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.