Young and Hungry

Which Sources Do Readers Trust for Restaurant Commentary? The Ts Have It.

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OK, if Zagat's time is over, as Y&H argues in tomorrow's cover story, where do you turn for reliable commentary and ratings on restaurants? Yelp? Chowhound? Urban Spoon? DonRockwell? Or some other outlet?

I don't think we've reached any sort of consensus yet, but the early response to my question this week is leaning hard on the standard media over the online newbies.  That's right, the Toms, Todds, and Tims have it (even Tyler, who's online but hardly new media).

The first person to respond to the question was Richard, who wrote in quickly and succinctly, if sloppily: "Hands Down, it's Tom Sietsma [sic] at Brand X." I asked Richard to elaborate on his choice, and here's what he wrote back:

Sure. Four things come to mind. First, his reviews are comprehensive–dishes to order and to avoid, ambience, service, decibel level (yes, I know!). Second, his writing is unusually articulate and expressive–lots of strong verbs and adjectives. Third, if he likes a place, and I try it, I have not been disappointed. And fourth, he visits a restaurant at least three times–and with a group to facilitate nibbling–before offering a review. The online reviews that I have read very rarely combine all four of Sietsma's strengths. BTW, I really enjoy reading you and do so every day.

Cynthia, on the other hand, prefers your own Y&H (and a Y&H predecessor), which is either a great endorsement for City Paper's style of food writing or a just great sucking-up. I, of course, prefer to believe the latter:

This is a very personal response and from one who is not young, but often hungry. You are right — Zagat is just a convenient directory and not necessarily up to date. I am not a fan of Tom at the Washington Post. One of my favorite critics was Brett Anderson who missed out on the competition at the Post (their and DC's loss) and went to New Orleans which must be a great gig (don't know if he is still there).

For DC I prefer Tim Carman (the recent heartfelt swoon about the Calvert Woodley rose was palpable)!!! and I go to the NYTimes and am sad that Bruni is leaving...but they cover local scenes well.

I feel somewhat qualified to judge having lived in Malaysia, Paris and Rome during glorious culinary eras, and been a fresh market hound (a la Julia Child) in those cities and translated for my own use one French cookbook and local recipes — in other words a devotee.

Do you see Carol Joynt's blog? (She being the owner of the now closed Nathan's in Georgetown). She whips up nice menus at home with good photos, and credits the sources of her bread, wine,etc. from local purveyors in addition to describing her meals at upscale and less restaurants where she seems to dine often in the region. I am not plugging her, but admire her sophisticated palate.

Raman prefers to turn to the major media, with an emphasis on the Washingtonian's coverage, for restaurant news and opinion:

I hate to say it, but at least in the DC area I was always pull out copies of my Washingtonian Top 100 restaurants or Cheap Eats or search Washington Post (Sietsma [sic] reviews only) when I need to figure out what restaurant that I haven't been to goto next. Sometimes I check out donrockwell.com. I do use yelp for random carryouts/delivery type places. For traveling I used to use guides like frommers and lonely planet to mixed success.

Gabe put a plug in for D.C.'s ethnic mouthpiece:

Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide. Cowen is a fascinating Economics prof at GMU. I have no connection with him or the school, I just love his dining guide. I've heard him speak a couple times, he's interesting dude...

There was one strong endorsement for the non-traditional media, and it came from Elizabeth, who wrote:

I would say above all – Chowhound. My perception is that Chowhound is populated by people who are serious about food and committed to finding good stuff and not wasting money on a bad meal. When I'm going to a new city, I spend a long time on it making tick marks for each time a place is recommended. If 3 or more people comment favorably about a place, it's probably good – 5 or 6 or more means it's definitely good. On the first day of my first trip to Philadelphia, I had dinner in a restaurant I'd discovered on Chowhound – I'd made a reservation a month in advance. I struck up a conversation with the Philadelphians at the next table who were shocked to learn it was my first day in town. "I lived here 2 years before I learned about this place!" Thanks, Chowhound!

Now here's the interesting thing about this informal question. The response that I received via my Twitter account leaned toward new media. Check it out:

  • jarsenault @timcarman chowhound has very thoughtful commentary, but interface is too clunky to be my "neo-Zagat." Usually wind up w yelp & fav DC blogs
  • sixfive @timcarman I trust Yelp, it's usually pretty spot-on.

Finally, two commentators on my original blog post say they still stick with Zagat.

Like I said, we have no consensus here. So don't stand on the sidelines! E-mail me with your favorite sources for restaurant commentary.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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