Today, we woke up to find an Open Letter to Craig LaBan left in the MP Blog’s comment section. It was written by Christopher Moraff, a political journalist from Philly. The comment in full is reproduced below.
An Open Letter to Craig LaBan
As a journalist, former food industry worker and native Philadelphian, I am writing you to take issue with your recent review of Astral Plane Millenium (2/24/2008).
In the interest of full disclosure, let me also say that I am a dear friend of Christine Fischer and have watched her struggle for the past five years to build a business from scratch. In my opinion, and that of her clients, she has been successful in this endeavor.
To call your review “scathing” would be an understatement; I’ve read a lot of reviews in my time – including critiques of food, music, art, books, and more – and frankly I have never seen any that constituted such a directed attack on its subject as your review of Astral Plane.
Having worked in some of the city’s most renowned (at least at that time) eating establishments – including La Veranda, Fredericks, and The Prime Rib – I know that any kitchen can have a bad night (or even two or three) and still offer a wonderful eating experience. Perhaps your snapper was overcooked (I have eaten it, and mine was flaky and tender). But this kind of thing happens at long-established restaurants. I know: I’ve seen it more times than you can imagine. I’m not saying it should happen, but it does, and it can be easily rectified. But to focus so obsessively on such drawbacks, you make it that much harder to rectify.
Why no mention of the service? The ambiance? Deserts? The cleanliness? Whether you care to admit it or not, these are variables that patrons find extremely important in their eating experience, and yet you felt content to completely discount them. Perhaps there was nothing there to denigrate?
Rather, you seem to have focused exclusively on that which you did not like, which in my view failed to offer a complete picture of the restaurant.
At the risk of digressing into an analysis of the value of restaurant reviewing as a journalistic form, I do feel the need to mention that the finest critics are able to present their opinions with a sense of impartiality that is clearly lacking in your work here. Having read your reviews for years, this is unlike you, which only raises questions about your motivations.
Criticism at its finest should be constructive, not destructive. The job of a restaurant reviewer, I think, is to help make a restaurant become better, not put it out of business.
We live in a vibrant restaurant city; we are also in the midst of severe economic times, which are particularly trying for small businesses. Bluntly, I find your complete disregard for the future of this Philadelphia business, and the two women who own it, reprehensible.
I am not suggesting that critics sugar coat their reviews, however, since unlike most other journalistic forms you are dealing in opinion rather than fact, in the interest of fairness and objectivity I think a reviewer should temper their comments with the understanding that their work is some 80 percent subjective. To give you an example, you didn’t like the dish called “drunken chicken,” yet this same dish was noted as a favorite in a recent review in the City Paper.
In the end, it seems obvious that you failed to keep this possibility in mind when writing your review of Astral Plane Millenium.
The fact that you were not even able to get Ms. Fischer’s name right only underscores the carelessness with which you undertook this assignment.
So what are the feelings of our other readers on Moraff’s letter or on LaBan’s review? Let us know in the comments.