Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interesting Blog Discovery

Found a kindred spirit in the blog world when it comes to Yelp!

He could stand to be a little more profane, arrogantly self-righteous, but nobody's perfect.=^)

Monday, August 25, 2008

As if I Needed More Reasons Why Yelp! Sucks....

I've been on the Yelp!-hate bandwagon for a very long time, so it's wonderful to see the increasing attention that's being focused on Yelp!'s shady business practices and general shitiness.

Check out this post from EaterLA.

The basic gist? A proprietor complained to Yelp! about a factually inaccurate negative review and rather than ameliorate (or at the very least ignore) the situation, Yelp! actually removed a POSITIVE review under the dubious justification that they thought it was written by the proprietor. They also tried to sell her an advertising package that would deemphasize negative reviews.

Yelp! is also engaging in extortion-like practices. After a restaurant receives a flurry of negative reviews, Yelp! salespeople call the business offering to "fix" the situation in exchange for their advertising fee ($350/month) which will move the negative reviews to the bottom. Extortion by itself? No. But it is questionable because it opens up the opportunity for salespeople to load-up a site with negative reviews and then call to sell the service of deemphasizing those reviews.

For an extensive discussion of this topic, check out this article from The Register.

The first thing to remember is that Yelp! makes no money. Their expenses far exceed their revenue so they're trying everything they can to fix that.

The problem is they have two primary revenue streams:

1. They make money on general advertising generated by traffic to Yelp! To facilitate this, Yelp! pushes the social-networking aspect of their site so as to encourage users to spend a lot of time on the site and visit regularly.

2. They make money from the businesses that appear on Yelp! by selling them a variety of services at a range of prices that allow businesses to determine to a significant degree how their page appears.

It should be noted that Yelp! makes no claims to change the orders of user reviews for advertisers other than to allow the advertiser to select which review appears first. This is contradicted by numerous anecdotal claims by business owners, some of which are catalogued in the Register article linked to above.

But here's the conflict, businesses get pissed off about inaccurate/misleading/vindictive reviews, but Yelp! doesn't want to do anything about it since they don't want to alienate their users. This in turn alienates the businesses who then don't want to advertise. You see, why would you advertise on Yelp! if you have all positive reviews? Alternately, why would you give Yelp! money if you see it as an unregulated venue for malicious pricks with no real understanding of your business?

Thusly, why would any business give Yelp! money?

Enter the "rogue salespersons" who decide to target businesses that have received recent negative reviews (greatly streamlining their saleswork) and offer to push the negative reviews to the bottom. There are still no reports of negative reviews being removed, the terminology used in most articles is "deemphasized" or "suppressed."

Essentially the only way Yelp! can secure their second revenue stream is through either ignorance (rarely is there a restaurant of any particular esteem that has bought Yelp! advertising) and increasingly, extortion.

Businesses need to know that very few people actually make decisions based on viewing Yelp! It's basically a glorified phone book, especially outside of the SF Bay Area. Citysearch and Metromix are much simpler guides for the basics and also have their own editorial content.

Yelp! is exploiting the excitement/anxiety/fear/hype over "Web 2.0" to get money from businesses who might not be particularly well-versed in how the internet works. They might not know that 50,000 hits on a website doesn't mean 50,000 people will visit your restaurant. In most cases it doesn't mean 50 people will visit your restaurant.

So here we have for the first time my codified anti-Yelp! credo. Adopt it and help to bring an end to perhaps the shadiest major site on the internet.

1. Do not use Yelp! for any legitimate purpose. If you want to read it for research or to make fun of Yelp!ers then please do, but don't ever decide whether you'll visit a business or not because of Yelp! reviews either solely or in part.

2. Do not visit a business that has sponsored Yelp! They're collaborateurs. This should be surprisingly easy since as I mentioned before very few esteemed businesses sponsor Yelp!

3. Suggest that businesses remove their "People Love Us On Yelp!" stickers. Tell them that there's a growing group of disgruntled foodies who are starting to see this as a negative indicator. Kinda like the Hobo Code for "dishonest man lives here."

4. Always include the exclamation mark when writing about Yelp! I just think it makes Yelp! and Yelp!ers look silly.

Who's with me?

Monday, August 18, 2008

There's No Good Bread in LA

If any of you read the title of this post and immediately got "To Live and Die in LA" stuck in your head, high fives all around.

Those of you who know me know that I'm not a big bread guy. It's not that I'm anti-carb or anything like that. I just find bread, most of the time, to be utterly pointless. Bread is largely empty calories, full of starch and low-quality protein. I put all my sandwiches on various Trader Joe's high-fiber, high-protein breads because, hey, you need some bread on your sandwich and it might as well be doing something for you.

So it may surprise some to hear me say that I miss bread. I miss Acme. I miss Metropolis. Hell, I even miss Semifreddi's. Bread is not held in the same esteem in LA that it is in SF and Berkeley.

But it's not for a lack of there being bread. The zero-carb craze is over and moderate carb consumption is back in. Sandwiches are big right now. Burgers too. Yet even the $16 Berkshire pork burger at BLD was sandwiched between a dry flavorless (though not inexpensive) bun.

The same with Father's Office's esteemed burger, which is stuffed between what looks like a Costco-caliber French roll.

And as much as I enjoyed my drop-in at Sheddy's, the sliced baguette that came with my cheese and charcuterie plate was stale.

Bread's something that served the very useful roll of providing a lot of inexpensive calories. It's the Western world's rice. Which also is to say that we don't really need it any more in the developed world. So if I am going to eat what is essentially unnecessary calories, it'd better make itself necessary and add to the dish.

There's a fear at restaurants here I think to do what needs to be done to all sandwich bread, namely slather it in butter/oil and throw it under the salamander. This makes bread much better on a sandwich. Failing that, you should at least smother your roll in a nice fatty spread of some kind: aioli, remoulade, whatever. Bread's purpose is to absorb. Sure bread absorbs liquid fine, but it absorbs fat awesomely. Don't be afraid of fat. Throw it on there. Just eat less overall. I get at least half my calories from fat and I'm 5'8" and 145 if I'm lucky.

My Berkshire pork burger at BLD would've been even better if there had been an awesome aioli or spicy remoulade smothering that shit. It also would've been better without the thin-cut fries. Seems like a good idea until you realize that they go cold in about 30 seconds. The pickles were phenomenal.

Basic rules about bread:

1. Bread is delivered FRESH every day. Bread should be made in a bakery. If your restaurant does not have an actual bakery as part of its operation, you should buy your bread from a bakery.

2. Bread should not be used a second day for any fresh purpose. Those fresh purposes are primarily sandwich buns, cheese plates, and table bread. Luckily, old bread can be used for croutons, bread salad, bread pudding, bread and broccoli, and much other awesomeness.

3. When in doubt, skip it. Seriously, you don't need the bread. I eat cheese by itself all the time.

Am I missing something? Where is the Acme of Los Angeles? I'm told it's La Brea Bakery, but they sell par-baked bread for restaurants to finish off themselves. Why would you do that? You don't pay a Thai masseuse to get you 80% of the way there and then you have to finish off yourself, so why pay your baker if he or she's not going to get the job done? I want the firm hand of a specialist involved from initial mixing all the way to the money shot.

Customers who want "warm bread" served at the table are ignorant petite bourgeoisie with no understanding of how bread works.

Please please please, if you know a good bakery in LA, let me know. And I mean a bakery that bakes bread. White bread. Levain. Whole wheat bread. Baguettes. Rolls. Real, honest bread.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Don't Want To Go Here

I don't care if Tapas and Wine Bar C is revealed to be the next French Laundry (unlikely), nothing except for morbid curiosity at the ill-conceived c-f that it probably is will ever get me to set foot in it.

From its ".biz" domain address, ramblingly pretentious website copy, predictably precious French maid costume-bedecked servers, and rectal prolapsingly-obvious wine list, Bar C represents that certain segment of Los Angeles: the ignorantly elitist, faux-riche, consumer monkeys.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before: Beverly Hills has the LOWEST per-capita income of any city in the country with a population over 10,000 people and a median home price over $1M. Everyone lives beyond their means and acts wealthier than they are.

But first, the actual text from Bar C's home page:

As one of the few theme bars in La we offer a wide and varied selection of wine and liquor as well as beer for the less discerning. In addition to this our cuisine is prepared by one of LA's finestest chefs. Fred Iwaski with thirty years experience at some of the most renown establishments such as Spago's, Chinos and Highland Grounds. Elegant decorum defines from a modern swanky atmosphere to attractive hostesses filled as French maids, we cater to any client looking for a night alone, with friends or business partners. Only to accentuate this all ready sensory overwhelming is highly attentive service.

I'll refrain from caring too much about the many many errors in grammar, spelling, syntax, and rampant Engrish. These are forgivable. Although I would like to know what goes into filling attractive hostesses as French maids. How do I get in on that action? What is not forgivable, however, is the ignorance and arrogance proclaimed herein.

One of the few theme bars in LA? Have you been to LA recently, or do you live in a bomb shelter directly underneath Bar C and only surface at night, never to leave the premises? This is an entire city of theme bars.

Beer for the less discerning? Why are you insulting your customers? If you're going to offer beer for your customers, making them feel like a slob because they don't want to drink vodka or boring wine from your boring wine list is not the best strategy.

Speaking of boring wine list....

For those of you who didn't click on that link, it's basically two pages of wines that even your grandmother would recgonize. It's all big, expensive, name-label California and French Wines for people with more money than sense, or really more debt than intelligence. The cheapest wines are also $12 a glass ($60/bottle). And that's for Chalone and Acacia pinots noir, wines that are readily available at your neighborhood BevMo for $18.99 ($12.99 ClubBev!).

For those of you keeping score at home, that's roughly a SIX TIMES WHOLESALE markup. If you're doing that you'd better be a hotel on Sunset or not selling wines you can buy at BevMo.

And where might this altar to conspicuous consumption and poseur decadence be located? Surely it must be in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood? No? Malibu? Hardly. Well SOMEWHERE in Hollywood or the Westside, right? Nah, it's in Little Tokyo.

Which come to think of it makes a sick sort of sense.

Have you ever met somebody who's actually fabulously wealthy? That is to say, born into privilege, never really needing anything? These people don't buy gold Rolexes and Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, they've probably inherited a weathered Cartier from their grandfather and their family has a cellar of wines from Chateaux that don't even exist any more.

And they sure as hell don't go to Bar C.

If you want to fulfill your Asian chicks in maid outfits fetish, go to Royal/T in Culver City and spend less money and feel a helluva lot classier. If you want to chat with flirty scantily-clad women, go to Jumbo's Clown Room in Hollywood. And if you need more than that, go to the Body Shop, where a topless lap dance will still set you back less than the $30/person minimum at Bar C.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

HFF Quickie: Sheddy's - Los Angeles, Ca

What gets people to go into a restaurant or bar?

With the notable exception of "being in a very well-traveled area with a more-or-less captive audience," the answer to that question is one nobody knows and everybody thinks they know. And even being in a well-traveled area is no guarantee as well-traveled areas have higher rents and thus a lower threshold for inadequacy.

A successful bar is lightning striking in a bottle, even if you do everything right.

Sheddy's, a new beer and wine bar on Fairfax Avenue (near 3rd) is doing everything right. So maybe I can get some people in there.

Taking over an ill-fated tapas restaurant, Sheddy's is a very scaled-back affair. It still focuses almost exclusively on Spanish wines, but also serves three quality beers on draft (Murphy's, Abita, and Maudite). Most notably, Sheddy's serves a mix-and-match cheese and charcuterie plate in lieu of any more elaborate cuisine.

I say that's a good thing. Though when I went in they were out of almost everything. They still cobbled together a solid cheese plate.

The space is relaxed and cozy, with a lot of wood, cushions, and tables. It's convivial and neighborhood-y. Music is mellow and hip. It's the perfect place to go out with friends for some drinks. And, unless she's a stupid ho, if you take a date here I'd say you're 99% likely to seal the deal. You'll seem attentive, smart, and erudite. What more do you want?

Sheddy's is just in a tough spot. It's in a "drive-through" section of LA, just far enough from population and commerce centers to present an interesting predicament. That being said, it is a block from the WGA-West offices and a few more blocks from CBS TV Studios, which presents a lot of corporate and after-work possibilities. Most of these people probably live north and east of Sheddy's however, making that small track west that much trickier.

It really is the perfect place. Good wine. Great beer. Great cheese plate. Friendly service. Fair prices. Back patio that's very smoker-friendly.

Go to Sheddy's. Do it now.

361 S. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90036

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

HFF Quickie: Red Lion Tavern

I've found my first place in LA that fills that crucial "relatively inexpensive laid-back place with good food" void.

Red Lion Tavern on Glendale Blvd. in Silver Lake is freakin' great. It's on a fairly low-density stretch of road (though conveniently across the street from Silverlake Wine and adjacent to Panty Raid), so parking's pretty easy, at least for lunch. There's also an excitingly dangerous parking lot adjacent to the Tavern.

The place is kinda like Hooters only instead of being served by vaguely hot young women with perky breasts, you're served by those same women twenty years later, sans perk. And they're German. Plus, instead of wings, you get several kinds of sausage.

Yeah you do.

The food is solid. Besides the aforementioned wursts (which come on a plate with mashed potatoes and warm sauerkraut), you can get all the other great German pub food standards. The schweinebraten is tender and tasty (the accompanying warm red cabbage is the best thing ever). The schnitzels looks good, as do the simple fish dishes.

And sure the food doesn't have the best quality ingredients and the place is a little dirty, but who cares when you're paying $10 for a well-rounded plate of tasty food? Add a half-liter of beer from the very solid selection of quality German draughts and you have the best $20 lunch in town. Skip the creepy dark bar on the ground floor and head upstairs to the biergarten for some serious al fresco dining.

But if you do dine on the patio, cover your beer with a coaster. You'll see why.


Red Lion Tavern

2366 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039