It was only a matter of time, I suppose. In case you've missed it, the familiar ethical issues surrounding blogging have just raised their collectively ugly head again - only this time around food blogging. The Globe recently called foul on a group that calls itself "The Boston Brunchers," a crowd of seemingly perpetually-squealing "foodies" who organize free lunches for themselves at local restaurants and caterers, and then tweet and blog about how great everything tasted.
Needless to say, the Brunchers have been shocked, shocked to discover that people might view their cozy little arrangement a bit skeptically. One blogger, "The Passionate Foodie" even outed the Globe's writer as having shared an ethically-suspect wine junket with him - and kudos to "Passionate," btw, for the following harumph: "I am deeply offended that anyone would think I would compromise my integrity for such a meager amount [of money]." I really like that - I suppose higher-pay-outs would be another story?
To be fair, the Brunchies occasionally do post a negative post or tweet - but my brief survey of their output revealed their assessments of these free brunch bits yielded overwhelmingly positive brunch bytes. Yeah, this is a pretty classic case of what used to be called "logrolling." And the best part of it is, the dishonesty is so democratic! Half these brunchers have no credentials as critics, or even writers - they're just self-described "foodies" who show up for the event. Still, is anyone being fooled? Everyone knows the "reviews" you read on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere are bullshit (and the pans are as suspect as the raves, frankly), so where's the harm?
Parallels with theatre blogging inevitably come to mind, of course - although just as many differences between these respective scenes occur to me as well. I've often been struck, frankly, by the fact that arts blogging is so unpopular. Only a handful of Bostonians have stuck with it, and most of those do make a long-term commitment to the form have written for print publication in the past. The idea of 150 people (the full roster of "Boston Brunchers") signing up for free tickets in exchange for the slog of actually writing a review seems pretty remote at this point. (And you can nab a free ticket to most opening nights just by joining Stage Source, anyhow.)
Not that the critical scene is some gleaming paragon of moral rectitude. I wish I could say that Boston critics constituted a city on a hill, but that's obviously not the case! Indeed, I've heard all the perky, obviously-phony self-defenses of the Boston Brunchers from half the theatre reviewers in town already. A good number of them - even the most established and successful - seem to approach PR people on their knees, and negative criticism is almost inevitably soft-pedalled. Except at the Hub Review, of course. Which is part of what makes me so shocking! Actually, even I soft-pedal pans for the defenseless - I'm not about to roast somebody performing in their friend's show in a basement, please! Yet oddly, this seems to shock people most of all. Yes, I ridicule the big players, the ones with the money and power - so call me crazy! They only put up with it because my blog has the largest audience, and because, let's face it, people only read writers like Don Aucoin and Ed Siegel because they're the face of the Globe or Phoenix; if they hung out a shingle by themselves on the Web, nobody would pay any attention, just as nobody cares what sweet old Joyce Kulhawik says on her blog. If people want actual criticism, genuine argument, they know they have to come here.
So you know, I'm wondering if I could parlay by moral self-regard into . . . food blogging!! Are the foodies ready for a blog like The Hub Review? Hah! Probably not. But just as a kind of opening salvo, I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts on the restaurant scene flourishing around various theatres in the South End.
Okay, so you have tickets for a play at the BCA. Where should you eat? The first place to check - and this is no secret - is Picco, at the corner of Tremont and Berkeley, which is one of the best restaurant values in the city. The pizza is good, but the pasta is the secret here - I'm not kidding, it's superb. A good list of reasonably priced wines (try the reds), some great beers (try the Yeti stout), and a tasty sampler of ice cream round out the menu. What's the downside? All the obnoxious brats trucked by in the yuppies who live upstairs. Seriously, the place is like a daycare center at 6 pm. If only the owner would open a second, adults-only location! Venture capitalists, this is your chance!
What do you do, then, if Picco is overrun by screaming, entitled Isabellas and Noahs? Well, there are other options - and I'll run through them, I think, on a value basis. I usually try Metropolis, a little down Tremont, if Picco is jammed - not cheap, but reasonable, and there's a rough equivalence between price and value here. (Don't bother with the risottos, though, and the wine list is good but not great.) If that's also booked, I might brace myself for Hammersley's or Sibling Rivalry (note, though, that I'm edging here toward substantially higher price points). Hammersley's is the more reliable - it is worth the money - but it's not very imaginative; meanwhile Sibling Rivalry has been getting better of late, and the drinks are arguably more fun (and the bar in back is swankly groovy). If it's summertime and you can eat on the patio, though, I'd go with Hammersley's.
What else is there. Forget Stephanie's - ugh. Aquitaine? Only if you're a drinker (the wine list is the best in the area, though, and the waiters actually know something about it). The Beehive - uh, maybe if you're twenty years younger than I am, and don't mind waiting in line, then having to scream to the other members of your party to be heard. Other than that it's awesome, dude! Of course if you're looking to get laid and you're under thirty, this is your best shot - so the Beehive: horny, yes, hungry, no. That oyster place and that "butcher shop"? Too much "player" attitude; and as a general rule, I avoid Barbara What's-her-face's pretentious eateries. (I'm here to eat, not to be seen eating.) Coppa down on Shawmut is not bad, though (not cheap either, but again, probably worth it). The Indian and Thai places - only as a last resort. I've never been to the Ethiopian place. And when all else fails, I guess there's always Francesca's. Or the sub shop!
So there you go - honest food blogging! (I paid for every bite I ate.) Bon appétit!