A Facebook friend, Mary Luz Mejia, posted a fascinating link on her page today (see below). The piece takes off from Sam Sifton’s resignation as restaurant reviewer from the NY Times to take over the National desk at the paper. From there it describes the decline of importance in the position of being a restaurant reviewer. True dat.
Here’s the thing: If you’re going to a new city and want to eat well, how do you decide which restaurants are worth your time and money? I recently had this experience in New Orleans. I made the determination of where to eat by cross-referencing Frommer’s & Fodor’s, asking chefs what they knew, asking other folks who write about food–not critics–what they thought, and looking up recent James Beard award winning chefs. I ate at 12 restaurants in five days, some low-key in the Treme, and some fancy-pants, and all were great.
If I was coming to Boston, I’d do the same. You certainly can’t rely on the reviews written by local newspaper critics. Honestly: They don’t know food.
Which raises the question: Who is qualified to be a restaurant reviewer? Unlike chefs, cooks, wait staff, or hosts/hostesses, restaurant reviewers don’t have trainings, are not required to have worked in restaurants, and do not share a common understanding of what the job is about. Tony Scott, at the NY Times, as a movie reviewer, is highly skilled, literate, and evidently knowledgeable about movies and literature. Can you say the same about most restaurant reviewers? Nope.
Compensating for limited knowledge of restaurants and chefs is the good writer. If at least the reviewer can observe, document, demonstrate a good sense of humor, and recognize the hardship of running a restaurant, that is a good place to begin.