Monday, Dec 18, 2017
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Bilyeu

COMMENTARY

Reviews? She has no comment

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Almost two years after I came to The Blade as the food editor, I find that people still think I write restaurant reviews. But I don’t have anything to do with Bill of Fare.

Folks refer to “she” when commenting about the critic, especially when they disagree with the opinion. They presume that they’re talking about, or to, me with snipes about lack of knowledge, taste buds, and abilities. Just last week, someone wrote directly to me, rather than to fare@theblade.com, to criticize an omission which he felt cast “a pall of suspicion over [my] other dubious choices” for the best reviewed restaurants in 2015. Which I didn’t review.

I really am completely and utterly not involved in Bill of Fare. I wake up on Thursdays just like any other reader, anticipating which place has been reviewed and wondering whether it’s one I’ll want to go to or, rather, choose to avoid.

The Blade is looking for an anonymous “everyman” dining experience, one that offers an objective assessment without any recognition and thus any risk of special treatment. Many people know who I am — that tends to happen when your picture is in the paper each week. And so  I’m entirely left out of the reviewing process.

There are admittedly times — especially if I’ve had a spectacularly bad meal that I just have to vent about — that I start forming sentences in my head for an imaginary review.

“The poor cow, I’m sorry to say, died twice: once at the slaughterhouse and then again when it was cooked to death in the kitchen. The burger was exceedingly well done, though definitely not done well. Not only was it dry and tough, but even an electron microscope couldn’t have found a granule of seasoning.”

“As I pressed my fork into the sad and soggy potato pancake, a little pool of oil oozed up. All it needed was a wick, and it could have added ambiance to our table.”

“The pizza consisted of a bed of Saltines with liquefied salt poured over them, topped with still more salt. Was someone trying to induce a stroke, after taking out a life insurance policy on me?“

“I choked on the salad as vinegar — not vinaigrette — hit the back of my throat. Oil that should have been mixed into the dressing instead sat atop the pizza. Even my son, who is in his mid-20s — prime pizza-eating years — wouldn’t finish the greasy mess with virtually no cheese and a cracker crust rather than dough. Jews make jokes about matzah pizza at Passover, when leavened products are forbidden. Who would choose to eat this at any other time of the year?”

“The tomato sauce was so syrupy sweet that the birthday girl could easily have made a wish on a slice of pizza, rather than on a traditional candle-topped cake.”

“I saw the vividly pink goo coming toward me from across the room. The waitress placed it on the table with little enthusiasm or, apparently, interest in earning more than a minimal tip. The pie’s filling consisted of a few tidbits of rhubarb sprinkled throughout a mass of tapioca reminiscent of silica gel, that granular stuff in little paper packets that comes with a pair of new shoes.”

The food is sometimes so, so bad that you just have to do something to make yourself feel good again.

But, truth be told, although there’s a certain cynical glee to be derived from imagining snarky reviews, I don’t actually have the heart to publish one for real. (I won’t name the places whose memorably awful dishes I wrote about above, which aren’t necessarily in Toledo.) I don’t have it in me to point a poison pen at someone, knowing how it feels to be vilified.

It’s far better that I remain surprised each Thursday, and let others do the eating and the critiquing instead.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at mbilyeu@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.

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