The San Francisco Chronicle's Michael Bauer wrote last week in his column on how having a blog gives him the ability to have an open dialogue with both diners and restaurateurs, and as a result, also helps him be more informed as a critic. Given such direct correspondence with the owners, wouldn't it impact his ability to give an objective review? He doesn't think so:
Call me dense, but I don't see how corresponding by e-mail with restaurateurs and chefs makes me any less anonymous. This type of interaction only helps to inform my coverage. It has no bearing on whether I'm recognized when I go to a restaurant.
Before the Internet, I often would call a chef after the visits were made and the review was mostly written to clarify a few points. I still call on occasion, but the Internet is much more anonymous because owners and chefs can't even connect a voice to the person.
The visibility of food critics does bring up an interesting point in terms of how it plays into not just the review of a restaurant, but the service the critic receives at a restaurant by being recognized—take the Daily News's Danyelle Freeman, also known as Restaurant Girl, who's no camera-shy Frank Bruni when she's flaunting a glamorous headshot. From complimentary dishes to even full-out comped meals, you have to wonder how much it tinges a review, because who isn't enamored when given free dishes?
On the other hand, there are reviewers who claim that in the end, it all just boils down to the food, regardless of whether or not they're pampered or not. As Craig LaBan, critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the LA Times last year: "Niceness you can fake. Attention you can fake. Skill you can't."
What's your view? Do you trust a critic who protects his anonymity more, or does it ultimately not make a considerable difference? And for bloggers who go and review restaurants, how obvious do you make it (i.e. you whip out a camera or take notes) that you're there to chow and critique?