May 7, 2014 at 3:19 PM ET
Before dining out, we often seek out Yelp or professional restaurant reviews to tell us if an establishment is worth visiting. But can you trust them? The Bold Italic, a San Francisco-based online magazine, has a unique group of critics who offer especially candid dining reviews: 4-year-old kids.
In its ongoing series, “Four Year Old Reviews Restaurant (With His or Her Face)," kids share their opinions on dishes from some of the Bay Area’s fanciest restaurants. Their unfiltered honesty, smiles and grimaces offer an amusing perspective on high-end dining, with each dish ranked based on the kid reviewer’s expression. The idea stemmed from Bold Italic’s visual producer Jessica Saia’s experience at a Japanese brunch, during which she sat next to a picky eater.
“He would take these hesitant, tiny bites of each food, pause, and make a face without saying anything,” she told TODAY.com. “His girlfriend would watch his face and 'translate' whether he liked it or not, and I thought the idea of ‘reviewing’ restaurants via the facial expressions of picky eaters would be so funny. Later, I realized that little kids would be way more fun than just picky adults.”
As for why 4-year-olds were specifically tapped to offer their dining critiques, Saia said it was “the perfect age.”
“They're old enough to be willing to try weird-looking dishes, and vocal enough to say really hilarious things, but still young enough to show their exact visceral reaction,” she explained.
The kid reviewer, accompanied by a parent, Saia and a photographer, are treated to a full meal, from amuse bouche to dessert. They are asked to offer their takes on adult-friendly fare such as duck prosciutto, pork belly and charred octopus, and Saia said that one her of favorite things is to ask the kids what they think the dish tastes like.
“It's always some typical kid-food that is so awesomely unrelated to what the dish actually is,” Saia said. For example, one kid said that a dish of smoked wild king salmon tasted like “the inside of bread,” while another was convinced that a dish called autumn dressing, made up of quince, walnuts and maitake mushrooms, was chocolate candy.
Sometimes the pint-sized reviewers are so upset by what they taste that they actually burst into tears.
“The crying photos are kind of the best,” Saia admitted, “so it's a funny thing to simultaneously console a little kid while shooting as many photos as we can ... Usually they stop crying pretty fast and seem to forget about it as soon as the next plate comes.”
Dishes that provoke tears include pork belly and anything with tentacles. But one little reviewer was so upset by a squid dish that “she would just start crying any time a plate was set on the table.”
“I think [because] we started out with the ‘weirdest’ dishes first, [we] kind of lost her trust after the squid came out,” Saia said. “So the waiter brought her some french fries and we enjoyed the rest of the dishes ourselves.”
The series has been very popular with The Bold Italic’s readers, and the magazine plans to continue as long as readers are interested. Saia said that she personally enjoys the kid reviews because they deflate the seriousness of the fine dining scene. “[The series] has turned out to be a really fun way to kind of harmlessly poke fun at that world.”
“I wish all professional food critics had that level of hilarious honesty,” Saia added. “How can you trust they really like something if they don't pinky-swear it?”