Restaurants vs. Bloggers: Rage Against the Machine

Ten years ago, in dining destinations like San Francisco, Chicago and New York, restaurant critics at newspapers and magazines reigned supreme as the final arbiters of who served up the richest foie gras, the most interesting wine list and the overall best dining experience.

That was then. Today, foie gras is practically illegal, if not politically incorrect, sommeliers have been replaced with brew masters and computer screens have become the go-to source for what's what on the dining scene.

With nothing more than a keyboard, a camera phone and a lot of opinions, a group of bloggers -- often not professional writers -- are revolutionizing restaurant reviewing one post at a time and the movement has some chefs and restauranteurs angrily realizing that the only credential required to publicly flog even the most well-established hot spot is a high-speed Internet connection.

"What makes a lot of these restaurants feel special is the feeling of exclusivity and privacy and almost like a secret society," Adam Roberts, better known as "the Amateur Gourmet," told "Because of blogs and camera phones, anyone that comes to your restaurant can take pictures and can write about it. … That stuff is kind of not there anymore."

Roasting One of New York's Famed Restaurants

Roberts, whose book "The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost)" is coming out in August, should know. In the fall, he posted a review of Le Cirque, for many the standard in New York upscale dining, on his blog.

The post, titled "Only a Jerk Would Eat at Le Cirque," outlined a dinner that he said "confirmed his worst suspicions" about the restaurant. He and his parents, who were visiting from Florida, were seated at the back of the restaurant and served what he said was merely mediocre food.

"I thought they were really rude to us," he said. "I used my Web site to broadcast my disgruntled feelings."

When Le Cirque co-owner Mauro Maccioni read the post, he took offense and responded right along with all the other readers of Roberts' blog -- in the comments section.

"I'm sorry that people may feel this way when they come into our family restaurant. I'm almost in tears listening to people mock us in this piece," Maccioni wrote. "People like me do read blogs, and I am very human."

"I just thought his assessment was overly harsh. It had a sort of nasty tone," Maccioni told "I thought he might not even think we would care about something like that, and I wanted to let him know that people do pay attention. … And we want to correct things."

Roberts' family was invited back to the restaurant where they were doted upon during a free meal.

"That was the moment that I realized that what I was writing on my Web site had ramifications in the real world," he said. "I'm very careful. … I'm always happy to write love letters to a restaurant."

Blog Awareness Is Good Biz

Even though Le Cirque has a reputation for catering only to its well-heeled regulars, Maccioni said reading food blogs and reaching out to those blogs' readers was just sound business.

"There's been an evolution in media in terms of restaurants and things that you pay attention to," he said. "Nowadays this foodie culture, and thankfully so -- they pay heed to these things and they look at [blogs]."

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