I signed up with the Ottawa Foodies online group earlier this week, and have been browsing through their forums and reviews. Talk about a gold mine of information! This has got to be one of the best independent listings of restaurants and food purveyors in the Ottawa area. It's a good jumping-off point if you're searching for a new eatery or a source for some rare ingredient not usually found on this continent. But, like any "review" site, you have to take opinions with a big ol' chunk of fleur de sel.
For example, much has been said there (and in various Ottawa newspapers and magazines) about Fraser Café, but my first experience with the place was rather disappointing. Formerly the original Works Burger location, the café was still choked with smoke from the open-concept kitchen and grill. That ambience was nice when it was a burger joint; not so appealing for a casual fine dining experience. The food was hit-and-miss: my smoked chicken sandwich was decent, but Hubby's burger arrived dry, stringy and tasteless. I'll give credit to the server for comping us the burger and inviting us to return. "We want you to be wowed when you come here," he server said. "I hope you'll give us a second chance." Indeed, I may. Reviews about dinner seem much more positive, and the menu far too inviting to pass up.
On the topic of reviews, I read a chapter from Will Write for Food about how restaurant reviewers do their work. For every one meal that's even halfway decent, there are dozens more that range from mediocre to worthy of a trip to emerg for a stomach pump. WWFF suggests that a good reviewer will frequent an establishment many times over the course of several weeks, at different hours of the day, ordering almost everything from the menu at least once. All of this has to be done incognito, to ensure unbiased treatment by the staff and management. And here's the kicker: if you're freelancing instead of on a publication's payroll, chances are you won't be seeing a refund for all those meals out.
I think I like my dinners out too much to make a career out of reviewing, as glamorous as it may seem on the surface. It's bad enough when I over-analyze wines everywhere I go; if I was a reviewer, I'd never know when to turn off the "work" switch and just enjoy a meal.