Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for August, 2008
Restaurant reviewing enthralls me; I envision feasting night after night on tantalizing comestibles, paid with someone else’s dime, at tony bistros tucked into quaint pockets of the city. Most likely the reality, while certainly not mundane, is far less glamorous. (And call me shallow, I’m sure I would quickly tire of the inevitable weight gain).
Reviewing is a tricky business; your goal is to help the general public decide if they’ll enjoy the experience, but you’re also dealing with someone’s livelihood. Good reviews can catapult a restaurant into the “hot spot” realm, while a bad review can signal its demise. I ask myself, do I want that responsibility?
Restaurant reviews have proliferated thanks to blogging, yet the medium introduces another point of contention — is the review fair and balanced? While traditional reviewers will visit a restaurant a minimum of two times before writing it up (and will never review it within the first few weeks of opening, unless it’s for a “first looks” write-up), many bloggers base their opinions on merely one visit (I’m guilty). Not only is this practice unfair to the establishment, it’s a disservice to the readers.
Ethics aside, the craft of restaurant reviewing is much harder than it appears. Describing the halibut as “delicious” offers little insight; you want your reader to feel they were dining with you. Better to say, “the halibut — marinated in a zesty soy-chile marinade and flash-seared on the grill — was a perfect balance of crispy, golden brown exterior and melt-in-your-mouth interior.” (Although I’m sure an editor would call out “melt-in-your mouth” as cliché).
You need to be an expert at noticing the details. What’s the atmosphere like? Was the waitstaff attentive? Is parking accessible? Are children welcomed or shunned? Are prices in line with the value? Now imagine encapsulating this into a 300-word review. Believe me, it ain’t easy. (Of course, if you’re writing for your own blog, you have much more leeway).
Helloooo? Anyone home? Boy, things sure are dusty in here.
So, um, yeah. It’s been a while. I’d be surprised if anyone stops by any more (heck, even my sister bailed months ago). I have at least one good excuse — I’ve run another marathon since last we spoke (shaved 52 minutes off my best time, thankyouverymuch) — but I can’t chalk it all up to that.
I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of writer’s block; I’ve composed a slew of posts in my mind. Nor have I succumbed to culinary mediocrity (okay, perhaps on occasion). Despite limited time and energy, we’ve eaten well. I’ve perfected a recipe for zesty, moist turkey burgers; concocted a nourishing post-run recovery drink incorporating frozen fruit and vanilla soy milk; tested the quality of “cheater” aioli over the real deal (both were delectable); whipped up not one, but two rhubarb pies (one baked, one fresh); hatched my own version of “A Man, A Can, a Plan” (“A woMan, A Few Cans, Not Much of a Plan,” if you will) and in what could be hailed as the ultimate blasphemy for this New England-bred gal, prepared a MANHATTAN clam chowder that’s irresistible (sorry Mom; I’ll turn in my Yankee card forthwith).
No, the real culprit is epistolary lethargy. I just haven’t had it in me.
I’ve had no problem posting on Eat Drink Run Woman (I’ve penned more than 30 posts since March 26), yet when it comes to food blogging, my readers deserve more. There’s an inherent intimidation in food writing; if you can’t measure up to the quality that currently exists, why bother?
Yet for me it goes deeper. What do I have to say that hasn’t been said before? How can I best illustrate my post to make it interesting? Take all those factors in mind and you’re looking at 3-4 hours a day at a minimum before anything is published. With my running musings, I can crank out a pithy entry in less than an hour.