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SF-area restaurant critics: Validators vs Discoverers


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SF-area restaurant critics: Validators vs Discoverers

eatzalot | Mar 14, 2014 11:38 AM

This is about a larger phenomenon, spun off latest Michael Bauer thread, wherein bacoman wrote that current LA critic J. Gold 'tends to be a "validator" rather than a discoverer.'

After long attention to restaurant journalists, especially since the 1980s, and discussing some of this with a few of them, I estimate the "Validator" description is overwhelmingly the rule, for professional critics. Whether or not most people perceive that.

It may be less obvious if a reviewer covers a large area with many restaurants new to you, but it surfaces when you talk to individual restaurants and their local followings.

It surfaced in the Chron's Unterman/Sesser heyday (80s to early 90s). I remember two interesting new Berkeley restaurants that had developed local fans. Then, each got recognized by Unterman et al., and soon was crowded with new, often short-term, Chronicle-reading customers. One owner told me it threw off her planning, and so crowded out the already established local regulars that she wondered if her business would even survive.

In those days, if you were discussing Bay Area restaurants on the internet, you did it on the newsgroup, which often carried new-restaurant buzz like CH today. And comments about the newspaper critics.

But where do these critics and their editors get ideas of where to visit? Many mention (either in their writing or privately) checking out online sites like CH. And they get tips directly from the same sort of folk who post here.

Our local papers in the lower peninsula wait, by policy, three months before assigning a critic even to a "hot" new restaurant. It's meant to avoid new-restaurant-issue distractions. But also, by that time, some locals will have tried the new restaurant several times, and know far more about it than the professional newcomer.

So I see the restaurant journalist as popularizer, or mainstreamer, of restaurant awareness that's already well established among a random and unpredictable set of local and adventurous diners -- not, itself, a convenient resource for the general public, yet accessible online.

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