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New D.C. Guidebook: Fearless or Foolish?


The newest, irreverent guidebook to Washington restaurants. (Fearless Critic)

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

By Jane Black  |  July 1, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Books  | Tags: Jane Black, restaurants  
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Comments

It's about time!

The Fearless Critic is the first restaurant guide to DC that I feel like I can actually trust.

Take, for instance, the restaurants you mention. I agree on almost every count: Vermilion, Hank's, and Poste (IMHO) ARE among DC's most underrated upscale restaurants.

Citronelle, Restaurant Eve, and the Inn at Little Washington (another sacred cow that gets, delightfully, skewered by the book) ARE among the most overrated/overpriced. I am in total agreement with this.

The book is also incredibly fun to read. Prime Rib isn't the only review written in verse. There are limericks and haikus and hilarious analyses of corporate annual reports of chain restaurants. It's insightful, it's intellectual, it's culturally relevant. It's something totally new.

You are right to bring out the point that Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese etc restaurants in the city and suburbs--many of which I haven't seen reviewed by ANY major publication--is one of the most valuable things about the book.

I, too, have my occasional beef. I also like Palena more than they do. And I had a better experience than they did at L'Auberge Chez Francois, although that was four years ago. But that's the fun of it all: the spirit of honest debate.

It's about time a print restaurant guide came forward out with that philosophy, instead of popularity contests like Zagat.

This is going to be the centerpiece of coffee table chatter in my house for the next month.

Also their stuff is online -- fearlesscritic.com

Posted by: dcomnivore | July 1, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I will use this like I use the other dining books, as a resource for names and addresses ... I will make my own decisions and save myself the time of trying to analyze the reasoning of someone trying to differentiate themselves on the book shelf

Posted by: fotorules | July 2, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

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