Having received a great deal of attention for his panning of TV personality Guy Fieri's recently opened Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells addressed both his handling of that review and restaurant reviewing in general in a piece in Monday's Times, where he answered questions posed by readers. (We wrote about Wells' review of Guy's American here.)
Of note to Vocabularians, one reader asked Wells about words he uses to describe food.
Q. It's very hard to describe food. Are there adjectives that you are guilty of using and re-using? And conversely, are there words you refuse to use, just cause they're either your pet peeves, or they're over-used? And extrapolating, what are trends in food reviewing of late that you absolutely hate?
— Beth, Santa Monica, CA
A. I’m sure if I ran a word-frequency program over all my reviews to date I'd be mortified by how many dishes were rich, or fragrant, or aromatic, or delicate, or gentle, or crisp, or crunchy. But you're right to sense that some repetition is unavoidable. I try to stick to short and unobtrusive adjectives whenever I can. I could probably describe a serving size as "large" once a week without anyone noticing, but I doubt I could get away with "brobdingnagian" more than once in a lifetime. If that. I try to stay away from industry jargon, like "price point" instead of prices or "cocktail program" instead of cocktails. There are a few adjectives that just make my skin crawl, like sinful. The Times would probably frown on orgasmic, with good reason.
Here at Vocabulary.com, while we weren't up for a scan of all Wells' reviews to date, we did quickly check through his last three, and found no evidence of a mortifying overreliance on rich, fragrant, aromatic, delicate, gentle, crisp, or crunchy. In fact we found only two appearances of words from this list, both in a review of East Village bistro, Calliope. Of Calliope's eggs mayonnaise, Wells writes, "The eggs are just barely set in the center, and the mayonnaise is a sunny, yolk-rich yellow, seasoned boldly with vinegar, lemon juice and mustard." And while discussing Calliope's braised rabbit legs tossed with pappardelle, Wells notes, "All around the city you can find Italian spins on this idea, the sauce a ragù pink with tomatoes and aromatic with rosemary."
Pete Wells, you heard it here: no mortification necessary.
But what words is Wells using, if not the ones on his list? To find out, we cut and pasted the text of the same three reviews into the Vocabulary.com list builder and used the Vocab Grab tool to pull out recommended vocabulary words. (Watch this video to see how to do this yourself.) The resulting Vocabulary List, "Restaurant Critic Pete Wells' Yummy Words," is a quiz. See if you are a master of Wells' vocabulary!
Then leave a comment letting us know what food words you see too often, or really enjoy.