Not one to shy away from calling it like it is, Time Out Chicago's Julia Kramer gives just two stars and a harsh play-by-play critique of the food at chef James Toland's The Black Sheep.
The review starts off with "promise" but ends with, "But perhaps the chef has a bit too much gumption ... there’s one not-so-minor detail missing at the Black Sheep: the food." On the review, a commenter called "Chef James Toland" lashed out, calling Kramer "a joke of a journalist," "spiteful," "mean" and "a vindictive bitch." In an email to Eater, Toland claims he was "hacked."
The comments on the TOC site span two lengthy barbs, where "Toland" defends his food, claims Kramer announced herself as a critic, was rude to waitstaff, had incorrect menu descriptions (like saying they don't have lamb at the Black Sheep, but it was on the opening menu) and saying he would run her out of town.
In response to the accusation of Kramer announcing herself, TOC dining editor David Tamarkin said that would never happen. "Julia goes to great pains to keep herself anonymous and often uses cash so people can't see her credit card," he said. "There's no way she announced herself. We have really high standards and pride ourselves on the restaurant-criticism ethics we employ."
In the email to Eater, Toland said, "I knew when I took a big risk and called haute cuisine out I would be targeted." He wrote that people are angry that he's challenging the status quo and said, "I want so badly to defend our efforts but....I refuse to sink to their level."
So it seems the only thing that can be unequivocally verified is Kramer's review, which she stands by. Whether Toland actually posted those comments on the TOC site or someone is attempting to impersonate him, it'll have to fall to a "she said/he said" scenario. And owning up to the review, Kramer responds to Toland in an email to Eater:
If you dish it out (as I have a tendency to), you get used to taking it, too. I appreciate that Mr. Toland took the time to read the review, and I welcome dialogue with the restauranteurs/chefs I review. But in the end, I write reviews for TOC readers—not for the chef/owner—and my obligation is to visit the restaurant anonymously and write honestly (and candidly) about my experience. Also for whatever it's worth, I have never met Michael Simon (the former GM), and he is no closer friend of mine than Graham Elliot.