The 25 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia Right Now – A Rebuttal

by artfuldiner on November 19, 2023

in Breaking News, Opinion, Pennsylvania, Review, Wining and Dining

The 25 Best Restaurants

in Philadelphia Right Now

 … at least according to the New York Times.

The article first appeared on October 23, 2023, as part of the Where to Eat: 25 Best, a series highlighting the paper’s favorite restaurants in cities across the

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U.S. I won’t bore you with a complete recitation, as the chosen 25 may be noted from various sources online. And, needless to say, the Times’ take on Philly’s dining scene has raised some eyebrows and a touch of ire here & there as well. (Pictured: Dining Room at Friday Saturday Sunday)

Michael Klein of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, noted that the Times’ article was “heavy on South Philly.” He went on to specify that “fourteen of the Times’ top 25 are in South Philadelphia… only four restaurants are located in the rapidly growing Fishtown-Kensington area, while six are in Center City.”

Of particular interest to this writer was not only the restaurants that were included, but those that were Vernick Fish - Interiorexcluded. Among them, a number of highly-regarded upscale establishments that had received excellent reviews and were all-too conspicuous by their absence. This also caught Mr. Klein’s attention, but he blithely tossed it off as inconsequencial: “As Mason said to Dixon, ‘You have to draw the line somewhere.’” (Pictured: Dining Room at Vernick Fish)

Yes, Mr. Klein raised several significant questions… but failed to follow through. In fact, right from the outset, or so it seemed to me, his comments with regard to the Times’ article appeared to be self-consciously solicitous, studiously avoiding stepping on anyone’s toes. He did bring up a minor point of contention with regard to restaurant Friday Saturday Sunday, but never seriously questioned the general tenor and/or content of the article itself: “As the Times is writing for an international – or at least New York – audience, there are few surprises to those who follow the Philadelphia restaurant scene. Philadelphia readers may insist that their favorites have been overlooked as the Times writers have included a breadth of cuisines and price points. Such lists are conversation-starters, anyway, and are purely subjective.”

Subjective, indeed… “Food writing’s shameful secret,” chef/author John Thorne once remarked, “is its intellectual poverty.” And empty enumerations such as John ThorneThe 25 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia Right Now are glaring examples of that searing indictment. They represent, in my humble opinion, the worst of culinary journalism.

… And the New York Times should have known better – although, apparently not, as numerous other cities have already fallen (or will fall) victim to their top 25 as well. In this regard, Mr. Klein had ample opportunity to make a relevant contribution here… Unfortunately, he chose to remain mute, and/or refused to answer on the grounds that he might incriminate himself (as the Inquirer is by no means immune to the “listing” syndrome… ditto Philadelphia magazine and a number of local sources online).

In June of 1980, Jeff Weinstein, then restaurant reviewer of the Village Voice, penned a thought-provoking article entitled Learning to Eat“The 25 Greatest Restaurants in America,” which was subsequently included in his book Learning to Eat, published in 1988. The article was brief and to the point; its major thesis even more relevant today than the moment it was written: “If anything can kill the possibility of spirited and serious food writing, it’s the list.”

“Most lists are nothing but menu information and prices, with a few adjectives like silky or pungent tossed in as camouflage. Not only is this an impoverished way to describe experience, it presupposes that all experience is available to this predigestion.”

Lists can also be deceptive, Mr. Weinstein asserts, as they lead us to expect perfection. However, “(lists) don’t have moods, memories, ambivalences. They won’t refund for disappointments.” In addition, lists have a deep structural connection to fads. Lists help create fads and are also subject to them. “The same editors,” he notes, “lick their chops at both.”

Another of Mr. Weinstein’s comments that I found particularly intriguing – but also completely valid – is the fact you can’t have a restaurant list without an expert. Conversely, anyone not an expert is basically a dimwit. And here he is definitely right on target: “Other kinds of media games can reinforce feelings of inadequacy, but the list does it without even trying.”

When it comes to the media’s fetish for lists, as you would undoubtedly surmise, profit motive plays a major role. “A list,” Mr. Weinstein concludes, “is a fundamentally lazy way for a newspaper or magazine to fill space and woo as many advertisers as possible. Modern restaurant reviewing was born as advertising copy that snuck onto the other side of the page. It may die there.”

His final word on the subject: “Ships list – before they sink.”

Bon Appétit & Cheers!


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