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July 7, 2009

Top 10 Things to Expect When Dining With a Restaurant Critic

DogwoodDiningRoom.jpgFirst of all, I should thank Josh, who sent me a link to a blog called Under the High Chair. I'm stealing the idea for this Top 10 post from it, although the list isn't the same as it would be if you were dining with a food blogger.

Everyone wants to go reviewing with a restaurant critic, I'm not sure why. I guess it's partly to see how the process works and partly to get free food. And maybe partly to have a story to dine out on. The reality is, as you might expect, that the companion doesn't have quite so much fun as people think. ... 

1) When you get to the restaurant, the critic will always get the best seat that has the best view of the dining room.

2) If you order too much alcohol or your drinks are very expensive, the restaurant critic will look daggers at you. Especially as she has to keep a clear head, which means severely limiting her intake.

3) If you get into a fascinating conversation with the other dinner guests before you've ordered, you will be sharply reprimanded for not staying "on task."

4) If you really want to be accommodating and you say, "I'll have anything" when asked what you want, she'll roll her eyes and you won't be invited back because you're not being helpful.

5) If you want to be helpful so you immediately speak up and say, "I'll have the calamari and the chicken marengo," you won't be invited back because you're pushy and demanding.

6) If you care too much about food and love, love, love fried oysters, your heart will be broken. She'll catch on and won't let you order them every time because she gets tired of describing the "crisp, gold exterior."

7) You want the delicious-sounding rib eye steak. The restaurant critic tells you that's too boring and you need to order the house specialty, Caribbean meat loaf with pineapple-tarragon salsa.

8) You love going on reviews but you're trying to watch your weight, so you say you'd like to order the house salad as a first course. She tells you salads are forbidden as a first course. You can order the cream of crab bisque with whipped cream and a house salad, but a salad by itself doesn't count as an appetizer.

9) You have the most delicious piece of grouper with a beurre blanc you've ever tasted in front of you. You would kill to eat this dish in peace. The restaurant critic insists you give a large chunk of it to her to taste, and also to share it with the other guests at the table since they are happy to give you a piece of their Caribbean meat loaf.

10) You are stuffed. Almost sick. You didn't mean to eat the whole thing. The restaurant critic informs you pleasantly that you can't not order dessert. No, it can't be the seasonal berries or the sorbet. It has to be the fried cheesecake with bananas Foster topping. You don't have to eat it, right? You can just take one bite and let her taste it? The server will ask you if you want a to-go box.

(Amy Davis/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:21 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


Elizabeth, you are making yourself sound like a bit of a sadist. Especially with that Caribbean meat loaf.

This post and the link remind me of visiting my sister-in-law when she was a starving artist in New York. She was doing line illustrations for cookbooks at that point in her life. I remember that she sliced a baguette in half, leaving the top so she could draw it later on, and served us slices from the bottom half, along with some of her other props.

Caribbean meat loaf--gack!

Check please!

Now that I know the rule, I accept your invitation.

I can't believe you've been holding out on us. There is a restaurant in Baltimore that serves Caribbean meat loaf?

This is the most entertaining Top Ten that I can remember. You should just go to print as is. Of course, we'll still talk and talk......

Best. List. Ever.


My husband read it and said, "Hmmm, sounds exactly like when you go out to dinner with a group of friends." Sadly, he's right. I tell my friends what looks good (because I can't possibly order all of the things that look good to ME), what they should order and then demand that they share. The good news is that I am usually right and they are happy with what I ordered for them. I'm such a friend, eh?

Even before I got to #9, the title of your post reminded me of a story Phyllis Richman told when she finally retired as the Washington Post's food critic and, finally coming out of the closet, wrote a long retrospective for their magazine. In one establishment, a stranger figured out who she was by observing that she grabbed a hamburger off her 10-year-old son's plate to take a bite and the kid didn't yell bloody murder. Only a food critic's child would be so unpossessive about his food.

We could also use a "Top 10 things to do or not do w/ in-laws when dining out". My personal pet peeve was one whipping out a calculator to get to the penny what their part of the tip was. JUST GUESTIMATE! (& this was before the recession)

Good should also create a top ten list for reasons to be awake at 4:21 am.

My wife went with you once and had a wonderful time. I don't now remember the restaurant but it was pretty upscale. She did comment on your business acumen.

Sounds like tons of fun! Can I come? :-)

So where do we sign up to get on the waiting list to go to dinner with (you) the restaurant critic?!?!?!?

So since I usually narrow down to about three dishes that appeal to me and have a hard time making the final call, I'd be the perfect guest (right between #s 4 and 5), right? Sign me up!

Robin, love the Phyllis Richman story!

Number 11: You're called or e-mailed and asked if you want to go on a review. Without asking where, you eagerly say yes and envision a gloriously evening at a new trendy restaurant overlooking the water. Instead, you wind up at a restaurant in a suburban strip mall specializing in surf & turf.

occasional companion forgets I can check IP addresses and see who he actually is. :-) EL

occasional companion, that means she's just not that into you

Mike wants a top ten list for reasons to be awake at 4:21 am. I can't speak for Elizabeth, but in my experience that's when the mosquito bites start itching like crazy.

I am available...anytime...anyplace.

NotableM--good luck with that. I've been trying since the inception of D@L and have gotten nowhere with my offers to eat and think at the same time.

That sounds like dinner with a control freak.

No Thanks.

@Mikuláš: I guess that's part of EL's point. To her, it's not a relaxing night out. It's her job. Kinda like going to a ballgame with Cal Ripken. You're having fun; he's scouting the talent.

I not fun with restaurant girl.

Occasional companion may not receive a call or email any time soon...

But that's fine, you can put me on the list instead. :-)

When we eat out with one particular friend, the process is very similar to the rules you've listed. And I bet that's true of many of us here.

The 2:04 comment is link spam.

" where is this suburban strip mall specializing in surf and turf??"
Terrific article -- as usual - thanks! You are the best!

Elizabeth, I'm your girl. I have a very eclectic palate, never drink more than two glasses of wine with dinner (and that ain't a necessity), and would cheerfully let you taste whatever you want off my plate. Hell, the dinner's free, right? SURE you can call the shots!

Great list! Glad to have inspired in some way...

Oh, and I would totally order dessert, no matter how stuffed I was.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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