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The Comedy of the 1 Star Yelp Review

The following are actual comments and all were part of a 1-Star Restaurant Review in Fresno:

“The restaurant’s Grand Opening was on my birthday”

“There were no vegetarian entrée’s…so I left the restaurant”

“We heard this restaurant was the best in town and always busy. We hadn’t eaten all day and were starving and drove a long way from out of town. We didn’t have a reservation, but we decided to wing-it”

 “My boyfriend just got out of prison and we were looking for somewhere special to go”

The French Laundry 1-Star Review

First off, I do not look at Yelp to help me decide where to eat. I read Yelp reviews for entertainment. I don’t know the reviewer, their qualifications, or the frequency of their dining. Therefore, Yelp is not a credible source of information for me. The reviews aren’t verified, they are simply democratized, giving everyone an equal voice to say stupid things.

Take The French Laundry reviews for instance. Yes, even The French Laundry in Yountville/Napa has 1-Star Reviews, several actually. One of the reviews is summed up in 2 sentences, certainly an in-depth and scholarly review.

The Laundry also has several 1-Star Reviews based upon the fact that a reviewer couldn’t get a reservation there. No kidding? The restaurant books up one month in advance and has done so now for over 10 years. Get a clue!

The Laundry also has several complaints for being overpriced. Really? An expensive dinner at The French Laundry? You don’t say.

Like I said, Yelp reviews are entertainment, nothing more. As such, I’d like to highlight a few entertaining reviews and themes of the Fresno restaurant reviewer.

The Special Occasion Dinner combined with High Expectations

“We were so excited about going to the Bon Jovi concert after dinner”

“It was our first time at this restaurant and it will be our last”

The Fresno reviewer is often specific about the event and the emotions surrounding the event for which they are celebrating with a dinner at a restaurant; “It was my husband’s 50th birthday” or “It was our anniversary”.  Even better, “It was Valentine’s Day, Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday and we couldn’t believe how busy it was”.

You’re an idiot if you think it won’t be busy at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. The WORST restaurant in Fresno will be busy on Valentine’s Day. The worst restaurant in Antarctica will be busy on Valentine's Day. Morons.

Often the 50th Birthday or Valentine's Day dinner is combined with another key piece of information “it was our first time dining at this highly rated restaurant” or “all the reviews said this place was the best.” So a double whammy of your special occasion combined with high expectations concluding in the ultimate letdown and the inevitable 1-Star Review because "everything fell apart", "can't believe we were treated this way", "didn't pay attention to us".

To a credible restaurant reviewer, showing up to give a definitive review for a restaurant on Valentine’s Day or Christmas Eve is a joke.  Secondly, showing up on a single night and have that single night, define a restaurant forever is pedestrian and stupid, not professional. Thirdly, the reviewer’s birthday, anniversary or special occasion is a meaningless review item to everyone else except the reviewer. I want a restaurant to treat everyone, every day with a high level of service and food quality, not just on my birthday. I want to feel special every time I walk into a restaurant, regardless of the occasion.

Do you know how important I am?

Another popular 1-Star review commentary in Fresno (and other places) is the oh so important “I’ve been coming to the restaurant for years” or “I regularly come here for business meetings”.

The 'I'm a big thing' type of 1-Star review seemingly gives credibility to the reviewer with the ignorant or ill-informed Yelp reader.  How does one verify that the reviewer has been going to the restaurant they reviewed for “years”?

Faith? Jedi Powers?

How many visits to the restaurant has the reviewer taken? Two? Three? 50? Am I supposed to take 'the big shot reviewer's' word for it? Has the reviewer left any critical information out? Was the reviewers 8-top table on time for their reservation or were they 40 minutes late? Did they bring an infant to the dinner? Was everyone around the table an "exception"? Meaning, gluten-free, shellfish allergy, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, nut free? Or in the words of Pearl Jam, "center of their own attention" type of table?

Remember, there's always another side to the story and on Yelp we rarely hear the other side of the story...the restaurant side of the story.

Why? Because there's generally no upside for the restaurant to write a rebuttal. Simple cost/benefit analysis. 

Fresnans want BIGGER portions for LESS money and MORE Parking

“The restaurant is overpriced for (take your pick): the small portions, a small sandwich, ratio of meat to bread, a bowl of pasta, a steak”

“I’ve had better: pasta, sandwiches, burgers at…Olive Garden, Subway, McDonalds”

“This review is NOT based on the food. There was no parking. So we left.”

Parking seems to be an issue with Fresnans. In fact, some 1-Star reviews of restaurants never make it out of the parking lot. No discussion of food and service, so I have no idea if the reviewer has eaten the food, because all they mentioned in the review was a lack of parking. Try living in San Francisco or New York; there is never any parking. 

The 1 Star No Parking review is useless in grading the restaurant. It's informative, that's all.

I don’t really know what to say about the perceived value question, other than returning to my introduction about The French Laundry. Everyone should know by now that The French Laundry is very, very expensive. If you think that all meals should be judged by the portions you serve yourself at home (rather than by quality of ingredients or skill in cooking a meal sous vide) and the price you pay at Costco, then you probably shouldn’t go out to dinner.

How much meat do you need in your sandwich to justify a $5 or $8 price tag for a sandwich? A pound of meat? You do know that the deli needs to make a profit, right? And pay employees to make it? And pay their lease? I hear what you’re saying 'Mr. Value for the Money' 1-Star Reviewer, you want to buy a sandwich from the best deli in town, with one pound of meat, with all the toppings on a soft-Subway style roll for the cost of the sandwich and nothing more? Hate to break it to you…ain’t gonna happen.

I'm tired of your complaining! So I have a suggestion Mr. Subway/Macaroni Grill/Chipotle Guy. Since you can buy food at the grocery store cheaper and I’m sure you do a great job of cooking tri-tip at home or you buy your deli meat from Food-Maxx in a 5 pound pre-sealed plastic bag; I would suggest making yourself a sandwich at home and taking it to work, since your home-made Sammy is better than the Fresno deli you went to today. 

But of course the same person that had the 'Best sandwich EVER at Subway last week, because it's a great value', also drinks a Venti drip coffee from Starbucks and buys bottled water by the case at Costco. You know, because there's great 'value for the money' at Starbucks and in bottled water.

I’d like to thank Yelp and Fresno for helping me laugh a little this week.

Just so everyone knows…“My boyfriend just got out of prison and we were looking for somewhere special to go” is not a real comment on Yelp. This one is a joke, but I wanted it to be true…I made this one up. But maybe, I just didn’t look long and hard enough. I should have checked Yelp Folsom or Corcoran, CA.


Valley Water Shortage Targets Pasta

From the elderly to toddlers, pasta is the ubiquitous feel good meal. Who doesn’t love Mac n’Cheese? Or spaghetti and meatballs? Or fettuccini alfredo? Some of the best known and most frequented restaurants in Fresno and the Valley are Italian.

“I look forward to Friday night at DiCicco’s and their spaghetti”, says John Smith, an 80 year old Valley resident and retiree.

But Mr. Smith may have to start eating rice and bread instead of pasta in just a matter of days.

A recent study from the University of Bratislava performed a 20 year experiment in Italy, the home of pasta, and found that an extended family of 38 Italians will use more water to boil pasta in a single year on average, than a brand spankin’ new nuclear reactor heavy water tank in Germany.

Additionally, the study indicated that during the Easter and Christmas seasons, Italians, according to the study, “use more water on pasta than a single Fresno residential home on their 2.4 acre front lawn during summer and all of the Jack’s Car Wash Centers COMBINED.”

Why the University of Bratislava used Fresno in the comparative study for water waste is beyond the knowledge of this blogger, because I always have plenty of water to wash my Lexus. What's the issue...but I digress. This article is about PASTA WASTE WATER!

Valley Water People are quick to cite the University of Bratislava study and have made pasta their Number 1 Bogey Man….today.

 “It has reached crisis levels. Millions and Billions of gallons of fresh water are wasted each day in restaurants throughout the Central Valley on boiling pasta.” says Holten Jameson, spokesperson for the Valley Water People.

Valley Water People are gently and lovingly, but with little understanding, reaching out to Italian restaurants in an effort to find solutions to this water crisis. A Blue Ribbon Panel of academics, bureaucrats, and activists have been assigned to help restaurants figure out a way to cook pasta without water or find an alternative to pasta.

“It’s a challenge,” says Enzo Rossi owner of a Fresno Italian restaurant. “I’m considering moving back to Italy or maybe moving to Argentina…how do you cook pasta without water?” But Valley Water People experts insist it’s possible, but they really have no clue how to do it. It’s a Blue Ribbon Panel of Experts though.

One alternative proposed by the Valley Water People Blue Ribbon Panel of Experts is a phase-out period of pasta into rice based dishes as a compromise.

Another proposal from Downtown advocates is to have a “Pasta Zone”, where pasta would be cooked in boiling water within the confines of Downtown Fresno to help with revitalization.

Says one Downtown advocate, “We want the children to see how pasta is cooked in an efficient, carbon neutral environment.”

“Rice is more efficient at absorbing all the water in the cooking vessel than pasta.” said Dr. Dewey Chetum, President of the Blue Ribbon Panel. “There should be a Valley wide effort to get people to understand rice based dishes will help reduce water consumption in the Valley. I mean, who doesn’t love a properly cooked risotto?” Dr. Chetum explains that he is also on the gluten-free trend (he was on Atkins in the late 90's) and doesn’t even like pasta, but that in no way biases his judgement.

A blockade of all pasta in stores was considered initially, but rejected as too harsh by the Blue Ribbon Panel.

Another version of the "Pot" farm

Fresno Police are already on alert for: backyard and underground “Boilers”, where potential contraband, large format stainless steel pots are used to boil water for pasta. "This could be a bigger problem than meth labs," says an un-named officer.

The officer stated that the way the proposal is written, the possession of pasta was not illegal nor is the buying, selling, or intent to sell pasta, merely boiling it in water or the possession of a 2 or more liter stainless pot to boil the water is deemed illegal and punishable to the fullest extent of the law.

A second measure considered by the Valley Water People was a “buy-back” program of pots and pans able to hold more than two liters of water. Additionally from Holten Jameson, “We wanted to be fair to restaurants and offer them cold-hard-cash for their large pots and pans. If we take away their pots and pans, we take away the problem, right?”

Water is a precious resource for my front lawn and keeping my Lexus clean here in the Valley, residents shouldn’t be wasting it on pasta.

Disclaimer…this post is obviously satire because of this article.


Missing Persons Report: Fresno Food Blogging

The Cured Ham is filing a missing persons report for the Central San Joaquin Valley…several Fresno food bloggers have gone missing in recent months.

Be on the lookout for 30-40 year old males and females with active camera phones, arthritic thumbs, gout ridden limps, and an overly eager sense of “localism” when asking about a restaurant menu. Some reports indicate that missing food bloggers can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Yelp rather than publishing critical thoughts over 150 characters in length.

Food blogging takes time. Eating at restaurants takes time and money. Taking decent pictures takes practice. Writing critical articles about another boring sandwich, pizza, or taco takes inspiration. It’s a hell of a lot easier to Instagram or Tweet a quick photo and blurb about the meal you just ate without any critical regard for the food or the service.

And yes, I’m guilty, I haven't written much of anything critical recently.

I was reading through Yelp reviews recently, wondering if the food bloggers went there, all I found was ratings inflation and unhelpful nonsense. A one line comment and a 5 star rating is useless. Even worse, a 5 star rating with a negative comment about service; if there is a problem with service how can your experience be 5 stars? Useless.

Fresno Bites, a prolific food blogger, friend, and BBQ junkie hasn’t posted much of anything recently…EXCEPT on Twitter and Instagram, where he posts frequently. I trust Bites opinion. I certainly trust his Jedi instincts regarding BBQ. I’ve eaten his hand-crafted BBQ ribs and they are delicious. I also understand Bites has other interests, a family, a job, and home to deal with. He can’t take 2 hours to write an article or food review once a week. He tweeted something recently about Fresno’s newest restaurant, Westwood’s BBQ, so I know he’s keeping up on popular trends.

Maybe Bites is bored.

Maybe he’s ‘been there, done that’ when it comes to Fresno food blogging.

Perhaps Fresno Food Bloggers aren’t to blame. Perhaps the lack of new Fresno restaurants worthy of reviewing is to blame.

Fresnans…what’s changed in the Fresno dining scene in the last year or two? What has made an IMPACT?

Yes, yes, there have been some restaurant openings ranging from BBQ to Fine Dining, but how many of those restaurants or food trucks are going to make a difference in town? A dozen? Probably less than that.

So what’s a Fresno Food Blogger to do?

Review Elbow Room again? Why? For those that don’t know…The Elbow Room isn’t going anywhere. The Bow will be there as long as it wants to be there. It has a proven formula and a dedicated following from age 21 to 91. End of blogging discussion.

I love Me N’Ed’s pizza! I have said so since I was probably 4 years old. I know Me N’Ed’s pizza commentary by The Cured Ham can incite violence. Guess what Fresno Food Bloggers? Me N’Ed’s isn’t going anywhere either. I don’t care if you think their pizza sucks and that there is no good pizza for 200 miles around Fresno. In the words of WWE Wrestler The Rock…"It doesn’t matter what you think!" Me N’Ed’s will probably outlive most people in Fresno. Once again…end of blogging discussion. 

  • Cracked Pepper’s bread pudding? Yes, it’s good. End of discussion.
  • Trelio, best wine list in town. End of discussion.
  • Parma, yep, fresh pasta. End of discussion.

The days of writing about cutting edge food trucks in Fresno is over.

A couple years ago, Fresno food bloggers were writing regularly about food trucks. Food trucks in Fresno are somewhere near 14 minutes and 58 seconds of fame, quickly being regarded as simply part of the Fresno landscape rather than avant garde. Where’s the outrage against parking in the street anymore? Oh, that’s right, there isn’t any outrage anymore and as a result, no headlines. What truck is pushing the envelope of food? Where are the reports of hour-long lines for a sandwich on a Tuesday?

Food Trucks are in North Fresno / Clovis every week and at Tailgates (Thanks Ricchiuti Family)!…What better indication that they have reached mainstream acceptance!

Food Trucks in Fresno are quickly becoming the snowboard culture on the slopes; different ski, hipster outfit, younger crowd and the IDEA of being different or counter culture. But here’s the rub…snowboarders pay the same lift fee as everyone else, cruise the same slope as everyone else, stand in the same lift line as everyone else and get off the slope the same time as everyone else…Guess what? Snowboarders are just like everyone else with a different ski at mainstream big-time resorts like Vail, Aspen and Telluride.

Fresno gourmet food trucks are simply restaurants that serve food out of a truck for lunch. In the eyes of Fresnans, food trucks are quickly becoming a mobile Sam’s Deli, Deli Delicious, or Fresno Bagel.

Congratulations Fresno Food Trucks! You’ve made it! The bad news? You’ve made it. Now you’ve got to slug it out with the brick and mortars and they have air conditioning in summer and you don’t.

So what’s a Fresno food blogger to do?

Open an Instagram account, use those cool, preset filters to make average photography look hip in one touch. Keep the conversation light, use plenty of superlatives when talking about a sandwich, love your neighbor, and don’t review things with a critical eye or palate because then you’re a hater. In other words…be boring, average, regular, typical, and most of all…quiet.

But it’s totally fine to talk about the worst meal you ever had in your entire life on a recent trip OUTSIDE of Fresno. Because that’s ok.

Happy New Year Fresnans! Now let’s all go out and eat fried calamari, sweet potato fries with ranch, tri-tip sandwiches and hope our favorite menu doesn’t change from 2013!


Kudos for a Fresno Restaurant Week Risk

I was in Trelio for Fresno Restaurant Week eating Spanish artichokes and fried frog legs, when someone asked me if I was going to try the pork skin linguini with baby cuttlefish.

“Um…no” was my simple answer.

Has The Cured Ham gone soft? No. Was The Cured Ham caught off guard? Yes.

I’m a hard-core pasta traditionalist. I didn’t try the pork skin linguini because of a knee-jerk ignorance to the concept, taking the easy path of rejection rather than understanding. Frog legs perhaps sound exotic, but frog legs are really just the other other other white meat. Frog legs were the easy, benign choice on the menu versus the pork skin.

Chef Chris took a risk, during what is arguably one of the busiest weeks in the Fresno restaurant trade. Most menus around town either served the normal menu or some truncated version of Fresno dining favorites. Why disrupt the apple cart, right? Be safe. Serve the predictable linguini and clams or spaghetti and meatballs. Hell, don't even change your menu.

Chef Chris Shackelford at Trelio challenged Fresno palates and ideas about pasta during Restaurant Week with one dish, on one night that he even tweeted about potentially “going over like a lump of coal”.

Yelp reviews and sold out pork skin linguini prove it didn’t go over like a lump of coal, but rather a swimming success. 

Pork Skin Linguini with Baby Cuttlefish - Photo by Chris Shackelford

Shame on The Cured Ham for not trying this dish!


Rib Fest 2013

Never touch another man’s grill!

The most formal, yet informal tasting of pork ribs I’ve ever had. Six different styles of pork ribs, plus The Cured Ham/Lamb’s contribution of lamb riblets and a snack of pork skewers rounded out the selection of barbeque fabulousness last Saturday afternoon at The Mermaid Lounge.

An amateur and professional exhibition/competition pitted Green Egg Zealot, Fresno Bites versus a slew of Weber Kettles, a BBQ Pro and even one gas grill against each other for the 2013 Rib Fest Champion. Competitors cooked pork baby back and St. Louis style ribs.

Our host, Tony, would often come through the BBQ Garden, the space of grass and concrete designated for pork products, for a Belushi inspired speech about the German’s attacking Pearl Harbor or a more Chris Farley channeled rant focusing on the finer points of the Brotherhood of the Grill or some such thing. Regardless of the comedic performance, Tony and his wife Linda are the inspiration for the gathering of friends and lovers of barbeque and we all thank them for it.

A note on my lamb; I only used Colorado and Sonoma County lamb; nothing from New Zealand. I know a few people mentioned it didn’t taste gamey or too strong. Additionally, I season my lamb heavily with a variety of spices, including nutmeg, turmeric, paprika, freshly ground coriander and fennel seed and a wide variety of dried herbs.

The broad brush stroke on barbeque is the need for time and smoke. But what about the little flourishes and what defines great barbeque? Wrapping in foil? When to sauce if at all? The application of dry spices and the length of marination? How often does one open the lid of the barbeque? What types of wood? One thing that was noticeable at Rib Fest 2013 was the type of rib used by the competitors, St. Louis versus Baby Back.

The top two vote getters were trimmed St. Louis style ribs cooked by Fresno Bites and Tops BBQ. All the other competitors chose to use baby backs. I personally chose, by secret ballot, #4 Fresno Bites offering, the winner of the competition. My second choice happened to be #5 Tops BBQ, the runner-up.

Why? Texture, the “pull” of the meat from the bone, flavor, smoke flavor and moisture.

What put Fresno Bites over the top was a hint of sweetness combined with a whisper of heat.  Fresno Bites chose to wrap his ribs in foil and press in some brown sugar near the end of the cooking process; again, the little flourishes and attention to details beyond just general technique.

Tops BBQ in terms of smoke quality was A+, but just missed on that “saucy” quality I was looking for; otherwise, the pull and texture was spot on. I will say, Tops "Dexter" gloves kinda creeped me out.

I gave honorable mention to coffee aficionado Leo from Café Corazon for his #6 ribs for using mustard in his sauce. Some people in the crowd didn’t like mustard, I happen to like it. Leo always pays attention to details and was sampling and observing Bites and Tops.

It was a great afternoon and evening with friends, fellow lovers of pork (and lamb), and an educational experience on what defines barbeque.

And not one mention of tri-tip all afternoon...AMEN!

In fact, I learned what starts a great barbeque fire...old phone books!