The Sunday before last, a local newspaper critic reviewed Dosa, a new South Indian restaurant in San Francisco, and dismissed bloggers, including myself, who were critical of their initial dining experiences there as “snobs.”
I can't speak for the others, but me? A food snob? Well, um, yeah. Is that bad? Which of the following words describes me?
d. food geek
e. food lover
f. food snob
g. all of the above
Clearly I have to circle “g.” And, you know what? I’m quite OK with that. In fact, I’m rather flattered.
Honestly, though, I was critical of my first meal at Dosa and I bluntly expressed my dissatisfaction in a comment on another blogger’s review. In hindsight, perhaps too bluntly. While my wife, a second grade teacher, will remind me that there are no are "mistakes" (only "learning experiences"), I do have some regrets about the comment I left. So much so that, prior to the newspaper review, I asked the owner of the blog to delete it, and she kindly obliged. My regrets stem not from being called a snob, however, but from my own self-imposed ethical standards.
So, if you don’t mind, allow me to get horizontal on the couch here and share with you some of my innermost thoughts and feelings about my role in the Dosa debacle.
First, let’s look at what happened. Shortly after Dosa opened, my wife and I invited our friend, who’s of South Indian descent, to dine with us there. We were all quite excited that a South Indian restaurant had opened in San Francisco, as we love and crave dosai (plural of dosa. Oops. Does that come across as snobbish? Ah well, I am what I am).
With its winning combination of an imaginative wine and cocktail list, a contemporary take on a previously underrepresented “ethnic” cuisine, and affordable prices, all presented in a colorfully painted loft-like space, Dosa brings to mind the original Slanted Door and the new Limón. Unfortunately, our first dinner at Dosa was marred by myriad service mishaps and disappointing food. We especially disliked the chutneys. We were crestfallen that the restaurant initially didn’t meet our perhaps too high expectations.
Although I intentionally did not write a review of Dosa on my own blog (more on that later), I left that blunt comment on the other blogger’s review. That review, which was also somewhat critical of the restaurant (although more balanced than my comment), inspired an earnest reply from the restaurant’s co-owner, Anjan Mitra. Mr. Mitra acknowledged that our criticisms of the food were at least in part warranted. During the first weeks, Mr. Mitra explained, there were some "mistakes" made by the kitchen staff that led to our disappointing dinners and, in particular, the problematic chutneys. He invited those of us who initially disliked Dosa to return.
A couple of weeks ago (prior to the newspaper review), my wife N and I accepted Mr. Mitra’s invitation and returned anonymously to Dosa. I am happy to report that the food and service are much improved. To use an analogy from the Winter Olympics, our recent meal was like Bode Miller’s performance prior to the Olympics, while our first experience at Dosa was like Bode during the Olympics. As the pictures on this post help illustrate, the food is now quite tasty.
I learned two valuable lessons from this whole incident. For the first lesson, I will get up on my soapbox and lecture myself (and anyone who cares to eavesdrop) on the ethics of bloggers writing reviews.
“I believe it is unfair to hardworking restaurant owners and workers to judge their efforts within the first weeks of opening, especially after just one visit. There is a reason that professional reviewers in the mainstream media do not visit a restaurant until after it has been open at least a month. While as an amateur blogger on my own dime I may not be able to dine somewhere several times, I can at least give businesses the courtesy of a one-month grace period.”
I will put my soapbox away now.
My second lesson is more personal. When I started my blog, I made a couple of choices about the direction I wanted to take. First, I decided to use my real name, so I have no pseudonym to hide behind.
Second, I have never viewed IPOS as a “restaurant review blog.” From the beginning, I made a rule to share only my positive experiences of the restaurants I most adore (on my Short List) and to never write critically of those I dislike. I chose this policy because, as you may know, I myself aspire to open a restaurant. As a member of the local (and global) restaurant community, I hoped my blog could play a positive role within the community and represent a virtual platform from which I can advocate for my colleagues, not critique them.
Unfortunately, I violated my own standards in this case.
To the owners of Dosa, Anjan and Emily Mitra, I apologize. I am glad that, judging by the long lines outside your restaurant every day of the week, my comment had less than zero impact on the success of your exciting restaurant venture. I wish you continuing success and thank you for filling the need for South Indian food in San Francisco!
995 Valencia Street (at 21st Street)
dinners only|closed Monday|no reservations