City of Ate had just posted its monthly revolving doors column when the Dallas Morning News reported on the closing of Cafe San Miguel yesterday. The owners sent out an email to diners saying, "After making a home at 1907 N. Henderson Ave. for over 6 years, with great sadness we announce the closure of Cafe San Miguel".
I've never been to the restaurant, so I poked around the internet looking for information. I started with the Observer. Mark Stuertz penned a negative review almost six years ago. Hardly relevant now. D Magazine reviewed the restaurant two years later -- but a lot can change in three years. So, after a search of local blogs that I like turned up nothing, I did was most internet sleuths do when researching a restaurant. I turned to Yelp.
Cafe San Miguel currently hovers at 3.5 stars, according to the page Yelp devotes to the restaurant, in a rating compiled over 69 user submitted reviews. In September of this year, that rating had sunk to two stars, but then quickly rocketed to four in just two months. Was this the power of the internet on display? A real time restaurant rating system that tracks restaurant performance down to the day? Can you picture a future where you can ask the internet how the fish is at your favorite hang -- tonight?
A blow by blow in the review section muddies the water even further. Yelpers praise guacamole, and lament parking and pricing. "I hear the guacamole is a green orgasm on a chip. Will have to get that next time, " wrote one user, admitting that he'd never tried the dish. But guacamole gushing was consistent. "Great guacamole,' "the guac is some of the best in Dallas," I LOVE their guac," and so on.
Other dishes were mixed: "Got the fish tacos here and they were muy magnifico" wrote the orgasmic guacamole eater. "Had the fish tacos...we were underwhelmed," wrote another.
So how helpful is Yelp? I use it every day. When I'm out exploring restaurants and people give me a recommendation, I'll pull up Yelp on my iPhone and add a bookmark for the restaurant. I love the map feature that lets me pull up my bookmarks within a small radius depending on where I am in the Metroplex. I'll read reviews, carefully looking for smartly written food commentary that might steer an initial order. And that's about it.
A friend from out of town this past weekend used Yelp to find a Vietnamese restaurant in Fort Worth. He ordered dishes according to Yelp recommendations and was underwhelmed. "Stick to Mexican in Texas," he told me.
Below I've cut and pasted the results of a Yelp inquiry: restaurants in Dallas, top ten, sorted by highest rating first. Capped with an Olive Garden ad, the list ranks Damian's Cajun Soul Cafe well above the much lauded Lucia. Mesa is also listed above Lucia, despite having a smaller rating. It looks like this:
Yelp Ad Olive Garden 3.0 star rating
1. Scardello 5.0 star rating 2. Mesa 4.5 star rating 3. Damian's Cajun Soul Cafe 5.0 star rating 4. The French Room 4.5 star rating 5. Cosa Nostra 5.0 star rating 6. Friendly's Grocery 4.5 star rating 7. Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas at Las Colinas 4.5 star rating 8. Empa Mundo 4.5 star rating 9. Lucia 4.5 star rating 10. Pho Pasteur Restaurant 4.5 star rating
No matter what you think of these ratings or the site in general, Yelp has grown into a powerful tool that steers dining and even, some believe, threatens the profession of restaurant journalism. So I want to turn the tables today. Let's turn this comment stream into real-time review of Yelp. How do you use the site, and what features stand out. Do you let Yelp help you choose a restaurant? What about a dish? Sound off Aters. Follow City of Ate on Facebook & Twitter. Follow me at @scottreitz