Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CHATTER 16 Style and Content

I've recently read two restaurant reviews which were so different in style that I feel drawn to comment. Stephen Downes, in the HUN on Feb 24 wrote a formally structured review of Philhellene. After a brief and relevant introduction he described and discussed the food at some length using language in a straightforward manner. Direct and to the point. This was followed by short discussions and descriptions of drink, value, staff and style. Each category got a mark, out of 15 f0r food, 5 for style and 10 for the rest and these were added up to produce a total out of 50.
A week earlier Larissa Dubecki reviewed Stokehouse in Epicure. After an over long irrelevant introduction discussing wearing of sun glasses this review went on in a less systematic way to also describe and discuss the the venue, the food, including prices of dishes and sifting through it provided much the same sort of information as Downes but the jarring aspect of the review was the style and language. Speaking of an entree she states that "The leitmotif of the meal emerges ... with an entree of garfish..." ie the theme of it, but never is it mentioned again and I could not see any theme emerging from the rest of the review unless it was a level of dissatisfaction with every dish she tasted - hardly a theme. Referring to chickpeas instead of using the simple English word common she prefers quotidien - why would that be? I'm unsure what she means or wants to achieve speaking of another entree as 'a raucous rendition of beef carpaccio' At the end of what I would regard as a highly critical review she goes on to give Stokehouse 15/20 which seems excessivly generous.


stickyfingers said...

I gagged on the Epicure review. Three times I tried to read it. Once in print and twice online - but the meanderings were too much for me. It failed to get me in, nor did it hold my interest long enough to get me half way through.

I know that we food bloggers can be verbose, especially about things irrelevent to the meal reviewed, but in this case the asides were not engaging. To your point, and equally tiresome, was that this piece was also dosed with the kind of pretentious metaphors that made me want to screw up the paper.

Blair said...

The leitmotif of the meal was that each dish had some element that overpowered the main ingredient. With the garfish it was the chickpeas, with the tartare it was vinegar, with the veal it was a sticky brown sauce. This is pretty clear, I think.
She describes the beef carpaccio as: 'A typically raucous rendition of beef carpaccio ($27.50) has shredded beetroot "jam", some horseradish mayonnaise, shavings of reggiano, a jumble of rocket and capers over the top and a few sticks of grissini.' This is a pretty complicated preparation of beef carpaccio. Why is raucous the wrong adjective to describe this?
My guess would be that you have a problem with a young woman getting the most prominent restaurant reviewing gig in town. And really, if you're going to criticise someone's use of language, it helps if you can construct a readable sentence yourself.

stickyfingers said...

Blair, Elliot is far to modest to say this, so I shall be so presumptuous as to tell you that your notion about him is false. It is most likely that if the the young woman in question were to spend time in his company, she would become envious of Elliot's gastronomic pursuits and thorough knowledge of the culinary. I assure you that it is not the case vice versa.

To your other points, one may use an online dictionary to find adjectives, but unless they are used in the correct context, the educated reader will be suspicious of the author's knowlege of language. This ability is developed through proper education or thorough reading of literature.

Leitmotif in the correct context should only be applied to music, drama or literature.

Raucous is an adjective that pertains to sounds, not food.

These things aside, to become a critic will inevitably attract criticism and perhaps Larissa Dubecki will be conscious of this in order to refine the structure of her pieces in the future.

Blair said...

Your attitude to language is incredibly conservative and pedantic. Regardless of the definitions you've just looked up, I still think these words were appropriate - I understood exactly what she meant. So maybe Stephen Downes writes more clearly and to the point, but god, his reviews are so DULL.

Your implication that Larissa Dubecki is sitting around using an online dictionary to find fancy adjectives is really patronising. Why would you assume they're not just part of her vocabulary?

From the reviews she has written so far, I think she's doing an ok job. I don't think she's perfect, but after what seemed like a lifetime of Lethlean, I'm enjoying the new perspective.

It's just bizarre that you and Elliot find it necessary to savage her for such petty reasons.

stickyfingers said...

It's a good thing that you enjoy Larissa's articles Blair, Epicure certainly needs readers like yourself who do. I honestly hope for the sake of the paper that there will be many more like you to help bolster the less than impressive circulation figures on Tuesdays. That failing, I suppose we may one day see this particular section move on to be more like the Summer edition of The Age.

For my part, I'm finding more compelling food writing available online.

Elliot said...

Thank you for your support Stickyfingers. Blair, let me elaborate. What is the task of the food reviewer. I believe it is to describe and interpret dishes for the reader. As such it fails if language is used which is ambiguous or meaningless and fails even more if it uses descriptions which are inappropriate. Mine was not intended as a personal attack on M/s Dubecki but an expression of my reaction to her review. Nothing you have said has done anything to change my mind.
Decrying totally inappropriate adjectives is not 'conservative' nor is it 'pedantic' - ask anyone with a good grasp of English. I didn't 'savage' M/s Dubecki I pointed out some deficiencies in her use of English, and there were othes I did not mention, which I found irritating and which I believe a good editor would not have let pass. I find your approach to this personally offensive. Bloggers have considerable advantages over hard print journalists. They are not restricted by schedules or deadlines, they can write as much or as little as they feel appropriate,they can use photographs to help descriptions and they can even learn from comments if there is general agreement, or disagreement with their views. I do not check my spelling as often as I should but sentence construction has not been a problem for me in the past.
A raucous rendition of a beef carpaccio! What was this a concert don't make me laugh

Anonymous said...

It sounds very much to me like Stickyfingers and Blair are heading for the alter.

Elliot said...

Sacrificial or wedding?

Anonymous said...

"A raucous rendition of a beef carpaccio! What was this a concert don't make me laugh"

Hear, hear. I likewise guffawed into my fois grois when I heard/read that slapdash synaesthetic invocation! Next they'll be using metaphors and similes and all kinds of "wacky" literary trinkets to distract from the task: quantifying and tabulating the quality of the meal on an empirically objective scale. (Obviously this objective scale is better if it's one you've made up yourself.)

Disclaimer: I used the thesaurus in word to construct this post.

PS- people in punctuation-less houses, shouldn't throw grammatical rules.

Anonymous said...

The excitement mounts as Tuesday approaches. Will Larissa get the nod from the selectors. Will she be moved to another position or start on the bench. Can she start kicking goals - at last a reason to purloin a copy of the Age!

stickyfingers said...

And there you have it Elliot, the death of beautiful prose lies in the hands of jabbering monkeys whose pitiful jibes serve only to indicate the erosion of language.

While dialogue is now rendered into shorthand, perhaps only a few us will be left to enjoy the crafting of literature. Thus said, will this trend distil to the point where the human race returns to its Neanderthal state, where mere grunts remain as our mode of communication?

Anonymous said...

If only you were intending to be as funny as you are.

MotherR said...

Hmm, this is interesting. I knew I didn't enjoy Larissa's reviews, but wasn't sure why. I hoped I didn't think that just because she is so pretty. It is not so much her expressions but, rather, that her reviews don't 'grab' me. John Lethlean's reviews could make me laugh - even on a second reading. Did you see the one on Adelaide restaurants called 'Four Sessions in One Day'? And Elliot (don't take offence), you can't write 'What was this a concert don't make me laugh.' You have forgotten to punctuate the sentence, which is never ok. One suggestion for how the sentence could read is: 'What was this? A concert? Don't make me laugh!' Also, the word 'loud' has been used for a long time to describe brightly coloured clothing and so on, not sound. If you want to read dull reviews try reading articles by the woman who writes restaurant reviews for The Advertiser in Adelaide.

Elliot said...

Hi MotherR,
I shrivel up with shame and embarrassment when I look back at the poor grammar, seriously deficient punctuation and year 7 spelling. This is made worse by the computers erratic handling of font sizes and placement.
What's more it's all my own fault. Sandra and I discuss these meals and then I dash them off using one or two fingers and half a brain. I used to get this at school "Has potential, can do much better". Nothing seems to have changed but I will review the reviews in future. Just now I am way behind schedule with reviews pending for several fabulous restaurants in Prague and Philadelphia. Do have a look and see if things improve.
As for Larissa, I still don't care for her style but I do think she is doing better reviews.
Happy New Year