Critiquing the Critics / Judging the Judges / Rating the Raters
Food Review Review:
Jennifer Christman’s review of Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse bets it all on adjectives – and loses big.
In her recent review for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jennifer Christman succumbs to two of journalism’s most common mistakes: 1) overusing adjectives, and 2) comparing Little Rock to Las Vegas.
The latter error occurs in the review’s opening sentence: What happens in Las Vegas happens in Little Rock for one night per year: New Year’s Eve.
I’m willing to overlook the general awkwardness of this sentence – brought on mainly by the unnecessary inclusion of “Las” and the too-technical sounding “per” – because frankly, she has me intrigued. Which common Las Vegas occurrence is it exactly that also occurs in Little Rock on December 31st? Is gambling legalized? Does Carrot Top delight audiences with ninety minutes’ worth of visual puns? Does somebody kill a hooker?
The real answer – that a local hotel throws a party – is not nearly as interesting. This could explain why Christman attempts to spruce things up a bit by haphazardly throwing adjectives all over the rest of her article. Her second sentence: It’s when the Peabody converts from a serious business and convention hotel to a pulsating party palace, complete with nightclub lighting, music pumping and babes dancing in quasi cages.
No problems with most of the descriptors here. We all know that business is “serious” and that party palaces have a propensity toward “pulsating.” But what should we make of these “quasi” cages? Something that is kind of like a cage could be any number of things: a chain link fence, for example. Or a large cardboard box with air holes punched in the sides. No matter what the writer intended here, it seems safe to assume that “quasi cages” are to some degree less reliable than actual, fully realized cages. (And consequently, there’s a real danger that those dancing babes could escape!)
Christman, however, appears unconcerned by such threats. What does concern her are numbers. She throws a slew of them at us in her next paragraph: three-course menu, Dec. 31, $95, 20 percent gratuity, 4 percent facility fee, two people, two modest glasses, $280.72. By the time she repeats this obsessive-compulsive recitation of numerals – the last half of her article is mostly menu prices, steak weights and operating hours – Christman has firmly established herself as the “Rain Man” of food criticism.
But even those readers suffering from the most debilitating of neurodevelopmental disorders would have no trouble recognizing that something is just not right with the writer’s over-reliance on adjectives.
Sometimes she chooses the wrong ones (flavors, tastes, textures and temperatures are all described as vivid). Other times she uses words that don’t actually exist (familystyle, sushigrade). Most frequently, however, she “doubles down” on her adjective use, tossing modifier after modifier onto the table in the hopes that one of them might actually prove a winner (a dessert is plush and pretty, a surf and turf entrée is velvety, toothsome, proud and petite, a mound of tuna is fresh and frilly).
The results, much like those of an actual trip to Las Vegas, are ugly.
After a long night spent trying to decipher this review, you’ll be left with a bad taste in your mouth, an ear-splitting headache and the nagging feeling that you’ve done something horrible. And terrible. And awful. And frilly.
Andy Ankowski, February 3, 2011
Well, that’ll make me think twice next time I compare our provincial English town to The Las Vegas…
By the way, is toothsome even a real word? If it is, it sounds like the opposite of something good to say about food (but perfect to describe a shark for instance).
Well played, reviewer of reviewers.