Have you ever had a cookie so good at Flour Bakery + Café you wanted to tell people about it? Have you ever wondered where to find the best French onion soup in town? Well, so did Alex Rosenfeld, the creator behind Tasted Menu Boston, a community-generated website that combines dish reviews and photos from its passionate user community (Tasted) and a proprietary, company-generated culinary taxonomy and menu database (Menu). Oh, and according to Tasted Menu, the best-reviewed cookie at Flour Bakery + Cafe is the Valrhona double chocolate chip cookie, and the best French onion soup can be found at Brasserie JO.
What inspired you to start this website?
I was finishing my MBA at Harvard Business School and had a moment of inspiration when I was with friends at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain. The truth is I was probably procrastinating and avoiding doing my schoolwork. I was on the computer looking through different websites for nearly 15 minutes trying to decide on what to eat at the restaurant, and it occurred to me that the average diner isn’t willing to sift through different web sites and pages to find the information. Tasted Menu provides reviews for specific dishes. It serves as a starting point, so the diner can ask, “What’s good to eat here?” and can also ask, “Where can I find the best so-and-so?”
I’ve noticed PR people sneaking onto review sites to promote their own restaurants. Do you have some sort of screening process to ensure that doesn’t happen?
There are a couple of things that make us different which protect us from PR people. There is a level of granularity on our site, so it’s hard to game the system. On Tasted Menu they would have to review dish after dish after dish, which makes things less viable. Sure, someone may do it eventually, but the algorithms we have note the expertise and activity of people on our site. An active user carries more weight.
Why do you think food has become such a hot topic?
There are a couple of things: First, people love talking about food and not just in culinary terms, but through this explosion of social media. Second, technology, more specifically on the mobile front, allows information to be shared with friends and followers. This drives enthusiasm. It helps that food is so visual and mobile devices allow diners to snap photos.
What’s your favorite “Jewish” food?
It's not classically Jewish, but I'm a sucker for a good corned beef on rye sandwich. Always with mustard. Always with a root beer or cream soda. I grew up on Long Island, where I was lucky to be surrounded by some of the best Jewish delis imaginable. That luck seems to continue, as I now live in the Coolidge Corner area and am able to take advantage of spots like Michael's Deli and Zaftigs. It's probably part of the reason why I chose to settle down in this part of Boston!
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!