Thinkstock/Yuri Arcurs
Thinkstock/Yuri Arcurs

This morning marked one of Washington Post Food Critic Tom Sietsema’s swiftest full reviews. Hazel, the newly minted Shaw restaurant from Rob Rubba, received 2.5 stars from Sietsema after being open for just 24 days. The rating straddles the line between good and excellent, and Sietsema’s words are primarily praise.

Hazel’s not the only restaurant to see Sietsema mere days after opening. “He came in three times in the first nine days we were open,” says Josh Phillips, the general manager of Espita. “The first time was harrowing, the second time was not so bad,” he adds. Sietsema came in for a third time when he knew Phillips and Chef Alexis Samayoa had the day off. Espita also received a mostly glowing review and 2.5 stars only 29 days after opening. Phillips, surprisingly, was pleased with how quickly Sietsema penned his review, because it gave the restaurant traffic once the initial buzz of the first few weeks died down.

Phillips feels the critic isn’t out to “get” new restaurants by writing a full, starred review instead of his typically quick First Bite. The latter doesn’t come with a star rating and is significantly shorter. “He does a First Bite if a restaurant isn’t ready for a review,” Phillips says. “The full reviews that pop out early tend to be positive, even if the stars don’t reflect it.”

Young & Hungry crunched some data to compare how soon after opening Sietsema reviewed a string of seven restaurants in 2016 to a time period in 2014 that also saw a boom of new restaurants. Based on this small comparison, it seems Sietsema is publishing full reviews an average of 24 days earlier.

When I became the food critic in 2000, I followed an unwritten rule that I would wait a full month before reviewing a new restaurant,” Sietsema says in an email. “But circumstances change. The heightened interest in food and dining in the region begat the First Bite column, which allows me the chance to give readers an immediate impression of a place; in the last year or so, given the onslaught of new restaurants, I sort of retired the notion that I had to wait several weeks before making the first of multiple visits to a new establishment.”

He continues, “I mean, if a business is charging full admission from Day 1, why wait, especially if the restaurant is coming from a big deal chef or a brand name group?”

Take a look at the data that shows Sietsema’s pattern. In 2016, he waited an average of 54 days before publishing a review, while in 2014 that number was 78.


Hazel opening date: June 27, 2016

Full review: July 20, 2016

Number of days: 24

Espita opening date: March 8, 2016

Full review: April 6, 2016

Number of days: 29

Kyirisan opening date: March 22, 2016

Full review: June 28, 2016

Number of days: 98 

Conosci opening date: April 15, 2016

Full review: June 1, 2016

Number of days: 47 

EatBar opening date: March 31, 2016

Full review: May 25, 2016

Number of days: 55

MuleBone opening date: February 12, 2016

Full review: March 30, 2016

Number of days: 47

Momofuku opening date: October 24, 2015

Full review: Jan.13, 2016

Number of days: 81


Rural Society opening date: July 3, 2014

Full review: Sept. 24, 2014

Number of days: 83

Tico opening date: June 8, 2014

Full review: Sept. 10, 2014

Number of days: 94

Crane & Turtle opening date: June 24, 2014

Full review: Sept. 3, 2014

Number of days: 71

Macon Bistro & Larder opening date: May 10, 2014

Full review: August 6, 2014

Number of days: 88

America Eats Tavern opening date: July 4, 2014

Full review: July 23, 2014

Number of days: 19

Toro Toro opening date: March 31, 2014

Full review: June 17, 2014

Number of days: 78 

Fiola Mare opening date: Feb. 21, 2014

Full review:  June 11, 2014

Number of days: 110