Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Times' Route 9 Review Takes Some Twists and Turns - UPDATED

Yesterday must have been something of a roller coaster for Paola and Jeremy Goldberg, the young proprietors of Route 9, a humble neighborhood restaurant that opened up in Coral Gables almost exactly two months ago. The Goldbergs, who met while at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York (hence the name of the restaurant, for the area's main thoroughfare) woke up to find a fairly glowing, three-star review from Victoria Pesce-Elliott in the Miami Herald (full version now available here). She described Route 9 as "a cozy and endearing spot," and that the Goldbergs' "greatest talent seems to be creating a welcoming environment with good food and drinks at a reasonable price." So far, so good.

Then, the Miami New Times posted its review (yes, I know: you will get a "Page Not Found" message when you click on that link. We'll get to that. Here, try the cached version a revised version now appears on the site with the statement "This story was removed from the Internet overnight while several factual errors were corrected. We apologize for the inconvenience."), which was not nearly so kind. Though New Times' restaurant critic, Lee Klein (?) (just wait), starts off with the "sweet, old-fashioned story" behind Route 9 and its owners, things quickly go downhill from there. The menu "could have been written in the year the Goldbergs graduated from the CIA" - 1991, according to the review. And just about every dish has some flaw: the chicken wings should have been described as spicy, the poblano peppers stuffed with smoked marlin could have used another component, some of the meatballs were uncooked, the tomato soup tasted like Campbell's. The fish tacos were too expensive, the vegetable accompaniments to the entrées ranged from "meh" to "awful," the pasta was too thick. The menu should have had quotes around "pie" for the banana cream pie because of the sloppy presentation.[1]

No restaurateur likes a negative review. But upon reading it, the Goldbergs thought something wasn't right. Among other things, the facts. You can look at the picture of Jeremy and Paola that accompanies the review and pretty quickly conclude that it's fairly unlikely they graduated from the CIA in 1991. As Goldberg told the Random Pixels blog: "I was 9 years old in 1991."[2] The menu couldn't put quote marks around "pie" because - well, because the pie isn't even on the printed menu, it's a verbal special.

There was something else too: Jeremy Goldberg had his doubts that Lee Klein had even visited the restaurant. Why? Well, it's a small restaurant (about 40 seats), Jeremy is pretty much always working front of house, and it probably wouldn't be too difficult to recall a repeat customer who had ordered the items mentioned in the review. And, in fact, Goldberg eventually did recall a recent customer who had ordered many of those items, and was, as Jeremy described it to Random Pixels, "a difficult table." But it wasn't Lee Klein. Rather, it was Klime Kovaceski, formerly the chef at Crystal Café in Miami Beach, and recently tapped to be the chef at the about-to-open Trio on the Bay. Goldberg suspected that Kovaceski either wrote the review, or provided the information to Lee Klein from which he wrote it. Sound crazy?

Goldberg called New Times' editor, Chuck Strouse, with his suspicions. (You can get something of a real-time account from Route 9's twitter feed). After calling, he said that Strouse was "investigating major inconsistencies" with the article. A few hours later Goldberg tweeted:
Chuck Strouse, editor New Times is stand up. Killing the New Times story for first time in 13 years based on Lee Klein lack of credibility.
And indeed, shortly thereafter, the review was pulled from the New Times website. Strouse told Eater Miami, "Story had some error. Will be reposted tomorrow." So far that hasn't happened. Strouse also told me last night that he would be commenting on the review that was pulled, and why it was pulled, today. So far that hasn't happened either. (See update below.)

(continued ...)

Meanwhile, a little more color can be had courtesy of Random Pixels, who reported that "A source at New Times told me that Strouse could be heard throughout the entire newsroom Wednesday afternoon yelling at Klein over the phone." Random Pixels also reports that Goldberg went to Kovaceski's new restaurant to confront him and that Kovaceski "confirmed he was the source of much of the information contained in Klein's review."

There are still more details about the connection between Klein and Kovaceski that haven't yet been noted. Only a few days ago, Klein provided a pre-pre-opening "First Look" at Kovaceski's new restaurant on New Times' Short Order blog (the opening-night invitation-only festivities for Trio are this Saturday). Obviously, it's impossible for Klein to have done such a report anonymously. That was preceded by a fairly breathless preview of Trio's opening last month. So it would appear to be beyond doubt that Klein and Kovaceski know each other and have spoken recently.

How well do they know each other? Well, if they did somehow collaborate on the Route 9 review, it apparently would not be the first time they'd worked on a writing project together. Though the web page apparently has recently been changed, a Google search of "Klime Kovaceski Lee Klein" turns up a page for which Google's preview reads:

"Klime Kovaceski and veteran Miami food critic Lee Klein are currently working on a book about Eastern European cooking, an often misunderstood cuisine that ..."
Any reference to Lee Klein has been deleted from the web page, but the cached version shows the original reference to Klein, "BEST RESTAURANT FOOD CRITIC in the USA":

There is a lot to digest here, and I haven't quite finished doing so yet, but I'd like to hear what Chuck Strouse and Lee Klein have to say about it first.


Around mid-day today, a slightly revised version of the New Times Route 9 review was posted to its website. References to the Goldbergs' "1991" graduation date from CIA and work history were corrected, as was the type of fish used in a particular dish and a description of the menu.

New Times editor Chuck Strouse explained a bit more in a post on Short Order entitled "Route 9 Review: Errors Corrected." Strouse acknowledged that the review contained "several factual errors" and that it was initially removed in response to Goldberg's complaints: "We removed the piece from the Internet, reviewed the claims, corrected the mistakes, and reposted it. We regret the errors and extend a heartfelt apology to Goldberg."

Strouse also acknowledged that the critic, Lee Klein, dined at Route 9 with Klime Kovaceski, a chef at another about-to-open Miami restaurant, but that Kovaceski "paid for his own meal and his opinions were not expressed in any way in the review." He went on to note that Klein and Kovaceski "are old friends and once had planned to write a cookbook together."

Strouse claims, however, that Goldberg's concern that a competitor was involved in the review of his restaurant "doesn't hold water" because Kovaceski's restaurant is located more than 20 minutes away and "hadn't even opened when they dined at the restaurant." He also categorically denies the assertion that Klein did not dine at Route 9, saying that credit card receipts from two different visits affirm Klein's presence.

Credit card receipts previously posted by Route 9 on Twitter (since removed) reflected that Kovaceski dined at Route 9 on March 22. Klein's "First Look" at Kovaceski's new restaurant, Trio on the Bay, was posted on New Times' Short Order blog on March 28. The post indicates that Trio is having an opening party this Saturday, and officially opens for business Tuesday, April 5.

I'm still digesting.

[1]Interestingly, that's exactly how Victoria Elliott refers to it in her review: "a banana cream 'pie' that's really a charmingly sloppy ramekin of pudding with slivers of ripe fruit and a touch of whipped cream."

[2]It appears this information may have come from an old version of the restaurant's website posted before the restaurant had opened.


  1. If only our local food "journalists" were half as thorough as you! I am so tired of reading regurgitated PR nonsense taken directly from publicist press releases.


  2. Nice to see the little guy sticking up for himself to the big company...screenplay?

  3. Maybe this Klime guy us actually a better critic than Lee? I've been to Route 9 a couple of times and it's been mediocre foodwise but good servicewise. The tacos were the worst item by far, and that's considering we ordered roasted Hebrew National salami which is a lonely log of roasted salami with some gashes only accompanied by a bit of mustard. We got a side of something, believe it was mushrooms, and ot a plate of 6 or 7 meager shrooms. Nice place, but when you compare it to a similar restaurant in South Miami, Whisk, the latter blows the doors off this place. I agree the way the review was done was completely unethical and unprofessional, but whoever did the review, I agree with him more than VPE.

  4. I'm curious as to how these secret food critics get the photos of the menu items that get posted with the review. It seems as if someone taking such meticulous photos at his table would clearly come across as a critic. Does anyone have any insight into this?

  5. Now this beats a tweet any day. :)

    You gotta wonder, though, how many other times Klein might have done the same thing.


  6. @ Anon at 12:13pm

    You wrote: "I'm curious as to how these secret food critics get the photos of the menu items that get posted with the review."

    That's easy. After the review is written and submitted, the editor will ask the art director to assign a photographer to shoot photos.

    Someone will call the restaurant and say something like, "A review of your restaurant will appear in the paper next week and we need to shoot some photos."

    The photographer has no idea oif the reviews is a good one or bad.

  7. If this is true Klein should be fired immediately.

  8. This is rich Frodnesor, thanks for sleuthing!

    As someone who writes about food from time to time, I am so appalled by this.

  9. We have had a few awesome meals at Route 9. Not just good, but awesome. And service might be the most "homey" in town.

    New Times should be ashamed for allowing this type of controversy, whether Klein was at the restaurant or not.

  10. Kerfuffle is the right word for what happened. Chuck Strouse needs to decide if Miami New Times' approach to its extensive food real estate is serious (it can be but looks like credibility issues need serious addressing) or ker-fluffy. Right now it's a messy stew of qualified writers and newbie writers who lack skills and understanding. (And let's not mention the unprofessional staff responses to comments). New Times: Get your vision straight and stick to it.

  11. I know this may have happened once before. I was at Naoe the day their review came out. Again some items were listed wrong. Items from the bento box were from 2 different days, and they said couldn't remember the same person coming in those days.

  12. Frodnesor does his bit of regurgitated PR nonsense from time to time as well. Don't fool yourself first Anonymous person.

  13. L2M, I had the same two items, the tacos and the salami and they were both mediocre as well.

    If anything, this place has gotten a lot of publicity so now hopefully they will take Klein's review and VPE's review and do somthing to better the restaurant. There's no way they can think they are perfect or the best by the total opposite reviews and the total oppposite reactions from diners.

    Good luck Route 9

  14. Rick and others, are you serious? They came out and said that Klein did go and there is another chef to vouch for it. I'm sure that the NT can produce the receipts for those meals and for all other reviews.

    You are trying to continue on with a BS rumor that Route 9 is starting by saying that they Klein never went because they weren't happy with the review. Yes, he messed up big with this facts but that is now fixed.

    Move on to your next post Rick.

  15. I've never been a huge Lee Klein fan but I highly doubt that he never visited the restaurant. Whether he visited w/ Kovaceski or someone else or solo doesn't matter to me. I don't think he is the type to let others influence his reviews.

    That said, I wonder if Chuck Strouse would've made the comment about the Klein/Kovaceski book collaboration had FFT not disclosed that prior to his response. It would've been more interesting had Frod held that back for a few days to see if it was disclosed. Not that I have any idea on if that matters or not.

  16. A friend sent me a link to this article on Food for Thought. I found it so intriguing that I have spent the past hour reading all different stuff (the actual article, editor response, different blogs, and Miami Herald).

    First and foremost, congratulations to the Goldbergs and their staff at Route 9. It is a great accomplishment to take the risk and open any business, especially in your 20s (or even, according to article, in your 40s).

    Just as congratulatory is your heart in sticking up for yourselves. I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of places that wish they could go back in time and question credibility.

    Clearly, New Times got caught doing something wrong. Why else would the editor yell at the writer? For some facts like the type of fish being wrong? Don't get me wrong, I think it's a big deal to not know what food you are reviewing, but it seems that anger was much greater than that.

    Many people who have written reviews about the restaurant, including Lee's New Times article, rave about the service. It is clear that one of the owners (the husband) is usually with the guests. I have now seen 3 different pictures of the couple. After two visits, did Klein really think they were in their 40s? The pictures look like they are barely legal to drink.

    As real work is calling my name, I will close this by saying that I will definitely be making the trip down to Route 9 in the very near future.

    In addition, I will no longer advertise with the New Times. That is how I, another independent business owner (with a few more years experience), will take my stand.

    Good luck to Route 9.

  17. Thank you for your time in putting this piece together, Frod. Is there such thing as awards for independent bloggers? If so, I hope you will submit this story.

    More than anything, I do not agree with having a negative impact on anyone. Much is yet to be seen regarding this young couple, but clearly they have the determination to be a serious part of a small Coral Gables community. Why does anyone have the right to take that away?

    I fully understand the concept of food critiques. I can't say that I agree with what they do, but if that is what the people want, who am I to say? I can say that it is completely inappropriate to be a part of possible failure for anyone who is trying to start a new business in these off times.

    Lee, use your name and stature to help promote positive changes throughout Miami rather than being part of taking new, young employers down.

  18. I wish I was in town when all of this was going on. Anyway, a few weeks later, and I am so intrigued. I have always doubted the credibility of Lee Klein (and a few other people at New Times). Somehow, I rarely agree with his articles, and this is not the first time I have seen him discuss incorrect facts. It sounds like it is just the first time that somebody stuck up to him. Good for you, Route 9 (we hear your place is great from many different friends)