It's always a dilemma when I come to DC -- where do I want to eat on that first evening? I've been coming here a couple of times a year since I moved away back in '87, so I have lots of favorites that I like to go back to, but it's also become such a restaurant town that there's always new places that sound extremely inviting. So what to do?
This morning I see that a previous occupant of my hotel room has helpfully checked a number of establishments off in the Official Visitor's Guide -- Hooter's in Chinatown, Haagen-Dazs downtown, Brickskeller Down Home Saloon, Gifford's Ice Cream & Candy Co., Haagen-Dazs again (in Penn Quarter, this time), and Ben's Chili Bowl. Somehow, I don't foresee myself crossing paths with him (the first choice inclines me to believe that it's a "he").
Of course, I could have gone into any of the billion sites that now enable people to comment on their experiences at local restaurants. Zagat's, for example, would have told me that Al Tiramisu has "great food and atmosphere" with "attentive service", while simultaneously being "overrated" with "food that is completely bland" and a menu that is "average". From "yelp" I would've found out that Bistrot du Coin (another of my favorites, and the place I finally ended up) has "mediocre food," "very good French country cooking," "top-notch mussels," "colorful and fun waitstaff," and "incredibly rude waiters." Sigh. The wisdom of the crowds, I guess.
All of those opinions are valid, I hasten to add. They're just not particularly useful, because everybody is going to a restaurant for different reasons, everyone's experiences and expectations are different, and without knowing more of that background, I have no way of knowing how their experiences might inform my own. What an experienced professional restaurant critic does is attempt to provide context and background and consistency in their opinions. You may not agree with them all the time, but they'll give you a baseline against which you can measure your own tastes and interests.
I'm here in DC to participate in a Library Advisory panel for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this afternoon. There are ten people in the group -- nine librarians and a consultant -- from quite a variety of settings. In preparation for the meeting, we've received a series of questions gathered under four topical headings: Trends in Use and Accessibility of Scholarly Content, Transitioning from Print Subscriptions to Online Site Licenses, Copyright Ownership and Open Access, and Usage-Based Pricing/Collaborative Consortia Based Pricing. The questions are the kind that you'd expect to hear from a reasonably progressive scholarly publisher and accurately reflect the kinds of struggles publishers are engaged in these days as they try to plot their future.
It's not likely, of course, that we'll be able to give them consensus opinions, any more than the diners at any local restaurant are going to agree on the menu's hits and misses. But the conversation will no doubt be lively and I am as eager to hear the differing views of my colleagues as I presume that the PNAS folks are. I do hope, though, that we can provide enough context and background for our opinions for them to be useful.