Posted by: wrmcnutt | October 26, 2009

So What Does It Take to Get A High Rating for Cuisine – Anyway

I recently got a question in the Comments of a previous review:

“Clearly this is your experience NOT mine, so I’m not saying you are wrong, but I want to know what it takes to get a higher rating in terms of cuisine?

Every item you mentioned in this review sounded like the same ole same ole, but when it arrived all you expectations were exceeded. from the Sangria, through the entree and sauces to the sides.

So why do you rank them only barely above average?”

That’s a fair question, and I don’t know that I’ve got a fair response.  The whole process is subjective, and while I try to be fair, anything I say really just boils down to “I like this,” and “I don’t like that.”

In an effort to be somewhat objective, I rate each dining experience like I would and SCA A&S project. I don’t try to compare experiences.  The service and cuisine at a continental-style table service restaurant is an entirely different experience from a good Irish pub, a diner, or a street vendor, and each have their merits.  But to compare the service at the Inn at Biltmore to the service at O’Flagherty’s (moment of silence) would leave O’Flagherty’s looking lousy, and that would be a Bad Thing.

So if I’m looking at pub food, say, I try to picture the cuisine in my head as though it had been done perfectly, and then rate what I’m eating against the Platonic Ideal Form I have in my head.  And it will be relative, as well.  What kind of mood am I in?

For example, a properly done Shepard’s Pie will be finished with a layer of mashed potatoes on the top, then baked until the potatoes are firm, but not dry, with just a little browning to make a slightly crisp crust on the top.  But are the potatoes mashed, or whipped?  There’s a time and a place for whipped potatoes on Shepard’s Pie.  But is it tonight?  Do ya feel lucky, Cook?  Well, do ya? My response will vary, based on my mood.  Sometimes I’m in the mood for innovation.  Often I am not.  Oh, and very specifically, sweet potatos (yams) are NEVER the right innovation for Shepard’s Pie.  But I digress.  On the other hand, there are things that are never good.  For example, excess grease is unacceptable in fried food, especially it it’s battered.  If your pub pickles fry up greasy, it means that the oil in the fryer was too cold, and they were left in too long, or they were not properly drained.  And that’s not just bad luck or a little bad timing in the kitchen.  Those things are easy to deal with and greasy fried food is generally a sign of incompetence.

But I’m a little off subject.  The question was, in general, what does it take to get a higher rating in terms of cuisine, and why, at La Placita, did the food that exceeded my expectations, get a score barely above average.

In my ratings of cuisine, I don’t just look at the food I am served and how it’s prepared, but the composition of the menu including innovation and meeting traditional expectations.  Unlike and SCA A&S, restaurants start with a two in all categories, and lose or gain points based on my experience.  The ambiance at La Placita set a high expectation for me for the menu.  Based on the neighborhood I was in, the town square founded in 1598,the ancient building, antiques collection, and other decor I was expecting a high-end restaurant experience.  That the menu was same-0ld-same-old that I could get in Knoxville was VERY disappointing, and knocked the score for cuisine WAY back, to like one (1) pint.  I was in the heart of old Nuevo Espana, and I was looking at a list of menu items I could get in the storefront Mexican place next to the Kroger’s near my house.  Then, either there was not one especial de la casa, or the waiter didn’t know what it was.  Also a deep disappointment.  That cost them another half-pint.  It would have cost them an entire pine, but I couldn’t bring myself to give a zero for cuisine unless they poisoned me.  When my routine order from their entirely average and unimaginative menu came back very well prepared, it brought them all the way back from an abysmally bad score.  So it was not the food itself that hurt the score, but the falsely high expectations set by the environment, and the planning of the menu that hurt the score of La Placita so badly.

On a barely related note, since I’m talking about scoring, I should note that I make it a point never to score in quarter points.  Quarter pints may flop back-and-forth in my head during the process, but everything but the final average is done in half-pints.  Also, to get a zero, you pretty much have to poison me.

This has been a bit rambling because I’ve never thought through the scoring process, I’ve just sort of done it, so if anyone has any further questions, I’ll be glad to try and answer them.

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  1. actually that helped a great deal. Now I understand a bit better. though I still disagree with giving Antoines anything above a 1. They didn’t poison your food. but they did produced a poisoned memory. The only thing that saved that evening was the joy of being with friends.

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