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January 7, 2019

Look, I know what I said.
I know it hasn’t been that long.
And maybe I take this stuff too seriously.

Really, the problem is that I shouldn’t have even clicked on the Times Union’s Best of the Capital Region reader choice poll. But I did.

If you think you know what comes next, you’re likely mistaken. Because this year is different. It’s really, really different. And I have to admit that I was encouraged by the changes that the TU made to how the poll was being conducted this year. That was, until I started to click some more.

Perhaps it’s too early to panic. There’s a possibility the people of the Capital Region might rise to the occasion. Before we delve into the new cruelty, let’s start with the good.

Hats off to the Times Union for recognizing that their Best of the Capital Region poll could use some improving, and making concrete steps to change up the process. Truly. No snark. No attitude. No subtle subtext.

Just a straight up pat on the back.

The new plan, is a two phased approach. And it took some of the best stuff from prior improvements to the questionnaire, and took it even further.

The improvement of asking for individual locations is still in place, which helps block out large chains that rely on national advertising budgets to increase consumer awareness. Small local businesses can’t compete with that kind of firepower.

Also, the expansion of categories has held. I’ve stopped looking too closely at them, but Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants all used to be lumped into one category. Thai used to be grouped with Vietnamese and Indonesian, and that too is a vestige of the past.

Unfortunately, somehow in the expansion, Korean restaurants have been dropped from the survey entirely. That’s regrettable since now our small region boasts Seoul Korean, Sunhee’s, Namu, K-Plate, and Kraverie. That’s five.

Five is now the new magic number.

So the new plan from the Times Union—and it’s a sensible one—is to add a nomination period before the official voting. In each category, people are now invited to nominate one local business. Then, the five top nominations will be presented for voting later this month.

It’s not quite rank-sorted voting, but it’s not a bad plan. Especially in categories where there are many many more businesses than five. Like Chinese restaurants, for example. So I clicked into the Chinese tab, and was crestfallen with what I found.

For starters, there’s a whole lot of nothing. Personally, I’m happy that Ala Shanghai not only makes the list of restaurants provided, but that it’s towards the top alphabetically. However, the included list barely skims the surface of the region’s Chinese restaurants. Literally none of the restaurants dedicated to serving authentic versions of Sichuan cuisine are represented in the category. And on top of that, not all of the nine businesses included are even Chinese restaurants.

Before you suggest that a comprehensive list of restaurants would be too long, cumbersome, and bulky, I would invite you to check out the supplied list under Best Chicken Wings. Although before you can even see the 90+ businesses listed in that category, your jaw may drop at the sight of four “Featured Entrants” at the top of that list.

Featured Entrants? The four wing places chosen are such unlikely suspects that one has to wonder how they came to be featured. The featured listing for Otis & Oliver’s includes the unattributed quote, “Crispy and meaty with the best homemade blue cheese dressing for dipping!” Even more curious is the line, “made to order spice and flavor wise! Awesome Staff!!” that resides on the listing for Bayou Cafe.

The Featured Entrants aren’t in every category. But I stumbled onto a few. And they are all equally perplexing

Deep breaths.
It’s fine.
No babies are going to die.
But it’s just disappointing.
It’s deeply disappointing.

If the goal was to open the playing field, by allowing write-in nominations during the first phase of this survey, I think it would have been prudent to avoid providing any business names. What the TU has done is tainted their results based on the survey questions. And that’s a shame.

Perhaps, ultimately, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Consider this paragraph from a past post on the FLB:

Koto again takes Best Japanese. El Loco is still Best Mexican. Gus’s is still Best Cheap Eats. Empire is still Best Wine Store. Bella Napoli is still Best Bakery. Roma is still Best Ethnic Market. Augie’s takes Best Family Restaurant again. Ric is once again declared our best chef. According to readers of the Times Union, little has changed in years.

On the upside, “Best Ethnic Market” is no longer a category. So there is progress. As a reminder, small, slow progress is still progress.

The other good news is that it means when it comes to food in the Capital Region, despite all the positive change we’ve experienced recently, there’s still work to be done. It’s a great reminder, and it will help inspire the FLB project to keep going through the next seven weeks of winter.

While I’ve encouraged participation in the TU polls of the past, this year I’m not so sure. But I’m curious to hear what you think.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jon in Albany permalink
    January 7, 2019 10:44 am

    Table Hopping reported the Bayou Cafe was closing. I could have missed an update on that but it looks like they are promoting a place that won’t be open when the results are released.

  2. Benjamin M. permalink
    January 7, 2019 12:53 pm

    I know I am always on the lookout for the best “lically” wing…

  3. January 7, 2019 2:20 pm

    You are too kind. How could the survey not include Hong Kong Bakery which is right down Wolf Road from their offices? Not to mention Hu’s House and Northeastern Chinese on Central or Shu’s over by Crossgates Mall.

    My NY resolution is to say and think fewer snarky things, which is good because otherwise I would suggest payola is involved. Level one, you get mentioned in the pre-filled nominees even if you are a Japanese restaurant that wants to be listed as a Chinese restaurant. Level two, you get a favorable quote about how great your food is and any serious competitors are shut out.

    But, I didn’t think that so assume it’s innocent and completely coincidental.

  4. January 7, 2019 2:30 pm

    Dammit, you made me look. Readers should get a note from their cardiologist before clicking through to the survey. I got no further than “Best restaurant to open in the past year”. A quick scan found Osteria Danny and Peck’s Arcade, both of which have been open way longer than a year. But not Taverna Novo… maybe because Napoli’s Pizzeria and Romo’s Pizzeria are so clearly superior? After that they had to grab the defibrillator paddles…..

  5. David Nardolillo permalink
    January 7, 2019 3:01 pm

    Probably best to direct a question to the TU about the “featured entrant” designation. It might be a case of unfortunate wording, but the term sounds like an advertising opportunity for a business to pay for the placement.

  6. Jimbo permalink
    January 11, 2019 4:41 pm

    To get on the list, the restaurant has to be nominated. Don’t see your favorite? Then write it in! The nomination is on you, one per customer.

    I agree about the Featured Restaurants. They look suspiciously like paid placements, which have no business in what has become the only regional survey since the demise of the TU’s arts & culture competitors.

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