It's not just Yelpers that chefs and restaurant owners must deal with: Paid, professional restaurant critics are at large all over the dining landscape, and sometimes they're less than enamored with their restaurant experiences. As per annual tradition, Eater takes a look at some of the year's most scathing restaurant reviews, the takedowns that provided the most entertaining reads (or, if you're a restaurant owner, the most nights of fretful sleep).
This year, critics filed hyperbolic negative reviews from Montreal to San Francisco to London, with many claiming to have suffered through the worst meals of their professional lives. But no restaurant sustained a prolonged critical beat-down more than New York City's revamped Tavern on the Green. After the critical onslaught hit in June — which saw the restaurant earn a collective 1.5 stars over four reviews — chef Katy Sparks departed in September. Other nightmare reviews including Philadelphia's Avance, La Maison in Miami, and Chino Chinatown in Dallas.
Go on, read the year's best in bad-restaurant criticism below:
Villard Michel Richard, New York City
New York Times critic Pete Wells uses the word "awful" a half-dozen times in his zero-star takedown of Michel Richard's opulent NYC restaurant inside the New York Palace Hotel. After experiencing several dishes that "vaulted across the gap that separates average from awful," Wells heads to Washington, DC, where Richard's restaurant Central was so comparatively terrific that "I wondered if Villard Michel Richard was bad on purpose." Villard closed this summer, so perhaps the hotel's management team can take Wells' business advice: "If Villard Michel Richard doesn't make it as a restaurant, it could reopen as the Museum of Unappetizing Brown Sauces."
In April, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Craig LaBan gave two bells to Avance, the restaurant that replaced the city's legendary Le-Bec Fin. But while the two-bell rating was middling, the text itself suggested a meal far worse, with decor having the "soul-sucking effect of a hotel lobby" and bad service that left LaBan feeling like "we couldn't leave fast enough." LaBan, unfortunately, was onto something: Avance closed in October after less than a year in business.
Decca 77, Montreal
Montreal restaurant Decca 77 apparently hit its peak back in 2008 when the Montreal Gazette gave it 3.5 stars, but how far things have fallen since. In an April review, Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman returned to the restaurant, discovering "an all-out fiasco" in both service and food. "Never have I seen or tasted such amateurish dishes sold at such an exorbitant price," Chesterman writes, citing a fried monkfish filet that arrived as a "fish finger of sorts that was overcooked, tasteless and had the texture of canned cat food." As Eater Montreal notes, the critic has filed only three zero-star reviews in her 16 years on the job, and this is one of them.
Eater's own Ryan Sutton revisits Saul, once a Brooklyn trailblazer (with one Michelin star), now a restaurant inside the Brooklyn Museum that, incidentally, has "half the charm of Houston's or any other restaurant located in Long Island's Roosevelt Field shopping mall." The food, unfortunately, doesn't fare much better. "The main courses were among the worst I've encountered in a New York restaurant," Sutton writes, calling out a skirt steak that he "chewed over fifty times to render one of the pieces swallowable."
La Maison, Miami
The Miami Herald's Victoria Pesce Elliot absolutely eviscerates the French import La Maison, a restaurant by the Michelin-starred chef Michael Fulci. After calling out the restaurant for "some of the very worst service I've ever experienced," Elliot's review unfolds into a hilarious and unfortunate laundry list of each moment gone horribly wrong, from the tube of hair gel sitting on the bar to "an arrogant French waiter who would have made a great SNL character" to a side salad with "organic baby lettuces served dry as paper towels." Somehow, the restaurant still gets a one-star rating, although the opening line says it all: "If this were my maison, I'd run away from home."
Chino Chinatown, Dallas
Dallas Morning News critic Leslie Brenner files a one-star review of the Asian-Latin American fusion restaurant Chino Chinatown, lamenting that a spot that specializes in "hipster comfort food" (duck-fat fried rice) falls disappointingly flat. Although the menu is adventurous in its influences, Brenner writes that "many of the dishes were poorly executed," from the "heavy and oily" drunken noodles to the "mushy and flat-tasting fried rice" to the chicharrones, which were "tender as Frisbees."
Balboa Cafe, San Francisco
In a new-to-2014 series investigating the "classic restaurants" of San Francisco, Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer re-visits the century-old Balboa Cafe and unfortunately discovers that food at the popular restaurant is "barely edible." Crab cakes "tasted like soggy crackers" and were wordlessly whisked away by a server who "knew the problem and didn’t have to ask." The familiar hamburger, served here in a baguette, "seemed thrown onto the plate" with its accompaniment of cold french fries. Writes Bauer: "It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it was the worst food I've had this year."
Montana's Trail House, Brooklyn
Where is the line between a restaurant that's simply terrible and a restaurant that's "morally hazardous"? The New York Observer's Joshua David Stein purports to find the latter at Brooklyn's Montana's Trail House. The first strike is its theme: With a menu of Appalachian comfort food, Stein points out the restaurant fetishizes a region so impoverished and miserable that it's "as raw a wound and as deep a shame as a decapitated strip-mined peak." Then there's the food, which features a "totally underwhelming fried chicken, leg and thigh both as greasy as a teenage boy's T-zone."
America Eats Tavern, Washington, DC
The Washingtonian's Todd Kliman revisits chef Jose Andres's America Eats Tavern, calling it a bad restaurant that "can look an awful lot like a good restaurant." In the one-star takedown, Kliman admits the restaurant has improved of late — from "laughably awful" to "disappointingly bad" — but ultimately found deconstructed dishes and outdated presentations a "parody of how twee and ridiculous fine dining can be." Referencing the celebrity chef's 2014 achievement of obtaining American citizenship, Kliman writes: "Let's hope next time he can come up with a better thank-you to his adopted country than this gutless homage."
Quattro Passi, London
Behold, the restaurant that made notoriously cranky British food writer Jay Rayner outright "angry": Quattro Passi, a London outpost of a Michelin-starred restaurant on the Almafi coast. During one lunch, the Guardian restaurant critic and one dining companion spent a jaw-dropping £282 on a lunch alternately deemed "shameless" and "a pallid fart of mediocrity." And for other restaurants paying attention, here's what Rayner thinks of those gimmicky edible gold flakes: It's "clumsy cooking, trying to make itself look grown up and clever, generally by the application of flaky precious metals, like King Midas has suffered psoriasis over your dinner."
Guardian critic Jay Rayner can only be bemused at London's meaty restaurant Beast. "You should accept Beast as the most unintentionally funny restaurant to open in London in a very long time," Rayner writes. "It's hilariously silly. The most appropriate response is to point and laugh." After suggesting that the only people who can reasonably afford the restaurant are "international drug barons," he rips into the "crap" truffle and foie gras chips, an unintentionally "hilarious" cheesecake, and the single crab leg served with "cloyingly sweet basil and chili dressing which makes us bare our teeth." He then basically compares the restaurant to a bro: "It's worth going to see what the unmitigated male ego looks like, when expressed as a restaurant."
Tavern on the Green, New York City
What went wrong at Tavern on the Green? The iconic Central Park restaurant, closed since 2009, received a long-awaited revamp and remodel from Philadelphia restaurateurs Jim Caiola and David Salama, and when the doors finally opened in April, the concept promised a new American menu in a decidedly less-fussy space. But by summer, the goose eggs starting dropping. Between June and August, Tavern received three zero-star reviews — from New York's Adam Platt, the New York Times' Pete Wells, and Eater's Ryan Sutton, whose review headline simply stated "Tavern on the Green is a Bad Restaurant." Even the New York Post's Steve Cuozzo, who initially gave the restaurant his stamp of approval upon its re-opening, backtracked by June, slapping it with a 1.5-star review suggesting the spot was "flattering under crowds." Below, the best lines from all four gentlemen: