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Tom Sietsema

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  1. As vice-chairman of the Beard Restaurant Awards Committee, a group of a dozen or so critics and food writers representing all regions of the U.S., I can't let the previous statement go unchallenged. We DO travel (and some of us, like Johnny Apple of the Times, travel a LOT). One of the reasons NYC is so heavily represented is because just about everyone who has a vote in the process gets there -- it is a major food center, obviously. What goes on in committee meetings has to stay in those meetings, but to say members don't get out much when in fact we are made up of local and national critics is just plain in error.
  2. Mind if I chime in? While it is true that I do get a lot of repeat questions (and rants and raves), I work hard to avoid them and mix up the topics from week to week. In my most recent chat, for instance, the subjects included telephone manners, kids in restaurants, where to eat in London, good neighbor spots, mention of the winners of a restaurant's Valentine's Day contest and so on. "Lame?", Mark? I'm not sure what you expect of the chat. Some discussions -- like some nights in restaurants -- are bound to be better, livelier than others. I aim to address 40 or so questions per chat out of the hundreds I typically get. Alas, I have no control over the speed with which the questions are posted. But I typically DO prepare for the chat, coming in two or three hours beforehand to check out rumors, verify addresses and such. The LAST thing I want to do is post erroneous information. And just to clarify: I am not obligated by the Post to host a chat. I do it because I think it's a good way to connect with readers and exchange information. Indeed, when I was hired, the job of the food critic was to 1) write a weekly review and 2) write an annual dining guide. Everything else on my plate is something I proposed and thought might make for better restaurant coverage in the paper. That includes The Weekly Dish column, the Ask Tom reader-service column, my monthly Postcards for outside Washington and my radio spots on WTOP. That said, I take the weekly chat as seriously as anything I write for the paper. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to comment -- something I'm reluctant to do, because I have my own forum.
  3. Hi everybody. Just to preface, I don't add my two cents here because 1) I already have a forum (an hour-long online discussion every Wednesday on the Post's site) and 2) I think the people who participate here do just fine without me. I'm not certain my contributions would be proper or welcome here on a regular basis. That said, during my live chat I try to screen out the ticked-off competitors, the flaks wanting to plug their clients, the people who claim to have gotten food poisoning at X, Y or Z restaurant. Yesterday's missive re: Citronelle and Palena was unlike previous gripes (I could tell from the tone and the way the complaint was written) and I personally encountered rather sullen and abrupt wine service at Citronelle just a few weeks ago (yes, I was dining anonymously; yes, the wine was terrific). That, combined with several reader complaints re: Palena's service, made me feel comfortable airing the complaint. Thanks for hearing me out.
  4. Mind if I respond to this? People already have ways to critique the critics or their work: they can write letters to the editor or (in my case) follow published restaurant reviews that appear online with mini-reviews of their own. The latter option doesn't thrill me, because posters get to remain anonymous (and who KNOWS who they might be?) Equal time for chefs and others sounds like a good idea in theory, but it could also turn out to be this back and forth ping pong game of write/rebutt, write/rebutt. Where would it all end? Newspapers have limited space, after all. (The same is obviously not true of this medium, where discussions can go on for, well, miles.) Just my two cents.
  5. Value continues to play a role in what and how we eat, and I don't see that changing. All the peasant cuisines from Central and South American that are getting so much attention now will continue to be popular: their primary ingredients are inexpensive and often good for us (think black beans and rice, etc.) American diners get bored easily, and no matter what happens to the U.S. economy, we will be looking for the next new thing before long. I'm putting my money on chefs like Jose Andres in Washington and (can't remember his name) at La Brouche in Miami to pave the way, trend-wise. Right now, though, there's not a lot of risks being taken for obvious reasons. Restaurateurs can't afford to lose customers.
  6. People frequently confuse our bylines, or think we are the same person. (Robert is a good writer and knows his stuff, so I certainly don't have a problem with that!)
  7. I don't think so. Sanford, which has a James Beard award to its credit (for best regional restaurant in the Midwest), has received a lot of ink, for example. It's amusing about Milwaukee. The steroetypes are true: people really do drink beer, eat brats (pronounced BRAHTS, by the way) and go bowling. I loved my time there.
  8. It certainly gives new meaning to "fresh", doesn't it? The closest I've come to that scenario was when the live fish in a Chinese restaurant was flash-boiled for what must have been mere seconds: the entree was stunned but still breathing when it was served to the table.
  9. "Hate" might be too strong a word; I should have said I am not a big fan of licorice. Most critics have to have an open palate to do what they do. I couldn't be a vegetarian and do this job, for example, nor could I be a picky eater (that's different from being discerning). I am not an advocate of big portions, but I still write about them. I don't care much for chocolate, though I always order the chocolate dessert on the menu of a given restaurant because I know I'm in the minority when it comes to that flavor. As I stated earlier, restaurant reviewing requires the writer to transend personal preferences. It's not always easy, but try I do.
  10. Thank YOU for inviting me to this forum. It was great fun and I appreciated the thoughtful queries.
  11. It could be. Umami occurs with 1) an ingredient that is at its peak and 2) in a harmonious presentation. Or so the elusive quality was explained to me. If that fish was at its meatiest best, it could have been a case of umami, but not necessarily.
  12. Thanks for asking! All too often, the way my name is (mis)pronounced makes it sound Spanish or Japanese. LOL The correct pronunciuation is SEET-suh-ma. I'm German and Dutch. I am only distantly related to Robert Sietsema, who I first met over a lunch in New York four or five years ago. His people stopped in Michigan, I believe; mine moved on to Minnesota. Odd, though, for two people with such unusual last names to share the same unusual occupation, no?
  13. (Hiya, Kathy!) I spend waaaaay too much time at restaurant tables. Probably about 30 hours a week, I figure (two meals a day for an average of two hours). That doesn't leave a lot of time for "real life" -- going to the movies or whatever. No matter how busy I get, though, I hit the gym three days a week for a no-nonsense hour with a trainer. (It's not a yuppie thing, it's a NECESSITY in this gig, at least if I do it for long.) And once a month or so, I try to cook dinner for friends. Balance and hobbies and pushing away from the table now and then make for a better writer, I think. Honestly, though, I never get bored. For inspiration, I might dip into my library and peruse MFK Fisher or another literary great. But I'm really fortunate to get paid to do what I love to do. Do I ever want to stay home and eat a salad in my sweats? Sure. But I have very few complaints in this occupation -- and there always seems to be an interesting meal around the corner.
  14. Sad but probably true, Washington benefits from trouble abroad. Over the decades, the city has become more delicious following the arrival of refugees from Vietnam, Ethiopia, Afghanisitan, El Salvador and on. I am not aware of any Iraqi restaurants, but Mimi's American Bistro on P St. NW in Dupont Circle, whose owner is a native of Iraq, frequently hosts "peace dinners" where he combines the cooking of his homeland with that of Israel, for instance. I think it's a lovely idea (and the dishes have been terrific.)
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