I dreaded the return to in-restaurant dining reviews. My editors know this. As we discussed it at an editorial meeting held mid-April in one of my editors’ backyard, a slew of questions assailed me. How could I justify leveraging an appraising, at times critical, eye on an industry that had emerged from a trial and was still so fragile? What did reviews mean anymore? And personally, what would it feel like to sit at a table with (gasp!) other tables full of strangers not a stone’s throw away?
But it was time. The restaurant scene, which had been far from suspended animation during the months when we ordered takeout, was emerging from a holding pattern—it was sending out French-Indian flavors and burgeoning with new initiatives. And it needed us.
Granted, I was out of culinary shape. I had gone from ultra-marathon training my palate to eating salads and spooning things straight from the fridge. In the 14 months since I filed my review of Georgie, the lush neo-steakhouse in the Knox neighborhood, the comfort of Detroit-style pizza eaten on the couch had become paramount. That and writing about chefs and both back and front of house realities in a burning industry and lavishing attention on the scrappy, brilliant projects that arose and shone.
My driving question: Knowing what we know, having witnessed what we have, would the experience of dining in restaurants mean what it once did? And could we face the loss if it did not? Of course, if anything, the very particular miracle around which my job is built was heightened.
Knowing what we know, having witnessed what we have, would the experience of dining in restaurants mean what it once did?
That first review visit back, as I nervously sat in the mystery-laden dining room at Âme in Bishop Arts late April, I hardly knew how to unfold my napkin or order from the dappled spots of a QR code scanned into my phone. I was back to booking under false names, spreading three visits out over the course of weeks, and dialing back in the reflexes. (Read the review here; it’s online today.)
As I told D editor Tim Rogers (and as he has shared with readers in this month’s subscriber newsletter), on the other side of the great hiatus, my own sense of what restaurants do and mean is amplified. I’m surfacing and reentering more attuned than ever to the magic and mechanisms it entails. So restaurant reviewing is familiar and wholly new.
The restaurant review is one of the most lyrical, strange, and yet intuitive forms of writing. The way it weaves threads of culture, first-person observation, and social commentary makes it a fluid form whose aim is to do the experience justice.
I’m glad to be back. I hope this post-pandemic time ushers in a new wave of appreciation: that we dine and savor, and try to attend to the details.