If things don’t work out with this author thing, I’m considering becoming a restaurant critic. I’m a food aficionado. Fortunately I don’t have a weight problem so I can indulge my passion. At least I could until I ended up in the hospital with a severe gastritis and my doctor gave me a list of do’s and don’ts. Mostly don’ts which is somewhat comparable to asking a teenager to give up video games. So I’m compromising. Not being a coffee addict, I’ve acceded to decaffeinated although for some inexplicable reason, that too was on the no-no list. Passing up chocolate fondue or mousse has been more difficult but there are other desserts I find tempting. And I can live without fried foods. Wine was on the “once in a blue moon” list but there, much to the disapproval of the teetotaler with whom I live, my compliance ends.
In my younger years I lived in France not far from Paris, and developed a sophisticated palate, and most particularly a taste for French food and wine. I never made it to the “greats” (money being a factor in those days) but the bistros I frequented were wonderful and mostly within my meager budget. While there, with the help of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and a little recipe book called “Pardon my Foie Gras,” I learned the tricks of the trade and became quite a competent cook. Duck à L’Orange was my pièce de resistance. But after raising three kids and having prepared thousands of meals over the years, I’ve kind of lost my zeal for all those hours in the kitchen. Not, however, for the gourmet food, so I’ve decided to let others do the creating while I enjoy the fruits of their labors. For holiday dinners I’ve passed the mantle to my middle son who is an excellent cook. He actually grows his own herbs. When I moved from New Jersey to California bringing my spice cabinet with me, he asked me if the spices were older than he was. To be truthful, some of them were.
Recently when I was in New Jersey visiting my eldest son, we had dinner at a highly rated, high-priced newly opened restaurant in an affluent northern New Jersey town. I ordered one of the specials—yup, you guessed it–Duck à L’Orange! I started with clams on the half-shell, not exciting but an appetizer almost impossible to obtain in the part of California where I now live, so perhaps partly for that reason, I enjoyed them immensely. I downed a glass of a full bodied Barolo and waited for the server to appear, my mouth watering in anticipation. The duck arrived. It was overcooked, stringy, and tough, and the sauce if there ever had been any, had been totally absorbed by the thirsty fowl. Aware, like all French cooks, that an excellent sauce can cover many a disaster, I asked the server for additional sauce. I never saw him again. Another server offered the dessert menu and ultimately brought the very considerable check.
In my new role as critic, I gave this overpriced restaurant two stars for the food, and one for service. No second chance for this place. What popped into my author mind, however, as I sat there composing a nasty review in my head, was the customer reviews of my books that post on Amazon, and the importance of stars in today’s world of internet reviews. Stars have meaning. Four and five star reviews sell books. While I’ve been fortunate to have received mostly four and five star reviews for my “Other Deadly Things” mystery series, there has been an occasional three and even a couple of twos. I’d like to believe that those customers are misguided and lacking in taste, but I have to admit that for a very few readers (emphasize few) my writing style or perhaps my sense of humor just isn’t their cup of tea.
Back to Nancy’s Restaurant Guide. Judging from my son’s well-cleaned plate, he seemed satisfied with, if not ecstatic over his Bronzini Pasticciata, as was my grandson with his Saffron Pasta del Mar and his Double Chocolate Something or Other dessert. I remembered that I had enjoyed the clams. Maybe I’d been too harsh. Did I want to be responsible for this restaurant’s closing? Or for the chef losing his job in this horrible economy? It’s possible that he’d been rushed and pressured that night and had a momentary lapse, forgetting about my duck sizzling away on the grill. Or maybe he’d turned the duck watch over to an inexperienced sous-chef. This was an Italian restaurant. Maybe the chef had never prepared a French dish. Maybe he ran out of oranges. Not really acceptable excuses and I’m not giving him a pass, not at that price, but based on the success of the other dishes, in my imaginary guide, I’ve upped him to a three. The server who never brought my sauce, however, remains a solid one.
It’s interesting that when one is on the receiving end of reviews, one becomes a little kinder. Not less discriminating, but more understanding. If I am disappointed in a book I may not finish it, but I don’t write a bad review. But that’s me. As an author, I’m more aware that opinions regarding the same work can vary dramatically depending on the readers own life, his or her genre preference, or on factors I can’t even imagine. Not being a chef, I feel entitled to state my opinion online or in my future guide. What qualifies me to judge a restaurant? Well, I guess the same thing that qualifies my readers to render an opinion on my books. Like it or not, the star system is here to stay. And there are things to be learned, even from a bad review, so long as it is not written with malicious intent. The Italian chef might have learned that duck is not his forté and he should stick with Italian dishes. I’ve learned that when I updated my series using the original manuscripts instead of the copyedited galleys, I should have hired a proofreader!
I may write that guide someday, hopefully not for the aforementioned reason. As for all you reviewers who have taken the time to tell us authors what you think about our books, even the reader who criticized me for having Carrie “send her Jewish children to Sunday school,” but especially those of you who let us know that you’ve enjoyed our books and that you’ve bought everything we ever wrote, you just keep on doing what you’re doing. You make our day.
P.S. Jewish children do go to Sunday school. Mine did, kicking and screaming all the way. But that’s another story.
Note: This guest blog originally appeared on September 12, 2013 on The Perseverance Press Authors’ Blog, Get It Write.