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Restaurant Reviews


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5 replies to this topic

#1 robert brown

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Posted 29 May 2003 - 06:59 AM

I believe that newspaper and magazine restaurant reviewing is as much about filling space than filling stomachs. Restaurants are dynamic enterprises and cannot be grasped and retained such as a book, a painting, or, given current technology, even a motion picture. Restaurant-goers who have to rely on such reviews in the absence of anything else also have to rely on the taste or judgment of one person making "x" number of visits over a brief period of time. Furthermore, unless it is in a specialized forum such as this Q&A, we don't know the experience, credentials, and the state of the palate of the writer. In magazines such as "Gourmet" restaurants are reviewed once and never again. In DC, I suppose you have the luxury of returning in a year or two to the more interesting surviving restaurants, but in New York, unless it is one of the most high-profile restaurants, we never hear about most restaurants again from any single reviewer. Frankly, I would prefer the informed consensus found on an enterprise such as eGullet in terms of determining a restaurant I wish to dine in. How useful, then, do you consider restaurant reviews from your colleagues, and how do you mitigate the effects of what I have stated above?

#2 Tom Sietsema

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 05:41 AM

You raise some really interesting points there. Let me preface my response by pointing out that for my inaugural review as food critic in the Magazine three summers ago, I chose not to review a new place that a lot of people had yet to experience, but a veteran establishment (The Prime Rib) that far more readers might have sampled or at least heard about. I was a new voice; readers didn’t yet know me. But they might have an opinion about the long-running steak house on K St. and use that to get a better sense of my taste and values.

As for credentials, my bio prefaces my online chat every Wednesday, and I sometimes refer in reviews to having lived in the Midwest, the West Coast or to making trips abroad. In the age of the Internet, it’s not hard to find out where critics have spent time. In the end, though, reviewing is not science but educated opinion.

I am constantly revisiting restaurants that have been previously reviewed – for the fall dining guide, for my forthcoming restaurant book, for the Magazine (one of my goals is to offer readers more updates on veteran players, particularly after major changes). Most recently, for instance, I went back to Sushi-Ko and Taberna del Alabardereo here, and wrote about the changes in a double review.

My colleagues at major newspapers tend to do similar things, to keep abreast of what is indeed a moving target.

#3 Steve Klc

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 06:21 AM

Robert asked "How useful, then, do you consider restaurant reviews from your colleagues?"

Let's explore that a little bit:

1. You file Postcards in the paper's Travel section from cities you visit with a few capsule reviews of restaurants there, for this, you receive unjust sniping in some local quarters as if your time would be better spent at home. What these armchair critics fail to realize is this travel, this experience broadens your perspective and helps put what is going on in DC into a better, more informed context. Chefs travel to see what their competition is doing--why shouldn't critics? But, how influenced are you by critics in other cities--meaning do you usually turn to a restaurant critic or food writing colleague in those cities, whom you know and trust, to help inform your selection? Would you be willing to share a little of what goes into your selection of a Postcard destination and the restaurants you visit? How consciously do you factor in your Post readership, your audience when you make these selections?

2. How do feel about writers or critics dropping into your turf to extensively "review" the scene? I'm thinking not so much the Marion Burros piece in the NY Times about the "Penn Quarter," since Burros is in a position to know DC well but the Times' habit of dropping an Amanda Hesser into SF to do a major piece on the scene there or importing a Regina Schrambling into Chicago for a major re-assessment of the food scene there, as if either NY-Based writer could have an informed sense or perspective on the local food scene without enlisting un-named local help. In these cases--do you think either audience--the New York audience back home or the local SF or Chicago audience--is well-served by this?

3. How well is the New York Times "keeping abreast of a moving target" when the most recent reviews of Jean Georges, Lespinasse and Le Bernardin are by Ruth Reichl from 1998? You mitigate this staleness nicely by writing a yearly Dining Guide, full of re-assessments, and of course your weekly online chats. When the Inn or Kinkeads or Citronelle slip up, you're there to call them on it in a timely fashion. But do you have any sympathy for a Robert Brown when he writes "in New York, unless it is one of the most high-profile restaurants, we never hear about most restaurants again from any single reviewer" and then realize that even the most high-profile places, like Lespinasse, Jean Georges and Le Bernardin, are not re-reviewed when a new critic steps in, like Grimes did?
Steve Klc

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#4 prasad2

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Posted 30 May 2003 - 06:30 AM

In the end, though, reviewing is not science but educated opinion.

Dear Tom

I couldn't agree more than what Robert Brown had to say. In essence"It's a single opinion".

Is it possible to a have a panel of three or more reviewers for any major notable media?

Also, don't you think readers have to take some responsibilty on judging restaurants?

#5 Tom Sietsema

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 05:55 AM

In response to Steve's questions:

1) I usually do a ton of homework before I go to another city. I do not rely on one person's advice, but rather, refer to many sources: cookbook authors, cooking school teachers (some of the best tipsters, by the way!), local food critics, trusted pals who have recently been to the place I'm going, and yes, even this site we're on now. If I'm in Paris or Berlin or Minneapolis for three days, I can't be wasting time on bad meals. By the time I land, I will have made about six to eight reservations. My column requires that I return with three solid suggestions, so there's a bit of leeway.

I pick cities based on a number of things: places that are seasonal (San Juan in winter), places that intrigue me (I just returned from Rome, where I had never been), places that readers have asked about (Vancouver) -- it depends. The neat thing is, Washingtonians travel a LOT and are interested in a variety of destinations, wherever they might be.

2) I guess that depends on how much homework the writer has done and what his or her agenda is. I know both the SF and Chicago pieces got a lot of attention, for different reasons, from people in those cities.

3) I don't know what the policy of the NY Times is regarding updates and such, so I'll refrain from answering this question. I should add that restaurant reviews are hugely expensive, but budgets aren't an issue for the Times as they are for many other publications, so I wouldn't use that factor as an explanation for why its reviews aren't more current.

#6 Tom Sietsema

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 05:59 AM

I obviously have a bias: I'm not a huge fan of multiple voices, but I can certainly see why readers might want to hear from more than just one critic.

At the Post, there's me in the Magazine, Eve Zibart in Weekend and freelancers writing for the zoned editions. That's a lot of restaurant news, no?

Maybe the poster is thinking more along the lines of a "he said/she said" format, where two people tackle the same restaurant? It's an intriguing idea, but would obviously cost a lot more to produce. And in these tight economic times, I don't see that happening.