The NBA this month named Blake Griffin its Rookie of the Year, despite Griffin having joined the Clippers in the 2009 season. Voters unanimously agreed that since a broken kneecap kept him out of every regular-season game, his 2010-11 performance should be considered his NBA debut.
I thought about Griffin when I visited Local 360 for what was supposed to be my final review meal at the Belltown farm-to-table joint. I'd spent previous visits acclimating myself to the restaurant's menu of sausages and pot pies, and showed up knowing exactly which of the heavy, wintry dishes I still had to try.
But when I asked after a certain preparation, my server told me it was my last chance to get it. "Spring menu starts Monday!," he chirped.
I finished my Manhattan and left, knowing the changeover would render my opinions on turnips and cabbage irrelevant. I also knew I had a Griffin problem.
Since I'd arrived in Seattle a mere three weeks before I had to file my Local 360 column, I didn't have the luxury of spacing out my review visits, as I usually do. I hit the restaurant hard, jamming multiple visits in a fairly short time frame. My scheduled last meal came five days before deadline. That left me two days to familiarize myself with the spring menu and write up my review.
So here's the question: Is a restaurant with a new menu essentially a new restaurant? Can it be new-but-not-new, like Griffin? While standards vary, most food critics agree reviewers shouldn't touch a new restaurant until it's reached its two-month anniversary. Should there be a similar--if much shorter--breaking-in period for new menus?
I didn't have to struggle with those questions for very long, because I returned on new-menu Monday, and really liked the rejuvenated Local 360. The promise of the new dishes completely shifted my thinking on the restaurant. Since the spring menu took my review in a much more positive direction, I figured the restaurant owners wouldn't mind my showing up on the menu's first day. And now that the new menu's in place, I wouldn't mind eating at Local 360 again.