Have you read the job posting for the Orange County Register's new restaurant critic?
I'm actually surprised; they're calling for a critic who will delve into Little Saigon and Little Arabia (note to the editors over there: it hasn't been called Little Gaza in years), who is at home in high-end restaurants and ethnic dives. Maybe the Grand Experiment on Grand Avenue will result in a rebirth of the food section. I hope so. I'd like an excuse to subscribe to the paper again.
Perhaps they've learned from being spanked every year at the OC Press Club, because what they seem to be looking for is, well, us. Since a mass defection across the 405 freeway seems unlikely, here, in no particular order, are five suggestions for the Freedom Communications hiring squad to require from applicants:
5. Actually form opinions and write them down.
Writing about food news is necessary--people really do want to know that Mozza, Cafecito Organico, or Surfas are coming to Orange County--but those are not restaurant reviews. Openings of new outlets of fast food outlets and additions to Jack In the Box's menu could be consolidated into a weekly digest post. Going to a restaurant and then simply describing the dishes is not a restaurant review either; that's just an extended caption to the photo at the top. It goes further, though. The new critic needs to stop using phrases like "just okay", "really delicious" and "my take".
4. Review honestly and occasionally negatively.
I've danced around this topic before, and now I'm just going to say it straight out: Courtney Perkes, an avowed, presumably card-carrying vegetarian, needs to stop reviewing non-vegetarian restaurants. Reading her attempts to skirt the issue by altering dishes to her dietary constraints or quoting other people's completely non-differentiating remarks makes me wince and wonder why her editorial chain of command allows it. The best review she ever wrote was of Freesoulcaffè, because it was vegan and she didn't have to pretend.
Also, while it's wonderful to discover that hidden gem, there are relatively few hidden gems, and every single restaurant has a bad dish. Stop worrying about whether your name will be put up on a plaque inside the restaurant and review the food honestly. If it's bad, say so, and if it's terrible, say so forcefully. Most importantly, if it's mediocre, say so.
3. Ignore--or, really, kill off--the comments sections.
If the usual commenters on food stories and blog posts in the Orange County Register had their way, no ethnic restaurant would ever be reviewed in the paper. There are exceptions, of course, but the comments are generally of the "ew, it's brown and spicy" type. People who read the reviews online also read the comments. If the new management at the Register wants to improve the food scene in Orange County, kill off the comments section.
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2. Don't accept the stigma of suburbia.
It's true; we are not Los Angeles, and the fact that we can be in a fancy "name" restaurant in the City of Angels with just an hour's drive does weigh on our food culture here. Ignoring that fact is disingenuous. That does not mean, however, that Saturday nights in Orange County are some vast, depressing foodscape punctuated by vibrating waitlist pagers. There are people--a lot of them--who seek comfort in the Olive Garden, but that's no excuse for lazy, phoned-in reviews of mediocre sandwich shops.
1. Don't write solely about restaurants.
Yes, in print, there needs to be a weekly restaurant review--but an engaged critic is a good critic, which is why Village Voice Media requires that each of its food critics also write a lot for the blog. There are a lot of artisans here in Orange County, and a lot of great stories ready to be told. Write about them. We've written about bee rescuers and their honey, backyard growers of esoteric Asian vegetables, golf course Italian farms; Orange Coast writes about the homegrown wine industry in a way we never could. Go out and discover.
Good luck, Mr. Kushner: you're going to need it.