Dropping Our Pannies Washington City Papers first annual Worst Food Writing awards

Every year around this time, Marlowe & Company’s Best Food Writing series drops a volume of sweet prose in our hands to remind us that some journalists actually can chew and write, though probably not at the same time. These compilations have included a number of local writers over the years, including Tom Sietsema from the Washington Post and Todd Kliman from the Washingtonian, but when compared to our New York colleagues, D.C. just doesn’t represent.

Think of the Pannies, then, not just as our frying pan to the head of those local scribes who have served up a steaming plate of shitty prose this year but also as our service to the world of food literature. Only through informed public ridicule—from a column that has consistently been above criticism—can we hope to improve our food journalism—and make the hallowed pages of Best Food Writing.

Pannie Winners for 2007

“Smackdown on the Patio: The Chef Turned on the Gas. The Pit Master Lit Charcoal. Whose Food Would Triumph?”
by Joe Yonan
for the Washington Post, June 27

THE CLINCHER: “The two contestants in our invitation-only grilling smackdown were chosen to represent the two sides of the eternal gas-vs.-charcoal debate. But they ended up also carrying the flags for two approaches to cooking. This competition shaped up into city vs. country, restaurant vs. joint, chef vs. cook.”

JUDGE’S COMMENT: The author presents his readers with a brilliantly conceived bait and switch. He invites two competitors, a Georgetown hotel chef and a Waldorf barbecue cook, to get behind Weber grills and settle the question, once and for all, about which source of heat produces superior summertime fare. However, the author’s open-minded approach—absolutely no restrictions on how his competitors could prepare their proteins—turns the contest into a duel of recipes, not to mention a test of each cook’s ability to master a foreign grill. Twenty-three grafs into his story, the writer generously confesses that he just wasted our time: “But it wasn’t about a winner and a loser. The idea behind the smackdown was to provide insight that could help anyone make the most of outdoor cooking, whichever method they use.”

“Pesce Bistro a Bottomless Dining Delight: Sea & Stream Brim in NW”
by Corinna Lothar
for the Washington Times, Aug. 23

THE CLINCHER: “Pesce is not new; it has been at its present location west of Dupont Circle for 14 years, originally the creation of chefs Roberto Donna and Jean Louis Palladin. Today, it’s owned and operated by Mr. Palladin’s widow, Regine. Tom Meyer is the chef.”

JUDGE’S COMMENT: The writer does a wonderful job of completely missing the point in her critique of Pesce. A more fully conscious journalist might have looked for a fresh reason to review an old restaurant, but the author steadfastly refuses to kowtow to that false idol called relevance, or even reality, ignoring the very fact that drove Sietsema to review Pesce in February: In the fall of 2006, chef Bernard Marchive replaced Meyer in the kitchen.

“A Capitol Idea”
by Marian Burros
for the New York Times, April 10

THE CLINCHER: “Michel Richard is one of the few Washington chefs who could be a star in New York, and his restaurant Citronelle would be a huge hit here. But when I first went to his new brasserie in Washington, Central Michel Richard, he seemed as nervous as an Administration official about to testify before Congress.”

JUDGE’S COMMENT: In just two sentences in her Diner’s Journal item on Central Michel Richard, the author pulls out a pair of winning clichés, one evincing New York megalomania and the other employing a stunning simile rarely evoked in this city. The judge is dazzled by such Gotham sophistication.

“Prima Donna?”
by Todd Kliman
for the Washingtonian, March issue

THE CLINCHER: “No restaurant in recent memory has been more revered—or reviled—than Galileo. Until temporarily shuttering for reconstruction this fall, the destination dining spot in downtown DC was as legendary for its superb homemade pastas and breads as for its arrogance and hauteur. Which side of the divide you come down on—revere or revile—has a lot to do with your place in the larger scheme of things. If you were a friend of the house or counted yourself among the rich and the powerful, you probably revered it. But even the powerful were not immune to the staff’s disdain.”

JUDGE’S COMMENT: The judge has tried to ignore the very public dust-up between the author and Roberto Donna and just size up this Bebo Trattoria review on its merits. The author has done a commendable job of developing his conceit: that uppity Galileo had long suffered from a Jekyll and Hyde complex and that Bebo in Crystal City is Donna’s attempt to regain the “common touch” that marked the more casual restaurants in his once-sprawling empire. But the author is not satisfied with one portrait: He goes on to explain that Bebo is also the “osteria at Galileo writ large—a place for ordinary folks…” and that it’s a “Galileo for the average Joe….” The judge is impressed that none of these writerly depictions jibe with what a Bebo publicist once told him: that Donna opened the trattoria because Crystal City wouldn’t support a more formal and pricey restaurant.

“Savoring the Unexpected: Three delicious discoveries around the corner and around the world”
by Tom Sietsema
for the Washington Post, Sept. 16

THE CLINCHER: “Among the many lessons I’ve learned in my food travels are these: Discovery doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and memorable dining experiences aren’t always found in restaurants. Sometimes, something as seemingly mundane as a trip to a convenience store, or a suggestion to have a drink before dinner, yields an appetizing little adventure in the least-expected place. Here are three tales of discovery in three very different cities: Santa Fe, Paris and Washington.”

JUDGE’S COMMENT: A brave and moving declaration from the author that he couldn’t find three memorable, low-cost options in the town he covers.

“First Impressions: Café du Parc”
by Rawn James Jr. for DCist, May 8.

THE CLINCHER: “A new restaurant in the Willard Hotel very well may change the fortunes of General Pershing’s park. Friday was press night at Café du Parc, (read this as full disclosure, please) and the self-described ‘new classic French bistro’ has spared no expense in impressing the gathered gastronomes. The crowd arrived to a champagne welcome and legato accordion music played by Carmelo Pino, who…follows us into the dining room; his efforts throughout the evening prove once and for all that food tastes better when buttressed by live accordion music.”

JUDGE’S COMMENT: The author boldly draws conclusions from a free dinner and serves up historical facts that readers would normally have to coax out of such complex research databases as Wikipedia. Further, the author has done us all a favor and finally put the accordion controversy to rest.

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