John des Rosiers' Inovasi in Lake Bluff has regular customers who love it as a kind of neighborhood bistro, of an inventiveness that never crosses the line into weirdness. This much we know from going there; but we can see that you might never know it from reading Inovasi's reviews on Yelp, which seem to be a collection of misfit complaints from those who were destined to never like it anyway. And it's winter and gray out and, well, at some point John des Rosiers decided to start answering his Yelp critics. And some of the answers started to get a little snarky.
Like this one:
we are not a normal restaurant, and we are not for customers who do not want to be more adventurous than the average diner.
We are for people interested in unique, locally grown, sustainable cuisine in a warm and comfortabe setting with a nice and caring service staff.
we did not have pork chops.
we did not add anything sweet to the pork dish
we did not have blueberries
we did not have cauliflower
we did not have tuna either.
thank you for the nice service comment.
Which is a very dry way to call someone an idiot for their "review" on Yelp. Des Rosiers' tweaking of Yelpers probably would have flown under the irony-radar of much of this crowd— if he hadn't also boasted about it on Twitter:
I have decided to actively answer each incorrect and idiotic review on yelp. All of them.
And then his Yelping about Yelp got Yelped in return, or something like that. One Niki Conrad started an entire thread about des Rosiers attacking Yelpers. Yelpers, you will not be surprised to learn, disagreed with him, even as they added fuel to his fire:
Hey! What's wrong with bread sticks and salad at Olive Garden?! So long as you avoid the pasta, it's good stuff! =-)
Actually, there's probably some irony in that statement too, but Yelp, like the town Steve Martin lives in in Roxanne, is not really the place to go looking for it.
The fight continued on a more personal level on Twitter as well, with Conrad and a freelance writer named Paige Worthy attacking des Rosiers:
This conversation: Not about politics. This is about you being a horrible businessman and unkind person.
And his rebuttal:
oh come on now. Horrible businessmen? I've built 5 places in 3 years. 3 more coming.
More than anything these two sides are talking past each other, and it's hard to see how they'll every meet: Yelpers insist they are the people, des Rosiers thinks his worst customers ever wind up being aggregated on Yelp:
Inovasi just gets awarded open table customer reviews best north suburb restaurant!! Over 450 reviews. Ppl on yelp don't agree.
By a coincidence, we just received Yelp's e-newsletter, whose chirpy tone attempts to portray Yelp as a Pleasantville of discerning dining (actual quote: "'wedge-cut fries, garlic mac 'n' cheese and locally sourced ingredients' make Tricia L swoon: 'You've gotta love the barn-like décor' at Grange Hall Burger Bar - 'unless you're not a fan of life.'") Needless to say, they stay far far away from this lively controversy ("'F--- you if you don't like that I didn't understand your 'thoughtful play on Gorgonzola,' says Angie M.").
So, like the CIA chief at the end of Burn After Reading, we have to ask: What the hell did we learn? Maybe nothing more than that this kind of thing is going to erupt every once in a while (we'd quote Clemenza on bad blood and going to the mattresses, but we've hit our movie reference quota in this piece) and it means nothing more than blowing off steam and the love of hearing yourself speak on the internet. We normally incline to the view that one Yelp reviewer may well be an idiot, but 10 saying the same thing are free research, and it does seem like a number of people have had service issues with Inovasi. On the other hand, des Rosiers seems fairly right that most of those who came and didn't like Inovasi just weren't meant to like his style of food; if Open Table generally draws more thoughtful and just plain comprehending commentary, that would tend to support his take, or at least legitimize his dismissal of Yelp in his own case.
Maybe the one salient point is that responding at all seems to have fed a certain amount of self-delusion about their own importance in the Yelp thread. Predictions of des Rosiers' imminent destruction due to his allegedly poor business tactics seem pretty ill-informed about the actual state of his rapidly-expanding business, and the bluster they conjure up about taking him down is often comical.
In the end, like a second-tier Coen Brothers comedy, we're not sure this story has a point, just a number of laughs along the way. Chefs and Yelp are destined to fight like cats and dogs, Madonna and taste, wedge-cut fries and sophistication; and there's nothing more to it than that. Watch for the next installment in this series, sooner than you'd want.