Monday, March 18, 2019

Quick Bite: San Telmo and Yelp’s False Gems

Oh, and basically a whole forest of arugula.
Generally I find Yelp to be a pretty useful tool for finding new and interesting restaurants to try, but it’s also far from perfect. In particular, Yelpers seem to vastly overrate many of the perfectly unremarkable mom-and-pop spots, international cuisines and delis. Don’t misunderstand: There are certainly restaurants in these categories that truly shine. But often Yelp’s glowing consensus can be utterly baffling.

This phenomenon came to mind when I stopped by San Telmo, an Argentine sandwich joint downtown. When the place I’d planned to go was closed (private event), I thought, why not try the place right next door with the coveted 5-star Yelp rating?

The food was fine. Average. A little boring, actually. And since dull food makes for dull writing, I won’t spend too much time on it. Suffice it to say my chicken empanada was a bit dry, a bit under-seasoned and generally pretty plain. The San Telmo sandwich was slightly better, with herb-dressed mushrooms and a nice note of sharpness from the Swiss cheese. But the pesto aioli was underwhelming and a bit grassy, while the ribeye was a little overdone and seemed to be seasoned exclusively with salt. You’d think the dish named after the restaurant would be one to really shine, but all I got was a decent deli sandwich.

I feel a little bad about picking on a restaurant that isn’t by any means bad. It just happened to bring to mind an odd blind spot on an otherwise fairly reliable site. Why do people feel compelled to give such radiant reviews to places that don’t stand out in any apparent way?

One reason, I think, is that people develop an emotional attachment to their neighborhood restaurant, the same way they do for the local sports team. Another probably stems from people’s desire to find the diamond in the rough, to have coveted insider information, to be a trendsetter. I can certainly sympathize—it’s great being a world-famous elite influencer, loved and respected by all. But let me humbly contend that not everyone can be this unfathomably awesome. And when people let wishful thinking cloud their judgment, it prevents people from finding the places that really do deserve all the accolades.

Score: 5 out of 10

P.S. I wish this place were really great so I could have titled this post "San Telmo's Fire."

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