This week's review is a two-for-one deal, with The Sexton and The Innkeeper bundled into one column. Although I ended up having very different feelings about the two restaurants, I couldn't help but conjoin them when I was writing my review schedule. On paper, the restaurants are indistinguishable: Both specialize in craft cocktails and small plates, and are so unabashedly thematic that they could host children's birthday parties if Washington's liquor laws get any more liberal.
Restaurants are typically reviewed in a highly contrived vacuum. Critics sometimes make explicit comparisons when geography or concept demand them - professional and amateur eaters alike are apt to reference Spinasse when describing Altura, for example - but we usually treat a restaurant as though it's the only place in the world to dine. That's not a bad strategy: The restaurant deserves the courtesy, and it's useless to lard a greasy spoon review with references to Skillet Diner's burger, Marche's french fries, The Coterie Room's ham cracklings and Terra Plata's potato chips if the reader hasn't had a chance to eat at any of those restaurants yet.
But, in real life, we're always comparing and contrasting: Whenever we decide to spend money at a restaurant, we're choosing to not spend that money somewhere else. It makes good sense to size up two restaurants at once if it's reasonable to expect everyday eaters to do the same. Since The Sexton and The Innkeeper are cross-town doppelgangers, competing for the same clientele, it's helpful to assess them side-by-side.
What becomes clear from examining both restaurants simultaneously is that experience matters when opening a new restaurant. I don't think The Innkeeper is superior to The Sexton because the sea is better than the South, or because rum is more delicious than bourbon. I suspect The Innkeeper is humming because the Black Bottle team understands customer service and restaurant staffing; it's smart to hire a professional chef with experience in the kitchen's defining idiom. That said, The Sexton mixes a fine cocktail (it might not hurt that bourbon is more delicious than rum.)