Gaming the Review

Whenever I tell folks that I review restaurants for a living, I get to watch them try to visualize what the heck that means. I can tell they’re populating a tableau in their mind, figuring out whether to put a notebook in my hand or equip the server with a silver cloche tray. “Do you eat alone?,” they ask, adjusting the picture.

Once they learn that I aim to dine accompanied on at least two of my three review visits, they’re usually curious about what it takes to score a seat at the table. That’s a dangerous line of questioning, since I’m always desperately looking for people willing to eat with me. Very few diners are willing to put up with abdicating ordering decisions; surrendering dishes they’re enjoying and tolerating a tablemate who’s eternally distracted by seasonings and service quirks. My three most reliable review companions are my husband, a high school friend and a college roommate, which gives you some sense of the existing relationship required to make such an ordeal bearable.

But for this week’s review of Von Trapp’s, I reached out to a very different group of potential review companions. I asked the Woodland Park Lawn Bowling Club’s president if his cabinet members would like to come along.

When I first visited Von Trapp’s, I planned to treat it like any other restaurant. I really like the food at Poquito’s and cocktails at Bastille, so didn’t think the Capitol Hill restaurant’s bocce theme would necessarily be a focal point of the write-up. But after one meal on the mezzanine, above the fray of the bocce fun, I realized my approach was all wrong. I could ignore the enormous courts which dominate the beer hall, writing a priggish review about imperfect pizza, or I could seize on the spirit of the restaurant, enjoying it in the company of experienced bocce players.

It’s rare that I’m so calculating in my choice of guests. As I’ve written before, I don’t think there’s much benefit to dragging a friend born in Mexico to a Mexican restaurant. But most Mexican restaurants aren’t designed exclusively for Mexicans. Von Trapp’s, by contrast, is very much a restaurant for bocce players. I wanted to understand the restaurant from their perspective.

Aside from a few minor gripes, the players loved the place. And when I was on the bocce court, I did too.

You’ll find the full review here.

 
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