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Weighing In On Eatery Expert

Eatery Experts.jpgOver the past few years, I’ve become a Dear Abby of the food sorts.  It wasn’t something I advertised, but when you write about restaurants, you become an obvious resource for advice for the majority of eaters who can’t afford a personal restaurant concierge.  I would get emails from people asking where to their wife for a 30th anniversary or a first date suggestion with a vegetarian or the best Thai restaurant in the city.  I couldn’t ignore a fellow foodie’s plea for help. 

Suddenly, there was new competition.  Eatery Expert  launched a few weeks ago, offering
free restaurant advice as well.   Of course, I felt compelled to
investigate their “expert” status.  There are plenty of great restaurants, but they’re not all great for every occasion.  Picking the perfect restaurant involves a number of factors, like  cuisine, company, price and noise level.  I wouldn’t advise you to “meet the parents” for the first time at a place that doesn’t take reservations.  You could end up waiting for an hour and run out of conversation before you even sit down for dinner. I also wouldn’t recommend you to take a vegetarian to Momofuku Ssam Bar, The Breslin, or any other pork-centric place in the city.   Would this “so-called” Eatery Expert take into account any of these circumstances?

I sent them several questions from three different email accounts with different names on each account.  I also sent the same question from two different accounts to see how consistent their suggestions were.   My biggest concern  is that they don’t cover the the dining possibilities in Brooklyn, Queens, or any of the boroughs, but we’ll get to that in a bit.   Before I get into recommendations, I have to give them props for being prompt.  They returned all three of my initial emails within 24 hours.  However, they don’t work on the weekends.  (My Saturday email wasn’t returned until Monday.)    They’re also extremely polite.  “Thank you for giving Eatery Expert a shot,”  was the first line of every response I received.  They even wished my hypothetical foodie friend a happy birthday before rattling off  suggestions for an affordable restaurant to celebrate the occasion with twelve friends.

In the birthday case, they offered me three options, listing La Carbonara first as their first choice, then Macondo followed by Supper and Alta.   Supper and Alta are both respectable suggestions, but I can think of much better options than La Carbonara and Macondo like Il Buco, which has better food and a better wine listPersonally, I think foodies like to get creative with birthday dinners, like going for the bo ssam at Momofuku Ssam Bar or the fried chicken in Koreatown or at Locanda Verde on Sundays.  So I inquired again, thanking them for their initial suggestions and asking for “something more chef-driven.”  The second time around they proposed Yerba Buena Perry, Sorella, and L’Artusi, which are all great, but why did I have to ask twice to get their best recommendations?   
I also wrote them from a male user’s account, asking where to take a vegetarian on a third date.  I explained, “I don’t want to take her to a vegetarian restaurant, just somewhere she can actually eat that has good food and wine.”  They came up with Bottega Organico, Paprika, and Agave, which are fine for everyday, but a little generic for a special occasion.   So I asked again, steering them toward something more special.  The second time around, they came up with Craft and Cafe Boulud, both excellent choices.  They’ve obviously done their homework, but why not give me the best advice you’ve got right away?  Fortunately, they did just that when I asked for a sushi spot with very fresh fish and traditional rolls somewhere on the Lower East Side or the East Village.  They had me at Kanoyama, which happens to be one of my favorites in the city.   

But not once did the folks at Eatery Expert suggest a restaurant in the boroughs.  After I posted this piece, Eatery Expert updated me that they had added “Manhattan”
to their website for clarification and pointed to the 212 in their logo, which I didn’t initially assume was literal.  This becomes a problem when you’re looking for the best Mexican food and tacos in New York.  They proposed Cascabel, Mercadito, and La Lucha.   What about La Superior or Ricos Tacos, both in Brooklyn?  Or La Casa De Los Tacos in Harlem?  When I asked for the best Mexican from another account, they came back with the same recommendations, so they’re certainly consistent.  Overall, I was impressed with their suggestions, but I might considering changing the name to “Manhattan Eatery Expert.”

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