Seven Ocean has opened on Marion St., and I’m always glad to hear first impressions of new restaurants in Oak Park...particularly when people I know and trust provide positive first-hand accounts about the place.
Planning my visit, I Googled Seven Ocean and came upon a write-up on Yelp!
Over the years, Yelp! has proven itself to be a valuable resource, despite claims of some restaurants that this provider of online information will “bury” bad reviews and foreground good reviews if you buy advertising with them.
For almost nine years, I’ve co-moderated an online food discussion site, LTHForum.com. In that time, I’ve come across hundreds of “shills,” people who post about a restaurant as though they were average consumers but who clearly have some vested interest in the place. Usually, these shills are first-timers (they’ve never posted before); these shills sometimes join the very day they post their first “review”; their word-heavy impressions are overwhelmingly positive, and they sound a little too…slick.
On the 12th of December, days after Seven Ocean opened, Eldon P. posted on Yelp! that “the first thing that struck me about Seven Ocean was its fabulous decor. It is striking yet subtle, the epitome of elegant simplicity. The decor was more than just eye-candy, though. The chairs are so much more comfortable than a typical restaurant. It seems like such a minute detail to mention but I can't count how many times I've had a fantastic meal ruined by some art deco, back-destroying chair.”
This gushy prose continues, and we learn how, despite initial trepidation, the poster was won over by Seven Ocean.
Eldon P interlards his post with numerous invidious comparisons with other local restaurants, for instance: “our server (who was exceptionally charming and knowledgable [sic], definitely not like some of the acne-ridden incompetents that staff other area restaurants) selected a few bottles for the table that were delectable and perfectly matched.”
This first-time poster joined Yelp! in the first days of the restaurant’s opening, has of this writing put up only this one post on Yelp!, and seems to speak with the solicitousness and smooth assurance of a marketing copywriter (I am of this breed, so I recognize the type): “The first course came out very promptly and what followed was a 7-course culinary journey through the east and the west, that ran the gamut from the delicate and nuanced flavors of the lemongrass broth served over the pan seared tiger prawn with shiitake mushrooms, to the decadent sumptuousness of the slow-braised pork belly with a five-spice glaze and fresh sliced tangerine. By far, my favorite dish was the prime top sirloin, slow cooked in a massaman curry sauce. At the end of the meal I was turned from a skeptic into a believer.”
Uh, hunh. Maybe…but I’m still solidly skeptical about this post.
Eldon P., who gives his location as “Oak Park,” fits the profile of a shill, but he could very well be a legitimately enthusiastic fan of Seven Ocean. If I were a moderator at Yelp!, however, I’d email Eldon P. and ask him to disclose any association with the restaurant. He could be just a friend of one of the servers (perhaps the “exceptionally charming” one) and so just trying to do a pal an unsolicited solid. Of course, he could perhaps actually be a newly loyal customer (he’s been to Seven Ocean twice as of 12/12, meaning he was apparently there twice in its first week or so of opening).
All I can say is, after a decade of spending my time weeding out the shills from the honest posters on LTHForum.com, my shill-dar is always on…and it sounded a loud alert when I read this post about Seven Ocean on Yelp!
It’s highly likely Seven Ocean knows nothing about this Yelp! post, and so I don’t hold this seeming shilling against them.
I look forward to eating at Seven Ocean and making up my own mind about the food they serve. Oak Park needs more good restaurants, and Seven Ocean looks like it could be one.
And to shills everywhere – and this may not include Eldon P. – you do restaurants no service by promoting them in a way that misrepresents who you are and that is, fundamentally, dishonest.