Restaurant review or extortion?

A man recently came to dine at my place of employment. When he made his reservation, he alerted the hostess to the fact that he was a restaurant critic and would, therefore, expect a free meal. The day he was to dine, he called back, reminding the reservationist of his own importance and how necessary it was that he dined “on the house”.

He sat alone, ordered his meal and an expensive bottle of red wine, pulled out his notebook, passed out his cards, and talked about himself in, not surprisingly, an inflated tone. He mentioned something about his girlfriend being a model. When he had finished, he left $20 for the server (and, before you ask, it wasn’t me), and left. The price of his meal? About $170. Both the server and the manager rolled their eyes and scratched their heads, metaphorically speaking.

Everyone took his status as restaurant reviewer with a grain of salt– he may have dined at our expense, but some of us laughed at his. Perhaps he was just a sad figure of a man– slightly delusional or, at least, in need of some attention paid to him. Whatever the case, his behavior as a critic is reprehensible.

Fortunately, I got his card.

I went to the website when I got home– My first thought was that it should have read since, as I quickly discovered, the writing was just so odd and so, well, bad, that I simply had to share it with you all. Here are some excerpts from some San Francisco restaurants he has blackmailed reviewed.

First off, is a bit from his review of Myth (R.I.P):

“I asked the chef to give me a vegetarian tasting, and what I received was pasta with Chinese brown sauce, which you can get in Chinatown at any time… Mandonna and Giorgio Armani, who are vegetarians, might have walked out.”

Mandonna? Well, she’s buff, but I don’t think anyone would accuse her of being a man. But I’m glad to see that Mr. Curatolo has the sensitivity to empathize with world-famous vegetarians.

Next up is a sampling of his review of Kokkari, which he spells “Kokarri”:

“White, rare grapes make up Santouni Island wine. The grapes are planted in crisp, volcanic soil that is unknown to the America’s.”

First of all, grapes are never white, they are green. These grapes are used to make a wine that is referred to as white. I know I am nitpicking, but when he refers to them as “rare” grapes that “make up Santouni Island wine”, I am beside myself, not only with giggling, but with a real irritation at his carelessness. I can only assume the island in question is Santorini and, if you’ve ever been to that island, those grapes seem to grow like weeds– they’re everywhere. I am saddened, however, to know that crisp, volcanic soil is unknown to usin the America’s (sp). God knows there aren’t any volcanoes in North America.

And, finally, a gem of a snippet from his take on Farmer Brown:

“On the edge of Mason where Mason meets Market, the concierge, Brian Miller at Hotel Vitale suggested Farmer Brown, and says he is cautious of what guests he sends to there. Being from New York from different stages of my strength, I would say that if you are afraid of a little edge, go to the mountains. Great cities are made up of edge…

Farmer Brown has a lot of edge…good southern sweet edge that is comfortable cuisine.”

I love edgy comfort food. And I would be very excited to hear about Mr. Curatolo’s discovery of an edge-free mountain. I would call that fantastic. Or I would call it something flat, like a prairie.

After having read more than enough of this man’s reviews and cringing more than my shoulders could bear, I had one question in mind and no surprise came when I received the answer. “Did Mr. Curatolo have any discernible accent?” I asked his server later. “Well, it was hard to tell since he spoke very quietly, but he did have trouble pronouncing his “r”s. Just as I thought– he is not a native English speaker. That bit is only relevant to his terrible, error-infested writing. I know that, say, if I tried writing restaurant reviews in French, my sentences would be laughed over and cried upon by Les Immortels of the Académie Française. I applaud his efforts at self-expression.

What I cannot abide, however is his blackmailing of businesses into giving him free meals and services in exchange for a good review. That, my friends, is called extortion. And that is why I am nailing him today.

His unethical practices and poor writing skills give serious, above-board critics a bad name– both professional and amateur. And he is not alone.

I’m not going to rant any more today, but rather direct Mr. Curatolo and the rest of you to a couple of online resources:

For an excellent example of an amateur food critic, complete with sound statements of ethics and transparency, visit Becks & Posh.

For inspiration from a great professional food critic on how to, well, write well, I might suggest reading Frank Bruni.

Thanks for reading. Now if you will excuse me, I must read on at, for some deep thoughts on life and love…

“Know this and be protected: If you meet a good person you leave feeling happy. If you meet a bad feel ikky, most likely bad.”

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Rants and Stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Restaurant review or extortion?

  1. Jenn says:

    What. The. Hell. That’s both hilarious and horrifying. Good on you for outing him! He’s giving vegetarians a bad name, dammit.

  2. Dani says:

    Sooo. Can I have a free dinner if I announce that I am a critic too? And can you arrange for a date as well if I promise to criticize them (M or F) throughout the night?

    What critics get a fair representation of service when they announce that they are coming? And don’t they have to visit several times?

    Why would your establishment host this?

  3. CS says:

    Wow. That is appalling. What a pretentious…..

  4. cara cohn says:

    He did the exact same thing at our brand new restaurant. We’re not even seeing a profit and he robbed us, literally. What ever became of this? Everyone should be aware!

  5. That’s hilarious, but … quel asshole. At least he was good for a laugh.

  6. MadScotsman says:

    FYI – There is/was a Madonna tribute band called Mandonna. But really, why did they comp the meal in the first place? That makes no sense.

    Cheers, Neil.

  7. Robin says:

    Why on earth did you let him get away with it? Isn’t the standard procedure for someone who skips out on their bill to call the cops? I know you probably didn’t want to cause a scene, or waste your energy on a low-life, but letting them get away with it only encourages them.

  8. bburning says:

    When I worked at the now defunct Archbishop’s Mansion (b&b on Alamo Square) this guy tried to squeeze a free stay out of us. As part of due diligence I looked at his site, which gave me great enjoyment and laughter, due to his hilarious and stunningly bad writing. The next time he called ‘confirm’ his reservation I laughed and told him to keep on truckin’, no room at the inn.

  9. bburning says:

    Sadly, now that I look at his site again, I see many more reviews, which means that many more places have been conned by his schtick.
    Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, people!

  10. Anushka says:

    Certainly, this self-appointed emperor of “the world” wears not a stitch – but you can be left in stitches by such beauts as this:

    “I would love them to have ‘teenage night’ to educate teenagers on fine dining and good manners. I wrote this article in purple, something you wouldn’t know if you were just e-mailing.”

  11. Anushka says:

    or this, his review of Acqua Hotel in Mill Valley, in which our hero confuses the reaches of the SF Bay with something quite different:

    “Enjoy a patio breakfast overlooking a man-made lake and in the yonder, beautiful Mt. Tamalpais.”

  12. A Recovering Yelper says:

    Oh, this is hilarious. Thanks for the laughs!

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