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Metro Weekly Interview with Tom Sietsema, by Randy Shulman


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In case people missed it, Metro Weekly did a great interview with Tom Sietsema this past week that's a must-read. I was a bit daunted by this revelation: "I spend over 40 hours a week in a restaurant. I eat out an average of 13 meals a week." And this: "When I'm working on the Fall Dining Guide, I go to about 100 restaurants starting in May and June for publication in October, so I'm thinking fall. I'm not eating watermelon and rhubarb and soft-shell crabs. I'm looking for haunches of meat and heavier things knowing that this is going to appear in print in October." In all, it left me respecting what he does--and what it takes to do it--even more, even if I don't always agree with his tastes or assessment.

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In case people missed it, Metro Weekly did a great interview with Tom Sietsema this past week that's a must-read. I was a bit daunted by this revelation: "I spend over 40 hours a week in a restaurant. I eat out an average of 13 meals a week." And this: "When I'm working on the Fall Dining Guide, I go to about 100 restaurants starting in May and June for publication in October, so I'm thinking fall. I'm not eating watermelon and rhubarb and soft-shell crabs. I'm looking for haunches of meat and heavier things knowing that this is going to appear in print in October." In all, it left me respecting what he does--and what it takes to do it--even more, even if I don't always agree with his tastes or assessment.

Try it without an expense account sometime. :blink:

I'm glad Tom showed proper respect to Phyllis - it was elegant, and the correct thing to do. In many ways, Tom is an extension of Phyllis, and is the last of a dying breed. I wish Phyllis was mentioned much, much more often than she is, and believe the Post should publish a book of her reviews in their entirety (and obviously, Tom's would be in the pipeline as well). She is of historical importance.

This is a thorough piece that's well-worth reading.

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I respect Tom for what he does, but his writing seems to have gotten too cutesy. Every dish is swathed or bathed or lashed or served on a raft. Steakhouses are always "meat markets." When going to a seafood restaurant he's "going fishing." Wine is often referred to as "grape juice."

And he has also gotten very into the design of restaurants, which he does mention in this interview.

But in the recently dropped spring dining guide, where he only has a paragraph or two for each place, too much is devoted to the look of the place.

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I enjoyed the read.  Interesting.  Luck, and work, and effort got him to the place he is now.  Good for him.  That is a very involved and overwhelming job.  I never imagined what it required.  40 hours/ week in restaurants and then writing.  Plus scheduling, reservations, arranging dining with others and all of the other elements for putting out pieces.  He wrote that he lives his job   and it must be.  Its a huge time investment.

I like his perspective.  He writes for the readers.  That is appropriate from my perspective.  His audience is vast.  I doubt there is a larger audience in this market place.  Of course he is writing from the well established number one media platform.  Frankly he must be doing a good job from the perspective of the Post.  Unlike in the days of print only, The Post can measure page visits to his articles.  If traffic is up, time on the articles is up, he is meeting and exceeding their expectations or at least past performance.

As much as I value the overwhelming combined foodie intelligence in this forum, plus the literacy and depth of writing, and so many other aspects, there is no doubt TS has the largest food platform in the region.  Because of its size and breadth its different in nature than is this forum for people with a greater level of expertise and a greater desire for more in depth information.

The references to Phyllis Richman were interesting.  I met her briefly more than once at the Post.  I had a close relative who worked somewhat with her.  She was nice to me and courteous.  I heard complimentary stories about her from this source.

On the restaurant side she was "all powerful".   She had vastly more impact than any one source can have now.  Except for the Washingtonian there was no other competition, and WashPost's reach is infinitely wider and broader than that of the Washingtonian.  At any one time there are myriads of folks in this area who fit The Washingtonian's demographic profile but don't read it...but they will access the Post.  and then there are the overwhelming numbers that don't fit that profile.

I might have referenced this before but I recall visiting a restaurateur friend whose new and first independent restaurant had recently won rave reviews by Phyllis Richman.  We had lost contact over a few years.  Her review of his restaurant grabbed my attention and my fiance and I visited him shortly after.  His "joint was jumping" when we visited and it had been subsequent to the review. It made the place.  The operator took my fiance and I into a private tasting room and we related a lot of old history.  He emphasized the critical nature of Richman's review.  His team was well aware of the importance and value of that singular article before it was written.  The after effect was immense.  He was incredibly grateful.  Assuming she wrote from the same perspective as Sietsma than the accolades were well deserved.

I think I'm far more like the majority of folks that might review the Post than the level of expertise often found here.  I enjoy Sietsma's reviews.  I don't read them every week.  I'm not caught up in his writing style.  I don't catch repetitious writing.  I simply don't scrutinize it enough to do so.  OTOH, I found the single article in the Sunday Post Mag wherein restaurant reviews were cowritten by other critics in the Post to be tremendously interesting.  A variety of viewpoints.  It actually had the depth that one can more often find on DR.com.

Anyway, good for Sietsma.  I hope he keeps his job, keeps doing it well, and from the depth of the article stays slim and healthy.  From the amount of time he spends in restaurants, eating and drinking that last part must certainly be difficult.

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