Nosh Pit with Chris Macias

Chris Macias chops it up about local food and drink issues

The Nosh Pit: Sacramento chefs take it on the chin from Yelpers

07/06/2014 8:02 PM

09/04/2014 6:11 PM

Taking on a career as a chef requires one thick skin. The hours are long, the kitchens are hot, and burns from sizzling pans double as blistered badges of honor.

And now, chefs have to take it on the chin regularly from Yelpers.

But some of these cooks are deflating the Debbie Downers of Yelp, the popular online business reviewing site, with a sense of humor. Chefs reading their restaurants’ worst Yelp reviews have become a favorite video of the food world. One recent video produced by Eater found such chefs as Andrew Zimmern and Hugh Acheson reading their most wincing Yelp reviews, with tongue firmly in cheek, at Aspen’s Food and Wine Classic. A similar series has been running at chefsfeed.com – and now we have one for Sacramento.

The Bee rounded up some of Sacramento’s top chefs and food personalities for a video of them reading their worst Yelp reviews, including Ravin Patel (Ella Dining Room & Bar), Patrick Mulvaney (Mulvaney’s B&L), Carina Lampkin (Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery) and Andrew Blaskovich (Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen).

All of this is in the spirit of an ongoing “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” segment on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Late-night crowds have yukked it up while the likes of Sofia Vergara, Jessica Alba and NBA star Jalen Rose read tweets from anonymous Internet haters as R.E.M.’s “Everything Hurts” plays in the background.

Restaurants offer plenty of fodder for similar videos. After all, any knucklehead with a wi-fi connection and an appetite can play the role of a haughty food critic, and many of them aren’t out to play nice.

Here are just a few zingers found on Yelp’s page for Sacramento (with all punctuation and grammatical liberties left intact):

•  “What an absolute disappointment. My bf and I couldnt even manage to try their desserts. god only know what more we would have had to suffer.”
•  “Oh, I forgot to add: i went straight home and made myself something else to eat. that's how bad the night was.”
•  “(my entree) the lamb chops with risotto and baby carrots: sounds great right? my thoughts too, until i received my order. it came out as the two smallest lamb chops ever. which sadly, were at least 50% inedible due to the large amount of fat and grissle.”
•  “Bottom line, I ate three bites of this thing and shoved it aside.....It's been 5 hours and I still feel like I am digesting that well-done hockey puck.”

All of the above quips were left for Formoli’s Bistro, an east Sacramento eatery that’s otherwise regarded for its whiskey burger and seasonal menu with European and Persian accents.

Aimal Formoli, who owns the restaurant with wife Suzanne, is hardly some hack. He’s a California Culinary Academy graduate and well regarded among his Sacramento chef peers for his cooking prowess and championing of local ingredients.

With his well-tattooed arms and intense gaze during the heat of dinner rush, Formoli’s also not a guy who tends to hold back his feelings. One recent disparaging Yelp review led the chef to vent on his Facebook page, choice four-letter word and all.

“He got under my skin,” said Formoli. “It’s one of those things I wish I could’ve said to his face.”

But like Formoli, many chefs and restaurant owners don’t try to tune out the negative reviews. Formoli looks to Yelp reviews to help fine-tune his restaurant, taking note of any patterns in lapses of service or food temperature problems noted by the reviewers.

“Criticism is a great thing,” Formoli said. “As chefs, there’s a lot of things we don’t want to hear – and that’s because sometimes we know it’s right.”

Blaskovich also knows the feeling of being targeted by snarky Yelpers and taking it on the chin with one-star reviews. He runs one of Sacramento’s most successful food trucks with Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, but it’s not enough to prevent his grilled sandwiches from becoming the occasional punchline on Yelp.

“People sometimes use Yelp as a platform to let off steam,” Blaskovich said. “I looked at a review last night and thought, ‘Ouch, that was harsh.’ But everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and some of it is probably true. There’s also a lot of nice things said on Yelp as well.”

As for Formoli, he’ll continue to peek at Yelp for customer feedback, weather the critical jabs and try to take the high road – even if someone’s talking smack about his hamburger.

“I don’t cook for other chefs, I cook for the general public,” Formoli said. “You have to recognize those are people who pay our bills. All egos aside, you have to listen.”

About This Blog

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's food and wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farmworkers in Lodi. Chris judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. Reach him at cmacias@sacbee.com or 916-321-1253. Twitter: @chris_macias.

 

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