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Aug 9, 2007 07:12 AM

New Boston Globe Critic Devra First

I realize she's written for the Globe for awhile, but apparently she's been officially appointed Restaurant Critic. Not a terrible debut, but something she said really stuck in my craw:

"a waitress hounds us for our orders with each new course, then takes forever to deliver them"

Perhaps I'm misinterpreting this, but it seems like she's saying they ordered their meal course. by. course. one. dish. at. a. time. and then complained that it took "forever". Even better, the server is the one that took forever to deliver them. Is she kidding? Does she think the waitress was hanging around out back, hot dishes in hand, taking her time to deliver them? If the dishes arrived hot, I think it's safe to assume it was the kitchen that took "forever". Guess what, Devra? When you insist on ordering piecemeal, you take away the kitchen's ability to pace your meal correctly, and you will sometimes have long pauses between courses, depending on how long it takes to make each dish. As for the waitress "hounding", I'm not surprised that she would want to know what will be ordered next. She'd like to know what silverware to put out, and get all those menus out of the way, and the kitchen would also like to know what's next as well.

If she's going to be a professional diner, she needs to start acting like one.

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  1. Haven't read the Food section yet, but what restaurant was she reviewing?

    1 Reply
    1. re: LindaWhit

      Here's a link to the review:

      I wasn't a fan of Arnett, so IMO anything is an improvement. I like her writing style and descriptions, and I'll be interested to see her future reviews.

    2. I'm all for the diner being professional, and I'm a big supporter of servers, but I think you're jumping to conclusions and pouncing Devra her before seeking clarification. I don't know Devra and have no reason to defend her, but in all fairness, don't you think it would have made more sense to e-mail her first before ripping her?

      5 Replies
      1. re: BostonBarGuy

        You are correct. However, I *did* say that I might be misinterpreting this, and I don't really feel like I'm ripping on her -- more so on one particular comment that she made. It seems like a pretty clear comment, but perhaps I'm totally wrong. That's why I'm posting this -- to see if fellow 'hounds have a different take. It's always good to see someone else's perspective. And I have no particular interest in pushing for waitress's rights -- but that comment struck me as unfair (speaking of fairness).

        The review was of Rocca -- and for the record, I did enjoy her food descriptions and thought it was a very comprehensive review, otherwise.

        1. re: Kbee

          I haven't read the article yet...but now that you say it's Rocca I might actually believe it took forever to get her food. When I went with my parents a few weeks ago we had 2 servers and ordered all at once and it still took foooorrrreeeevvvvveeeer.

          Now I don't think this was necassarily the waiters fault. But that place is quite slow.

          1. re: Elyssa

            I just read the review, and have to agree with Kbee that at the very least, the wording in that section of the article is confusing. "Hounds us for orders with each new course"?


            1. re: Bostonbob3

              Kbee- Have you already e-mailed Devra? If not, I'd be glad to before this thread gets out of control speculating. Thank you.

              1. re: BostonBarGuy

                I will do so. No one wants an out of control thread.

      2. I'll say that I've been reading the "Dishing" blog for a while, and I find 90% of what she posts annoying. She sounds, IMHO, like she's trying too hard to be hip, and her restaurant reviews are often snarky and make her sound like a crappy customer. I haven't read this review, and am not commenting on it per se, but just in general... I miss Alison Arnett.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jsjs09812

          jsjs09812: yes! I had no idea who she was, but kept being annoyed by posts on the dishing blog. Every time, it was one of her posts. Recently, she pulled out a whole mess of snark aimed at Gaslight. While I liked Gaslight when I went (on their 2nd night open), I'm perfectly happy to let other people have differing opinions. But she was so so snarky about it, and it wasn't even a review. It was like "look how snarky I can be, just you wait till I really review this joint!" Gah. I'm over her already.

        2. Update: I asked Ms. First for clarification and received it. She explained the situation in detail and I agree with her that it was annoying -- but the one sentence that summed it up in the article was not clear, and that's important when you're a writer. But she understands this. As she said: there are no throwaway lines in article.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Kbee

            While it's entirely possible that she may have written poorly or confusingly, it could also be the work of a bad editor. Never underestimate the power of a bad editor to hopelessly botch your writing -- I know all too well from excruciatingly painful experience.

            Having read her review (and basing my comment on this one example), I didn't at all mind her writing style, though at times she can get a tad too glib and clever for her own good. I've read much worse, though.

            1. re: bachslunch

              I thought her writing style left a lot to be desired. It's very choppy and probably drives her editors crazy. I want some good journalism with my restaurant reviews.
              Is that too much to ask of a newspaper owned by the New York Times?

              1. re: ginnyhw

                Well, for what it's worth, I HAVE edited Devra on occasion and can testify that it was an eminently non-crazy-driving experience. I like her writing. I could.not.stand Alison Arnett's writing. Different strokes.

          2. As I don't read the Globe's "Dishing" feature religiously, I haven't read enough of Devra First as a food writer to comment on her style. But she appears to pass one test that I apply (on Chowhound and in print) when I look for people I trust: occasional shared sensibilities. Looking back at some of her "Sauce" columns, I see she hated BarLola and loved Xinh Xinh and Volle Nolle. And I think she gets Rocca's strengths and weaknesses about right. So we appear to like and dislike some of the same things.

            So my other questions about her going forward will be:

            Is she undercover, or do restaurants recognize her? I like it when the critic goes unrecognized, gets the same treatment as any other patron -- no VIP kitchen or service attention.

            Does she have any weird passions? I enjoy reading folks who are crazy/obsessed with the enjoyment of some little thing.

            What special expertise does she bring? My favorites are writers who can broaden my knowledge or increase my enjoyment of specific cuisines, wines, etc. that I'm less familiar with.

            Is she trustworthy? I get the sneaking suspicion that some critics' opinions are influenced by commercial concerns (namely, ad sales), desire to help their friends in the industry, etc. (Yep, looking at you, Phantom.)

            Is she limited in any way? By this I mean, is she free of odd aversions that would color the kind of meals she orders (is squeamish about unfamiliar or raw foods, doesn't drink wine, can't abide salt or fat, etc.)

            I certainly wish her a lot of luck. Food writers come in for a lot of kicking, deserved and otherwise, here and elsewhere. It would be great to have a passionate, educational, fun-to-read voice that reflects curiousity, love of dining out, and catholic tastes in the Globe every week.

            2 Replies
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              seeing that this is such an old thread, I doubt anyone will reply. but, I agree with you, Id like to learn more about this food critic too. Any updates to the above q's?

              1. re: Jstone

                One thing that's clear now that wasn't when she started is that she is now pretty well-known by sight at Boston's fine dining restaurants. This is inevitable, but it does mean that she's spotted more often than not, and thus is not getting the average-Joe treatment.

                I think her reviewing style has matured: as I noted below, she had some snark early on for a restaurant's customers, which I found condescending and irrelevant, but she hasn't done much of that since. So far, I haven't noticed any gaping holes in her expertise or overly annoying tics. I've come to find her increasingly trustworthy as her body of work has grown, notably in her willingness to call a restaurant terrible when merited. For instance, her pan of Sam's was harsh but spot-on. My experiences don't always sync up perfectly with hers, but her reliability is growing, and she can be an entertaining, clever writer at times.

                One anonymous observer recently accused her of fraternizing with local celeb-chef types. I don't know if this is true, but I hope it's not. While it's possible to be friends with chefs and still write about their restaurants with your scruples intact, it just looks bad. Better for critics to maintain some distance there.