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Apr 7, 2008 12:11 AM

An open letter to Tom Sietsema

I know it pains you to have to pull yourself away from the $200 tasting table and rub elbows with the paying hoi polloi, but doesn't an entire article on restaurant noise seem just a bit self-indulgent even to the most jaded critic? Perhaps you think you should use your bully pulpit to make restauranteurs spend more money to make your arduous labors less stressful, but I'd be much more interested in an article deploring the escalating cost of meals or the generally haughty service in their establishments. I can only conclude that, unlike the noise of the rabble, these are not problems you share with us peasants.
Also, congratulations on convincing your employers to finance field trips to other cities. We Washingtonians have a tremendous unrequited curiosity about Minneapolis eateries. We're glad you don't waste our time writing about Baltimore or Silver Spring or Frederick. Though it's a little unclear to me why anyone should read a DC critic for information about Minnesota - or Italy for that matter. Do you suppose an outsider is more qualified than the local critics to judge the food in other cities based on a visit or two ? Especially when that outsider's judgments on his home turf are, shall we say, rather idiosyncratic?

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  1. Tom does care about the local food for us his buddies' places, like Johnny's Half Shell, which has about half the quality at thrice the price of the lamest Kent Narrows bar. DC food in his view is about theater. Any reports on those weird, other-worldly places in the back halls of Eden Center? Good eating. Bet this thread gets yanked by the chowcops.

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      1. I really disagree with your "letter" to Tom Sietsema. A few things I would like to address. First of all his "field trips" to other cities are more or less financed by Tom himself. He has addreessed this issue a number of times in his Weds chats. In terms of Minneapolis, I'm pretty sure that's where he's from (although I'm not positive), and therefore when he goes home to visit the family he probably decideds to write an article on it. Plus, if you think about it, it's not a complete loss in a city like DC considering the Republican Convention will be held there this summer. When 1/2 the city empties out to attend the Convention I'm sure they will want a refuge from the chicken plate dinners and Tom's postcards will come in handy.

        In terms of Tom not catering to us "peasants", I think he does a pretty good job of mixing it up. If the hottest restaurant in town happens to be on the more expensive side he still needs to report on it. Plus he always does a cheap eats articles and in his chats he proves his knowledge is quite extensive.

        And finally, I thought his article on noise level was great and timely. He is making a major change to his "rating system" and this article served as an explanation and background of why he will be using a decible rating. Clearlly he didn't just pull this out of thin air. This subject comes up quite often on his Weds chats (when he probably has the most opportunity to get in touch with his reading public). He has mentioned on those chats that he plans on writing other articles like this (even mentioned rising costs due to the recession, but he probably doesn't have enough evidence and research yet since it just became apparent that this is a real problem).

        I think Tom is a wonderful food critic. He has a vast array of knowledge and still manages to keep the fun in eating out. He doesn't take himself too seriously which is quite important. He has learned from the greats in his field and remains forward thinking and balanced.

        I know he has his critics (clearly you!) but I am certainly not one of him. His restaurant reviews are still the 1st thing I pick up Sat morning.

        1. He pays for those trips himself.

          And last time I looked, his out of town postcards did not get in the way of (or substitute for) his regular reviews. They are just an additional resource for those who travel and want his advice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Tugboat

            I thought the noise article was great and much needed. If I'm going to pay a lot of money for a meal, I don't want to come out of the restaurant hoarse and exhausted from yelling all evening. I think some of the "noise" issues could be resolved using common courtesy, though. My parents never let us scream and run around any restaurant EVER. Why is it that 2Amys patrons think that this is acceptable?

          2. Don't see the point in "deploring the escalating costs of meals." What exactly are restaurants supposed to do about it? Fuel costs are up, supply costs are up, labor is up, taxes are up, demand remains steady. This affects meal costs across the board, from high-end dining to Chinese takeout.

            I usually don't mind noisy restaurants, but it seems to be getting out of hand lately. Cavernous interiors with open space and no sound dampening makes for noisy echo chambers. Not much fun screaming yourself hoarse while trying to enjoy your meal, but whatever floats your dinghy.

            3 Replies
            1. re: monkeyrotica

              It will be interesting to see how (if anything) the sound rating affects the restaurants. I don't know if it will or will not affect business. For me personally it will affect more when and who I go to the restaurant vs if I go at all. For example, when I went to Proof or Zaytinya for the first time it was pretty noisy. So I wouldn't choose to go there if a friend wanted to discuss her work problems or if my boyfriend's Mom was in town, who prefers less of a scene. But the noise might not bother me as much for a girls night out for drinks and dinner etc.

              I think the rating, and Tom's inclusion of it, will be very helpful though.

              1. re: Elyssa

                Everyone's noise standard is different. Some folks want a noisy place because they think it's all hip and vibrant-like. Some want to eat in a library. Depends on your mood, I guess.

                1. re: Elyssa

                  The San Francisco Chronicle started including noise ratings in its reviews several years ago because so many people were complaining about restaurants where they couldn't hear themselves think. The effect on restaurants? Nil -- everyone wants that sleek, urban look with lots of hard surfaces that magnify the noise and they all want to be what monkeyrotica terms "hip and vibrant-like."

                  At least, though, I can tell by looking at the rating whether the noise level will be to my taste or suitable for a particular occasion.