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All three times I went to Grub - the lovely surprise of a restaurant atop Queen Anne that's the subject of this week's review -

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Steering Clear of Happy Family Hour

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All three times I went to Grub - the lovely surprise of a restaurant atop Queen Anne that's the subject of this week's review - the dining room was calm. Which is to say, the average diner age was probably somewhere around 43. I once saw a boy out with his dad for a father-son burger night, but he was a notable demographic exception. My husband and I seriously debated whether the restaurant would be a good choice for a date. As much as I liked Grub, I'm in the "no" camp: I think it's a tad too casual.

Interestingly, the Seattle Times' Providence Cicero, who published her review sometime between my second and third visits to the restaurant, observed a completely different crowd. "Families" was the sixth word in her review, which included highly placed references to word puzzles, infant carriers and strollers.

I don't think either Cicero or I got it wrong, but the differing impressions speaks volumes about the innate volatility of restaurants. While critics try to compensate for variables by scheduling their review visits for weeknights and weekdays, early evenings and later nights, it's impossible to control who waits on your table and who else is in the room. Restaurant experiences don't just change day-to-day: They change from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. I'm not sure why the room was mellower when I showed up during what should have been prime family dining hour: Maybe there was talent show at a nearby elementary school. Maybe It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was on TV.

Over the course of three visits, it's usually possible to dismiss the deviations and suss out a restaurant's true character. Even though I didn't bump into very many young diners at Grub, the well-developed children's menu and knowledge of the neighborhood tipped me off to a family orientation: I wasn't shocked to learn kids bring handheld video games to the restaurant, a scenario difficult to imagine at many nicer spots which admit eaters under 21. But I didn't witness it myself.

Unlike music and movies, a restaurant experience can't be precisely replicated, which is why diners who've visited a restaurant once are often shocked by a reviewer's conclusions. I advise young writers interested in food to familiarize themselves with wine or whiskey, since those beverages are fairly consistent from bottle-to-bottle, so other writers' reviews are somewhat useful when thinking about what you'd like to say and how you'd like to say it. The service, food and ambiance which interests restaurant critics is too apt to vary from moment-to-moment - which is what makes eating out so much fun.

Some things never change: My review is here, same as always, and Kevin Casey's slideshow can be found here.

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