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Tom Sietsema

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  1. I was simply trying to answer as many questions as I could in the hour. Also: I based my assessment of MA's on two recent visits.
  2. Marty, I think you're right about the pricing at the Line, but the duck easily feeds four or more, plus the duck and the made-to-order (duck fat) tortillas are pretty rich. (The feast comes with a duck confit salad, too.) Ericandblueboy, I'm fully aware you're no fan of mine, but I have yet to have even a good version of Peking duck at Peter Chang in Bethesda. Then again, my bar is pretty high: Duck de Chine in Beijing.
  3. Not sure what the comment about "being busy and writing poorly" is referring to (me?), but allow me to address a few things. 1) Yes, the Washington Post is a huge platform. It's one of the most important publications in the world. I feel grateful every day that I get to write about a subject I care deeply about. I also feel a real responsibility to fairly and accurately cover the restaurant scene. To that end, I eat out about a dozen meals a week. I'm fortunate that my employer picks up the tab, but I never take that for granted. (Then again, the Post also pays White House reporters to fly first-class on Air Force One and sports writers to go to the Olympics. And on. It's part of our jobs.) 2) What sort of "checks and balances" are you suggesting? I have plenty of those already: editors, copy editors, online critics (including readers who can post comments following my reviews). 3) Do I ever get things wrong? Of course. Have I ever made mistakes? For sure. But week in and week out -- decade in and decade out (scary thought for some of you, I know!) -- I hope there's some consistency and even (pleasant) surprise to my work. Most people have very little idea what goes into this job. A lot of people think they can do it (reviewing in general) better. To them I say: have at it and see how easy it is. I know I strive to be fair: I've given raves to people I know detest me and pans to people who don't. 4) I have pretty tough skin. I can handle criticism -- and I've learned from it over the years. I don't shy away from negative feedback and in fact let people rant about me on my own food forum. It goes with the territory. But I didn't go into this to win friends or curry favor with anyone. That's a losing proposition in criticism. That's it for the moment.
  4. Regarding Don's post above, my chat isn't a "strategy," but a way to address readers' questions and comments in real time and in a more personal venue than print. I learn as much as I (hopefully) give in that hour every week. Just for the record, my "little corner" (as Don puts it) is the second best-read chat on the WP site (after Carolyn Hax) and enjoys a national, even international, audience. If it wasn't effective, I would have dropped it by now. But the regular give and take is one of the most important things I do. I'm posting for the first time in years (?) because I get tired of being misrepresented. It's fine to disagree with my reviews or stories, but please, don't pretend to read my mind. I think of this forum as a helpful Washington resource and have said as much over the years; indeed, I gave the site a shout out in my best American food cities series a couple years back. DR is one of the things that makes Washington a better food scene. Just my two cents.
  5. I wrote about R Family Kitchen because it's run by the same owners of the previous restaurant in that space, TapaBar, which I liked and considered to be a solid, two-star establishment. Also because I like to vary cuisine styles, price points and locations from week to week in my First Bite column. This is considered a preview, by the way, not a star-rated critique. I figured readers might be curious about TapaBar's replacement. I know I was.
  6. I'd like to thank all of YOU for the good questions! This is a smart crowd. I've really enjoyed my week here. As for my interest in the Titanic .... I was fascinated by disasters as a kid (hmmm, a harbinger of things to come?) I read everything I could about the Hindenburg, the Morro Castle, the Andrea Doria and so on. But I really fell in love with the story of the Titanic. Here was this supposedly unsinkable ship -- crowded with VIPS and the first with such luxuries as a swimming pool -- and it sailed for less than a week. There was so much glamour and mystery surrounding the ocean liner and its sinking. When I was about eleven, my grandmother sent me a clipping from a Minneapolis paper with the photograph of Mrs. John Pillsbury Snyder on it. She was looking down at a model of the Titanic, used in a British movie but sold for display in a shopping mall in the Twin Cities. "It looks awfully small down there," she was reported to have said. A survivor (practically) in my own backyard! I wrote Mrs. Snyder, arranged to visit her in her mansion (she was a Pillsbury heiress) in Wayzata, Minn., and had my Dad drive me the three hours up there to do so. I was armed with a list of 100 questions, a tape recorder and some vintage 1912 books relating to the Titanic, which I had her sign. It was a heady two hours for this pint-sized Titanic buff. Mrs. Snyder could not have been more gracious -- I was intimidated by the maid who answered the door if not the grand dame herself -- and she pulled out all her old scrapbooks and interviews dating back to 1912. She and her husband were returning from a three-month honeymoon in Europe and were originally slated to come back to the States on a French liner. But when that ship was put in dry dock for minor repairs, they were encouraged to return on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Lots of irony: Mrs.Snyder had previously salied with the captain (Smith) and had had a bad experience. Leaving New York on another ship he was piloting, some ropes were connected to the dock and nearly ripped the thing asunder. So she had bad vibes about him from the get-go. And in Spain during her honeymoon, a fortune teller told her to "beware of the water' at all costs .... kinda creepy, huh? Anyway, when the ship hit the iceberg, she and a bunch of other young newlyweds gathered on the deck to see what happened. Capt Smith came by and encouraged them to get into a lifeboat, just as a precaution and to set a good example for the other passengers. The women refused to go unless their husbands could accompany them -- and that's how Boat No. 7, the first lifeboat to leave the ship, departed with so many first-class males. Dorothy Gibson, a silent screen star of the era, was also in her boat. When the lifeboat hit the water, Mrs. Snyder recalled seeing a porthole slip beneath the water and realized the problem was serious. Fearful of being sucked under the water should it actually sink, the occupants of Boat No. 7 rowed as far as they could from the ship. To their credit, they picked up survivors afterwards, however. The night was beautiful, with hundreds of brilliant stars in the sky and a glass-smooth sea, Mrs. Snyder told me. And she never forgot the alarms or the moan of the ship in its final death throes, when it raised out of the water, its lights blinking off, then on, then off, and the thing broke in half. This is far more than any of you probably care to know, but obviously I still love the subject. My prized possession is a 1912 book on the sinking, signed "Mrs. J. P. Snyder, Survivor of the Titanic, Boat No. 7". Wonder how much THAT would go for on EBay? Again, my thanks to you all for having me this week. It's been a real treat.
  7. I was baffled by the readers who got angry when I went to Baltimore to review a place because 1) I've done it before, 2) Pazo was worth people knowing about, and 3) Baltimore is less of a drive away than some of the Virginia restaurants I've written about. Given the reaction from a few vocal diners, you would have thought I went to Dallas for the Sunday! lol I will continue to review those places in the greater Washington area that I feel are important or otherwise worth knowing about. Seventy percent of the Post readership resides in the suburbs, after all. And, in my defense, I heard from plenty of people who were happy to know about a good restarant option in Baltimore.
  8. I eat out with a mix of people -- young/old, straight/gay, Caucasian/non-Caucasian, single/married -- and do in fact include kids in some of those visits. It's interesting to see their different perspectives -- how loud places affect my older acquaintances, for instance, or how vegetarians try to navigate a steak house menu. I write for a general audience and try to think about the needs and concerns of a diverse group of readers as I make my rounds. Thanks for your suggestions. I'll be keeping my eyes open for coloring books, high chairs and things other than chicken nuggets on the kiddie menus!
  9. The text of my weekly chat is archived as it appears online. There is no "after hours" editing (sometimes much to my chagrin). Cesare is NOT leaving Tosca. I don't believe I wrote anything like that. He is NOT advising the team at the fledgling Extra Virgin any longer, however. Maybe that's the update you recall seeing.
  10. 1) First, I think competition is healthy. Having more than one voice weighing in on restaurants is a GOOD thing. The myriad blogs have not really changed the way I write or cancelled out the rule I try to maintain about waiting a month or so to review new restaurants. But I DO like to be first with news about chef changes, restaurant closings, etc. in the Weekly Dish, and I sometimes feel at a disadvantage in reporting those things, because I'm tethered to print deadlines. If something big happens on a Tuesday, I have to wait until the next week to write about it (in the Food section), unless I choose to highlight the scoop in my online chat the next day. I do find myself spending more and more time surfing the net and reading or scanning food and restaurant sites -- and spending less time reading the big food magazines. There's more originality online than in print right now. 2) Anyone who is serious about food should make a point of visiting Barcelona, Madrid, San Francisco, Chicago and Las Vegas (yes, Vegas!) -- among other interesting restaurant destinations. I was underwhelmed on my last trip to Paris earlier this year. Spain is really where it's at right now, in terms of setting the agenda for food fashions. 3) My wish list includes more serious wine bars, more dessert-only venues, more moderately-priced "neighborhood" spots (along the lines of Hank's Oyster Bar or Jackie's in Silver Spring) and more places that do proper breakfasts throughout the week. It would be nice to have a good Argentinean restaurant, something representative of Sweden. 4) Gosh, who knows? I really like what I'm doing now. But this is the longest I've ever stayed in one position and I get bored easily, so I need to challenge myself on a regular basis.
  11. Ha! I rarely use my full name when I'm introduced in Washington, because when I do, the typical reaction is "I want your job!" or something similar -- followed by 15 minutes of the usual questions: What's your favorite restaurant? Do you wear disguises? How often do you eat out? Can I tag along? and so on and so forth. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, but I would rather talk about somebody else's profession than my own. Every once in awhile, I'll meet a waiter or a restaurant manager in a social setting, but I try to steer clear of functions where that might happen. I never go to restaurant openings or press receptions, for instance.
  12. Duly noted, sir! Thanks for the helpful feedback. I probably do a better job highlighting inexpensive places in my Magazine and Food section columns than I do in my online chats, because in the rush (and crush!) on Wednesday mornings, I sometimes forget about a good hole-in-the-wall or two. But I'm conscious of that now. Did you notice I mentioned Kotobuki as a cheap but quality source for sushi, and the Spy Museum for its kid-friendly menu, in yesterday's discussion? I hope to include plenty of cheap-to-moderate places in my fall dining guide, too.
  13. 1) I've been doing this for so long, I can almost (almost) predict how many stars a place is going to get based on one visit, a visit where I can sample at least four or more dishes. BUT, I've been surprised -- pleasantly and unpleasantly -- enough times that I would hesitate to really praise or damn a restaurant based on a single experience. Even good restaurants have off days and even bad restaurants can occasionally turn out a decent meal, you know? 2) I've been On The Other Side before, when I was writing reviews online for Microsoft, and I loved it! I could beat print competition with truly up-to-the-minute scoops and my audience, while smaller, was more focused. (At the Post, I write for a general audience, albeit a big one: the Sunday paper has over a million subscribers.) I applaud the creators of the various food sites and blogs -- chowhound, egullet, donrocks, etc. -- and I think they help keep "traditional media" on their toes. But frankly, I do most of my own homework. When I'm out in the burbs for a review, for instance, I almost always stop in the 'hood to check out the dining scene, to see what's new. I talk to a lot of people, regular diners and industry types. The one thing I find lacking online is a sense of who most of the contributors are -- what makes them creditable/responsible/fair. Whether you agree with the critic of a major print publication or not, that critic has probably spent years grooming for his/her job and his/her bio and background tend to lend some authority to his/her work. I see a lot of erroneous information on the myriad food sites, too -- about restaurants, about chefs, about moi! -- which just lends major pubs more credibility. I check out rumors for my columns that appear in print, to see if they're true or not. I fact-check and double fact-check. It's a lot of work, believe me, but it's the responsible thing to do. 3) Chefs should care that you and other chatters exist. I know I do. I mean, part of my job is to keep abreast of what people are thinking about, food-wise, right? But the internet means that everyone can be a food critic these days. And I'm not sure everyone who posts a thumbs up or a thumbs down is qualified to do so. Like I said, there's a lot of misinformation out there and unless I know where a poster is coming from, what his background is, I'm reluctant to trust him. Unless, of course, I follow that poster's comments for awhile and know him to be reliable or at least consistant.
  14. I love anything by Anne Tyler. The nonfiction book that gave me the most pleasure in recent years was TRUMAN. "Wizard of Oz" is up there. It's really not a kid's movie at all. Lots of life information packed therein. Hitchcock's "Rear Window" is another gem. Was Grace Kelly sexy or what? I know I'll think of others. I'm a jazz fan. I like swing and big band, too, possibly because my dad played bass when he was in the USMC. One of the great joys in my life was meeting Ella Fitzgerald through Natalie Cole, whose brother was a close friend of mine out in California. I'm a secret country western admirer as well. I'm living exactly where I want to be living. I love Washington. But Barcelona and San Francisco are pretty amazing cities, too. It depends. Sometimes it's pistachio, other times it's caramel. I love The Simpsons, Six Feet Under, Sopranos and (don't tell anyone) the occasional episode of Cops. History and English.
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