It's the nature of the newspaper business that we sometimes make people angry at us. This can't be helped, but it's important that we occasionally leave the office to face those we've angered on their own turf.
Honest opinions can be hard to digest
It's the only way to keep reminding ourselves of the effect our criticism can have on people and to be careful never to criticize frivolously.
Thus, I found myself at Bobby's Bistro in Temple Valley the other night visiting with owners Bobby and April Light and their partner David Chan.
They were unhappy with a review of their five-week-old restaurant by our food critic Nadine Kam. They thought it was unfairly harsh on their decor and food, which is a fusion of Thai and Italian cuisine. Several of their customers also had written to take issue with the review.
I bought dinner while I was there and was satisfied with the food and the friendly service. Kam had mentioned the service favorably in her review.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that people in the area give Bobby's Bistro a try. It's certainly better than anything else in Temple Valley and there's not much as good or better in its moderate price range in nearby Kaneohe.
Kam, however, has to take an island-wide perspective and measure the restaurant against others she has visited elsewhere on Oahu. She didn't feel that Bobby's is yet the kind of stand-out restaurant that would drive people to travel across the island to eat. For those on the other side of the Pali, she felt there are many other restaurants of similar or better quality closer to home. I thought her review was within the bounds of fair criticism.
Reviews are necessarily subjective and opinions differ. That's why we're careful in choosing the writers who do our reviews.
Kam, our features editor, had been writing about restaurants on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island for six years before joining our staff. She has been reviewing restaurants for us for 10 years and has earned wide respect among readers and editors.
People have gotten to know her tastes and can compare their own likely reaction to a restaurant to hers, whether they agree with her or not. For every complaint we receive, I see many more restaurants with blown-up copies of Kam's reviews hanging proudly on their walls.
Since food is a matter of taste, Kam always takes one or more people with her to sample a restaurant to make sure a consensus of tastes is represented in the review. We welcome opposing opinions and gladly give our critics space to differ with our reviews. We've already run two such letters on Bobby's Bistro and may publish a third.
People put their hearts and souls along with their money into the restaurants, books, music, plays and art work we review and take criticism very personally. I don't blame them.
But our bottom-line responsibility is to our readers. Reviews are guideposts to help busy readers sort through the many attractions competing for their time and entertainment dollars. While we make room for differing views, we owe readers an honest opinion in our reviews. Readers can take our opinions for whatever they think they are worth.
To give less than an honest opinion would diminish the credibility of all that we do. If we say everything we review is just wonderful, how could readers believe us that anything is really wonderful?
David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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