There are two sides to every story, including those posted to Yelp and the like. And for those disputes, court is now in session.
The Post and Courier Food section weekly features a complaint that first surfaced online, along with testimonies from the patron and restaurateur.
You, the readers, are the jury. Join us in our Facebook group to weigh in on whether the customer is indeed right, or if the case should be resolved in the restaurant’s favor. Let’s enter the courtroom.
Alyssa F. is an Elite Yelper who lives in Montville, N.J. To gain elite status, Yelp users have to post photos, put thought into their reviews and compliment other users. Alyssa F. has also collected her share of compliments. According to one of her fans, she “rock(s) for telling it like it is!” While in Charleston for her bachelorette party, she went to 5Church and hung out on Hydrofly’s Tiki Hut.
Within two years of its 2014 opening, R. Kitchen had acquired so many devoted fans that it opened a second location in West Ashley. Billed as “a kitchen, not a restaurant,” R. Kitchen is the brainchild of Ross Webb. The conceit is the chefs nightly come up with a $40 five-course meal for a small group of guests, drawing on whatever inspires them in the moment.
According to Alyssa F.’s write-up, she booked dinner at R. Kitchen because of its strong showing on Yelp. But she left “so confused by the good reviews for the place.”
There was plenty to confound Alyssa F., but it was the pasta course that drove her to reach for the caps lock on her keyboard. As she recounted it: “Next up was the chef’s attempt to replicate OLIVE GARDEN'S PASTA ALFREDO ... because that’s what he wanted for dinner. Are you kidding me?! That’s the culinary excellence you're striving for?”
Webb wasn’t at the restaurant on the night that Alyssa F. dined there. But he concedes his chefs could have chosen different words to convey how and why they’d devised various dishes, including Alyssa F.’s sauced noodles.
“My defense would be that chefs create in colors what reality cannot understand,” he says.
Or, to put it more simply, “I can’t teach articulation to my chefs.” Without the benefit of a standing menu, R. Kitchen’s employees can’t memorize a spiel in the way that servers at more traditional restaurants do. They’re forced to wing descriptions of dishes that didn’t exist hours earlier.
But Webb makes no apologies for R. Kitchen’s chefs allowing their cravings and popular culture to influence the menu’s direction.
“With Olive Garden alfredo, it very well could have been the case that you have five people in front of you who are older and you want to make them feel comfortable,” he says. “One person might receive it well, and the other might be like, ‘Really?’”
To that person, Webb says, “Was that meant to impress you? Yeah, it was. We don’t make everybody happy, but I am proud we’re making snowflakes every day. They’re all beautiful, they’re all different and sometimes one is a piece of hail. But how are you going to create something new without screwing something up? How do you make an omelet without breaking an egg?”
(On another note, Webb sympathizes with Alyssa F.’s complaint about a chickpea salad. “I would love a rematch with that ingredient. My chickpea skills are unrivaled. Don’t get me wrong: My guys are amazing. Just not as good as me when it comes to that ingredient.”)
Who’s right in this situation? Is it appropriate for a higher-end restaurant to delve into the pop culture canon when developing dishes? Or does a higher-end restaurant customer deserve a meal without any middlebrow allusions? Join the discussion at bit.ly/PCfoodFBgroup.