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Criticizing the Critics

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P.S. You did realize, I hope, that I was using irony to express agreement with you.

Yes B). It just gave me a vehicle to pivot to the real issue.

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My friends, the sooner you realize that traditional restaurant critics don't know the first thing about beers, wines, or liquors, the sooner you'll begin living a more stress-free life and begin taking things for what they are. I am not singling out Tom - a fine restaurant critic - because he's merely one of hundreds of examples that I describe who work in the profession. There are probably less than 1,000 people, total, in the country that have an expert's grasp of both food and wine, and very few of them are working as critics.

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Well, I don't care much for Sietsema's work in general, and rarely read it. I detest the Washington Post, and never buy it. I read Ezra Klein's blog, and that's about the only contact with the Post I usually have. Soon, I hope, the Post will be a thing of the past. People who want to find out about restaurants in Washington and environs shouldn't go to the Post; they should come to donrockwell.com.

P.S. You did realize, I hope, that I was using irony to express agreement with you.

"I detest the Washington Post, and never buy it."

"Soon, I hope, the Post will be a thing of the past."

Any other time I wouldn't respond to a post like this but having recently spent a few hours at the Newseum I couldn't help but respond. I could not disagree with you more PASSIONATELY. You should spend a few hours at the Newseum and perhaps you'll have a different attitude towards the Press. I am not a fan of spending $125+ a year (perhaps more, much more?) for the Post. Still, it is irreplaceable and worth it.

So is Tom and his opinion.

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My friends, the sooner you realize that traditional restaurant critics don't know the first thing about beers, wines, or liquors, the sooner you'll begin living a more stress-free life and begin taking things for what they are. I am not singling out Tom - a fine restaurant critic - because he's merely one of hundreds of examples that I describe who work in the profession. There are probably less than 1,000 people, total, in the country that have an expert's grasp of both food and wine, and very few of them are working as critics.

Sure. Which is why I blame the editor.

The review isn't being published in the Tom Sietsema Weekly...it's being published in the Washington Post. The editor's job is to represent the interests of The Washington Post, and recognize that a review as filed does not preset a reasonable picture of a restaurant under review. Whether that means giving a credit to a beverage program reviewer or just getting a few uncredited comments from a knowledgeable associate, it's the editor's responsibility to make the paper of record's view of a place as complete as is reasonable, given space and budget considerations.

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Sure. Which is why I blame the editor.

The review isn't being published in the Tom Sietsema Weekly...it's being published in the Washington Post. The editor's job is to represent the interests of The Washington Post, and recognize that a review as filed does not preset a reasonable picture of a restaurant under review. Whether that means giving a credit to a beverage program reviewer or just getting a few uncredited comments from a knowledgeable associate, it's the editor's responsibility to make the paper of record's view of a place as complete as is reasonable, given space and budget considerations.

What makes you think editors know any more about wine than critics?! Yes, in theory, they should recognize balance, but what about for places without good wine programs? Think: Honey Pig vs. Inox.

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What makes you think editors know any more about wine than critics?! Yes, in theory, they should recognize balance, but what about for places without good wine programs? Think: Honey Pig vs. Inox.

The editor doesn't have to know about wine. The editor just needs to know that a review of a fine dining restaurant (that is the sequel to a restaurant that (for better or worse) had been recognized as having one of the premier wine programs in the world) should address the wine program. Beyond that, the editor has multiple recourses. Hell, Don, you could go in, see the list, ask to look at the cellar, and be able to formulate 30-60 words about it, all in less time than it takes to drink a glass of prosecco.

By repeatedly demonstrating a lack of this recognition, Mr. Sietsema's editor does a disservice to Mr. Sietsema, The Washington Post, and its readership.

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Hell, Don, you could go in, see the list, ask to look at the cellar, and be able to formulate 30-60 words about it, all in less time than it takes to drink a glass of prosecco.

Yes, Jake, but I know what I'm doing. This is not a knock on any individuals; just a dose of reality.

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By repeatedly demonstrating a lack of this recognition, Mr. Sietsema's editor does a disservice to Mr. Sietsema, The Washington Post, and its readership.

And, to be honest, perhaps about 95+% (I'd say even 99+%) of folks who read the review and rely on it for whether or not they should go know wine to the point where, well, it'd matter.

The smart folks I know who know wine will have looked at the wine list ahead of time - folks like me, who don't know wine, might hear Tom say "this wine list sucks", "it's overpriced", or "it's great" but when I get there, I'm still going to end up putting myself in the hands of the sommelier one way or the other.

The argument being: the number of people that in-depth knowledge, or even just passing knowledge, of the wine list might influence is less than might be swayed by cutesy lines about possibly overindulging ladies.

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Yes, Jake, but I know what I'm doing. This is not a knock on any individuals; just a dose of reality.

Which means you could be one of the 5-10 guys the editor could pull from his/her rolodex to get that information for each forthcoming review. Read what I wrote. The editor doesn't have to be the guy to do the evaluation. But if TS can't/won't do it, the editor needs to find someone who will.

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The argument being: the number of people that in-depth knowledge, or even just passing knowledge, of the wine list might influence is less than might be swayed by cutesy lines about possibly overindulging ladies.

I dunno. I think I'd like to have some help spending half of my check amount.

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I dunno. I think I'd like to have some help spending half of my check amount.

Yes, but I wouldn't trust a restaurant review for that. Perhaps I'm just saying (worse) what Don is, but I don't trust restaurant reviews for their opinion on anything but the food, and a bit about the restaurant decor. Their thoughts on cocktails, beer, or wine I mostly ignore unless it's someone whose taste I completely trust (and not even always then - I know some folks whose tastes just don't match with what I like).

And too many people don't *care* - they just order based off price.

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I dunno. I think I'd like to have some help spending half of my check amount.

That's always been my beef: in fine dining, drink costs add up to 50% of the diner's bill. And nobody takes the time to review drinks well.

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That's always been my beef: in fine dining, drink costs add up to 50% of the diner's bill. And nobody takes the time to review drinks well.

I believe we've reached the stage known as "violent agreement."

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I believe we've reached the stage known as "violent agreement."

This is where a "like" button would come in handy.

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How much I was reminded of the importance of the Press.

May I humbly suggest that this IS the Press?

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The fact that the reviews published under Sietsema's byline repeatedly ignore what represents 30-60% of many diners' checks

Of course, the framing issue in this particular Seitsema review spotlights what represents 10% of every every diner's check in DC. B)

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I'm a bit late to the fray, but many years ago the Los Angeles Times established a protocol for having both a restaurant critic and a wine writer review fine dining restaurants, and their columns appeared side by side. Now, if I am not mistaken, they have one person who both reviews restaurants and writes about wine--Mark's friend Sherry (S. Irene Virbila). I don't see why the WaPo couldn't do the same.

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I'm a bit late to the fray, but many years ago the Los Angeles Times established a protocol for having both a restaurant critic and a wine writer review fine dining restaurants, and their columns appeared side by side. Now, if I am not mistaken, they have one person who both reviews restaurants and writes about wine--Mark's friend Sherry (S. Irene Virbila). I don't see why the WaPo couldn't do the same.

It's a great idea, but in these times of buyouts, my hunch is that the WP would not want to put more money into restaurant reviews by hiring a wine/drinks reviewer.

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I seem to miss the days of when we talked about the texture of a risotto or, as Tom mentioned in his review, the source of a particularly good budino.

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It's a great idea, but in these times of buyouts, my hunch is that the WP would not want to put more money into restaurant reviews by hiring a wine/drinks reviewer.

It could be a freelancer. It could be a group of people that rotate going with Tom on one of his visits. It could be uncredited. It could probably be unpaid. We're talking 30-60 words per review. You could probably do it without ordering any wine, or certainly without ordering any more wine than TS would order anyway in the course of his visits.

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What makes you think editors know any more about wine than critics?! Yes, in theory, they should recognize balance, but what about for places without good wine programs? Think: Honey Pig vs. Inox.

This is an issue about reporting on what is available; unless the list is entirely predictable, it's worth characterizing in at least a few words. Even if those words are "the list is entirely predictable."

The scale and breadth of a beverage program is rarely a matter of balance; a factor like cultural context carries far more weight (nobody should complain if a South Asian or West African restaurant lacks a wine program), and we even choose to celebrate any unexpectedly ambitious programs that materialize (Sushi-Ko, the Gin Joint, Ray's the Glass, the cocktail list at Eve).

BTW, at least the last page and a half of this conversation really should be moved to one of the Sietsema or WaPo threads in News&Media.

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This is an issue about reporting on what is available; unless the list is entirely predictable, it's worth characterizing in at least a few words. Even if those words are "the list is entirely predictable."

The scale and breadth of a beverage program is rarely a matter of balance; a factor like cultural context carries far more weight (nobody should complain if a South Asian or West African restaurant lacks a wine program), and we even choose to celebrate any unexpectedly ambitious programs that materialize (Sushi-Ko, the Gin Joint, Ray's the Glass, the cocktail list at Eve).

BTW, at least the last page and a half of this conversation really should be moved to one of the Sietsema or WaPo threads in News&Media.

"BTW, at least the last page and a half of this conversation really should be moved to one of the Sietsema or WaPo threads in News&Media."

It might be more timely to discuss Tom's lengthy two and one half star review of Galileo III.

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I don't detest the press, I detest the Washington Post. You can romanticize it all you like. Pentagon Papers, Watergate, all that. That has nothing to do with the Post of today. The Post that brought us George W. Bush and his wars that will not die. The Post that strives nearly every day to destroy Social Security. The Post that ran a story on its front page during the 2008 campaign that basically reported "Many believe Obama to be a Muslim; Obama denies it." The Post with an editorial page so virulently right-wing that one wonders how anyone can still believe it to be a liberal paper. It isn't. It is, as Dean Baker calls it, Fox on Fifteenth. It disgusts me. It represents the worst in modern journalism, and I'm cheering on its demise.

Edit: Let me just add that I not only detest the Washington Post, I detest it more than any other institution in modern American life.

I would avoid taking this dialogue even further off topic, but the "Criticizing the Critics" thread is locked, and the timing of this article makes it impossible for me not to point out that the Kaplan branch of the Post (although I would argue that the Post is more of a subordinate branch of the Kaplan operations today) has made, silently and with little scrutiny, a sickening amount of profits from co-opting the curricula of inner city schools through No Child Left Behind targeting.

This may help explain the financial motives for the entire editorial stance of the Post having shifted to that of a proxy voice for the same for-profit and transfer of wealth forces subverting so much of American life today.

(Note to censors: This is one instance where a transfer of a post to a different thread would be appropriate and inoffensive).

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