Posted by Food lover, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Sep 5, 2006 at 3:59 pm
Dale Benston is a poor food critic. He's probably the most mean-spirited food critic that I have ever read. Benston's reviews are often spiced with the kind of put-downs that you describe above - a level of insult that's completely without subtlty, and is just plain hurtful...there's no other way to say it.
As such, Benston confuses the elevated role of food critic - ideally meant to educate and inform - with the role of "guardian of personal preference", with Benston's special put-down sauce added in for good measure.
In one review some time ago (I think it was a review of an Italian restaurant, downtown), he claimed that NO retaurant in Palo Alto serves up authentic Italian fare. In doing so, he trashed the Italian restaurant that he was reviewing, as well as all the other Italian restaurants in Palo Alto. This is par for the course with Benston.
What's sad about this is that there are some VERY good Italian restaurants in Palo Alto. If I owned a restaurant, and advertised with the Weekly, I would do so on the condition that Benston not be permitted to review my restaurant. He's that bad.
Benston's often about whining about how this or that restaurant's decor is tacky (according to him). In fact, I read one of Benston's reviews that criticized the decor in alocal Italian restaurant for its tackiness. But if one visits local neighborhood eateries in Italy, one often sees the same kind of decor. This is just another example of ignorance on Benston's part, spewed forth in a local Weekly newspaper, with consequences that can be dire for a small restuarant like Elbe.
In all, I think the Weekly could do much better than Benston. There is nothing ELEVATING about his restaurant reviews. His are simply the opinions of one who appears to know a little more about some aspects of food than the average restaurant goer but with a big axe to grind(in fairness, Benston does offer an occasional insight or two, but it's more rare than 35-year-old balsamic vinegar).
What's mostunfortunate is that the restaurant business here is VERY challenging. There are many different kinds of restaurant competing for an undersupply of customers. Reviewing a restaurant the way that Benston so poorly reviewed Elbe can have a BIG effect on a restaurant's bottom line, impacting the lives of restaurant owners and their employees in ways that food critics of Benston's ilk are probably not aware. (another shortcoming)
In sum, Benston's reviews tend to be more about him than about the restaurant. This is a problem with many critics, in general. This is a shame, because the role of the critic has evolved from a great tradition of essayists and cultural commentators (including the culture of food)in the past (there are some good ones currently out there)to one today where almost anyone who can write a cogent paragraph and can talk the buzzword talk (food, theatre, film, automobiles, etc.)seems to qualify as "critic".
Whatcan we expect? the Weekly and Daily don't have big budgets; it's hard to find quality. In spite of that, the Weekly has managed to employ some reporters and a few critics that could actually write copy for the NYT;; they're that good. Unfortunately - for Elbe, Elbe's customers, and the many fine years of quality service that Elbe has offered - Dale Benston isn't one of them.