I’m not the only one. The annual Saveur Best Food Blog awards doesn’t even list “restaurant blogs” as a category.
Ever had dinner with a restaurant reviewer? Usually I’ve been on the other side, so when I got the invitation I jumped at the chance to see a multiple-award winning writer and critic in action.
Jonathan Kauffman, restaurant reviewer for San Francisco Weekly, invited my husband and me to dinner at AQ, a sleek new restaurant serving what Trendologist Kara Neilsen calls “modern cuisine meets foraging.” Jonathan and I had exchanged tweets and emails, but had never met.
I began the evening with a faux pas. Jonathan had made a reservation in a false name, which I forgot and said his name when I introduced him to my spouse. We looked around to see if anyone noticed, but no one seemed to care. He also had a credit card in a false name.
Professional critics have to be careful about being recognized. Jonathan says he manages his online presence to ensure there are no photos of him online. (I checked and he’s right: you can’t find his face in an image search. Strangely, there are lots of photos of
Now that the New York Times’ latest restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, has moved on, the hand wringing begins anew about whether career food critics are doomed because of Yelp and food bloggers.
Let’s ask a different question. How have food bloggers changed restaurant reviewing? Here’s what I see as the biggest shifts:
1. Food bloggers don’t wait to review. In the old days, reviewers waited a month or so for the restaurant to get its groove. Bloggers figure that if they’re open for business, they’re fair game.
I like this approach. It implies there’s no cozy relationship between the two. Except that sometimes, there is. See No. 2.
2. Restaurants have opening events for bloggers. Print reviewers go to restaurants undercover and hope not to be recognized. They have expense accounts or get reimbursed as freelancers, whereas most bloggers write for free, as a hobby. So restaurants pay for them to come sample a meal. The cozy relationship is back.
3. Bloggers are more likely to cover an event than to review the food. Cover means “I went there and this is what I had,” versus. reviewing, which requires opinions
You know that secret smile you carry around after reading a good book? Especially one that makes you laugh and ponder the food world we love so much? I just finished Anthony Bourdain’s memoir, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food, and I’ll be smiling all day.
He’s toned down the macho swagger I staggered through 10 years ago in Kitchen Confidential, but he’s still writing about his man-filled, foul-mouthed food world. Expect brutal honesty about what constitutes exciting restaurant food, why we should cook and what, no-holds-barred opinions on selected food writers and chefs, and dirt on restaurant reviewers who suck. In this self-deprecating, thoughtful memoir, Bourdain also looks back at his life and how he got to be so lucky to be a best-selling author, dad, and world traveller with a TV show.
You can’t help but laugh out loud, and often. After consuming an elaborate tasting menu at Per Se in New York by the chef he respects most, Thomas Keller, he writes:
“But look across the seat at the woman with you. Do you really think she’s breathlessly anticipating getting back to your apartment to ride you like the Pony Express? Or do you think it far more likely that (like you) she’s counting the seconds till she can
It’s been a while since I’ve held a food writing contest on this blog, so I thought I’d blast out another one, just for fun. This time, let’s have a simile writing contest.
Similes are comparisons that starts with “like” or “as,” for comparing two unlike things. Why would you want to use them? You need as many tools as possible in your writing toolbox. Similes are a welcome alternative to adjectives. They’re playful, making your writing fun to read. Restaurant reviewers are particularly good employers of similes because
Despite hand-wringing about the decline of print restaurant reviewing, few people seem to care. When I teach food writing, hardly anyone asks about becoming a critic now, and a post I wrote on how the net influences restaurant reviewing elicited no response.
Maybe it’s about the economy. Food bloggers cook, perhaps because it’s less expensive and more hands-on than eating out. Due to lack of funds, restaurant reviewers now fall into two camps: the few remaining newspaper employees and freelancers reimbursed for meals; and hobbyists, who write on websites like Yelp.
So please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems no one wants to be a restaurant reviewer anymore. And certainly this news about Yelp doesn’t elevate the profession.
What news, you ask? It’s called Yelpmail. On this post from Chez Geek, a
Two leaders in print food writing have acknowledged the power of online restaurant reviews. They’re not about to say they value the opinions, but it’s a start.
Sam Sifton, the new restaurant critic for the New York Times, says the net can add value where newspapers cannot. Answering questions about his new post on Diner’s Journal, he said, “The biggest change in restaurant criticism since my days at NYPress is — hands down — the Internet. I don’t know that I trust the opinion of that guy who loved the sandwiches at Xie Xie and wrote about it on his blog, or Yelp, or Eater, or Midtown Lunch. (Why prevaricate? I don’t trust his opinion.) But boy oh boy do I like the photographs he’s posted, the menu he’s scanned, the information he’s provided for all to share. For myself, I look forward to joining that discussion.”
(By the way, he failed to provide links to Yelp, Eater or Midtown Lunch.)
The announcement about the nation’s most powerful restaurant reviewer prompted some to ask if that title is still relevant, now that anyone can write a restaurant review online, whether a rabid citizen reviewer or a well-known blogger.
I’m biased enough to think the answer is yes, with a background as a print journalist. I can’t think of a single online reviewer with his influence, when it comes to the fancy restaurants. Can you?
Back in 2006, Gourmet Editor Ruth Reichl said that restaurant reviews in her magazine no longer make sense, because online reviews appear immediately. National magazines often work six months in advance, so scooping the net would be a “ridiculous” proposition. Now the magazine focuses on trend stories, adding depth and insights that online posts do not, and posts reviews only on its website.
She made these comments about print versus online food writing during a New York radio show about “Amateur Gastronomes,” otherwise known as food bloggers. Bloggers Josh Friedland of TheFoodSection.com (who just did what used to be unforgivable: posted a mugshot of Sifton August 10), Jennifer Leuzzi of snack.blogs.com, and Regina Schrambling of gastropoda.com were also on the show. It’s worth a listen.