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This week’s question comes from Lou Cantolupo of the District, who wants to know:
“Do all you food critics hang out with each other on the second new moon of the year and collude who to target next?”
Attention Todd, Tom, Eve, and the rest of you: We’ve been found out! Run for cover into the nearest gastro-pub serving $16 hamburgers and double-fried frites with truffle oil and rosemary! I’ll e-mail you later on when it’s safe to reconvene our underground cabal.
Lou, your question carries a certain tongue-in-cheek tone, but I suspect you speak for many others when you wonder why the hell the same restaurants keep appearing in print reviews. A quick search of the archives reveals that the Washington Post and the Washingtonian have both weighed in on the following restaurants in recent months: Café du Parc, The Majestic, Comet Ping Pong, Brasserie Beck, Il Mulino, Oyamel, Central Michel Richard, BLT Steak, Hook, Bebo Trattoria, Farrah Olivia, and others.
Of that list, City Paper food writers have written about: Café du Parc, The Majestic, Comet Ping Pong, Il Mulino, Oyamel, Central, Hook, Bebo, and others.
It certainly looks suspicious, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not—not really. You know, there’s a reason they call us a newspaper. We write about what’s new and interesting. Same goes for magazines. I think the real question is whether we food writers overlook the less-obvious new restaurants in favor of those with a fancy-pants chef and a noisy publicist. You might have a case there. But then again, I do see Todd Kliman writing about Moroni & Brother’s on Georgia Avenue NW and Eve Zibart chiming in on EN Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar in Germantown.
The thing is, it takes time and effort to find new, under-the-radar restaurants worth writing about. I can’t begin to count the number of restaurants I’ve eaten at once and never darkened again; I quickly figured they weren’t worth your time or mine. So we’re often left with this focus on the obvious, which, frankly, we’re all complicit in. The buzz that surrounds places like Beck and Central and Comet generates anticipation from readers. They want to hear professional opinions on the food. So we provide them because part of our role as journalists is service.
I checked in with Kliman and Tom Sietsema on this question, too. Both critics e-mailed back thoughtful responses.
“The short answer,” Sietsema wrote, “is I write for a general audience and aim to cover my territory—which seems to be getting bigger each year—with two reviews a month in the District (where most of the more interesting restaurants are concentrated) and one review each in Virginia and Maryland.”
“I never consult with non-Post reviewers about what my plans are, although it sometimes looks as if we’re all eating in the same places at the same time,” the Post‘s critic continues. “That’s bound to happen when there are so many noteworthy restaurants launching at the same time; I think critics want to get to those places fairly early on, to let their readers know what the scoop is.”
The Washingtonian‘s Kliman had this to say via e-mail as he prepared to board a plane:
“I think [the question is] getting at the idea that places tend to get reviewed around the same time, giving the impression that critics and reviewers are pack rats. But places open, and people want to know about them. Usually, a critic or reviewer will wait a few weeks before making a first visit, so generally speaking, you can count on seeing a raft of opinions about a place about six weeks after opening. I dislike this, as I think you know. But no matter how ambitious you get, a column or review is still bound to a certain service element.
“I try to break from expectations as much as I can—my review of Cynthia’s, for instance,” Kliman adds about his most recent long-form review. “It came out a year later, and the foodiesphere was taken completely by surprise.”
Except for Sietsema, who wrote about Cynthia’s in the Post Magazine on Sunday.
Got an itch only a food critic can scratch? Describe it in detail to firstname.lastname@example.org.