Archive for the 'Food writing' Category

Channeling Ruth Reichl

August 10, 2008 on 7:06 pm | By | In Food writing, Reviews | 2 Comments

At the beginning of 2007 I vowed to explore Seattle’s restaurant scene, sharing my findings here.  Total number of reviews?  One.  (There’s a reason I shy away from New Year’s resolutions).

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).

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