For 6.5 years, I have been writing a monthly restaurant review. It’s for a weekly local newspaper called Lansing City Pulse, and the feature is called “He Ate/She Ate.” Every six months or so my co-reviewer and I communicate with our editor via email and arrange our restaurant lineup. We try to strike a balance between fine dining, casual, and cultural and genre of cuisine.
Then, I work it into our meal plan. I go to each restaurant at least twice, but frequently it’s three or more visits. I try to order a wide variety of menu offerings, and I try to not order specials because I want to write about things that are always on the menu. No, the owners don’t know who I am or what I’m doing (I get that question a lot.) In my opinion, my job is to be anonymous and have a dining experience that is similar to what anyone else can expect to have.
After our food is presented, I try to discreetly snap a few photos. As soon as I get into the car I jot down notes on everything from atmosphere to service to whether there was salt and pepper on the table.
My biggest pet peeve? When restaurants charge for club soda. It is literally a free product that results from water and carbonation. Please, don’t charge me $3 for a soft drink.
The second most frequent question I get is how we don’t run out of restaurants to review. I remind people that we live in a metropolitan area of about 200,000 people, and while there is a segment of the population that likes to make fun of the Lansing dining scene, they have to acknowledge that it’s constantly changing and that there is no shortage of restaurants. I keep a running list in my phone of places that I want to review and we always try to allow new restaurants several months to get the kinks worked out before we add them to our schedule.
When my deadline is about a week away, I put together a draft of my review. If there are dishes that my dad wouldn’t be familiar with, I explain what they are. I have a client who regularly sends me letters in the mail and peppers them with questions like “what is poutine?” and I try to keep in mind that my audience is broad, with a wide range of culinary knowledge.
This is important- my column is an opinion piece. Sometimes people don’t agree with my opinion. That’s the thing about food- everyone’s tastes are different. My job isn’t to interview the chef on their training, or why they chose rosemary over tarragon, it’s to tell the reader about my experience.
One of my favorite recent reviews was of Art’s Pub. I love the months when I get to sing the praises of the restaurant, and I especially love when the place happens to be a Lansing institution. My favorite sleeper hit at Art’s is the veggie pattie on the breakfast menu, and Art’s wants one of you to try it too. To that end, they have graciously donated a $25 gift card for me to give away to a reader!
To enter, comment on this post (on the blog OR on the Facebook page) and tell me about your favorite pizza topping, since Art’s is best known for their pizza. For an additional entry, like the Topknot Blog on Facebook. For another entry, share this post on Facebook. Entries will close and a winner will be announced on Sunday, June 2.