One time I ate dinner with Tom Sietsema. I was new to restaurant criticism and we talked about reviewing philosophies. The Washington Post critic rarely talks about himself or his personal life, because, he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, he wants readers to be able to insert themselves into the story, into the meal.
He also, generally, refrains from of-the-moment pop culture references so reviews gain an air of timelessness, last a little bit longer; though of course, the second they’re written they are out of date. Every roasted chicken tastes different than the next, even on the same night, let alone the same year. Reviews are slices of varying meals pieced together to form an overarching narrative.
I think about this view. Especially as I, the reviewer, change. I was once a diner who ate joyfully with her fiance, slipped into the dining room at 8 p.m., ordered cocktails, searched for a wine beyond malbec, lingered for dessert. Then I was married, then I was pregnant, then I was breastfeeding while ordering ceviche, then I was watching my toddler balance seaweed on a single chopstick to feed herself, then I was pregnant again. Now, I’m a suburban mom of two wrangling a baby and a preschooler to last through a meal at a French restaurant, where my husband spends most of the time shuffling them outside while I taste and type notes and no, we won’t be able to wait the 15 minutes it takes for the chocolate souffle to arrive.
I try for readers to not know that. To not live my chaos, to instead luxuriate in their meal, childfree, carefree. Because my singular experience, as the critic, as a diner with two kids, shouldn’t impact the way anyone else feels during their night out. Anyone should be able to slip into the story, order the $17 cocktail and charred cabbage and sous vide squab and a lesson in white chocolate’s revival and find a good time around the table.
The 50 Best Restaurants issue hits newsstands today, and we’ll be releasing the full list online next week, along with more behind-the-scenes stories and thoughts. Enjoy your meal, however you can.