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Dining Out: Secrets from America's Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs Paperback – October 6, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Having written about all it takes to become a chef in Becoming a Chef, and about how those chefs do their work in Culinary Artistry, James Beard Award-winning authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page have turned their attention, with Dining Out, to the subject of restaurants and restaurant critics. Restaurant owners, chefs, and critics alike get their turn to discuss the mercurial world of restaurant criticism--is the restaurant critic a valiant consumer advocate or a villainous ruiner of careers and businesses?

Dornenburg and Page interview 61 members of this "food intelligentsia" and offer the reader a snapshot of the process on either side of the kitchen door. New York Times critic Ruth Reichl notes, "I wake up in the middle of almost every night before a review is printed, agonizing over where the mistakes are.... I knew if I had called a turnip a rutabaga, my career was over." And chef Norman Van Aken says he believes "wholeheartedly in the idea of critical analysis, whether for books, movies, or restaurants. I just wish the public would understand that there are bad reviewers as well as bad reviews." Through interviews and research, Dornenburg and Page explore what it takes to become a critic, how the critics themselves feel about their power (not to mention what the restaurateurs feel), and the changing nature of what makes a great restaurant.

The book is packed with great quotes from chefs and critics, and peppered with sidebars on such handy topics as how to work with a wine steward in a restaurant to achieve the wine experience you're looking for. A lengthy appendix lists critics' favorite restaurants in more than 20 cities, and the beautiful black-and-white photographs by Michael Donnelly evoke both the fun and serious sides of restaurant life. Dining Out will appeal to foodies who delight in the behind-the-scenes stories of both chef and critic, and to anyone who's ever wondered just who those restaurant critics are, anyway.

From Publishers Weekly

Anybody who has ever dreamed of joining a restaurant critic's inner circle will thoroughly enjoy this gossipy, insider's view by the 1996 winners of the James Beard Award for Best Writing on Food (Becoming a Chef). Interviews with leading critics and restaurateurs are a major part of the author's investigation into the methods employed by critics and the effect they have on restaurateurs' culinary ideals. It's a (relatively) serious topic, but one Dornenburg and Page address in a vibrant, conversational tone. Thanks to the unexpectedly dramatic lives of the characters involved, the pages buzz with often surprising tension, humor and emotion. Readers hear from restaurateurs who have staked fortunes on a creative vision, only to find that success often rests in the hands of a single, highly opinionated, sometimes unpredictable writer. The critics, meanwhile (most notably the New York Times's Ruth Reichl, teasingly shown on the cover wearing a face-obscuring hat), don wigs to maintain anonymity, fend off attacks from knife-wielding chefs and eat such dubious delicacies as braised goat penis and worms fried in lard. After being regaled with so many tart and entertaining observations, the final 100 service-oriented pages (Internet review sites, critics' favorite restaurants in selected cities) are somewhat anticlimactic. But just treat them like the after-dinner mint and the rest of the meal will get high marks for its appealing presentation, spice and color. 50 photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (September 22, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047129277X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471292777
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #778,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
DINING OUT is a unique take on the current American fascination with restaurants. It's the first overview I've ever seen on how restaurant critics approach their job, and a fascinating one at that. Although it does stretch the average person's mind to generate symphathy for the food critic who must dine out night after night, the authors' synthesis of many interviews gives new dimension into how these critics shape our tastes and expectations. Moreover, they balance the critics' viewpoints by offering up a selection of glitterati chefs, who express themselves openly and pungently. Living in NYC, my husband and I eat out a lot, and I found this book useful in learning how to get the best service and the best food. There are also juicy tidbits about critics and restaurateurs that enliven the text throughout.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
As someone who follows the restaurant scene with the same level of enthusiasm that some teenagers follow Jessica Simpson, I got caught up with all the brouhaha around the debut of the new New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. This got me curious about restaurant critics and their methods and whether anyone had ever studied the subject, which led me to the one-of-a-kind book Dining Out by Dornenburg and Page. I found it incredibly illuminating, not to mention entertaining. The authors dissect every detail of how reviews are written and stars awarded, based on interviews with leading food critics such as Tom Sietsema (now of The Washington Post), S. Irene Virbila (of The Los Angeles Times), and Dennis Ray Wheaton (of Chicago Magazine). They also interview leading chefs and restaurateurs about their views on critics and the power of the press. I've come to learn that there is as much or more drama in the world of restaurants as there is in opera! This book even breaks down what it took to get a four-star review when former restaurant reviewer Ruth Reichl was at the helm.
Every discerning diner should read this book for an eye-opening look at the state of contemporary restaurant criticism, not to mention a tasty behind-the-scenes read about some of the country's best restaurants (including the rise and fall and rise again of New York's own Chanterelle restaurant, which just won Restaurant of the Year at this year's James Beard Foundation Awards).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
DINING OUT is a chatty, amusing and often surprising look at restaurant culture and the increasingly influential women and men who tell us where to eat and why. (Whenever I've wondered about what it would be like to be a food and restaurant critic, the possibility of grievous bodily harm never crossed my mind.) The book offers tasty vignettes, some thought-provoking views on taste (in all senses) and celebrity, recommendations by the critics of their favorite restaurants, advice on how to choose wines and cheeses, and elegant photographs, all packaged in a nicely designed book and presented in a pleasing conversational style. A treat even for the neophyte foodie.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Coco Pazzo on November 28, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a lot to like about this book-- if you can find it! Between layout, verbiage, and sidebars, there is no flow of language at all-- this is simply a huge buffet of interviews roughly (emphasis on "roughly") organized along thematic lines. The text may be interrupted by two of three pages of a topical commentary by another critic or restaurateur; long quotations related to the topic may be found in the margins; thumbnail reviews of some restaurants in some cities may be found in the back.
But curiously, for a book that wants to explore the role, place, function, and substance of the food critic in our society, this book fails to offer many examples of "good criticism." For instance, we learn that other critics love the writing of Gael Greene or Ruth Reichl, but we are not given excerpts from their supposedly noteworthy reviews. Instead, what we have is a real mishmash of text that appears to be the result of standard interviews, cut and pasted into wherever the editors feel it fits. That's three stars... as in average. With higher expectations. Oh well, as Johann Killeen of Al Forno in Providence, RI, says, "any publicity is good publicity."
True for Al Forno; less so for this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Dining Out takes the reader through the world of restaurants and critics, through the changing temperament of the American palate, and the evolving relationship between chefs and restaurant criticism. It explores a variety of interesting topics, such as the beginnings of a culinary critical establishment in Europe and in the U.S. and the "sociology" of the food critic. Through interviews with the country's leading dining critics (including Ruth Reichl, who "models" for the book's cover), the authors help demystify the dining review. One learns, for example, that while some critics judge a restaurant solely on food, others will give equal weight to the place's decor, service, and general atmosphere. The authors explain the controversial use of the "star system," and quote several chefs and critics who don't care for the system at all. The book is entertaining in its presentation, with lots of interspersed stories, interviews and charts. Indeed, there's a list of the major restaurant reviewers and where they went to college, and there's a nice page on food in film. Some interviews prove to be practical, such as how to judge the quality of wines and cheese. Most of the book, in fact, proves to be useful by suggesting how one might in fact judge one's own dining experience.
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