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Nonexistent Restaurant Prompts Critic's Existential Food Crisis

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Be careful what you Yelp for.

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In the never-ending hunt for next cool thing, East Bay Express critic Luke Tsai accidentally trolled himself deep into the hills of El Cerrito. Setting out in search of a new and impeccably named restaurant called Chiu's Moderately OK Chinese, Tsai found himself standing outside a nondescript bungalow 45 minutes north of his usual Oakland stomping grounds, where the occupant (a middle-aged and apparently confused white lady) had never heard of this Chiu character.

As it turns out, Chiu's mysterious pop-up was even more limited edition than the critic thought: the four reviews Tsai was sniffing out for a scoop were actually written by well-meaning friends of the amateur chef after a dinner party. The address had apparently been chosen at random. During it's brief life, however, Chiu's Moderately OK Chinese enjoyed a perfect 5-star Yelp rating with reviews claiming it was either "for the person who wants an Anthony Bourdain-esque dining experience" or "Eh... it's OK."

Yelp has since stricken Chiu and his tiny flock of self-aware fans from it's listings after Tsai's post went live (a cached copy can be found here), but not before the whole experience prompted a very important bout of soul-searching for Mr. Tsai, who readily admits he can be a sucker for convenience store sandwiches and gas station barbecue:

What does it say about me — or about our food-obsessed culture, which places such a premium on discovering the latest and greatest obscure restaurant — that I fell for such obvious food-writer catnip? What significance is there to the fact that I read four reviews offering little to no actual information about the dishes served at Chiu's — except that they were, in "Amanda W.'s" words, "THE BOMB" — and considered that par for the course? What does it say about Yelp — a company dogged by accusations of unethical business practices — that, as of this posting, a completely fictitious restaurant entry that lists some innocent bystander's home address hasn't been taken down more than a month after it was created?

After a bit of due diligence (checking with the Contra Costa County health department), and some ego-tripping ("it occurred to me that the entire stunt might be an elaborate trap to ensnare me personally") Tsai finally arrives at the logical conclusion of hyper-foodie-ism: the only authentic meal left is the one no one else has eaten yet. At least until Chiu's friends finally convince him to share his moderately OK Chinese food with the rest of the world, that is.

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