. When looking at reviews, I believe that the establishment should be reviewed and critiqued based on what it offers. I want to know that what I am receiving is of a good quality. I want to hear about the atmosphere, the quality and presentation of the food, the expansiveness of the wine list. In short, if Charles F. Lucas Confectionary & Wine Bar is not professing to offer world class cuisine prepared by an in house chef/culinary team, then I see no problem with giving them a great rating on what they DO profess to be. According to their website, what they are is “.. a community gathering space featuring unique wine, craft beer, artisan coffee, small plates, confections and desserts.”
And if they are doing that well, then 3 1/2 stars it is!

18.   Christopher A. Tanner says:
Love your comment on Cheryl’s review. I thought exactly the same myself: How do you rate an establishment so high that doesn’t even cook their own food? This review was over the top with haughtiness and almost arrogance over the reader.

19.   Bill Dowd says: 

# 11 (mom of 2) : Just for the record, I do NOT work for the Times Union. This blog is a freebie as are most of the blogs carried on this website. Until I retired from daily newspapering in December 2006, I was Associate Editor (and restaurant critic) for the TU.

20.   Jasper says: 

       I think Mr. Dowd is right on with this.

21. JD says:
@Jango  Ever been to Ryan's Wake in Troy?  Hardly a "dive bar" but yet does no official cooking.  Let's try not to confuse Bill's post and reaction to Cheryl's review with the success of the Confectionery.

Honestly, you're the first person I've heard criticize the Confectionery. If I was a betting man, I'd take your bet all day, as I'm pretty confident you won't see another business occupying 12 Second Street next year.  If anything, they'll only refine their offerings, attracting more people to historic downtown Troy.  Congrats to Heather and Vic for a unique venue that makes people want to travel to Troy.
22.  Daniel B. says:

         Ha! This is fascinating. My personal belief is that all the reviews for the TU, regardless
         of if they are cheap eats or more formal fine dining be starred. But that’s a separate

         Has anyone ever considered that this 3.5* review of a place that mostly presents
         amazing specimens of hand crafted domestic cheeses and some amazing cured
         meats is actually an indictment against those similarly rated places that actually
         cook? Because frankly, many of the 3+ star restaurants in this town don’t cook food
         that’s better than a well presented wedge of Red Hawk. For example, I’ll point you to
         the direction of Mr. Dowd’s 3.5* review for Reel Seafood.

23. Bill Dowd says:

          Daniel, I give up. What is the point being made by referring to an 8-year-old review?

24. Daniel B. says:

         Good question. Here is the answer. Cheryl has inherited a problem. It’s a stack of 
         old, dusty reviews that are the TU’s official review of record for many active
         restaurants. Your old review was also the last time anyone officially evaluated 677

         One either believes stars matter, or one believes they don’t. If you believe they matter,
         and that an editor might want a new reviewer to maintain consistency with the past,
         then it makes perfect sense for Cheryl to give The Confectionery 3.5*. Unless you
         want to try and make the argument that this:
         catch-photos/176-soy-sesame-grilled-bronzini is somehow better than or equal to

25.  Bill Dowd says:

          Murky point, Daniel B. You appear to be insisting that two different reviewers writing
          about two different establishments eight years apart should use the same criteria, or
          have roughly the same opinions, just because they were published in the same
          newspaper. That, and the fact you don't like Reel Seafood -- which, by the way, had
          a different executive chef when I wrote the review back in 2005.

26. Wolfgang says:
           JD, I think you’re confused. Bill isn’t ripping the Confec., but rahter the fluffed 
           review of the place. People like Cheryl are easy to figure. It’s to the point, you can
           know who or what the genre of a place is, and you can accurately guess what 
           Cheryl’s feelings will be.

           Bill from GF (is) one of the small fraction of “beer snobs” in the area that is  
           basically related to Cheryl in his approach of how he looks at places. If a bar has 3
           beers from an exotic land, Bill is love. Cheryl loves “over the head of the average
           guy” restaurants that fall into the failed Chez Sophie category.

           Nice job, Bill. This CALLOUT was a breath of fresh air.

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