Something I give almost no thought to in daily life is the presence or quality of local restaurant reviews. I think of them sort of like tap water: When I need them, I expect them to be there and I expect them to be adequate. They certainly don't have to be great, primarily because I honestly don't know what a great restaurant review might look like. Would they inform my understanding of the human condition? Would they illuminate man's casual inhumanity to man? They might, but really I just want them to tell me if I should eat here or go down the street.
I was reading the Washington Post's restaurant reviews recently before a night out at the theater and all I wanted to know was where to eat in the most restaurant-dense portion of DC. Unfortunately, Tom Sietsema's reviews let me down thoroughly. The one I read was about Cure. He damns it with the faint praise by talking about its decor and the sense of deja vu he got from the charcuterie plate, or something. I also looked at the one for Azur, but he just yacks on about what's coming in that space.
If your review of a restaurant has nothing about the food, because it hasn't opened, or bangs on about the sofas, stop, take a deep breath, and hit delete until the tyranny of the blank page is back doing its job of discouraging your further composition. You suck.
Here's what I want: 1) Is the food good, 2) what's the vibe (loungy, greasy spoon, molecular gastronomy, weird), 3) would I be better served by eating elsewhere within the same a) tradition or b) area?
Here, for instance, are three better reviews for DC restaurants:
- Rogue 24's three drinks and three snacks for $55 deal is great if you can swing that and are at least a little interested in goofy molecular cooking. The bartender, Brian or possibly Bryan, is a lovely Midwestern sort who clearly cares about his craft, and enjoys talking about it. If you're lucky the Chef will wander by and make you a weird thingamabob while you get positively blotto on the drinks. Like much high-end food these days, this experience will appeal most to people who are "foodies" and can treat the experience half like going for food and half like going to a museum of food and cooking.
Eat a half a loaf of bread beforehand because the snacks are minute and the drinks are weapons-grade.
- The Gin Bar at New Heights restaurant has a very enthusiastic bartender, but her drinks are a little sweet. There are tons of gins there, and she's enthusiastic about them, but I found her enthusiasm got in the way of me trying the gins without her odd tonic concoctions. You may get better results by asking her to go light on the ice.
- Loriel Plaza is great for middle-cost Latin food and margaritas. You go there because they have ample covered outdoor seating with heat lamps as well as high-quality crappy margaritas. They're frozen and yet you can drink as many or as few as needed. The food can be hit or miss, but their masitas de puerco are the best puerco you've ever had. Don't go on weekend nights because it's a goddamned zoo. Go instead to Casa Oaxaca up the street.