The Buffalo News and its Restaurant Reviews

23 Mar

Remember shorter Buzz? (I read it so you don’t have to). As I recall, it even had a handy-dandy scale of 1 – 10 of awfulness (10 being the most awful). Remember how much fun we had mocking Mary Kunz Goldman‘s short-lived weekly column in the Buffalo News? Her writing style even influenced other local bloggers to join in the fun. It all started, by the way, as a result of a column she wrote in 2004 in praise of the execrable George W. Bush.

We’re turning our attention now in a similar vein to the Buffalo News’ “restaurant critic”, Janice Okun. She’s been reviewing restaurants for as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m 42. Buffalo Chow has set for itself a mission to have Okun removed from the Buffalo News for a variety of reasons, about which they go into in detail in this post.

Think they’re wrong?  Just read Okun’s recent review of the hit-n-miss East Aurora eatery Tantalus.  The entire “restaurant review” is about the restaurant’s extensive (overwrought?) menu, and its claims that everything is homemade. A crab soup is described only as “rich”. A calves’ liver entree (at a ridiculous $16) is “nice”, “tender”, and “cooked perfectly”.  My favorite passage:

I ordered the Country Fried Pork Chop ($16.95) pounded, battered and fried crisply. Mashed spuds came along with this, too. And sausage gravy. (It was a diet meal.)

Well, how the fuck was it? For $17 for a fried pork chop and some mashed potatoes, it better have been the best Goddamned pork chop and orgasmic mashed potatoes you ever ate.  I mean, she describes what’s on the plate and how it’s prepared, but offers no opinion about the meal whatsoever.  All I know is that it’s expensive and fattening.

And she always – always – gives places a 1/2 star.  As if she’s being mean by just giving Tantalus an inexplicable 3 stars, so she throws in a 1/2 star like she’s letting the place keep the change. There’s no rhyme or reason to the star ratings, the writing is clumsy, the food she orders is always some safe choice like meat ‘n potatoes, and the reader is left with no real opinion about the overall dining experience.

(I’m not saying I’m the best restaurant reviewer in the world, or that my reviews are just perfectly awesome. This isn’t about me.)

But on Buffalo Chow’s point viz. Okun, I happen to agree. It’s time for the singular restaurant reviewer for the past 2 generations at Buffalo’s singular newspaper to step down in favor of someone who isn’t known, isn’t recognizable, and knows how to write about food, restaurants, and service in a way that speaks to a contemporary audience that is hungry for excellence.  Sign the petition.

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59 Responses to “The Buffalo News and its Restaurant Reviews”

  1. Kevin J. March 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    As a longtime music critic/reviewer, I recognize her sterile, non-opinionated review style a mile away. For cripe’s sake, is it good, bad, and why?

  2. Bills Fan March 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    $17 for a fried pork chop and potatoes is “expensive” and so “expensive” that it better be the best goddamned pork chop ever? For realz? Do you get out much? 

    Also, I admire this glorious fight against the tremendous injustice that is a mediocre food reviewer at a mediocre newspaper. Some people get excited about other “causes” but for my money, this one is near the top of the list. 

    • Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

      @Bills Fan: in full recognition of the fact that you detest every single keystroke I write, and at the risk therefore of feeding the troll, I’ll suggest this to you: have you been to Tantalus? Is that $17 an hourly fucking rate to wait for your meal? We’re not talking about someplace nice like O’Connell’s or the Chophouse or Oliver’s. This place isn’t even on par with Jo Jo’s Bistro. The food there isn’t that great, and the service has become almost universally abysmal. I have no problem paying $17 for a pork chop at a place that deserves to price a pork chop at $17. I do have a problem paying $17 for a pork chop at a place that doesn’t deserve it, where the food is “good for WNY” and the service is glacial.

      I hope that clears everything up for you and you can go back to backhandedly calling me a dumb motherfucker for something else.

  3. Ward March 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Funny. And squarely on target.

    One semi-correction: The Buzz lives on, though not on a strict weekly schedule due to a book in the works.

  4. Maria Rosa March 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    Is Ms. Okun retired?  Food reviews and critics important topics. Thanks for covering it…but I don’t  get the point here. And would like more information. Thank you.

  5. Mike In WNY March 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    The news has been Jokun us with restaurant reviews for far too long.

  6. Jays March 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    I understand perfectly well what you’re saying. But what you don’t understand is that it may be … in fact, probably isn’t … Okun’s fault.

    Trust me when I tell you that “restaurant reviewers” at many newspapers are ordered to not offend potential advertisers. Leading to, of course, generic reviews like the ones you quoted. It’s the reason many features writers have given up the practice entirely … they’re tired of being scolded for writing the truth and getting threatened by upper management because the restaurant owner then refuses to buy an ad.

  7. kris March 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Oh – and O’Connell’s sucks.

    • Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

      I like O’Connells. And that’s more opinion about it than you’re likely to get in an Okun column.

  8. Howard Goldman March 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    You mean The Wife’s “short-lived opinion column” that never missed a week for 2-1/2 years despite constant cruel personal attacks by “progressives” who were intolerant of a single voice at the paper that wasn’t marching to the same political music? Or, are you referring to The Wifes “short lived” Buzz column that is in its 12th year and has never missed a single publication even on vacations and sick days? Or, are you referring to The Wife’s “short lived” MaryKunzGoldman.com blog that hasn’t missed a single day in it’s nearly 4 years? Or, perhaps you are referring to The Wife’s “short lived” music critic column that is in its 10th year. 
    Pundit, as much as I respect and like you and your blog, you couldn’t be a pimple on her pencil eraser. 

  9. Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I was referring to the 2 1/2 year long Monday column, left corner of City/Region.  I’m sorry to hear that you guys buy pencils with defective erasers. 

  10. kbecker March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    i write a mean food review. lets just start doing our own.

  11. kbecker March 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    Alan, we can tag team . BECKER AND BEDENKO!

  12. mark March 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    high school drama.

  13. Hank March 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    well, I don’t detest every Keystroke Alan writes, and I’ve read his reviews. I never suck up to Alan, but he’s right about this person’s reviews. Anyone who watches any of Gordon Ramsay’s shows knows he’s all about proper table service, and food that is tastefully prepared and presented. He remodels all manner of eateries to present a new, modern ambience that just about anyone would be comfortable in. To give stars without saying what was good and what sucked is wasting space in the paper. Expats like to visit their haunts when back home, but something new is always nice to try on every trip.

    And even in NC, the home of pork production, 17 bucks for a pork chop and spuds would result in an empty dining room. I agree, Alan—that better be the best damn pork chop and orgasmic spuds ever created. End of the day, the Snooze is what it is, a commentary on an area that long ago slipped past mediocrity.

    • Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      Shorter Janice Okun:
      I ordered from the waiter a menu item involving meat and fish. Some time later, I received a plate containing meat and fish. Nice.

  14. kbecker March 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    @ Howard -as a woman (kind of) that has functioned in a man’s world in just about every profession I’ve ever had. It is respectable for you to defend your wives honor, but as a professional writer, you should really leave this one up to her to defend herself.
    The days of “the man sweeping in to defend us” are long gone and in doing  so you, unintentionally undermine her professionally.  
    She has a public outlet,  and clearly can stand on her own two feet.  

    just my two cents.

  15. lefty March 23, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    @Howard Goldman – lul at the guy and wife using a blogger blog with obviously no idea of how to properly categorize posts and/or does not understand the difference between posts or tags…trying to mock one of the best bloggers in WNY.

    As for your claim as to not missing a day in over 4 years…I think you need to learn how to count buddy.  284 posts in 2010 and 267 in 2008 means a couple of days were missing.

    As someone who hardly ever agrees with what BP writes, I do respect his game.  I also know your wife is not in the same league.

  16. Jon Splett March 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    @Howard- No one mocks your wife for her political views. They mock her because she writes like Jean Teasdale from The Onion.

    http://www.theonion.com/personalities/jean-teasdale,1021/

  17. JohnnyWalker March 23, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Who would pay attention to Janice when Bill Rapaports Buffalo restaurant guide (on-line) is by far the best and most complete source for reading reviews on Buffalo area restaurants.

  18. Jon Splett March 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Also, The Buffalo News restaurant reviews are absolutely terrible but the elitist foodie pretense that drips off of Buffalo Chow is just as bad, if not worse.

    I can’t stand to read either of them.

    • Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

      I’ll go with “elitist foodie” when it comes to getting a reasoned opinion as to where to spend the money I work hard to earn over “look! a plate with meat and potatoes!”

  19. eliz March 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    After glancing at the change.org site and seeing their petition categories (human trafficking, poverty in America, immigrant rights) I have to wonder what this courageous and inspirational call for justice was filed under. I guess the “mean-spirited” and “pretentious” categories must be hidden away somewhere. Whatever one may think of the reviews, the petition seems overkill.

  20. Colin March 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Okun stinks and I signed the petition, but Splett is right.

  21. Rhineaux March 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    While I agree that Okun should be sent pacjing and replaced with Andrew Galarneau (not sure of exact spelling), but I take issue with the Tantalus criticism. Having eaten at just about all of Buffalo’s many fine restaurants, it seems to me that Tantalus appeals to those looking for a good dinner in a local setting at a fair price. The place is ALWAYS full, and it must be for a good reason. I’ve paid way more for a pork chop at places like City Grill, and had shittier service at some “four star” places. But that’s besides the point.
    Janice Okun is past her prime and I think Alan is right in promoting her exit.

  22. Jon Splett March 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    I’ll take a foodie opinion over fluffy bullshit with no opinion as well but being a foodie doesn’t have to go hand to hand with smug condescension.

    Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown are good examples of this. They can present high end food in a manner that’s accessible to common people.

    Buffalo Chow is written for people who want to feel culinary superior to the unwashed Mighty Taco eating masses.

  23. Eric Saldanha March 23, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    @Howard Goldman – quantity does not equal quality. No personal offense, but your wife’s writing sucks out loud.

  24. Jeremy March 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Jon, there’s an important distinction between being “elitist” and “discerning.” Buffalo Chow is a compendium of everything from wings and tacos to high-end meals at some of the world’s most noteworthy restaurants. The fact that it covers these things and everything in between precludes it from being elitist. That it has opinions on what’s great, good, okay, and bad just means that it’s discerning. 

    Anthony Bourdain took a huge shit on Buffalo, calling it one of the most fucked up cities in America. Before you hold him up as an example of anything, understand that he thinks of this place as a fourth-rate backwater, not worthy of being explored for even a full episode of his show. That’s elitism.

  25. Colin March 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Not to suggest that words matter, since apparently that makes people lose their shit around here, but . . .

    “classy” is an elitist word, and it’s all over the reviews at BufaloChow.

  26. Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Especially the Arby’s and Wendy’s reviews. 

  27. Jon Splett March 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    I’m not talking about what restaurants they review, I’m talking about the lens in which they review them. Take their Duff’s review.

    http://www.buffalochow.com/2008/02/at_duffs_buffalos_best_wings_m.html

    They complain about the ‘ambiance’ being dumpy. It is. I grew up 3 blocks away from the place. But that’s the point. It’s a hole in the wall place that happens to put out the best wings in the city. It’s that kind of charm that helped the place build the name it has today. The general tone is “Oh the food is excellent if you don’t mind slumming it in a restaurant that doesn’t even use table linens”

    And I just picked that review at random. I was excited about Buffalo Chow when they first started but I stopped reading quickly because they come from a very snobby point of view.

    That said, they’re a blog not the major daily paper. If a blog wants to cater to a snobbier readership, they certainly have that luxury.

  28. kris March 23, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    i agree with Jon Splett. and just because you like O’Connell’s doesn’t make it so. Same with Okun I suppose…just a review after all. Most of the “high end” restaurants in the city are not held up the to scrutiny they should be – you know why? she knows all of them & there aren’t that many good chefs or restaurateurs. Not enough for 52 reviews a year. Buffalo – it is what it is.

  29. Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    and just because you like O’Connell’s doesn’t make it so

    Actually, it does. Because I like O’Connells, I like O’Connells. 

    If what you meant to write was that, just because I like O’Connells, that doesn’t mean it’s good, the very nature of food criticism is that it’s got a massive subjective component. 99% of Buffalonians absolutely lurve Mighty Taco.  I think it tastes like dog’s paws drenched in piss and Wonder Bread. To each his own – a critic’s job is to give an unbiased, honest opinion. You’re not supposed to always agree with it. 

  30. Bills Fan March 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    First, I think I’ve actually commented on here maybe 10 times over a handful of posts. When I don’t comment, I generally agree with you or don’t believe I have any worthwhile insight to add (recognizing most people don’t use that hurdle when writing on the internet). So, I don’t detest every keystroke.  
     
    Second, If a $17 pork chop sucks, the problem is it sucks. The problem is not that a restaurant is charging $17 for a pork chop entree.  

    Third, I have been to Tantalus and found it mediocre. The service was okay and the food was about a C+. I doubt I’ll be back anytime soon because I don’t live in or near to East Aurora. 

    Fourth, I find this topic kinda pathetic/inane and the operators of the Buffalo Chow website seem to be condescending pricks. I generally hate it when people criticize and demean other people’s thoughts and arguments with the tired “aren’t there bigger problems in the world to focus on” but the combination of Buffalo Chow’s holier-than-thou rhetoric with the target of this petition (Janice freaking Okun) makes me wonder what in the world these people think matters in life. Have you read the f***cking ‘terms and conditions’ on that Buffalo Chow website? Jesus, these people think they’re working on the most important problems facing humanity and their mission is not to be trifled with. Combine that condescension with the classic Buffalo marketing tactic of ‘shutting down forever’ and then ‘re-opening’ months later and you have something uniquely unlikeable. 

    Fifth, didn’t Janice freaking Okun retire about a year ago? 

    • Alan Bedenko March 23, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

      Well, @Bills Fan, the issue isn’t about whether you like Buffalo Chow or not. (I do). The issue is Janice Okun – she was supposed to retire, but is still writing reviews regularly for Gusto every Friday.

      As for the terms and conditions, they’re strict because they know the web. Every day for the last couple of years, a website has been poaching all of our original content and presented it in a way that enables them to monetize it. It’s frustrating.

      I don’t think Buffalo Chow thinks dining is the most important thing ever, but I do think that food and restaurants are a huge part of our culture, and to dismiss them as unimportant is incorrect.

  31. Jaquandor March 23, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Having read MKG for years, I must say that I deeply, deeply wish that her pencils came with erasers.

  32. al l March 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    “I think it tastes like dog’s paws drenched in piss and Wonder Bread.”

    Now thats the kind of flowery literary stylistics I would love to see in a food review.  Now that is imagery (and also the reason I generally dont eat at Mighty Taco).

  33. al l March 23, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    And my posts lack of creative writing skills is why I dont have a job in the medias.

  34. Jeremy March 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Once again, the comments here prove why comments aren’t worth responding to. Fixate so much on transparently fair criticisms of Amherst Duff’s decor – the only thing done better at its other locations – rather than the annually repeated acknowledgement that they are fantastic wings, the area’s best. (And yeah, I was one of the people who contacted The White House to recommend Obama visit Duff’s. Over the Anchor Bar. I grew up down the street from Duff’s, too.) Froth up at the legalese of terms and conditions designed to stop skimmers, one page of a 500-page web site, and probably the only one that isn’t about food. And act as if the very petition didn’t say that the horrible food reviews are a comparatively small problem, but one worth addressing.

    Christ. Who expects people to actually read before shooting their mouths off around here? This may be the last time I defend Buffalo against people who say that it gets what it deserves. 

  35. Bills Fan March 23, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    If they knew the web, they’d know a strict terms and conditions does nothing to stop scumbag scraping sites from stealing content and attempting to monetize it for pennies on the nothing. 

    And I don’t think they think that dining is the most important thing ever – it appears they believe the most important things ever are, in no particular order, their food reviews, a Janice Okun overthrow and abiding by their terms and conditions.

    In the burgeoning digital age, information about restaurants is everywhere. In WNY, we have countless media sources reviewing restaurants (BuffaloChow, Buffalo Eats, Buffalo Rising, Artvoice, WNYMedia, Buffalo Spree, WGRZ, Buffalo News and on and on) and we also have Yelp. I tend to trust Yelp more than most if there are more than 2-3 reviews and the reviewers seem authentic (and not former employees with an axe to grind). Really, is there anything in life more reviewed than restaurants? I can’t find nearly as much information about a doctor – or a lawyer – than I can about a diner and I think we could all agree that medical and legal decisions have more consequences than where you eat your next dinner.  

  36. Joel March 23, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

    At the risk of being pilloried, I’ve never had anything bad at Tantalus, but I wouldn’t give it 3 1/2 stars. YMMV. I agree that the old Okun Bucket needs to be retired. Want a good reviewer? Go with a Jonathan Gold. Frank Bruni was pretty good too. Ruth Reichl was precious, but knew how to critique. Personally, I miss Marthe Lane from the Courier-Express who, as a high school lad, carried out of a fundraiser, blasted, to her car. Now THAT is someone who is serious!

  37. Jon Splett March 24, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    @Jeremy- For a critic, you sure are shitty at taking criticism.

    Everyone writes from a point of view. People who can relate to your point of view are going to enjoy what you do. People who can’t, won’t. You have a very particular way in which you view what a dining experience should be and what constitutes good food. To me and apparently quite a few other people posting here, it’s a very bougie, alienating attitude. As I said in my other comment, you can appeal to any audience you want to. It’s your blog. I’m just not going to read it.

    No one is saying Okun doesn’t suck. In fact, almost everyone is making it abundantly clear she does suck and should have retired a decade ago. They’re just saying they also aren’t very big fans of your style and that you come off as pompous. If you, as a food writer, are going to call out another food writer, you can’t expect people not to take a look at your catalog of work too.

    By the way, the legalese of your TOS is done in an incredibly heavy handed way and that’s why people notice and comment on it. It comes off as an ‘I’m a douchebag lawyer’ dog whistle. Definitely doesn’t do anything to help the pretentious tone of the blog, that’s for sure.

  38. Jeremy March 24, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Jon, given our seemingly mutual local roots, love of Duff’s, and legal backgrounds, I’ll take the extra minute here to respond to what you’re saying, despite the snark and name calling.  

    First, I wrote terms of service (and practiced law) for a living years ago, and I’ve also run a number of successful web sites. The site I started at age ~18 was purchased by the largest tech magazine publisher in the U.S. when I was 19 or 20, and since then, I’ve led the editorial for three other successful sites. Based on my experiences, I made a conscious choice as to what I wanted that particular TOS page to look like. No disrespect intended to your law studies, but the very few people (five? six?) who have ever commented on the TOS over a three-year period were web site operators and/or wannabe lawyers. No one else even cares to read that page. It’s a food blog.
    Second, regarding point of view and “relating,” we made another very deliberate choice with the site in this regard. As should be apparent from the very top of the index page, it was designed to be the opposite of the “everything’s good,” milquetoast restaurant coverage we’ve been reading here for years, and to make people think outside of the traditional WNY box. We don’t pander. That sometimes means saying things that some people aren’t going to agree with. If you like what’s there, great, if not, no sweat or tears if you don’t come back. Judging from the site’s statistics, most people do come back, and they bring friends, too.

    Third, we receive tons, seriously tons, of positive feedback from readers who get and appreciate what we’re doing. The site’s traffic actually grew during a one-year period when we didn’t update it at all. Readers kept telling us they were still using and loving the site’s reviews, and asked us to come back and write more. So we did. Since then, we’ve received great messages from fellow Western New Yorkers, food writers, and expats who like the new stuff we’re posting even more. 
    So yeah, a person can get so fixated on a fleeting reference to a punctured chair or greasy table that he ignores the title and expressly positive sentiments of the rest of an article. (How dare someone point out patently obvious cleanliness and maintenance issues, right? That must have been the way Duff’s intended it to be — and the way it should always be, because that’s the way it was years ago!) That’s old Buffalo thinking, in a nutshell. We’re doing something different, and we’re doing it for the people who want things to get better around here rather than staying the same or eroding. Talking about what’s happening elsewhere and being honest about what’s happening in WNY is leading to measurable improvements for the people who live here. Hopefully by the time you move back to this area, if you do so, the restaurant scene will be better and stronger than when you left it.

  39. MJC March 24, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    I applaud Jeremy and his efforts with Buffalo Chow. I have been reading the website since its inception and am very excited that he has decided to begin updating it again.

    And I don’t find it at all snobbish or condescending. I think people get disappointed when they see negative comments about a restaurant they happen to enjoy. Besides, some of the most glowing reviews I have seen on the site are with regard to chicken wings and burgers.

    The purpose of a food critic is to, well, criticize. Even though Duffs’ wings are amazing, they should not be immune to criticism, nor should they get a free pass because the place happens to be a local institution.

    There are plenty of places I enjoy that Chow hasn’t exactly raved about. It is subjective, nothing more. However, the site has led me to numerous eateries that I now love and never would have known about otherwise.

    I think that quality restaurant reviewing actually helps local businesses. One time I went into Gin Gin and they were completely out of steamed dumplings. Couldn’t help but think that Chow’s praise of that dish had something to do with it. Keep up the good work!

  40. Sean C. March 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    @BillsFan  “(BuffaloChow, Buffalo Eats, Buffalo Rising, Artvoice, WNYMedia, Buffalo Spree, WGRZ, Buffalo News and on and on)” sure all review restaurants, the point here is getting a review that one can rely on. Buffalo Rising has censored and held back reviews because they are negative. We’ve seen the drivel Okun has somehow gotten published. Yelp can be a bit sketchy, I’d find it usefully in a more populated area. I have suspicion that Artvoice manipulates its Best Places list. The bottom line is WNYers love to eat, and eat well. WNY has a market for sites like BuffaloChow and BuffaloEats. 

    Basically it comes down to quality and care that goes into the food. That’s what I want to know. Some of the best tacos I’ve ever had came out of a truck. How would Okun write that one up? Arguing that an experience at one place was great when another person had a shitty experience at the same establishment shows that the place in question has some issues. If they can not consistently produce a decent product, they need to figure out how to do so. The great restaurant in our area have done so, those that don’t will fade away. 

  41. STEEL March 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Why are you worried about restaurant reviews before the disasterous political problems of NY are solved?  

  42. Dan March 25, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Steel, I hope you aren’t serious. That comment is much like the “Having solved all other problems …” posts on Fark, implying that people or government agencies shouldn’t be multitasking.

  43. Dan March 25, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Back on topic. Yeah, Janus Okun’s restaurant reviews are a relic of another era, when the area’s blue-collar workers flocked to bars with dining rooms, red-sauce-and-dangling-Chianti-bottles Italian restaurants, bland prime rib houses and meat-and-three restaurants with upscale pretensions, and exurban carriage-stop “inns” and “hotels”. You know, places like Danny’s, Otto’s, Como, McPartlan’s Corner, and the like. When Janice Okun really gushes, it’ll usually be for an old-school staple like Oliver’s, Asa Ransom House, Eagle House,or her perennial favorite, the Glen Iris Inn. Consider her audience: fellow Buick owners who think Tony Roma’s is a Buffalo-based chain, confusing it with Tony Rome’s. Just ask your grandparents what they think of Janus Okun, and they’ll say she’d dead-on about the Friar’s Table and “The Protocol’s”. She’s writing for them, the older Silent Generation and Baby Boomer crowd out in the ‘burbs, not you, the Generation Xers, Yers, and Millennials.

    There’s the other extreme, though, often found in cities whose dining scenes are a bit more contemporary and daring than what’s seen in Buffalo. I’m reminded of restaurant reviews in Denver’s alternative weekly, Westword, from when I lived in Colorado. About three-quarters of the pretentious review would delve into excruiating detail about the owner and all of his or her previous ventures, the resume of head cook, and the other restaurants that used to occupy the site, in a tone suggesting that you should have known this already. “Regulars at Sacre!, where Chef D’Arcy, a native of Provence, worked for three years, have been eagerly awaiting his debut as head chef at sister restaurant L’Merde.” They’d tell tantalizing tales about how the food was prepared, employing all the cutting-edge foodie terminology they could muster, but devote little or no column space to how it actually tasted. These bombastic, pretentious screeds tell the world that everybody is an insider but you, and you’re only getting to know what morsels they’ll tell you.

  44. Hank March 25, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    @Dan–He’s serious.
    The whole problem that Alan has addressed, probably without realizing it, that even with the internet on the side, Any one-newspaper city is going to have a pretty shitty newspaper. Too many cities are becoming 1 paper cities. When Buffalo had both the BEN and the C-E, you could find a lot more variety. Only one in the city newspapers get lethargic, boring, banal, and eventually of no consequence. The Buffalo Snooze is already there in many departments. The Charlotte Observer (known as the Disturber) is no better than the Snooze. Every time I get a call or am accosted in the grocery store (if you can call what we have here grocery stores) about a sub to the Disturber, I tell the person ” the fish I catch and the Birds I own are of higher quality to be wrapped, or have their shit fall on that paper. Even with Cable news, the Blogosphere and all the other ways to get information, newspapers SHOULD be important, and any city of consequence should have TWO.

  45. longtime ex-pat March 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    Not only is she not retiring, she’s gotten another column in the News.

    I read her restaurant summaries because I’m always looking for somewhere to take my elderly mother on my semi-annual visits, since she’s in her target demographic. What strikes me as the oddest thing about her column is the pictures of the diners: not only are they totally pointless – other than to show that people don’t keel over as soon as they’re served, I suppose – but when I started reading the column on-line I noticed that they were almost always white, so I started keeping track. In three years of reading the column I think there may have be one non-Caucasian couple per year. I doubt it has anything to do with the quality of the food, the establishment, or the review, but it just strikes me as weird.

    I’ve eaten at Tantalus several years ago, and it wasn’t bad but not outstanding, either. $17 for pork chops doesn’t strike me as high, but I live in the SF Bay Area, where most things are considerably more expensive than Buffalo. There are a lot of good restaurants in WNY but they’re not that easy for outsiders to find, and Okun and her ilk aren’t doing them any favors.

  46. TL Jones March 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    “I read it.. so you don;t have to”..oh my and thanks so much..since being a ‘product’ of the BPSS and Syracuse Law School..er Devry…can’t possibly read it myself.. And of course..”mockery” is absolutely the highest form of wit and originality. You even sound smug and self-satisfied about it. That’s sad.

    We all should know as well.. that Okun and The News are single sources of what has become a universe. Similarly.. for movies and music. Why surrender our own tastes and preferences to that of any? All of it is highly idiosyncratic..and since food, music, movies are universal human experience.. we ALL got opinions!! LOL ..I feel so much more edified in hearing yours….

  47. Mark March 28, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    This thread is probably dead now, but what the hell. I hate BuffaloChow’s reviews. I find them mean-spirited, pretentious, and unpleasant to read. They seem to go to a restaurant intending to hate it, while I go to a restaurant intending to enjoy it. They can’t just say they didn’t like something, they have to describe what portion of it they fed to their dogs. I think they must spit the words onto the page instead of typing them. It’s evident that they want something different out of a restaurant than I do, so I don’t read what they write. I also don’t read what Janice Okun writes, or, generally speaking, what any restaurant reviewer writes. Individual taste and personal history are strong factors in one’s experience at any restaurant, and I think that makes restaurant reviews very unreliable.

    BuffaloChow hated Jonny C’s. I love Jonny C’s. I mean I would eat there every day if I could. Does this mean they have the best food on earth? No, it doesn’t. But I happen to enjoy it for a variety of reasons, one being that the owner used to own a deli that was fifteen minutes away from my parents’ house on Long Island. What portion of my love for Jonny C’s is nostalgia, and what portion is the quality of food? Don’t know, can’t know. Don’t care.

    Everybody but me loves Duff’s. I had their wings when I first moved here, 15+ years ago. I thought they were vastly overrated — not even good — so I don’t go there. BuffaloChow thinks their wings are the best, I have no idea what they are talking about. Is this because BuffaloChow is written by knowledgeable foodies, or because one of the writers grew up down the street? No idea.

    If my intention is to enjoy eating out, then I can’t waste time reading reviews from a reviewer that consistently has an opinion opposite from mine. This makes BuffaloChow totally useless to me, which is just fine, and that probably doesn’t make the BuffaloChow team a bunch of arrogant elitists or me an uneducated slob who is dragging WNY into the gutter by liking too many restaurants that happen to actually exist.

  48. Dan March 28, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    longtime ex-pat> What strikes me as the oddest thing about her column is the pictures of the diners: not only are they totally pointless – other than to show that people don’t keel over as soon as they’re served, I suppose – but when I started reading the column on-line I noticed that they were almost always white, so I started keeping track.

    I never thought of that, but thinking about it … you know, that’s so true! The other extreme, though, are the cliched foodie close-up shots with light-colored backgrounds and an extremely shallow depth of field. You know, photos like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31296974@N04/3460123701/ . Nothing wrong with them, but they can be as prevalent in some publications as depictions of the typical suburban family surrounding some checkered tablecloth-draped table in Gusto. There’s a middle ground between the News approach of food as a social event, versus food as porn.

  49. Sean C. March 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Jonny C’s was processed food served with a twist… Mora’s is and was far better than Jonny C’s in terms of a NYC Deli. Food is like comedy it’s subjective. A poorly made meal stands out like a Carlos Mencia immigration joke (stolen or otherwise). If you think Carlos Mencia is remotely funny enjoy your Swanon Fired Chicken TV dinner.

  50. Sean C. March 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

     Note: The final two above sentences are my subjective opinion’s on both Carlos Mencia and Swanon’s TV dinner. They’re both suck.

  51. Kevin J. March 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    I agree, Sean C., but I had to laugh at the outrage of other comedians claiming Carlos Mencia stole their and other material a few years ago. EVERY comedian steals material, he just did it closer to home and got big (and stayed annoyingly unfunny).

    Sorry for the off-topic comments, BP.

  52. Dave in DC March 31, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    @Jeremy
    “Anthony Bourdain took a huge shit on Buffalo…”

    Wow, I think you missed the point of that show entirely. But that’s a bit off topic…

    I have to agree with Splett, there has to be a middle ground between Okun’s non-reviews and Chow’s… whatever it is about that site that is off-putting. I understand that the restaurant scene in Buffalo can stand to evolve, but they make is seem like it’s a crime (or at least backward and old fashioned) to enjoy the good ol’ hole-in-the-wall places for what they are.

  53. Dan April 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    Dave in DC>but they make is seem like it’s a crime (or at least backward and old fashioned) to enjoy the good ol’ hole-in-the-wall places for what they are.

    I don’t think they’re condemning the blue collar-flavored mom-and-pop places, but rather how much they dominate the dining scene in Buffalo compared to other cities, and the hype they receive. Even in places like Cleveland, the dumps that barely pass health inspection are largely ignored by local bloggers, while in Buffalo utilitarian hole-in-the-walls are praised for their “authenticity” and “character”. Slap a cheap plywood sign on a West Side, set up some few generic tables and chairs from the Discount Restaurant Supply Warehouse Factory Outlet, cook something that may or may not be ethnic, and watch the gushing roll in on Buffalo Rising.

  54. Dan April 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Like I was saying: http://www.buffalorising.com/2011/04/friday-night-fish-fry-at-papa-jakes.html

    It’s a glowing review of a run-of-the-mill fish fry at a typical blue-collar bar. ‘Nuff said.

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