My Five Cents: Should Dining Critics Send Back Food?

I just read Leslie Brenner’s review of Kenny’s Smoke House (subscription required). In it she writes

“It wasn’t until she [server] delivered everyone else’s main courses that she told me she’d been mistaken: It was Cajun-spiced and blackened. Go ahead and bring it, I said, not wanting to wait. But like the chicken, it looked so awful that I sent it back and got the New Orleans barbecue shrimp, vaguely chemically tasting specimens that came in a buttery sauce with slices of white bread.”

That made me think. I’ve been reviewing restaurants for 16 years and the only times I have sent food back was because it wasn’t cooked properly or the product was rancid, not because I didn’t like it or that it looked awful. To me, that is what I am there to report on. I realize there are times a reviewer performs acts such as sending back food or asking for something to be cooked differently to see how the staff and kitchen handle the situation. That is important information to relate to potential diners.

Brenner’s act of sending food back made me stop and reassess my process. If something is not to my liking I am more likely to leave the plate full to see if anyone picks up on the fact that I did not eat the food. All critics have different methods. I’d like to hear what you think a dining critic should do? Send it back? Or write about what happened?