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August 31, 2008

Kudos to Cinghiale and more on the imaginary restaurant

BonAppetitCinghiale.jpgThe September Bon Appetit is its 15th annual restaurant issue. In a story on the best Italian food in America, Baltimore's Cinghiale is featured for its wild mushroom crostini and fresh artichoke and white bean crostini (recipes included).

Of course, I would love to know how the magazine discovered Cinghiale, but I'm probably not going to find that out.

More importantly for me, I'm so used to national publications presenting Baltimore as a place to pick steamed crabs, go to Little Italy or get a meal in the Inner Harbor that I'm delighted for another side of the city's culinary scene to be recognized -- one that shows we have  some variety here.

For one thing, every tourist who is coming to town picks up the phone or e-mails to ask me for one of those three things. It gets boring.

But this reminded me that I had more to say about the imaginary restaurant that won the Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator. (Not because there's any question about Cinghiale's wine list, or crostini for that matter, but just because foodies place a lot of importance on this kind of national recognition.) ...

First of all, thanks to Bucky for posting a link to the Wine Spectator's side of the story. I thought it deserved to be highlighted in a main entry, not just in a comment.

I also thought the magazine's arguments were pretty convincing, especially that no one should be expected to do much more to establish the restaurant's existence than the staff did. But the one thing that didn't get answered for me was something that writer Robin Goldstein brushed off:

Osteria L’Intrepido’s high-priced “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades. ...While it’s interesting that the reserve list would receive such seemingly little scrutiny, the central point is that the wine cellar doesn’t actually exist.

That isn't the central point to me, if you accept the magazine's side of the story. But I don't get what the Wine Spectator is doing for its $250 if not checking the merits of the reserve list, whether it exists or not. Unless I'm reading the rebuttal wrong, the magazine argues that only 15 wines on a list of 256 wines were subpar. But these weren't 15 wines randomly scattered in among all the rest; they were the most expensive wines in the cellar, the ones where folks might most need expert guidance.

I know, I know. The rest have you have moved on. This was yesterday's news.

Just a thought.


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:17 PM | | Comments (2)


I believe that WS did not defend the rating of the reserve list because the rating was indefensible.

The central point to me was this statement in the WS response: "Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards."

That means two-thirds of all new entries do win an award.

Since when is simply being in the top 66% of anything deserving of an award?

The WS response was not the last word in this argument, probably much to their chagrin. Goldstein posted his response to their response here.

Be sure to listen to the mp3's of the telephone call made to the fictitious restaurant by WS's advertising department. That, to me, is the most illuminating bit of evidence in this entire argument.

As Owl Meat noted in the original D@L entry, and as even Wine Spectator's own statistics indicate, WS received over $1,000,000 in "entry fees" for its 2008 Restaurant Awards. (The 4,129 awardees chipped in $1,032,250, based on the $250 entry fee -- and who knows how much more came in from applicants who weren't graced with an award from WS.) Since WS would presumably be familiar with prior years' awardees, one would think that WS would concentrate its attention on new applicants, and use some of those "entry fees" for that purpose.

As for the credibility of the WS ratings, consider that 13 awardees are in France -- yup, 13 awardees for the entire country that is home to haute cuisine and the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system. Even Michelin awarded 3 stars in 2008 to 25 restaurants in France, but only one of those (Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, in Paris) has been "blessed" by inclusion in the WS gang of 13.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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