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Jan 25, 2008 08:46 AM

Philadelphia Mag's 50 Best Restos Issue

Ok, I am about to sound like a snob. I'm sorry. (at least, I'm sorry in that Bill Clinton-y, can't-you-just-love-me-anyway? sort of way).

I picked up Philly Mag's new 50 Best issue. I'm okay with their picks (I wouldn't expect to agree totally with any ranking like this, and anyway I'm not on the kind of budget that would allow me to have opinions on all the city's high-end places), but the writing, and the things they picked out to praise, made me feel like I was reading restaurant reviews in my college newspaper. Did anyone else feel like this was pretty amateur-hour?

So much praise for things like napkin rings (wow! It's so grown-up!), and "first class wine-ware." So many instances where they thank the chef at this or that restaurant for always keeping things "accessible" - like, thanks for not scaring us with food that's too weee-uurddd!

It reminded me of when I was in plays in high-school. My parents, lacking much experience with theater but anxious to say something nice (and probably scraping around for things to praise), would come up after the show and say, "Wow, how did you memorize all those lines?!" I always felt grateful for the support, but, you know, having your lines down is just the requirement for rising above total ineptitude, it's not a sign of greatness, so the complement felt like being damned with faint praise.

By the same token, I think if we're talking about the 50 Best Restaurants in a major city, we ought to be able to say more than that the linens are nice, or that the menu has a lot of choices, or that the waiters know about the food. Places like Osteria and James and Amada are doing more than rising above ineptitude.

Anyway, point being only that I wonder about the age and experience of PM's food writers, and feel like it's too bad because good local food criticism can help foster great cooking in a city like Philly. Personally, I like Trey Popp, who writes restaurant reviews for Citypaper (full disclosure, he used to be my neighbor - but I'd like his food writing anyway); I think he's got good taste and smart things to say about food.

Just wondering what other people thought. Call me a snoot if you want to...

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  1. They sold out 25 years ago! Not worth reading since then. Sensationalism on the order of tabloid journalism. Their "Best of Philly" awards once meant something, back in the 70's! Now, you can be "Best of..." as long as you spend some money on advertising, if not, they never heard of you. If you are willing to write them a check they'll create a category just for you so that you can be "The Best" .

    1. They left out Django (certainly in the top 50) and Pod (probably in the top 15). For shame.
      (cue torrent of other "how on earth could they not include [restaurant], those heathens!" posts...)

      3 Replies
      1. re: Emmmily

        GDSwamp & jack eck:
        Bingo! You hit the nail right on the head. Such infantile writing, attempting to be glib and "cool,man!" The only word missing was "redolent."
        I am dying to know who the 3 "expert critics" were who picked Blackfish (a nice restaurant, by the way) as #3. #3????? Impossible!
        And poor l'il Le Bec Fin sits waaaaay back in the 26th position.
        No Buddakan, no Sola, no Estia, no Branzino, no Caffe Castadiva. What were they thinking??
        I refuse to believe that Craig LaBan had a part in this stupidity -- and if he did, he has lost credibility with me bigtime.

        1. re: idia

          Well, I would guess that the three critics are the three people in the article's byline:

          LaBan writes for the Inquirer, not Phillymag.

          1. re: Buckethead

            You are right, buckethead. LaBan has already told me he had nothing to do with those idiotic choices.