Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Washington Post Reviewing Baltimore Restos


lackadaisi
 Share

Recommended Posts

I think it is out of line to feature a Baltimore restaurant during DC's biggest tourist weekend of the year--when more out of towners will presumably reading the Post than at any other time. This is a case of very bad programming on the part of the Post.

Otherwise, I don't think it's a bad thing, as long as these reviews are reserved for very strong restaurants.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Butterfly wrote:

I think it is out of line to feature a Baltimore restaurant during DC's biggest tourist weekend of the year--when more out of towners will presumably reading the Post than at any other time. This is a case of very bad programming on the part of the Post.

.................................that's what a concierge is for :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Washington Post. The Washington Post. The Washington Post. I agree with the person who started this thread that if Sietsema wants to promote/review a restaurant in Baltimore, it probably belongs in the Weekly Dish column. We get one review a week in the Post, NOT like the NY Times, and we certainly don't get the something like the extaordinary Counter Culture from the Village Voice, which reviews all kinds of far-flung/ethnic restaurants in the outer boroughs of NYC. I don't read Tom's Travel columns unless I'm planning to visit that city, because his reviews are not that interesting. Whether one goes to Baltimore or not isn't the issue. If I want to eat in Baltimore, I'll pick up the Sun, or the Baltimore CP, becaise at least the reviewer will have a hometown perspective. Or maybe the Post Food section could do a roundup of Baltimore.

Joe H, we've been down this road before many times. The city/suburbs argument is never ending and I'm NOT trying to start another one! There is nothing wrong with reviewing restaurants in the far-flung suburbs, or even another city, but the place for it isn't the ONE featured review in the Post, and I think that is what the original poster was saying. There are plenty of DC restaurants that people crowd into that ought to be reviewed in the Post. Incidentally, just to give you an idea of where Mr. Sietsema thinks his demographic lies, the Ask Tom question about what to do with a wine cork should make that obvious. What's next, what to do with the little fork? C'mon!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think this is a close question and there is merit to both sides of the argument. The restaurant review section in the Sunday Washington Post Magazine is valuable real estate and should not be wasted. I don't agree that Baltimore and Washington are now part of a single metropolitan area. Baltimore has its own paper and whether their reporter is up to the task is not relevant. It should not be the job of the Post's reporter to make up for Baltimore's shortcomings. And I don't agree that this issue raises implications regarding the breadth of the Post's reporters experiences. I agree that the reporter, in order to properly judge DC restaurants in context with what is going on in other cities and countries, needs to travel but this has nothing to do with what restaurants he chooses to include in his published reviews (and probably has nothing to do with whether he can deduct the cost of the travel). Personally, I think we have enough restaurants in the DC area proper to occupy all of the available real estate. I think this is the tone of the original post and I don't think that position deserves derision.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't recall folks being as upset when that review of a Duck, NC restaurant ran in the Magazine, or am I mis-remembering that one? It was Duck, right? Maybe it was Eve in Weekend. I'd have a hard time defending that one, but this one is a no brainer. We have very few three-star restaurants within a reasonable drive, we deserve to know when another one pops up, so yes, I don't have a problem with this. I wish Tom had written about Jay Comfort when he was doing two-to-three star work in Fredericksburg, but Eve Zibart did, so that's moot. That's really the end of a simple story for me, nearby three-stars deserve play in our Magazine because we're the dominant regional hub, but some interesting points and issues have been raised, so I'll react to a few.

I agree with you that lackadaisi's perspectives warrant no derision, mnebergall, just healthy disagreement, and I agree somewhat with your side, but only up to a point. Where do I diverge? Tom is not a "reporter" per se, the way various Post sections have multiple reporters covering different beats and stories, he's not like Judith or Walter or Candy, the talented longtime food writers and reporters, if you will, of the Post Food section. Tom left reporting and food writing behind when he became a critic, which means he is paid to give his very personal opinions and shape and guide ours--critics and reporters play by different rules, just like sports reporters and columnists play by different rules, and we should have different expectations of each. They all have their jobs ostensibly for life, thanks to the Guild, though I think it'll be a lot harder for the lead restaurant critic to stay engaged and stay vital in that post year after year and only in that post--hence why I think it's good for New Yawkers that they've had more frequent critic changes at the New York Times than we have seen in DC. (I also have a wish that whenever Tom is discussed we don't derail into that "woe is me, Phyllis this, Phyllis that, Tom's not Phyllis" knee jerk thread and that instead we deal with the job Tom has done and is doing on its own merits. He deserves that. But that's probably folly.)

Back to lackadaisi--I'm afraid you lose me a bit with your very first salvo:

"We have a thriving restaurant industry in DC that deserves to have a Washington Post reviewer who cares and supports it. This week's review of Pazo is just the most recent indication that Tom Sietsema has no loyalty to this city"

Yes, we have an increasingly thriving restaurant industry, an increasing number of our restaurants, especially those that are chef-owned, are actually pretty good, a few are great if not unique nationally, but I'm afraid this tough talk makes too many assumptions I don't share. What we "deserve" is a critic willing to be independent and, uhm, critical, over the subject matter and subject area he's been assigned. If he's honest, fair, interesting and turns a nice phrase, all the better--and Tom is all of those. He's also RIGHT most of the time. You're complaining about this? And it seems folly to suggest his record, let alone this one review, reveals he 1) doesn't "care" or 2) doesn't "support" DC restaurants and that he somehow 3) has no loyalty to this city.

I disagree, respectfully, of course. He's not paid to be a homer or industry shill, he's not the spokesman for the RAMW and I'm not sure, to a critic, which charge would sting more: homer or hater? To make either case, you really have to show how, repeatedly over time, that Tom has gotten it wrong, how he's misjudged and missed things by a mile, how he has an agenda or two which lie out of sync with 1) reality 2) the majority of his readers or subjects or 3) his bosses who pay his bills. I haven't seen that case made here. Let's explore a little further--who pays Tom and who defines his job for him?

And as the Post's lead critic, he still has to function within a hierarchy of editors and managing editors guiding the paper as a whole--and the paper is a business entity, an employer, a media conglomerate--but for the sake of argument lets naively assume he and he alone gets to chart his territory, define his territory, based on his whim and written reviews (the review "form," by the way, is a really really limited form for a writer.) The larger questions are--how best should the Post handle this? How much of this is up to Tom and how much of it is beyond his control--i.e. larger editorial and management priorities or direction? We don't know enough of the internal workings of the Post, I'm afraid, but methinks Tom has to put up with his share of grief sometimes. To wit, those confusing user reviews with "average reader review stars" on the Post website before his actual review and star ranking, those misleading Capital Dining advertorial inserts in the Magazine, etc.

But I do know this, I drive past Baltimore often enough--and I'm also trying to drive as quickly as I can around or past Silver Spring or Takoma Park or Annapolis or the Eastern Shore and don't even get me started about all those Virginia burbs, bottom line is I'm a Post reader and I'd want to know if there's anything decent there amongst the presumed mediocrity, certainly anything of a three-star nature on "his" scale since, as I've already said, we have so few three-stars anywhere in our region. If you really care about food, you want to know this, too--it's just a question of HOW you want Tom to tell us this. Is one of his weekly Magazine reviews the appropriate place to tell us? As has already been argued, for much of the Post's readership it's a much closer drive to Bal'mer than it is to go anywhere in Virginia (ya been on the Beltway or 395S anytime lately?) I don't have facts 'n figures in front of me, but at given times of the day or week it'll probably take less time to drive to Pazo for 500,000+ of the Post readership than it would to drive to Oyamel in Crystal City. And it is definitely a good thing for Tom's mental sanity and acuity that he also finds ways to flesh things out and explore tangents with his other gigs, his book, the chats, the Postcards. There's nothing as predictable and tiresome as an aging athlete, or critic, who stays too long. Tom stepping outside the rigid form of a review can only be seen as a good thing, even when we disagree with his opinions. Tom seeing first hand just how we stack up locally against talent in others cities, again, nothing but a good thing, for all of us.

Just how many "small" restaurants is Tom NOT reviewing or mentioning in a timely fashion that are somehow worthy, interesting, fresh, bursting with flavor that the million or so Post readers NEED to read about in the Post magazine? I'll wait....in the meantime, let the neighborhood sections and local gazettes and the Food section itself deal with the nice but ubiquitous middlin' amateurish flawed neighborhood places, the chefs who are undertrained, in over their ahead or who have stopped trying, who want to get home to their kids, let Eve Zibart round up the B-level or old-guard places she thinks Tom has overlooked or misjudged, Friday in the Weekend section, as she does very very well--why should any or all of that be laid at Tom's feet? If you'd like to argue the Post either needs to hire another staff member dedicated to restaurants & reviews or delegate that its food writers "cover" the restaurant scene more because the demand is there (and no one cooks anymore anyway,) I think we can do that--and agree--without indicting Tom or his track record. It's really a different issue.

It's not his job to "expand" what our city offers, magically, mystically, somehow, as if his writing could even do that--it's his job to 1) be aware of all the interesting and/or special places that do somehow manage to open--which he is on top off, especially thanks to eGullet if one were to slip under his radar--and 2) alert us to them--which I think he does, especially in his chats and those Wednesday little snippets and 3) evaluate them fairly. In essence, to chronicle our restaurant scene as he sees it evolve.

ok, lackadaisi--where I think you're on slightly stronger ground is when you imply a case could be made he doesn't "force" restaurants that have been reviewed to resist from living off their laurels enough--but I'd turn that around and say how many critics do? That's a natural inclination--if it's going to occur it will and if the team in place is still driven and motivated it won't. An occasional Baltimore review won't hinder that. And if it does in some small way, other inherently more timely venues or voices rise up to keep you informed, witness eGullet. Name another critic at another paper that does a better job than Tom in this respect--don't forget his chats or his book or the special magazine issues all of which offer a chance for him to amend a previous review? Remember the NY Times still had 7-8 year old four star reviews of Le Bernardin and Jean Georges up from Ruth Reichl when William Grimes stepped down!

If Tom did more of that, forcing and prodding more restaurants, he'd get criticized from a different camp accusing him of being disloyal to our town and asking why's he spending time reviewing Citronelle or Kinkead's again and not a place like 21P which just opened and hasn't yet been reviewed? It's always going to be judgement calls, and it seems he'll choose to fully review a place like 21P and mention a minor change or service issue with a Citronelle or Zaytinya in his chat, rather than spend a whole Magazine review space re-reviewing them. I think it's the right choice. As it is he gets criticized by dopey or disingenuous chatters for seemingly recommending the same places over and over and over again. Well guess what? Those places and chefs usually deserve to be recommended repeatedly because they're doing a better or more interesting job or offering a better value and he feels his readership "deserves" to keep hearing about them until that's not the case anymore, or until someone else supplants them. Is that the right choice? Again, I think so, but we can agree to disagree.

However, for this "resting on their laurels" charge to stick you'd have to name names of those places shockingly and egregiously resting on their laurels--supposedly overlooked by Tom--and we'd have to reach almost immediate consensus on that list and show that Tom is somehow tacitly implicated by omission and that an immediate re-review is warranted--and frankly, that's just not likely to happen. It might make for a good thread on its own, though. Who are you thinking of--is there this swell of restaurants mailing it in that deserves to be outed? Each one of us in "critic" mode is likely to cut x, y or z restaurant slack the other wouldn't, if we'd not outright disagree, that's the nature of criticism. Most of us know who is mailing it in, and I think you can infer from his chats just who Tom feels may be, too. Either way, readers still have to go to these places to form their own opinions anyway, since taste and awareness is very subjective. For example, Tom doesn't "like" chocolate, he admits he just doesn't get it like 90% of the population does, or as he savors other ingredients or flavors--so that means even after reading his review you still have to go to Oyamel to try our Cafe de Olla or the Mole caliente desserts and make up your own mind just how good or inventive or delicious they are--even though Tom didn't mention either one in his review. That, in microcosm, is what we all have to do anyway with any dish or chef or restaurant--we embrace, experience, react, on its own terms and on our very personal level.

Another potentially strong media point you make lackadaisi is that because Baltimore is a real "city" a restaurant there should be treated by Tom and the Post as somehow different than a comparably good and equidistant restaurant in some lesser burb. The hidden gem clause. I view this differently and I think as many readers will disagree on this as agree, but I can see your side from a media perspective: no matter how good a restaurant is in Baltimore, is the Washington Post still the wrong venue?

I certainly would have preferred a few DC restaurants--or the potential column you suggested-- featured in the Magazine during cherry blossom time, so that criticism sticks somewhat, but realize that, too, may have been out of Tom's control and in the hands of managing editor-types. But, we already have tons of Virginia folks who'd never think twice of driving to Bethesda for dinner, tons of Maryland folks who'd never drive to Tysons for dinner, DC resident's whose culinary worldview ends at the bridges or Beltway anyway, we're a bunch of harried disjointed but separate spoke-and-wheel communities concerned about what's in our backyard first, why NOT throw a bone or two to those Baltimore-willing?

I think how any of us feels on that will come down to how we define, or sense, the Washington Post. Is it--or is it trying to be--a national newspaper competing with the NY Times and the LA Times? Is it--or is it trying to evolve and position itself as--the dominant regional newspaper giving good local coverage within its region? I think the answers are clearly yes and yes, especially if they want to keep attracting the stylish 15 page color Target catalogs. It's our local paper but it's trying to be more than that, and I don't blame them for trying to be more relevant to more people. These are uncertain times for newspapers, subscription revenues have declined steadily, the internet is forcing newspapers to reassess online media and revenue opportunities. They have to stay in business, what's so bad about stealing readers away from the Sun?

You go on to say about Tom "but I am starting to feel that he wants to be more national in scope than I believe is appropriate for a Washington Post reviewer" and I'm not sure I understand your full intent. Tom is attacked often with some version of this.

I've already stated my thesis that Tom has to have the national and international dining exposures so he can actually tell how well we're doing here versus other cities--and that helps us all. That's how he knows how well my work, say, stacks up against that of my friends Gale Gand at Tru or ex-eGullet pastry host Michael Laiskonis now at Le Bernardin. That's how he knows where to rank, say, a Trabocchi or Andres nationally alongside a Grant Achatz, or assess a Trabocchi or Andres against a Richard or Donna. You have to have the cuisines, experience the restaurants, to evaluate them in the grander scheme of things. That isn't the same thing as wanting to be more national in scope and writing about an occasional restaurant outside our downtown core isn't either. Russ Parsons championed Thomas Keller at and in the LA Times so much there were times it seemed Keller surely cooked in LA rather than Napa! Russ and Thomas co-collaborated on a cooking series (one of the best of its kind) which ran in the LA Times and NOT in the SF papers--you think a few elite LA-based chefs were pissed they weren't asked to cook with Russ instead in "their" hometown paper? But Russ wasn't the restaurant critic--and frankly I can't tell you how far the LA Times will travel for a review--but their territory is huge and they seem to serve it very well despite aiming for more national recognition. Maybe their critic hears the same grumblings when she dips down or up. But I wouldn't blame her or her editors for urging her to do so. And the Times readers were better off because Russ reached out and brought Keller to them, considered by many to be the best chef in the country, let alone the state of California.

As long as critics are allowed by their bosses to be critics and independent, I'm happy. The marketplace will otherwise work itself out. I (personally) don't want a chauvinist or homer, either--we already have enough of them commenting that this chef or that restaurant deserves this or that award, yet failing to note that they haven't actually experienced the cooking of the other chefs or restaurants also up for said award. That gets us nowhere and it doesn't do our city or region well when praise is misplaced or half-blind.

That said, how anyone can say Tom hasn't networked on behalf of the cooking talent here and hasn't represented this city well is also beyond me. All our local writers have done right by our chefs. Someone brought up the Mid-Atlantic Beard awards for best chef--that's a great place to start--it's uber-competitive and chefs are very envious by nature--DC got four out of five this year, one (Mark F.) completely out of left field, previous winners came from DC the past two years running. Like others here I think Fabio is simply fantastic, but I wasn't going to say he was robbed when Grant Achatz got the Beard award and not him--how would I know? I had never been to Trio nor eaten at Grant's table, like I had at Maestro. I wasn't in a postion to comment meaningfully--that Tom puts himself in the position to comment meaningfully by traveling and networking, and that others around the country listen is, again, all good for us.

How do you think any local chefs even get nominated for Beard awards in the first place or begin to come under some national media scrutiny? Do ya' think Tom and the accuracy and persuasiveness of his advocacy has anything to do with it? Writers and critics visit with other writers and critics from out of town. Tom is but one of many local voices and judges, but who's doing a better job as a critic as a chauvinist for their city, Tom or Craig LaBan in Philadelphia? Who has been more persuasive in their local networking? We can never know for sure, but if LaBan were doing a better job (don't get me wrong, he's an excellent critic) the chef from Django would have been nominated instead of or alongside Vetri--and I'd remember his name since I've eaten at his wonderful restaurant four or five times. But no, 4 DC chefs got nominated instead. And that means that Tom (likely) has been right or more persuasive with more people more often, and that when other chefs and writers and foodies visit DC, I'm betting they leave more often than not concurring with Tom. All of this benefits DC as a whole by more and more people thinking of it as a food town, which benefits all of us in the long term, not just those nominated.

Isn't that caring and supporting and being loyal enough?

(Apologies for length, repetition and rambling.)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Like others here I think Fabio is simply fantastic, but I wasn't going to say he was robbed when Grant Achatz got the Beard award and not him--how would I know? I had never been to Trio nor eaten at Grant's table, like I had at Maestro. I wasn't in a postion to comment meaningfully--that Tom puts himself in the position to comment meaningfully by traveling and networking, and that others around the country listen is, again, all good for us."

I have been to Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar in New York whose chef won the Beard Rising Star award last year over Fabio. I stand by my comments. No, I have not tasted anything from Grant Achatz but that was the first year of the two Fabio was nominated. Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar is very, very good. But has nothing, NOTHING in common with Maestro and very possibly, little if anything in common with Grant Achatz.

Overall D. C. has a top rung that is superior to Philly, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, etc. But ANY comparison to NY pales in consideration of national awards. (Boston, also pales to New York by the way.) Why hasn't Michel won a national Beard? Only O'Connell who was championed by the NY press as well as Phyllis Richman.

I also, personally, am very curious why Vegas was essentially shut out this year. Half of the restaurant openings in the past few years seem to be from New Yorkers opening outposts there. A statement that only the original can be as good? If this is true then why bother with Ducasse in Manhattan-or Paris-and only consider Monte Carlo?

Perhaps I am giving far too much credit to the hometown chauvinism of the New York based writers and restauranteurs at the expense of any challenge, certainly any challenge east of the San Francisco Bay. I do remember sitting at the bar in Danko and sharing 15 or 20 courses (!) over four hours and being told that the husband had just returned from D. C. and had raved to his wife that Citronelle was better than anything in the Bay area. They had also been to El Raco de Can Fabes the Michelin three star 30 miles west of Barcelona and agreed with me, it was superior to both Danko and Citronelle. Of course Citronelle, now, has several dishes that would serve El Raco well.

Still, Fabio was robbed in his second year. Fleeced, mugged, ripped off.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

How do you think any local chefs even get nominated for Beard awards in the first place or begin to come under some national media scrutiny? Do ya' think Tom and the accuracy and persuasiveness of his advocacy has anything to do with it? Writers and critics visit with other writers and critics from out of town.  Who's doing a better job as a critic as a chauvinist for their city, Tom or Craig LaBan in Philadelphia?  Who has been more persuasive in their local network? If LaBan were doing a better job (don't get me wrong, he's an excellent critic) the chef from Django would have been nominated instead of or alongside Vetri--and I'd remember his name since I've eaten at his wonderful restaurant four or five times.  But no, 4 DC chefs got nominated instead.  And that means that Tom has been right or more persuasive with more people more often, and that when other chefs and writers and foodies visit DC, I'm betting they leave more often than not concurring with Tom.  All of this benefits DC as a whole by more and more people thinking of it as a food town, which benefits all of us in the long term, not just those nominated.

Isn't that caring and supporting and loyalty enough?...

I was going along with your thoughts all the way until your cause and effect rationale embracing a local critic's influence on a chef's national reputation. I suggest a chef’s “IT” factor and the chef’s and/or the restaurant's selection of a PR representative will play a far greater role in creating a nation reputation than having a leading, local critic as a vocal advocate.

But it terms of the James Beard Awards you may be right. Here is the restaurant and chef nomination process from the foundation’s web site:

Administration: The Restaurant Awards are administered by a volunteer committee of 17 leading food editors and restaurant critics representing the United States.

Balloting: Anyone can recommend a candidate for a Chef and Restaurant Award. The Foundation usually receives 1,500 submissions in September, which are tabulated by an accounting firm and reviewed by the Awards Committee to develop the Nominating Ballot. Up to 20 candidates are placed in each award category on the Nominating Ballot, which is distributed in January to over 300 judges throughout the U.S. The results of the Nominating Ballot produce five final nominees in each award category. Nominees are announced in March. A chef may not be nominated in more than one chef or restaurant category. The final ballot listing the five finalists for each award is distributed to the judges again. The highest score in each category determines the award winner. In the event of a tie, there are two award winners.

Judges: The body of judges comprises all past Chef and Restaurant Award winners, the Restaurant Awards Committee, leading regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, and culinary educators.

They don’t name the “leading food editors and restaurant critics” or the judges, but in the case of Philadelphia vs. DC, I’d be curious as to the geographical representation of each group. It could be that one of the two areas has a greater representation of judges. Supporting your premise, if DC has the greater representation and therefore more Sietsema than LaBan readers, it might account for DC’s impressive showing.

Beyond that, while Philadelphia's BYO's, even more than Stephen Starr, are the major story of the Philadephia Dining Scene, that story has been the menu and the cuisine of each BYO and not the chef. I'm not sure why this is, but I can't think of a single BYO chef who has anywhere near the local media status of a Georges Perrier, a Susannah Foo or any of Stephen Starr's imports.

It's not that the BYO's don't give their chef's credit. The chef's name is almost always featured on the menu. Maybe it's because the restaurants are relatively small operations. Maybe the restaurants don't spend on PR. Maybe a BYO's small kitchen is a close-knit team - more NE Patriots than NY Yankees.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

Overall D. C. has a top rung that is superior to Philly, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, etc. 

...

I don't know how familiar you are with Philadelphia restaurants, especially our 21st century crop of BYO's, but Philadelphia is a world class restaurant city on a par, at least, with DC, and certainly not to be compared with Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh or etc.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7(Apologies for length, repetition and rambling.)

Steve,

After reading this post through 3 times, I still can't figure out if you are kissing or biting Tom's ass. You included a lot of "insider" stuff, too. I guess that's cool. I must say, most people reading this board haven't the faintest clue what you're alluding to. I would call you the Bourdain of Washington, but I think that's no longer PC on eG.

Mark

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...