Mad Beef: Why Graham Elliot Tossed Critic Steve Dolinsky Out of G.E.B. — Over Charlie Trotter

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Elliot and Dolinsky, once much closer.
Elliot and Dolinsky, once much closer. Photo: Graham Elliot/Twitter

A TV personality-critic live-slamming a legendary chef on Twitter! A TV-famous chef literally dragging that critic out of his restaurant in retaliation! At last, Chicago has a bad-boy chef versus critic kerfuffle of its own, to rival ones like S. Irene Verbila versus Red Medicine or David Chang versus everybody. James Beard award-winning ABC 7 food reporter/blogger Steve Dolinsky went to Graham Elliot’s new casual spot G.E.B. He was on the third course when, suddenly, per Dolinsky’s Twitter: “Was just kicked out of g.e.b. after eating 3 dishes. Edict from GEB via phone. Weirdest thing ever. Classy.”

It turned out that Elliot had put out a standing order to prevent Dolinsky from eating at his restaurants for most of the past year. The staff had apparently failed to exercise it when Dolinsky (who is known to the whole Chicago restaurant world, since his head shot is posted in half the restaurants in town) entered. Apparently, it took them about three courses to check with headquarters to ask, basically, you really want us to make this guy who’s on TV and has 9,000 Twitter followers leave?

And, in fact, Elliot did, as he explained in his own tweet:

@stevedolinsky sorry, i can’t serve anyone that tweets negative things about a restaurant while eating in that restaurant. #CharlieTrotters

Huh? Dolinsky didn’t tweet during his meal at G.E.B. that day. Instead, Elliot was acting in retaliation for a meal that Dolinsky had eaten at someone else’s restaurant almost a year ago. Last September, Dolinsky and a friend ate at Charlie Trotter’s. The Tribune’s Phil Vettel had just lavished four stars on Trotter in a sure-he’s-still-great review. But as Dolinsky tweeted that night:

After 3 courses (1.5 hrs) at Trotter’s, waiting for something, anything to resonate, or even taste good. Not sure what Vettel saw. Bland..

Just finished meal at Trotter’s. Not once did anyone ask how everything was. Would have told them flavors bizarrely muted; restrained; weak

Fig cake w/mushrooms. Veg tasting course at Trotter’s. Yawn

Is that foam on my dessert? Christ.

Can’t believe I’m saying this, but after dropping $500 for 2 at Trotter’s, headed to Avec.

As the sequence suggests, only the first was tweeted during the meal, the rest after. But Dolinsky’s anger at the expensive meal spilled over into a negative review called “Why I Won’t Go Back to Charlie Trotter’s” and, later, a contest for ways to better spend the same $500.

Okay, so a food writer wrote a negative review. Your point? But Elliot seems to have taken it personally when addressed at one of his mentors — as he told Eater, “When he ate at Charlie Trotter’s and live tweeted through the whole meal how shitty it was, to me that’s so egregiously over the line that I absolutely will not have someone like that at my establishment.”

Well, as noted, Dolinsky only tweeted once during the meal. Is that a breach of some Twitter etiquette? We agree that it’s a little weird, and possibly even duplicitous to be bad-mouthing a restaurant while sitting there enjoying its hospitality, but if there was ever a time when we could understand, it would be while you were sitting at a place feeling ripped off and that there’s basically no hospitality to be enjoying. Dolinsky is hardly someone who routinely slams restaurants, but he’s no TV happy-talker either, and his thoughts on a disappointing meal were clear and to the point. Dolinsky himself noted this morning that his ideas about what’s appropriate in this instant-publishing world are evolving:

I’ll admit, since then, I’m more likely to tweet after a meal than during it (table manners), just as I no longer visit restaurants on the first day and tweet/blog about them; these sorts of social customs among food writers are evolving.

Yes, evolving, but just as often in favor of more instant conversation; plenty of restaurants re-tweet every word and Twitpic about them at dinner — the more the merrier.

But speaking of etiquette, it’s hard to see how it’s ever justifiable to boot any peaceful customer halfway through a meal. A very informal survey of restaurant professionals produced an agreement that if you’re going to keep someone out, your chance to do so is at the door, and if you seat them after that, you should be stuck with them and feel obliged to be as hospitable as with any other customer. But keeping your cool and maintaining hospitality doesn’t have the attention-getting panache of throwing them out. When we spoke last night to someone who has worked for Elliot, he rolled his eyes and said, “This is what we dealt with all the time, G.E.B. being G.E.B. and creating a big firestorm while we’re trying to run the restaurant. My phone’s been burning up with texts about this today.”

Elliot has often relished the attention he gets for turning on his critics and the like, and, sometimes, it’s playful (when he went after us one time, a good time was had by all), but in this case, we think he’s shortsighted and wrong. Shortsighted in that food writing is part of what makes our whole food scene so involving and captivating, and few have benefited from that more than Mr. Graham Elliot himself, larger-than-life bon vivant terrible. Dolinsky makes his case against this kind of behavior at his blog:

We’ve seen politicians do this over the past few years — inviting only pre-selected guests to “town hall meetings,” screening out any potential dissenting voices so as to present a clear, unified (albeit skewed) vision. Message control. Restaurants all over Chicago that can afford publicists routinely invite bloggers and journalists to free dinners, thus instantly skewing coverage. But if you choose to dine in a restaurant, spend upwards of $500 and then want to share your dissatisfaction with friends or colleagues, you are branded. You are persona non grata … Wow. Welcome to the era of the ego-driven, message-controlling chef, who worries more about his publicity than minding the store. Danny Meyer would be ashamed.

Oh, and do we know how Trotter felt about all this? Not exactly, but we do know that a few months after Dolinsky slammed him online, Trotter gave Dolinsky an interview at the James Beard Awards — and gave no sign that he thought anything about it at all.

Mad Beef: Why Graham Elliot Tossed Critic Steve Dolinsky Out of G.E.B. —