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Matters of Taste

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.

Comments

Robert Teeter

Speaking as a librarian in a water agency, I've been very pleased to see that most of the important articles in my areas of interest (e.g., climate change) published by PNAS in the past few years have been open access. I can just point my users to them and everyone's happy.

Marcus

On a much less serious note than the last comment--Ben's Chili Bowl is great! Worth a trip to U St. if you haven't been already.

T Scott

At the meeting, the PNAS folks reported that 22% of their articles are open access. Quite interesting that there is such a high proportion of their authors willing to pay the fee to make something immediately open access that is going to be available in six months anyway.

As to the Chili Bowl, I have heard good things about it, but with all of the other great dining opportunities in DC, I just don't think it's going to make it to the top of my list anytime soon....

Marcus

Thanks for the PNAS figures; very interesting.

Glad you went to Bistrot du Coin, which I used to love.

But a final plug for Ben's Chili Bowl, on a more serious note--as you know, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 40 years ago today. I learned this morning that Ben's served as a sanctuary of sorts for Washington DC residents in the immediate aftermath of the riots caused by that event.

This morning Good Morning America had a "focus group" on race relations in America. Where was it filmed? Ben's Chili Bowl.

So it's not just a bowl of chili, but a DC institution.

T Scott

Yes, Ben's was a gathering place. Of course, I live in Birmingham, where we walk proudly in MLK's footsteps every day. Leaving DC today, I had a Lebanese cab driver who was very impressed when he found out I was from Birmingham. When I sing Steve Earle's "Jerusalem" I usually introduce it with the story of the Belfast mayor that I met a couple of years back who made a pilgrimage to Alabama because it was so important for him and his colleagues (who took their lives in their hands every day that they went to the office) to have walked the same highways that MLK walked.

What's important to remember on this day is that he was one tough sonofabitch who believed in nonviolence and the promise of America with a fervor that puts all those pastel patriots to shame.

It's fine and wonderful to celebrate him... but let's not pretend that he wouldn't be pretty pissed off if he was still alive.

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