Usually, there is unspoken agreement that the restaurateur will act as if he doesn't recognize the critic. It's an awkward and often silly game. So, I laughed when my bill at Farmstead 303 Saturday night (right) arrived with the notation of "FOO CRITIC" on it. I wasn't surprised I was recognized because, as I explained in an earlier post, the chef here is Ryan Stewart, Besha's husband.
Attitudes about anonymity have changed tremendously in the years since I started writing "Grazing." At the time — over 25 years ago when I was also editor of Creative Loafing — critics made much of being anonymous, at least publicly. I have never disagreed that anonymity is important to a critic's job but it always seemed more honest to me to disclose when I knew I'd been recognized than to pretend otherwise. I've also always, perhaps unrealistically, differentiated between the role of the lead critic and the "Grazing" columnist in this regard.
I found it weirdly coincidental that the issue of recognition arose at the same restaurant that provoked a controversial, mixed review from a reader during its first week. Commenters argued that I was wrong to allow a reader, not a professional critic, to be the first to write about Farmstead. And, in any case, they wrote, it was too early in the restaurant's life to be critiquing it.
As it happens, John Kessler of the AJC, who is unselfconsciously not anonymous, came under similar criticism for writing a first look at the restaurant during its first few weeks. Kessler describes the dilemma well (although he also seems to blame us in part for his decision to review Farmstead so early):
For a proper starred review a writer should wait a few weeks. But the reality today is that people start posting impressions of restaurants as soon as they open. If we in the mainstream media stayed mum the whole time, we wouldn’t be part of the conversation. What I try to do with posts labeled “First Look” is to give an impression of what the place has to offer, both in terms of food and service. If this seems a little on the critical side, it’s to warn people against storming a restaurant that is still getting up to speed and also to encourage the restaurant to redouble its efforts to figure out what must be a very difficult space to work. There was a lengthy report on Creative Loafing about a long wait on a weekend night at Farmstead. I personally prefer to wait longer, but in today’s climate I think gentle criticism — the kind that food writers do better than most Yelp posters — can steer the conversation in a good direction. Thanks for your comment.
Of course, in actuality, I haven't written a "first look." I have maintained that if a critic finds problems at a restaurant during its first few weeks, he should return before writing anything decisive. Maybe for the same reason, I shouldn't have published the reader's letter about Farmstead. Or maybe we should abandon our policy of waiting three weeks altogether...or...
I get a lot of grief for not venturing to Atlanta's northern suburbs often. For many of the 20-odd years I've been grazing, good restaurants in the boonies were few and far between. But that changed ... while my in-town dining habit did not. Happily, the lead critics at the paper have been fine with culinary safaris.
But the recession has slowed restaurant openings to a historic low. Meanwhile, the herd of great bloggers in the city circle soon-to-open restaurants like American Indian scouts spying on frontier settlers. The object is to be first to review a newbie. I rarely go to a new restaurant now that hasn't already been hit by a vigilant blogger.
Case in point is Sushinobo (4500 W. Village Place, Suite 1005, 678-401-7322, www.sushinobo.com) in far-away Smyrna, a land of trees encircling Aunt Fanny's Cabin when I was a kid in Sandy Springs. A friend told me about the place last week and, despite the address, I sped immediately to the new sushi bar, only to find that Tom Maicon of Atlanta Cuisine had put up a review weeks ago. I hate feeling like a stalker.
(Photo by James Camp)
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Nice article...But no mention of Tortillas first location, just down Ponce a bit, where that…
^ someone didn't read the article, but decided to comment on the pic anyway.
Thanks for sharing these great events, enjoy them if you get the chance.
Who plated that? Jackson Pollock?
Shill a make you a reservation?