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Good food or good marketing?


tobism
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Everyone's seen it, and I'm sure 90% have purchased one at one time or another: The Annual Washingtonian Cheap Eats Issue.

It's the guide to the latest and greatest (not to mention cheapest) good food in the Metro DC area. It's one of Washingtonian's best selling issues. My wife and I always pick it up when it comes out and we trust the ratings, but should we? I mean, the food's good when they say it is, but I heard recently that you had to pay to play... if you didn't pay, even if the reviewers liked you, you wouldn't make it in the magazine. What gives?

Can anybody give a clear perspective on how those restaurants make it into Cheap Eats? Do they have to pony up a fee to be featured? Is there some back kitchen arm twisting going on? After years of trusting this source, should we know look at it with some skepticism?

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I mean, the food's good when they say it is, but I heard recently that you had to pay to play... if you didn't pay, even if the reviewers liked you, you wouldn't make it in the magazine.

Some degree of caution is in order with statements like this, absent positive confirmation. Can anyone confirm whether or not this is true?

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Good food and good marketing. Stupid lists, top tens, sell. That's why almost everyone does it.

I think another way to approach it, Tobism, would be to try to come up with your own list of very deserving cheap eats restaurants that didn't make it but should have--and work backward from that. Any magazine that accepts advertising from restaurants and runs those ads right on the pages with the reviews and articles is going to be susceptible to charges like this--but don't forget the Post also solicits and runs ads from restaurants in the Food section and the Magazine. There are a lot of disgruntled, envious usually also anonymous people in the food biz so I wouldn't be surprised if there are supposed insiders out there saying the same kind of things about the Post. I think you have to trust the people at the top until you have some good evidence otherwise--at the Post I trust Jeanne, Sietsema as restaurant critic is edited independently and doesn't "report" to Jeanne unlike at some other newspapers, and at the Washingtonian I trust Tom Head--he's an interesting, experienced smart guy--but that doesn't mean you can't raise suspicions, especially about "best of" stunts like the cheap eats lists, which are usually excuses to recycle material and sell magazines. (I think where the Washingtonian opens themselves up is more at the high end, their choices, who they over-praise, seem a little too predictable, expense-accountish and conservative--but then that's their target audience. I guess we can wait for that in January.) In case you're wondering, I don't think the Washingtonian does as good a job nor is as critical or astute on the cheap eats end of the spectrum as Sietsema, Eve Zibart and Todd Kliman. They lag a little behind and their information seems to be a little tired, especially if you read year after year.

Work backward from who is on their list and who isn't--how many of the usual over-praised suspects are there and how many obscure or new finds doing a great job are there--and then assess. There really aren't that many cheap eats places doing interesting work--do all 100 belong? Ask yourself how well they got out of the city and into the burbs and whether they seem as knowledgeable as Eve or Tom or Todd? Did they nail those little holes in the wall in your neighborhood correctly that you've been saying have the best whatever in town--or did they overlook them? I haven't seen this issue yet, but the Washingtonian tends to suffer from the same critical malaise Chowhound suffers from when it comes to restaurant coverage: very little reliable differentiation of quality, too many restaurants championed, and when you actually try these places they're just average or fail to distinguish themselves at their price point.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I'm always curious why these sorts of lists include so few restaurants on Capitol Hill, let alone much of Northeast and Southeast. How widely do these folks travel to search things out? There seems to be no difficulty searching far and wide in the suburbs but crossing the Anacostia seems to be out of bounds. Or am I being too harsh?

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Chuchelo, are there specific restaurants in these neighborhoods that you think deserve cheap eats coverage? (I have no idea, mostly because of the lack of their coverage if they actually exist!) I think that your argument is only as good as the restaurants you can name that are missing out.

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Ask yourself how well they got out of the city and into the burbs and whether they seem as knowledgeable as Eve or Tom or Todd?

Well, they did write up places like China Star & El Tapatio before either Sietsema or Kliman got to 'em.

But certain things are a little odd on their best of lists...For instance, it seemed like only 5 restaurants were photgraphed repeatedly for the cheap eats list. It seemed strange & a bit confusing that they weren't necessarily featuring photos of the restaurants being reviewed next to the writeup, they just kept using pics of Mexicali Blues & a few others, on every page.

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I'm always curious why these sorts of lists include so few restaurants on Capitol Hill, let alone much of Northeast and Southeast. How widely do these folks travel to search things out? There seems to be no difficulty searching far and wide in the suburbs but crossing the Anacostia seems to be out of bounds. Or am I being too harsh?

Where in SE do you think deserves to be on the list. Other than possibly Marty's, I can't think of anyplace that is worthy of being mentioned. The dining scene in NE and SE is somewhat lacking when compared to other areas.

I also think it is important to take into consideration the target audience for the magazine. Their target audience probably does not venture far past the Hill. The revitilazation of 8th St. SE and the Naval Area in SW could help the restuarant scene some, but I am not holding my breath.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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