Last month on PRK you heard first-hand about the “normal problems” Journeyman chefs Diana Kudayarova and Tse Wei Lim had encountered and were still encountering at their newly opened restaurant in Somerville.
This month Tse Wei muses about what it was like for Journeyman to be formally reviewed recently by Devra First, Boston Globe restaurant critic and food reporter. Tse Wei’s is a lucid, interesting response. Here it is.
Tse Wei Lim
PRK Guest Contributor
The Boston Globe published their review of Journeyman the week before Christmas, during our busiest week to date, and it’s only now that we really appreciate that it’s a milestone behind us. I’m a little sad that we were never properly terrified of being reviewed – it feels like we missed out on a restaurant rite of passage.
We did play “spot the reviewer,” and when she came, we also played “treat the reviewer just as though she’s any other guest.” When the review came out, we went out early for the paper – but fear of the review never really came into it, for three reasons.
Firstly, since the Globe review came out barely three months after we opened, we were still so worried about actually making the restaurant run that we simply couldn’t spare a thought for what the review would bring. We would run the restaurant as best we could, the review would be what it would be, and there were plenty of other things that we could productively worry about without having to worry unproductively about the review in the process.
Secondly, the first couple of unconstructive criticisms on the internet quickly puts you past fear of what an actual reviewer might have to say. We read every single review we can find because – and I know how this sounds – we really are constantly trying to get better. Internet reviews let us know that we started out underestimating how much food people expect (apparently we’re pretty small eaters by American standards), and also how much we needed to spiel dishes as we landed them. We’re probably a better restaurant for having changed these things, but figuring out what to change necessitated spending our weekly evening off reading anonymous unpleasantness.
Finally, I’m not sure we cared all that much about “THE REVIEW”. To paraphrase A. A. Gill (the longtime restaurant critic for the Times), not one restaurant has closed because of a bad review – restaurants close because they are bad at what they do. The converse, it seems, is also probably true. Good reviews don’t deliver instant commercial success – restaurants succeed because they create one happy customer after another, night in, night out, and do it without losing thousands of dollars a week in the process. Achieving this, it seems to us, is far more important than what any review might have to say.
That said, we did think the review was a good one for us – not because it lavished us with praise or contained useful criticisms, though it did both – but because it asked diners to take the restaurant on its own terms. Ms. First seemed to understand that Journeyman represents a somewhat idiosyncratic vision of what dining out should be like, and her review stopped barely short of asking aloud a question we often ask ourselves – should a good restaurant have a point of view, or is it our job as restaurateurs to offer a fairly universal, broadly appealing version of pleasure?