Friday, April 04, 2008

Opinion! Adventure! Consensus!

I've been thinking more about my hatred of Yelp! and crap like that, and I think I've distilled it down to one very basic thing:

A disdain for this human need to have some sort of consensus opinion to reference before said human tries something.

Obviously, this is something that is necessary in things like popular elections and Constitutional Amendments, but I don't think it's necessary for things like finding a place for lunch or deciding whether you want to try a new sex toy.

Because, first and foremost, is there anything more distinctive and person-specific than one's tastes in music and tastes in erotic stimulation?

To what end is establishing some sort of broad-based record of what a bunch of individuals think about largely inexpensive holes in the wall? Why are we so insecure about trusting our own instincts? They're the only instincts that matter, right?

Some of the best meals that I've had have been serendipitous mosey-ings into restaurants that I had no previous knowledge of their existence. Like Wakasan and Brandywine in Los Angeles, for instance. Or Sophia, Gregoire, and Lanesplitter in the East Bay.

Why are we so afraid to look at a menu, check out the type of food, the price, and then just walk in and give it a go? And hell, if the place is pricey, look up some critical reviews from newspapers--not for the final declaration of stars, but for the narrative description of what was consumed and make a decision. Knowing that will allow you to judge your own tastes against the tastes of the reviewer in reference to the food served.

It's also a helluva lot more fun. You discovered some place ON YOUR OWN! You actually UNDERSTAND what YOU like and can reason out a judgment on a restaurant based on YOUR tastes! Amazing! You're an unique, self-determining individual.


A friend of mine discussed her growing disdain for Yelp! because she had tried numerous highly recommended taquerias and found them lacking. I had to explain to her that people on Yelp! by and large don't really think too critically about their food and render broad judgment based primarily on the quaintness of the taco truck and the spiciness of the meat. Tacos are one of those things like pizzas, burritos, and burgers--they're pretty easy to do well, difficult to totally fuck up, and nearly impossible to make transcendent.

My basic premise is this: you are just as likely to like or dislike a restaurant whether it was reviewed by 100 of your closest Yelp! friends or it has yet has yet to grace Yelp!'s hallowed halls. Because it's just a matter of your taste and your taste in food and dining is uniquely yours.

Here's my challenge: if a specific restaurant is a place that you'll get out of for less than $20, look at the menu and if it looks good, give it a go. If it's over $20, I give you the right to go online and do some additional research, but avoid anything that gives you a capsule summarization on something like Citysearch or Yelp! Try to find something more detailed.

And at the end of the day whether you had a wonderful experience or a terrible one, you'll be a better person for having tried something new. Take that risk and just go for it. Dining out is all about the experience anyway.

If all you cared about was the food, you could just eat at home.



Zack said...

Does this disdain extend to Rottentomatoes, Amazon user reviews, and Google search results?

Almost everybody on earth has a short supply of money, and even those rolling in it have a short supply of time. Walking around looking at storefronts takes time, and buying things takes money. Sometimes it's worth the outlay of both, but if you do that all the time it's a huge timesink/moneypit.

Some folks are more able to afford that than others, and most people are going to find it worth their while to go hunting some of the time. That doesn't make it worth their while to go hunting all of the time.

I think I am going to pass on your challenge, but thank you. If I pass an interesting storefront, I will stop by. I will also regularly use Yelp.

Also, if you're deliberately selecting habits to develop in order to be unique, you're missing the point -- of habits, individuality, etc. Uniqueness comes naturally. It's not a carrot to chase. I doubt this is how you conceptualize uniqueness anyhow, but keep in mind that "don't you want to be special?" is not very compelling as an argument

kdeezy said...

I pay no attention to the number of stars or whatever. Yelp is like.. a mass market peer review system. It can be helpful.

A few years ago, when ordering Chinese takeout for the first time from a nearby restaurant, I decided to check on Yelp to see if there was any general consensus on dishes they made well there.

The honey walnut prawns came with a high recommendation from many reviewers, and I enjoys me some honey walnut prawns. Unfortunately though, I'm often disappointed by the sub par nature of this dish at many shitty Chinese places.

In the end I ordered and enjoyed the dish, which I would have otherwise steered clear of as I didn't know anything about the place.

By and large Yelp is retarded. I just like the idea that every day consumers/customers etc can put up their opinions to share and it's easy to access that information. Thankfully grammar exists and can be used as a tool to discern the validity of what people type in teh intarnets.

David J.D. said...

I'll admit that Yelp! can be an useful clearing house for information, I just wish it wasn't so g-d douche-y.

Just like anything else (Robert Parker's wine reviews, customer feedback on Ebay and Amazon) Yelp! can be one of many practical tools. And I think y'all are using it as such. I think that, overall, people in their 20's and 30's do use Yelp! as just one of the many useful internet tools that are available.

The most problematic Yelp! and Chowhounders I encounter tend to be that older demographic who've finally come around to using the internet and have found a venue for their inner food critic, bringing with it all the over-educated, under-intelligent self-entitled, beret-wearing, inappropriately ethnic clothing wearing, swagger that comes with being a middle-aged Berkeleyan.

Sure they might have a "Peace" bumper sticker, but don't get into a fight over a parking space with one.

kdeezy said...

aka yuppy fucktards

Yve said...

You might have already seen this article:

J. Song said...

I've deduced you don't like Yelp--for some valid reasons. I use Yelp in a manner consistent with what Zack and Kdeezy have written; I also use it because I like writing about food.

I think you might enjoy this article regarding Robert Parker, wine ratings, wine criticism, and subjectivity:


Joon S.

J. Song said...

Aw F--the link got cut off.

Try cutting and pasting this on your address bar: