My take down of Manhattan Drug's baked potato this week puzzled a reader who couldn't square my assessment with the photo illustrating my review. "In the restaurant's sort-of defense, that looks like a twice-baked potato, which...can be quite tasty," Defender of Potatoes wrote in the comments.
It does look like a twice-baked potato. It also looks nothing like the potato I was served.
I work anonymously, but my photographer doesn't. It's impossible for a professional photographer to capture the ambiance of a restaurant and the food it serves without using fancy lighting equipment and oversized lenses, both of which are bound to attract attention. As I've written in a previous Reviewing the Review column, our photographer, Joshua Huston, arranges photo shoots in advance so his work won't disrupt the restaurant's activities. Since chefs know Huston is coming, and they know what he wants to shoot, they'd be foolish not to present the prettiest versions of their dishes.
For many chefs, that's an imperative no matter who's going to see their handiwork. But it's not the case at Manhattan Drugs, where presentation is routinely ignored.
Check out the potato in Joshua's picture. The guts look fluffy, and the golden finish does remind me of "quite tasty" twice-baked potatoes. Now have a look at my potato:
Unfortunately, I have to be highly surreptitious when I take pictures with my phone, so I'm not always able to document every dish I'm served. This potato is on my husband's plate, which is why it doesn't have any sour cream (or mayonnaise, or poached eggs - my husband is incurably squeamish about formless food.) But it's a pretty good representation of the potatoes I was dealt at Manhattan Drugs.
We wouldn't allow restaurants to engage in trickery when prepping their food - I'm quite sure Joshua would protest if a chef subbed glue for milk, especially since he often ends up eating what he shoots - but the results can still be confusing for readers. In my review, I describe a wedge salad "blasted with way too much dressing." So what's a reader to make of the salad in Joshua's picture, above, which seems to be sporting the right amount of dressing? I don't entirely know, because here's what I was served.
I don't have a picture of the filet I was served, but it certainly didn't have any criss-crossing grill marks. For comparison's sake, here's Joshua's photo, followed by my slightly out-of-focus New York strip:
Joshua's mastered the art of taking wonderful photographs of not-very-wonderful food. Two weeks back at the Bookstore Bar, he shot a plate of sliders. The sandwiches I was served looked exactly the sandwiches in Joshua's picture:
Food may undergo a bit of kitchen primping before its set before Joshua, but most restaurants play fair. I've rarely encountered a set of food photographs as removed from my experience as the photos from Manhattan Drugs. But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: The steakhouse is all about appearances.