New D.C. Guidebook: Fearless or Foolish?
The spunky writers behind Washington's newest restaurant guide, "Fearless Critic" (Workman, June 2009), purport to be different from most reviewers. They brag that they are brutally honest, totally independent and always anonymous. And editor-in-chief Robin Goldstein can rightfully claim that he is the only critic ever to have reviewed the Prime Rib in verse.
The book is different from other Washington restaurant guides. Yes, Komi gets the top rating. Just about every critic around agrees that Johnny Monis's modern Greek restaurant is the best in town. (The exception is City Paper's Tim Carman, who thinks so but refused on principle to put it on his recent Best of DC list. After all, he explained, everybody already knows that.)
But many of the other top ratings go to restaurants not usually seen on "best of" lists: Vermilion and Poste Moderne Brasserie are in the top 10. Hank's Oyster Bar beats out Citronelle. Posto beats Restaurant Eve. Palena (my personal number one) ranks 37 on the "Fearless Critic" top 100 -- after Marvin, Bistro Bis and Pesce.
All criticism is subjective, of course. Putting numerical ratings on the food and "feel" of 500 restaurants is bound to stir up controversy. But in a way, that's the reward of a flip through the "Fearless Critic." It highlights restaurants you might have written off or otherwise missed. Where I might have passed over a review for Annandale Korean restaurant Seoul Soondae, the fact that it made the top 20 drew me in. And though I did not agree with many of the reviewers' conclusions – my local Chinese takeout Great Wall Szechuan House has better food than Restaurant Eve Bistro? – it will remind you to appreciate the little guys.
And that, says Goldstein, is the goal of "Fearless Critic." After publishing guidebooks for Austin and New Haven, he came to Washington because he said many of the smaller, ethnic restaurants don't get the respect they deserve. "There are so many Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants that aren't on people's radar screens," he told me. "One of the main messages was: Expand your horizons."
-- Jane Black
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