Laura Reiley, the wonderful food critic at The St. Petersburg Times, wrote a must-read post on her blog (appropriately titled “Restaurant critics club baby seals and cheat on their taxes”) that is almost a meta discussion on the nature of food criticism, which, as Reiley is well aware, can be challenging in a market like Tampa Bay.
“The most important thing for a restaurant critic—far more important than knowing the names of pre-Prohibition Ybor City restaurateurs—is to have a metric that is consistent and suitable for the area in which you’re reviewing. Meaning, it’s essential for a food critic to keep track of what is going on in the rest of the country, and to understand how the local restaurant scene fits into that. This is not New York City. I do not evaluate restaurants here using the same metric. This is tough love: The average restaurant here is not as good as the average restaurant there. If I evaluated restaurants here using the same yardstick.”
As someone who spent a lot of time recently exploring the restaurants of New York, I know exactly what Reiley is talking about. But I do not think she should or can grade Tampa Bay’s restaurants on a curve. First of all, this market is comprised of thousands of transplants from other cities, who, when they read that a restaurant is awarded even two stars, they assume that the restaurant is very, very good. For many of the thousands of residents from “up north” and the tourists who visit our region, familiar with the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, etc., the earning of a single star can be a lifetime’s achievement.
Secondly, with the advent, if not omnipresence, of foodie websites such as Zagat’s and Chowhound and the hundreds of amateur blogs devoted to gourmet dining, food criticism is too universal to be limited by a critic’s perception of what their market is.
What I am saying is: if the restaurant is good, then its good. If its great, then its great. But if its bad, its bad. And it doesn’t matter if the restaurant is in Brandon or Brooklyn.
What I’ve suggested Laura needs to do, if she wants to avoid dumping on every new restaurant, is to design a new metric for the Tampa Bay area. Simply using the Zagat formula of grading an establishment in several categories on a scale of 1-30 would allow her much greater flexibility in her reviews, while still offering an honest assessment.
Maybe Laura will take me out for dinner so we can discuss my ideas.
Tomorrow being the third Thursday of November, this marks the unveiling of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Here are 10 fascinating facts about Beaujolais Nouveau every wine drinker should know.
Speaking of knowing more than you should, the The New Yorker’s annual food issue is out this week. Pete Wells offers one highlight:
In an effort to promote its brand in a country where it has found neither the power nor the panache that it has in Europe, Michelin has John Colapinto meet one of its inspectors, “Maxime,” at Jean Georges.
I asked Maxime how she chooses what to order.
“You’re looking for something that really tests a number of quality ingredients and then something that’s a little complex, because you want to see what the kitchen can do,” she said. “We would never order something like a salad. We rarely order soup.”
Believe it or not, two Fridays ago, I was in between events in Tampa for Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio, so I stopped into the Raw Bar around 5 p.m. I could not have been more disappointed, even with the service, which was one-part eager and one-part clumsy. The uber-chic bartender was much more accessible than expected, although she knew little about sushi or wine. But we both smiled as one of her colleagues struggled to use a tray to carry a single martini. I tried to start my night off with a dirty martini, but this attempt was ruined by the resin of too many cosmos still left in the glass. This is becoming my biggest pet-peeve with bartenders: their inability to fully cleanse a glass of the last drink. After all, I really don’t want to smell or taste cranberry when I’m thinking blue-cheese stuffed olives. Anyway, I ordered a series of lifeless nigiri before adventuring into the mashed-up sushi. Not mashed-up physically, but in a Jay Z meets Linkin Park sort of way. How else to explain the concept of the Salmon Italiano roll with basil, sun-dried tomato sauce and parmesan cheese crisp? Sometimes East should not meet West. I was so disappointed with Raw Bar because I had heard such good things.
Actually, the best Asian food I’ve had recently is the sandwich I am hooked on: a fresh Bahn Mai from Thuy Cafe. $3.50 for the most incredible combination of sandwich ingredients on a warm baguette.
But don’t forget about the best sandwich, the New Orleans Po’ Boy, which, as this NY Times article pays homage to, will be celebrated on November 22.