It seems a cultural epoch ago that we were debating whether things were moving too fast when people put up reviews within a few weeks. In no time that seemed to have shortened to reviews coming out on opening night (in the case of Sumi Robata Bar), and now we seem to have moved backwards in time entirely, to reviewing food before openings. What's next, Yelp reviews based on architects' drawings?
Well, at least there was actual food involved in the reviews last night—both Nagrant and Hahn were invited to a preopening preview dinner as members of the mailing list of Sunday Dinner Club, an underground dinner group from the people opening Honey Butter.
Nagrant says it was not a "friends and family" dinner, for which there's usually no charge; he paid for his meal. And because he paid, he felt free to comment on it: "I'm a believer that when the door is open and people are paying full price, judgement is fine."
He says, "Tweeting on opening day is inevitable. It's America. People will do what they want." But he also thinks even a reviewer writing as a consumer advocate should tread lightly on someone's business in the frenzy of opening: "They should understand that is indeed opening day and either be temperate in their criticism or withhold it or try to understand if what they're criticizing is a function of opening day." Nagrant also says that because he knows the owners from past Sunday Dinner Club dinners, he won't be writing RedEye's official review.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken is certainly not a restaurant that burst onto the scene yesterday expecting to live or die by the immediate reaction. It's had a public media presence for nearly two years, with Chicagoist in particular covering many stages of the owners' journey toward opening, from prepping for an event to hunting for a space.
Last night, in fact, was far from the first time that you could try their fried chicken—I tried it at their first public event, a Dose Market, back in December 2011. And they've been tweeted about and written about ever since. So it's hard to say that anything escaped last night that wasn't out there anyway.
If it seems iffy that the rise of social media and the instant-response attitude in both social and regular media has telescoped the opening process for restaurants, the flip side is that it also means that publicity isn't over when the opening-month flurry comes to an end. Places may be judged too early, but they'll also be judged again and again as more voices discover them. The idea of the definitive review was already an anachronism when it became the norm for restaurants to change their menus every week; every comment now, whether 2,000 learned words or 140 characters, is a picture of a point in time. In the end, for the good places, being talked about more for longer has to be good news.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 3361 N. Elston, 773-478-4000, honeybutter.com