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?