As Ruth Samuelson reported last week, Esquire magazine listed both Brasserie Beck and Oyamel among its “Best New Restaurants” for 2007. This Sunday in the Washington Post Magazine, critic Tom Sietsema went out of his way to explain why Beck didn’t make the final cut for this year’s dining guide, which lists his top 50 “National Treasures.”
“…the early promise shown by a few newcomers, foremost Brasserie Beck, dimmed during follow-up inspections. (If you’re a Belgian kitchen, the mussels and fries have to be first rate.),” Sietsema wrote.
Where to begin with this stalemate? How ’bout this: No person can be a Belgian kitchen, Tom!
Actually, I think Sietsema was correct to leave Beck off the list, but not for the reason he gives. I think newbies have no place on a list of the 50 best restaurants in the region. They haven’t earned it yet: They’ve been open for less than a year, they’re still giddy about their mission, and, most of all, they’re gunning for every Tom, Todd, or Tim critic who walks through the door.
Besides, restaurateurs routinely bitch about the fact that critics review them too early, before they’ve solidified either the front or the back of the house. Some owners would like a six-month grace period before a critic steps in the door. OK, fine, then these restaurants shouldn’t be included in best-of guides until they’ve proven their worth over a period of time—-at least a year or so after that six-month grace period has passed.
Restaurateurs can’t have it both ways.
By my count, Sietsema’s dining guide includes at least eight restaurants that have popped up since last year’s picks: Central Michel Richard, Locanda, Farrah Olivia, Iron Bridge Wine Co., Proof, Hook, The Majestic, and Oyamel. (And I only include Oyamel here because Esquire’s John Mariani seems to believe that a relocated restaurant counts as a newbie.) In other words, 16 percent of Sietsema’s picks are newcomers. That’s too many. In the future, he should create a separate list for the best new restaurants.