Foodosophy of Wild Ratings


Sadly, yours truly is currently on forced exiled in the wintery tundra of Alberta, specifically the freezing cold city of Calgary where a few minutes of prolonged exposure to the outside elements can result in some unpleasant, numbing sensations on your skin and extremities.  Winter in the prairies is not my cup of tea, despite my past of living in these brutal winter conditions for many, many years.

Perhaps taking a cue from the stalled offensive machine of the local National Hockey League club that is mired in a seven game winless streak, the below zero temperatures have seriously stunted my drive to explore the city’s culinary scene, and the changes wrought since I last lived here.  But as fate would have it, sitting on the top of a pile of magazines in my hotel room was one that had the bold faced text trumpeting “Calgary’s Best Restaurants”.  With a publication date of January/February 2010, it was fortunately not an out of date rag. Exploration in the comfort of my hotel room – perfect!

As I settled in, I began perusing the magazine, beginning with this note from the editor.  Again, the mention of a respectable crew of commentators from the city was noted as those being responsible for the rankings inside.  Fair enough, “let’s hear it” I thought, and I moved to the pages deeper in the approximately 80-page piece, seeking the wisdom of those “people who know Calgary’s restaurants inside and out”, and read about their choices for the “establishments that they felt would make a lasting impression of Calgary for visitors like (me)”.

Now I will say that some of the suggestions and “best” ratings in various categories like “best hotel dining” (Chef’s Table), “best ambiance” (River Cafe), and “best bistro” (Diner Deluxe) seemed fine and reasonable. Safe picks, but solid choices. However, others had an obvious skew by folks who might not be inclined to venture too far into the authentic zone of some ethnic cuisines (best Chinese: Silver Dragon?, best Indian: Mango Shiva?), or perhaps even lack any personal exposure to other cultures and cuisines through international travel or life experiences.

But it was this one below that really made me chuckle hard and wonder about the overall reliability and accuracy of this “first-ever” version of this publication’s restaurant awards.

Best Sushi…

Sakana Grill, seriously?!?!?

While its no secret that some cuisines in this city are quite sadly represented/underrepresented when they even exist, sushi being one of them, I can confidently say that there are much better choices for this category’s top “prize” here.  We at foodosophy have personally enjoyed the likes of Wa’s, Blowfish (when Chef Mitsuno was at the helm), and Zipang (sorry no direct post available here – Foodosopher should put down his nigiri long enough to write about it).  So to read that Sakana (means “fish” in Japanese) Grill, a watered down representation of Japanese cuisine, and a grill to boot, would be chosen as the best, is really hard to fathom.  As for the bit of accompanying text, it completely through me for a loop.  Because…

a) Atlantic Canada has never in my mind been thought of as a bastion of Japanese cuisine, let alone quality sushi

b) I’ve never ever read a review that talked about the taste of wasabi being a crucial factor to making the writer love a restaurant, almost sounding like it was a dish in and of itself.  And I think most who have tasted wasabi (either the widely available fake kind or the real deal) would say it has “punch”.

c) What the heck is a “sashimi house”???

These types of restaurant awards, rankings, listings, etc. are always a tricky thing to both create and evaluate.  However, one would hope that critics chosen would have some semblance of knowledge when it comes to what makes a cuisine good. Differences in opinion are great. Completely missing the point is something else.

For readers with our own personal tastes and viewpoints, any sort of “list” can result in some strong arguments for and against.  Some stand out more than others on either end of the balancing board. And while most fall into the realm of opinion, I have to say, some really bewilder.  As this Sakana Grill one did.

I think in these cases, its important to speak up – provide countering opinions and offer up others for consideration, as I’ve tried to do with this post, than to just blindly accept what others write. After all, these are the “experts” that represent your city. Most people I know usually like putting their best foot forward.

As the saying goes, you may disagree with me but I will defend your right to disagree…

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18 thoughts on “Foodosophy of Wild Ratings

  1. Great post shokutsu. While you are writing about Calgary, that does not mean Vancouver is spared of a similar fate. At lot of times, it is more about the marketing hype rather than what is actually served on the plate, not to mention the food being catered towards people who might not know better. What bothers me of lists like this (Vancouver has one too many), is that the “critics”/”Subject-Matter-Experts” are more-often-than-not anything but. Heck, when the list of best restaurants in Vancouver in 2009 came out, I couldn’t but help raise my eyebrows to find that all of them were from major chains or those with a seizeable PR department. As for me, I would rather find what we (as in bloggers – hell, I trust you guys more than, say, Andrew Morrison!) have to say, provided it is not a blag…

    • I’m sure E-town has its fair share of these kinds of lists as well. Please share your thoughts it you come across any dubious ones. Might be fun to compare. 🙂

      • I think it’s difficult for someone in the public like AL to criticize someone else directly. Especially in such a small industry. Unfair of you to ask Shokutsu 🙂

        • Not asking to criticize – just asked which of the rankings, if any, were in their opinion, could be deemed as being spot on or less so. Seems from the comment that there was more a feeling that the ratings were subpar (“none too impressed), and want to know which ones as I’m not really familiar with the Calgary food scene anymore and wanted to get a local’s opinion. I think this has no bearing on whether or not AL writes in the public sphere as a professional writer or as anonymous bloggers like us.

          • Good/accurate is fine. Bad inaccurate (or “less so” as you put it) is the one i dispute. There are people attached to those recommendations and reviews. If someone says “this selection was less than accurate”, like it or not, someone will likely be offended.

            • I’m sure the folks who volunteer to be on judging panels and get their names next to text, are all big boys and girls and can take a little criticism. 🙂 Heck, all us food bloggers have taken hits and are no worse for wear. As I ended my post, people don’t always disagree but we should be aware that people have the right to do so.

              To put it in other words, I just want anyone else who may have read this article to let me know if there are any rankings that they agree with and/or disagree with and not stop there but to also let me know why, as I’d like to get some insight into the reasons these judges rated them as such, and why anyone (such as our dear readers) might feel the same or differently. And if I make my way to Calgary or any other town that puts out these kinds of lists, I’ll do my best to check things out on my own as well to see how I feel personally.

              Foodospher, are you secretly a fan of Sakana Grill? 😉

  2. I’ve figure being that the money from my blog is not that good I should do something else.
    Since the places that most food rags and local papers rave about are usually nothing special I will start submitting items to these publishers that extol the virtues of the amazing chain stores the unwashed masses frequent. This should win me acclaim and increase my net income substantially.
    An epiphany if ever one crossed my mind. 🙂

  3. Sakana is hardly my idea of best sushi and sashimi in Calgary; that title probably goes to Globefish for me. I haven’t been to Blowfish or Zen 8 (I passed by there to and from a rather bad experience at Spur and wondering if I should’ve spurred Spur and went in there instead…), but all of which are/seem better than Sakana by a country and western mile…

    Guess I’ve got to get on it now…

    • Globefish, while insanely popular with Calgarians, has left me feeling blah each time I’ve gone (twice in total at two different locations). Blowfish lately I can’t comment on and Zen8 (which I checked out once back in May 2009) was a huge disappointment, and not on my recommended list for sushi in Cowtown.

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