7.28.2010

A Strange Dining Experience

They say you shouldn't just write reviews about the things you liked because readers will get bored with always seeing positive reviews, but I also don't like to be negative, which puts me in a sort of predicament here. I've given a lot of thought to the dinner I attended last week, and I've decided to tell you about it because it was such an odd experience... and there are positives and negatives to point out.

I recently joined MyBlogSpark. I didn't know much about it other than that it promotes General Mills products. I figured that signing up would get me a bunch of cereal and granola bar samples, and I could tell you all about those. Imagine my surprise and delight when shortly after signing up, I was invited to a MyBlogSpark dinner at Myers + Chang.

I love Myers + Chang -- and I'm not just saying that because Joanne Chang signs my paychecks. (Full disclosure: I work at Flour, which she also owns and runs.) I've been to Myers + Chang a handful of times and have always enjoyed the food there, especially Mama Chang's potstickers. I was excited to have dinner at Myers + Chang and to learn more about MyBlogSpark. I was allowed to bring a guest, so I invited Alicia from The Clean Plate Club to dine with me. I thought she might enjoy learning about MyBlogSpark too.


We arrived at the dinner and were greeted at the door by MyBlogSpark and General Mills representatives, who had rented out the entire restaurant for the event. I was handed a $50 gift card for travel expenses. Then we were sat at a two-top near where the chefs prepare the food.


We ordered our drinks and then chatted for a bit and reviewed the menu placed in front of us. We strategically made our selections so we didn't have any repeats.


Soon after we ordered, the food started arriving. This is when both of us started to suspect that something was up. Here we were at a MyBlogSpark dinner but no one was telling us anything about MyBlogSpark. There were no speeches, no handouts, nothing.

Having been to Myers + Chang before, I found our first two courses, which consisted of potstickers, spring rolls, Thai ginger chicken salad, and chilled dan dan noodles, as delicious and well executed as always. Actually, I think the pork dumplings were the best I've ever had there.


The third course presented more dinner choices, and the options were things I wasn't aware Myers + Chang made, and when the dishes came out, it was quite clear they were not Myers + Chang dishes. We sampled our beef and broccoli and shrimp lo mein and thought they were decent but certainly not Myers + Chang caliber. While we were tasting these entrees, we received fortune cookies letting us know that we had just sampled the new Wanchai Ferry frozen entrees. Well, General Mills didn't fool us (though I have no idea what I said on camera, yes, they were taping... I just remember that I was trying to be nice).


The frozen entrees we tried are not bad, and if you're someone who relies on the convenience of frozen meals often or occasionally, then know that the beef and broccoli actually has crisp broccoli -- something you don't find often in a frozen meal. The shrimp lo mein wasn't anything special, and the noodles served with it were like ramen noodles. I enjoy some cheap, quick-to-prepare ramen noodles on occasion, but I really don't want to be served frozen entrees when I'm at a nice restaurant, expecting a restaurant-quality meal.

The whole dinner reminded me of that Pizza Hut commercial where people are eating at a friends' house and exclaiming how delicious the pasta is only to be told it's actually pasta delivered by Pizza Hut. They all express shock like they had no clue in the world that it wasn't homemade. This may have worked because Pizza Hut decided to do this at someone's house. Homemade food isn't usually consistent and doesn't follow a regular menu like restaurant food -- which is where I think General Mills went wrong.

Had they picked some hole-in-the-wall Chinese place with decent food and invited a different type of blogger, this whole event could have been better. I understand the marketing scheme, and while I think it was creative, Myers + Chang was not the place to do it. I know Myers + Chang food, and others who have been there before also know it, and it's nothing like those frozen entrees.

And inviting food bloggers who look for the utmost quality in their restaurant meals and cook from scratch often at home (rarely buying frozen entrees) was a mistake. We are far too critical, and frankly, we're not the right market.

I really would have preferred an evening at Myers + Chang, eating Myers + Chang food, and learning about MyBlogSpark. I had a fun night because I went with Alicia and we chatted and caught up over dinner and drinks not because I ate a frozen entree.

Oh, and you didn't think I was going to end without telling you about dessert, right? Here's where you can totally negate everything I have to say because Myers + Chang desserts are made at Flour, and on this particular night, the tart shells for the coconut cream pie we ordered were all made by me! That coconut cream pie was fabulous. We also had a chocolate terrine with chocolate soil. I remember the first day we made the soil at Flour: I could not stop sampling it! Since then, I've even made it at home. It's so rich and chocolatey with a hint of salt, and I love the way it pairs with the smooth, creamy terrine.


This is in no way a review of Myers + Chang. It is a review of the event hosted there. But if you're wondering, Myers + Chang food, all that I've tried, is flavorful, well prepared, and well presented. And the desserts are phenomenal, if I don't say so myself!

More disclosure: I felt no qualms about going to this dinner even though I am a Flour employee because I thought it was a free dinner hosted by MyBlogSpark to learn about MyBlogSpark. Had I known that the dinner actually had to do with Myers + Chang food versus General Mills food, I would have declined the invite. In addition to the free meal plus one drink each and a $50 gift card, we also received coupons for Wanchai Ferry frozen entrees.

Have you ever been in a situation like this?

Have you ever been to an event or sampled a product that you didn't necesarily think favorably of and still written a review of it? How did you feel about doing this?

22 comments:

bobdeville said...

That's kind of creepy. Like Dr. Frankenstein bringing the Monster to a cocktail party and trying to pass him off as a regular Man About Town. Or worse, really, because it's kind of abusive. I wonder, did you talk to Joanne about it afterwards? I'd be curious if she had any qualms about the whole affair, and if she'd do it again? I'm sure it's hard to argue with the kind of money GM is able to offer.

Julie @ Willow Bird Baking said...

I have to admit, I would have been ANGRY at being misled!

Meg said...

That does seem a little unfair to trick you like that. At least dessert was good. That's the most important part, right?

Honey @ honeyandsoy said...

That's such a strange situation to be placed in! If I attend a dinner that I have more negatives than positives to say, I usually don't post about it at all. I think I'm with you, with the "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything". I think you handled it well and honestly though! :)

Raquelle said...

I've always thought MyBlogSpark was odd but they definitely crossed the line here. I can not believe they did that. The thought of eating frozen entrees at a restaurant makes me cringe. Kudos to you for being open and honest about your experience.

brandi said...

huh, that's weird!

Thank you for your honest post! It's nice to read things like this from someone who isn't afraid to post their thoughts, no matter who put it on or where it was held.

Daisy said...

this.is.so.weird.

I love that you wrote about it though. The real myers + chang foos looks incredible (I've never been!) and i think its awesome you were served the desserts YOU made!!

Was the exuberant travel gift card trying to make up for the oddity of the situation? Seems like overcompensation in a way. Not that i'd be complaining.

Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

Reading about it (after hearing about it) makes me shake my head in disbelief. I'm like you and am very reluctant to write something negative but I think your review is fair. I also love that you disclose all of your connections to Joanne. It obviously speaks highly of your blogger ethic!

On a side note, I'm going to attempt to make Momofuku's pork belly buns and Myers & Chang's green papaya slaw this weekend. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Boston Food Diary said...

Wow- I heard about this last week- but I'm still shocked by it! The Pizza Hut commercials were exactly what I thought of as well- but even in those I've always wondered how people can't tell the difference between the salt laden entrees of Pizza Hut and whatever their friends/chefs/etc may have made. Did they anticipate you not knowing the difference honestly? Very strange. Thanks for the re-cap!

Shannon said...

ooh, this is weird. i don't think i'd like that!

Evan @swEEts said...

That is one of the weirdest marketing schemes I've heard of.. I'd be a little annoyed if I was anticipating have a great meal and then ending up with that.. at least dessert was good! and everyone knows thats the best part anyway :)

Maria said...

Weird! Looks like you handled it well:)

Corinne said...

What an awkward situation to be put in! I wonder if MyBlogSpark knew of your connection with Flour. So odd! Well glad you and Alicia enjoyed yourselves :)

Kat said...

Oh, I don't like this! That is sort of creepy. I received a package with a coupon for a Wanchai Ferry frozen meal along with some placemats and chinese dining experience related items. The dinner was o.k., but I was horrified at the salt content and calories. I emailed back Blogspark to tell them I really did not like it and they gave me the option to not post about it. I just did not feel comfortable writing such a negative review. I know we share the good and the bad, but I passed on writing about this one!!

Natalie said...

very interesting---had no idea they could even do something like this!

Amy I. said...

Huh, that IS strange. I'm really glad you shared it with us though, I'm always curious how promotional events are run and this gives a bit of perspective on one specific tactic! Kudos on handling a potentially awkward situation very gracefully!! :)

stephchows said...

how funny is it that you made the dessert LOL love it! Man what a weird experience though... it does seem like they didn't plan their target market out too well. man I'm part of myblogspark and I haven't gotten or done anything with them... all I get are surveys BOO! I really don't know why I even bother filling them out anymore :(

Dating said...

This is weird. i don't think i'd like that!

Cinnamon Girl said...

This is so wrong! You were so misled...and they taped you eating? That seems so strange. I'm alarmed at the lengths they are going to for publicity. I have done some giveaways for blogspark - but not lately. The last one I did I honestly stated what I thought of the product and it wasn't a glowing review. It was a long, long time before they asked me to do another one and then I declined. The funny thing about it is that you work for the same company. I'm wondering why they would agree to something like this?!

Anywhoo... wishing you a wonderful weekend! Hope all is good with you.

Meghan@travelwinedine said...

Wow! That is REALLY weird! And to be honest a little strange that Myers + Chang would have anything to do with such an event being a restaurant of such high quality and standards. I love their food!
As a blogger, I want to be honest and always am but still try to be polite about my criticism. However your experience is REALLY annoying, and I would feel like I wasted an evening!

Megan said...

An update... I did talk to Joanne about it, and she said she wouldn't hold an event like this again. She figured General Mills was having some sort of product launch party for its employees. She didn't find out bloggers were invited until that night. And she definitely didn't know GM was going to try to pass off its frozen meals as M+C entrees.

Thank you all for all your thoughts and comments about this experience.

Lori said...

I was also at this dinner but am not a food blogger. I review products of interest to homeschooling families and have enjoyed being a part of MyBlogSpark. I loved reading your perspective though, as it is very different from mine!

I thought the twist was fun. I had a few suspicions about the entrees, but not having been to Myers + Chang before, I didn't catch on completely until the reveal. I came away with a fun story, an enjoyable meal (I actually loved the shrimp lo mein), and one of the best desserts I've ever had (the cocoa terrine). I was introduced to a new Boston restaurant (although I did not enjoy the salad, the potstickers were a favorite) and told all my Boston friends to head to Flour and try that dessert (I live on the Cape).

I didn't find it creepy in the least, but can appreciate your perspective and love your honesty. Perhaps you can encourage your employer that, at least in my case, it did not reflect poorly on her restaurant. I am concerned that she wasn't aware of what they planned, that's poor business on the part of General Mills, but we enjoyed Myers + Chang and found the night to be an enjoyable one.