Ok, I am about to sound like a snob. I'm sorry. (at least, I'm sorry in that Bill Clinton-y, can't-you-just-love-me-anyway? sort of way).
I picked up Philly Mag's new 50 Best issue. I'm okay with their picks (I wouldn't expect to agree totally with any ranking like this, and anyway I'm not on the kind of budget that would allow me to have opinions on all the city's high-end places), but the writing, and the things they picked out to praise, made me feel like I was reading restaurant reviews in my college newspaper. Did anyone else feel like this was pretty amateur-hour?
So much praise for things like napkin rings (wow! It's so grown-up!), and "first class wine-ware." So many instances where they thank the chef at this or that restaurant for always keeping things "accessible" - like, thanks for not scaring us with food that's too weee-uurddd!
It reminded me of when I was in plays in high-school. My parents, lacking much experience with theater but anxious to say something nice (and probably scraping around for things to praise), would come up after the show and say, "Wow, how did you memorize all those lines?!" I always felt grateful for the support, but, you know, having your lines down is just the requirement for rising above total ineptitude, it's not a sign of greatness, so the complement felt like being damned with faint praise.
By the same token, I think if we're talking about the 50 Best Restaurants in a major city, we ought to be able to say more than that the linens are nice, or that the menu has a lot of choices, or that the waiters know about the food. Places like Osteria and James and Amada are doing more than rising above ineptitude.
Anyway, point being only that I wonder about the age and experience of PM's food writers, and feel like it's too bad because good local food criticism can help foster great cooking in a city like Philly. Personally, I like Trey Popp, who writes restaurant reviews for Citypaper (full disclosure, he used to be my neighbor - but I'd like his food writing anyway); I think he's got good taste and smart things to say about food.
Just wondering what other people thought. Call me a snoot if you want to...