Steve Plotnicki is a Shill

Bites: News and Miscellany

Julia Thiel of the Reader has a nice piece on the new dining survey Opinionated About Dining and it’s founder Steve Plotnicki. As she points out, according to a recent New York Sun article, Plotnicki doesn’t dine anonymously–his goal, he says, is to “elicit the best possible meal that a restaurant has to offer and in that context anonymity actually hurts instead of helps.”

There’s a case to be made that you do get the best food if someone knows you’re in the house. On the other hand, none of Plotnicki’s potential readers is likely to have the same experience, because they’ll be dining anonymously, therefore his opinions are worthless. Plotnicki’s assertion isn’t even iron-clad. If a chef knows you’re in the house, he still runs the risk of running into a great chef who suffers from performance anxiety. What if actually knowing they’re cooking for you makes a chef nervous and they flub the souffle? I understand many of these folks are great professionals, but stage fright happens to the best of us.

Then there’s the whole aspect of getting so close to these folks, that they lavish you with so much stuff, whether it’s ice scream scoop dollops of caviar or mountains of black truffle, that there’s no way you can maintain your objectivity. And some chefs are willing to go farther than others. Anyone remember John Mariani’s sad attempt to get free stuff from Moto? The fact that he’s even still working is an affront to food writing everywhere. What about all the chefs who turned Plotnicki down? Does he give them equal time?

You could make the argument that it doesn’t matter, that Plotnicki cedes supremacy in his guide to a pool of “experienced diners” who make the actual ratings, but when Plotnicki controls the tabulation of the results you just can’t trust them.

Putting all that aside, if Plotnicki stayed within the confines of his dining guide world, that would probably be ok. Now, though, he’s impugning the opinions of New York Times critic Frank Bruni on his blog, a guy who’s worked feverishly to maintain his anonymity, proving Plotnicki’s nothing but a loud mouthed hedonist looking to make a dollar.

3 Comments on "Steve Plotnicki is a Shill"

Barry Strum

The only time I was assured of a good meal…the best the kitchen had to offer, was when I brought a nice Jewish girl (who I eventually married) home to my mother’s house for dinner.

Steve Plotnicki

While they say that any publicity is good publicity, I have to correct a few things you said in your post about my guide on your blog and on Serious Eats and your claim of my reviews breaching journalistic ethics guidelines. First of all, your allegation is misguided and you are using the term shilling incorrectly. That would be the case only if I didn’t disclose relationships with chefs, or if I didn’t disclose my lack of anonymity when I dine out. But as you acknowledge in your post, everything is fully disclosed. Otherwise how would you know about it? If anything, you could criticize my guide or my reviews for being atypical, and not representative of what the average diner would get. But since my stated mission is to get the best possible meal, which necessitates identifying yourself to the restaurant, that criticism would be circular and not make any sense. But where you really go awry is when you claim that you don’t trust the tabulations because of some sort of bias that I have towards chefs that I know. That goes too far. There is a difference between fair criticisms (even if they are incorrect and misplaced,) and statements of yours that are nothing but fabrications and have no basis in fact. As such I am requesting that you remove that statement from your post.

Finally, you seem to have a complaint about the lack of Chicago restaurants on the list. As prior posts by your colleagues have noted, what sets the OA guide apart from Zagat and other guides is the way we weight the opinions of experienced diners. As a practical matter, what that means is that the experience level of the diners plays a role in the way the scores are tabulated. To put that into perspective for you, Alinea had an experience score of 9.8, similar to the other top restaurants in North America, but restaurants like Spring, Naha, Blackbird etc., had experience scores of between 5-7. Maybe you have an explanation of why that is the case, but from the perspective of my guide and its stated mission, that is clear evidence that the destination dining community doesn’t consider those restaurants to be on the same level as the ones that made the list. …




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