D.C.’s full-time food critics are accustomed to dining out many times per week. Some dine out almost daily. But now that the city has canceled dine-in service at restaurants because of coronavirus, how will critics fill their columns?
You’ll get a couple more formal reviews with star-ratings from Post critic Tom Sietsema. “We work a couple weeks ahead in the magazine, so readers will find out what I think about Napoli Pasta Bar this Sunday and Everest Kitchen on March 29,” he says. The former is in Columbia Heights, and the latter is a Himalayan restaurant in Ashburn, Va. Both will be tagged with an editor’s note explaining that the restaurants were open at press time.
“We are still evaluating what to do about the spring guide,” Sietsema continues. That major undertaking typically comes out in May. His “First Bite” previews are on hold for the immediate future.
Even before Mayor Muriel Bowser mandated that restaurants close their dining rooms on Monday, Sietsema was wary of eating out. “When Tony Fauci [the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] tells us he wouldn’t go to a restaurant now, we need to heed the doctor’s advice and eat in,” Sietsema says.
“For the foreseeable future, I’m going to focus on restaurant food delivery and take-out,” Sietsema continues. “I’ve always seen myself as more a cheerleader for diners than for restaurants, but what’s happening in the industry I cover makes me incredibly sad. Coronavirus is going to keep more than a few small businesses closed, I’m afraid.”
Delivery and take-out are both permissible under the city’s new guidelines and restaurants you wouldn’t expect to pack up food, including Little Serow, Bad Saint, Emilie’s, Masseria, and Tail Up Goat, are doing so to survive.
Sietsema’s colleague at the Post, Tim Carman, says he will take a similar approach with his “Casual Dining” column by reviewing delivery and take-out.
At Washingtonian, long-time critic Ann Limpert isn’t sure if she’ll review delivery just yet, but she will have no problem filling her time. Limpert publishes reviews in the monthly magazine, writes other food articles, and hosts a weekly chat. This year’s “100 Very Best Restaurants” list already came out.
“For the last week, we’ve all shifted into a newsier mode, and we’ll keep that up,” Limpert says. “But we’re also starting to think more long term about how to cover this bizarre new world. We’re a small-ish team, so everyone is pitching in in lots of ways no matter what their beat is.”
In addition to her duties in food, Limpert edits the “Taste” section. “That gives me plenty to do besides reviewing,” she says. “That said, I miss it already. I so hope that the restaurant I was planning to review for this next issue will be open for a revisit whenever this thing tapers. It was one of those places that reenforced just how far our food scene has come.”
Both Sietsema and Limpert will continue to host their online chats. Sietsema’s is on Wednesdays and Limpert’s is on Fridays.
“I think there will still be plenty to talk about,” Limpert says. “We’ve all gotta eat.”