New restaurant owners - and, sometimes, old ones who haven't given much thought to the logistics of food criticism - often call to ask how they they can arrange a review. The answer, of course, is that they can't: I choose which restaurants to review, based on factors which have nothing to do with personal entreaties, and then make my visits anonymously. From beginning to end, the restaurant owner and staffers are utterly uninvolved in the reviewing process.
More precisely, they're uninvolved from beginning to near-end. Because once I've completed my visits and ready to write, I look to the restaurant for help. We ask the restaurant's kitchen to prepare certain dishes so our photographer can capture them, and I usually have a slew of fact-checking questions for the restaurant's owner, chef, manager or publicist. In the last month, I've fired off e-mails inquiring about flour types; gin brands; pineapple prices and an owner's marital status.
Whether or not the restaurant complies with our requests has no bearing on its review: I don't hold an eatery accountable if it doesn't have enough cooks to whip up dishes for our photographer, or if its owner is too busy dealing with a hostess shortage to return messages. But I'm constantly astounded by restaurant folks' willingness to help, even though they know I might be working on a pan. Of all the restaurants I've contacted in conjunction with my reviews, only The Boar's Nest ignored my calls and e-mails.
But Blossom Vegetarian Restaurant, the subject of this week's review, invested more time than most in making sure I got my questions answered. I rang up Blossom hoping to interview chef Hue Phan, since I had plenty of questions about how and why she'd made fake meat the centerpiece of her cuisine. But as I learned from the manager who took my call, Phan doesn't speak English.
I'm always troubled by the prospect of giving short shrift to non-English speakers' perspectives in my columns, so I was tremendously pleased that the manager offered to relay my questions to Phan. I e-mailed her a list of 18 questions; a few days later, she returned lengthy responses translated from the original Vietnamese.
Since Blossom produces gorgeous, thoughtful food, I wasn't surprised that the restaurant took so much care with my questions. But I remain indebted to the restaurants which do. When chefs and owners generously share information, I'm better able to tell their story - and help you decide whether the restaurant is somewhere you'd like to eat.