Maybe By Best They Mean Mediocre

Photo courtesy of
‘Cupcake Fail’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

14th and You has a very excellent rant on the City Paper’s Best-Of winners that I won’t even try and repeat. It is truly brillz, you should read.

But I have a few more to add to Mr. 14th and You’s questions -  Starbucks is really the second best coffee in the DC area, second only to Tryst? REALLY? ARE WE SURE? Hell Burger came in third in the best burgers? I’m sorry, have you tried them, people? They have BEST written all over them. Founding Farmers ranked as the best new restaurant? Have you met Co Co Sala, or actually, if chocolate is not your thing, have you ever even eaten at Founding Farmers? The reviews are horrible.

Maybe I’m self-righteous with all my foodie blogger clout and whatnot but the City Paper results make me roll my eyes. What about you? Any outright lies on the City Paper’s Best Of that you caught?

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

38 thoughts on “Maybe By Best They Mean Mediocre

  1. Founding Farmers is wonderful- at least for breakfast. Fantastic taste, fresh, and not too terribly overpriced.

  2. Had one of the worst dinners of my life at Fouding Farmers in December. Food ok, but service appallingly clueless, loud and bad music, etc. Would never recommend, sorry.

  3. We have a few good coffee shops. Im my neighboord, there is Sidamo, which is excellent. I was shocked that it got left off the list. I was also shocked that 5 Guys made the list for best burger and Good Stuff Eatery did not. Grrr.

  4. A category like “burger” is impossible to get right. It should at least be separated out based on… damn, I dunno. Chain vs less than 3 locations? Counter service? How much the floor and walls resemble a restroom? Paté available?

    I love Five Guys and they make a good burger, but it’s just a different experience from Hellburger. Even within the chain eateries it’s hard to make comparisons. How do you compare a Wendy’s to someplace like Ted’s Montana Grill, which has a great burger selection AND which lets you pick beef or bison?

  5. I was just having this same discussion with some colleagues re: the top scientist/mathmeticians in the world. The immediate reaction is to pick favorites (i.e., those that are media saavy). There is a difference between favorite, best, well known, etc.

  6. to what extent is the problem (such as it is) simply that the “best of” awards are little more than a popularity contest? or to put it another way, is the CP to blame when its readers vote starbucks as the #2 coffee house in town?

  7. Hell Burger is amazing and Five Guys is totally overrated. What a bunch of crap! The food at Founding Farmers is actually amazing. Best scallops I’ve ever had! The service definitely does leave something to be desired, though.

  8. Dear Katie T,

    It would have been helpful if you’d clearly categorized the ‘best of’ by distinguishing between what the editors chose and what the readers chose – because there were two different selection lists and the readers’ poll is traditionally the measure that the City Paper ‘Best Of’ is known for. Many of your readers may not have realized this distinction.

    If readers are the ones picking coffee shop, new restaurant, salon or pet shop, etc. why aren’t their voting opinions as justified as your rants? Have you actually ever eaten at Founding Farmers? You don’t say that you have, but rely on your WELOVEDC colleague for some perspective – from OCTOBER of last year, just 6 weeks after they’d opened, which is not really fair. Your colleague’s review also does not reflect the perspective of the voting city paper readers, whom submitted votes as recently as March 15th of THIS YEAR, obviously motivated to do so, for some strange reason, by your reasoning.

    In Feb you were planning on trying it during RW, but then you backed out, which was a shame, because by not trying the restaurant yourself and by implying that Founding Farmers shouldn’t be on the Best Of list doesn’t lend your posting most credence.

    I digress. And, I wholeheartedly admit to being connected with Founding Farmers, and to reading many, many blogs and online opinions on the restaurant, which is always an interesting and brutally honest way to gain perspective on what is good and what is sometimes not so good. I’ll tell you that the vast majority of it is good – and really good. The staff and the managers hear about the blogs and reviews and they learn from them. Otherwise, what’s the intention of posting them – to run a local business down? Not very “loving” of DC.

    Six months later with adjustments made, better servers added, menu improvements, and a daily goal to deliver the best in food, service and atmosphere, FF is hitting on all points. They’re on the 2009 Top 100 Restaurant list for Washingtonian Magazine, (March), last Saturday night they prepared a Fan Favorite cocktail at Artini @ the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the restaurant was a Grand Prize winner for Restaurant/Casual design for the Association of Retail Environments, and it’s now the FIRST LEED Gold (USGBC) full-service, upscale-casual restaurant in the entire United States. That’s big. Oh, and there’s a wait list every night. Huh.

    Let me know if you want to come in and actually try the restaurant out – breakfast, lunch or dinner is on me.


  9. Jennifer…small advice: make your second-to-last paragraph your first paragraph next time. It’s ok to admit that you had early growing pains and have taken steps to make it better. In fact, it’s better than ok.

  10. Jennifer,

    I love the idea of Founding Farmers, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. While Founding Farmers did refund the service charge that was misapplied, we never received the gift certificates we were promised in apology, and after two attempts to get them sent, we gave up.

    While Tiff and I have wanted to come back, we’ve heard nothing but discouraging stories from our friends who’ve gone in the meantime. Stories of servers that went missing for upwards of half an hour (in January) and dinners that arrived lukewarm (in February) I’m glad you’ve expanded staff, and I’m glad you’re winning awards, and I’m glad that you’re all green and whatnot, but you’ve dropped the ball on us, bigtime, and that’s hard to ignore when you can’t even get an apology right.

    If Founding Farmers wants us to come back, we’re happy to try, but snarking about it? Attacking our writer? Why not be conciliatory toward Katie, contact her via email (available upon request) and offer her dinner on the house, and an opportunity to cover it again for We Love Food? We bear no ill-will to the restaurant at the blog level, but at a personal level, you’re trying my patience sorely.

  11. @Captain – you’re so right, good point! this has ballot-pimping/popularity contest written all over it.

    @Jennifer – I’m happy to hear from you and glad you made the point of commenting, it’s always good to get different perspectives aired. I like hearing all the opinions of all our readers, and you can see what a mixed bag of reviews there are even on this post alone! I’ll echo Tom when he says WLDC is happy to give FF another go. You are welcome to follow up offline with me by using the contact information in my author profile.

  12. Tom -

    What if Jennifer offered to punch you in the dick? Would that make it OK?

    As a reader with no formal association with WLDC I have to say that I didn’t see anything inappropriate in Jennifer’s comment. She acknowledged that she’s connected to the restaurant and made a public offer to make things right in the SAME FORUM where old, second-hand wrongs were being pointed out. What else should she have done?

    My patience (as a reader) is tried sorely whenever I see you get your dander up and start circling the wagons if someone dare disagree with your writers. You’ll defend Nick Cho when he threatens to punch a customer in the dick and give him a free forum and countless posts of free advertising, but heaven forfend that another establishment own up to — and attempt to correct — an old problem.

    Full disclosure: my girlfriend and I had an absolutely terrible evening at the FF bar one night a couple months ago, but rather than go home and blog about it we talked to the manager before we left. In the end the manager comped everything (actually, that was the FIRST thing he did, rushing to the bartender and saying, “make sure they don’t get a bill”), offered us free dessert on the spot, gave us a card, and told us to call for a personal reservation for another meal so the restaurant could show us what they’re capable of. We haven’t yet followed up on that due to scheduling, but he was very contrite and forthright and we will be going for that second meal.

  13. I don’t think there’s any “wagon-circling” here except to point out Jennifer’s needlessly sarcastic tone that does nothing at all to make me ever want to go to FF again. If one is trying to correct past wrongs, one generally does that by apologizing, rather than lecturing and listing off the largely irrelevant awards one has won. (Having a Fan Favorite Cocktail does nothing to get said cocktail to my table in a timely fashion, which sounds like it remains an issue 6 months later.)

    Most of us looooove reader disagreement, fedward. We love it so much that we’re in the habit of jumping in and engaging in the debate ourselves, all hidden behind a link one has to *choose* to click in order to view it. As for Nick Cho’s “free forum,” it’s called a “comment form,” and as you have clearly noticed, it’s available to everyone. Calling it “free advertising” is pretty disingenuous when the business is three weeks from closing for good.

  14. I don’t think it was lecturing so much as returning snark with snark. If Katie based her negative comments about FF on her own visit that would be one thing, but that’s not what she did.

    And the language “attacking our writer” is circling the wagons, whether it’s meant to be or not.

    As for Murky the free publicity has been an ongoing thing. It’s Tom’s “third place,” after all, so he tends to mention it a lot. That’s all well and good if there’s no official editorial stance at WLDC, but when Tom comments on another writer’s post with what appears to be his editorial hat on, it has the effect of making his other opinions appear to be “official” ones.

  15. Fedward and I have somewhat discussed this… not offline, given that it was through instant messenger. What to call it? Out of band, I guess, if we use the parlance?

    Anyway, I think you’re mixing in a few reactions here, Fedward. Tom does tend to weigh-in on threads where someone snipes at or criticizes WLDC writers. I think that’s a credit to his loyalty. I can certainly see how someone might view that tendency as him acting in an editorial sense as our big cheese rather than as just another reader & writer who feels protective of his friends.

    It’s one of the conundrums of writing in the blog world and also that of writing on a smaller scale and in a causal voice. Even if the WaPo ombudsman was inclined to troll the comments on the postings from Weingarten, Fisher, etc all.. there’s no way he’d have time. If he did, however, there would be a very reasonable question about what capacity he’s acting in.

    We’re not the size of WaPo, nor do we purport to follow the traditional news standards and practices, so Tom is able to watch all the stuff that goes by and participate. Most of us want to participate, for that matter, because we’re in this venture for the love of it. We also really enjoy the interactive nature of this media and like the back-and-forth.

    I’ll agree it does introduce the issue that sometimes the back-and-forth is author to reader and sometimes it’s just person to person. It’s probably a bigger conundrum when it comes to comments from Tom, in so far as he’s where the buck stops on WLDC issues.

    I think that’s a reasonable issue to raise, but you’re also mixing in a difference in his reaction to FF’s snarky response here to how he reacts to Murky’s often snarky (or worse) response to things. I see how those two are mixing here for you, but I don’t think it’s productive to discuss both things together. Except perhaps as an example of how this (unavoidable?) conflict between personal and official positions can look a certain way.

  16. I think we all need to back down and go for a beer.

    It’s been a pretty crappy weather week here in town, and with all the Spring Fever I’ve got stored up, I’m desperate for a sixpack of Oberon and a public park and some farkin’ sunshine. I can’t be alone on that count, and I think it might be affecting the discussion here.

    I think we can all agree that Nick actly poorly back in August or whenever he threatened to punch Jeff Simmermon in his junk after Jeff threatened to burn his coffee shop down. I think we can all agree that Jennifer’s tone wasn’t productive to FF, and I think we can all agree that everyone would be better served if everything was made of puppies and unicorns and rainbows.

    I have a tendency to get involved here because I care about the people that write here, both commenters and authors. We try very, very hard not to exercise honest-to-God editorial control, and we’re working on written standards for the four editors/editorial coordinators will edit posts. It’s a hard line to define, because community standards are ever-changing. I comment, almost always, wearing just my personal hat, and all the trappings that it comes with.

    So yeah, cut everyone else some slack, and let’s all get a beer, eh?

  17. If it sounds like he was wearing his “editorial hat” in that comment (which he wasn’t) then you must similarly acknowledge that the “hat” comes off sometimes. Like when he’s posting about the coffee shop where he personally spends a lot of time. I’m sure if the rest of us had jobs that regularly allowed us to work from a different coffee shop, you’d hear about that place too. A person being an Editor here (and there are four editorial-types running around) does not automatically make that person’s every opinion about every issue automatically the official position of anything, any more than Barack Obama’s love of basketball makes it replace baseball as the national pastime.

    Besides, to the extent that there is any “official watering hole of,” it’s Science Club, not Murky. :)

  18. At my bad meal at FF, I also raised my objections to server(s) and was told very frankly that “management” had received several complaints about the loud/bad music but had decided not to change it, as it was the “atmosphere” they wanted. Um, ok.

    Maybe that’s all changed as Jennifer indicates, maybe not.

    I didn’t even write about my experience there because I didn’t think it was worth it. If that’s the atmosphere they want, then they don’t want me, and that’s fine.

    Maybe I’ve unduly influenced Katie not to try FF. My apologies. Have at it, girl. Just remember, when they know you’re coming, they’re on their best behavior.

  19. Dammit, now you have made me sad that I can’t get Oberon at Science Club with my veggie burger.

  20. Never been to FF, so I’ll withhold comment on that. But the Starbucks thing? Not a chance. Who the hell voted for it that many times to come in second? Its not that their stuff is BAD, but its not anywhere near THAT good either. Very confusing.

  21. I have to agree with Captain Easychord in that the “Readers Picks” are sometimes very questionable, but the “Staff Picks” are usually more accurate and are less likely to cause you to say, “Whaaaat?!” Take the Readers Pick for best local band:

    First: Scythian
    Second: Tom McBride & the Whig Party
    Third: Batala Washington

    Who? What? When? You know Scythian blasted out an e-mail to their group list to get the win (not that there’s anything wrong with that). So when the readers pick Founding Farmers as their #1, it just doesn’t hold much weight in my book.

    As for my dining experience at Founding Farmers, well, it was pretty bad. I went with two friends and we managed to score a place at the bar rather than waiting over an hour for a table. I ordered the prime rib because, “At Founding Farmers you can trust that everything we serve is sourced from fine, high quality family farms, and will be prepared with the utmost care and attention by our own very talented and dedicated Chef Graham Duncan.”

    First, the food was barely warm by the time it got to me. Next, the meat was tough, chewy, and lacking in flavor – not my idea of good prime rib. It came with mac ‘n cheese and the prime rib was placed ON TOP of it, drowning it in juices. Mmmm, nothing like watery mac ‘n cheese!

    The wine selection was decent though, and to cap the night off our bartender/waiter gave us free shots which he partook in. I can’t argue with that!

  22. “I think we can all agree that everyone would be better served if everything was made of puppies and unicorns and rainbows.”

    Of course.

    “I think we can all agree that Jennifer’s tone wasn’t productive to FF…”

    Actually, I don’t agree with that at all. And aren’t the comments a forum where we can, in fact, disagree? It is admirable that Tim “feels protective of his friends,” but sometimes those comments read as attacks. If this is a blog run by a bunch of friends who want to discuss DC, then that should be made clear. The branding of the site suggests something different: that this is a site about DC with a staff of writers (who, like many co-workers, might be friends).

    p.s. – Jenn, of course they’ll be on their best behavior. That’s why most food reviewers don’t accept free meals – they prefer to be incognito.

  23. Um, I can and should be mocked for my typo of “Tim” instead of “Tom,” of course.

    Sorry about that Tom.

  24. I’m kind of missing the nuance implied by “If this is a blog run by a bunch of friends who want to discuss DC, then that should be made clear. The branding of the site suggests something different: that this is a site about DC with a staff of writers (who, like many co-workers, might be friends).”

    I don’t really see a practical difference there, unless you’re asking if money is involved (it’s not, at the moment).

    Can you clarify your question?

  25. I think there’s also something to be said about our staff writing as a team – I’m not the only person who writes about food, and when three of my co-authors tell me “don’t go there!” and “the service sucks” then, hey – why will I spend my hard earned dollars at a place just to give it a fair go when there are places I still haven’t tried that come in with fabulous reviews? Just like KateDDC says, you don’t want them to know you’re coming, otherwise you’re not going to get a true representation.

    I’m happy to substitute another WLDC staffer’s opinion where I am lacking my own – that’s the beauty of writing for a group blog. I trust Tom and Tiff’s judgment, and then when Jenn Larsen gets in on it to boot, I’m pretty sure I’ve got my answer. I don’t think the fact that I haven’t tried FF, when my fellow writers have, should keep me from asking why it is chosen as “best” – plus I can then trust the comments, ranging from agreeing to strongly disagreeing to share other opinions. Our comment board is open to everyone, and that’s one of the best things about WLDC.

  26. Kate, I don’t think anyone is saying that Jennifer’s tone is out of bounds for a forum. I think the question is whether it’s a smart move for a business to use that sort of approach in dealing with criticism, and how we as (potential) customers react when we read such a thing.

    Krempasky kept it briefer and more on point than any of us when he said she should have made her next-to-last paragraph her first. She could have gone with a “there were issues in the beginning, back when that October review was written, and we’ve acknowledged them and addressed them.” She could have said they thought they belonged on the list, were glad that their customers thought so, and hoped that Katie and others wouldn’t let reports from the past keep them from trying the restaurant going forward.

    Admittedly, I live with a PR professional so I get this beaten into me all the time and am a little sensitive to it. But I don’t think you need to have professional exposure to have wrinkled your nose at how Jennifer responded instead.

    As I read it, her message boiled down to:

    Paragraph 1: Quibbling over reader best-of vs editor best-of and complaint that readers might not realize it, though it was linked to. Well, perhaps, but to me when someone’s first response to criticism is to question the validity of the source I’m primed to skepticism about what they say next.

    P2: Complaint that reader votes are just as valid as Katie’s, which doesn’t seem pertinent. When did anyone claim different? Also, isn’t that a question a reader has to answer for themselves when reading anything anywhere? Reasonable point about timeliness, though somewhat overshadowed by tone.

    P3: Reasonable point about Katie trying FF, but I think “implying that FF shouldn’t be on the Best Of list” is a bit of an over-reach. You can question something’s place on a BO list and still think it’s perfectly good – it’s a question of whether other things are BETTER. I can laugh at your assertion that you’re one of the most brilliant minds of your generation without thinking you’re a drooling idiot.

    P4: An admission of being associated with FF, to her credit, though P2 says “after they’d opened,” (emphasis mine) which makes me wonder if this admission has been planned. Perhaps she joined after opening, but it raises questions in a reader’s mind. Then a concession about the value of blog posts & reviews, followed up with an accusation of “running down” a local business, combined with a snide comment about whether it’s consistent with our name. This just doesn’t track, since the very topic at hand is “best of” this area, which means that it’s not possible to say something is undeserving of being on the list without indicating that some other local business should have been on there.

    P5: More listed accolades, capped with an implication that people are packing in so clearly your opinion is wrong and meaningless. Which is fine if that’s the attitude they want to take. But if I heard a host or hostess respond to someone expressing concern at the front desk “well we’ve got no shortage of people who want to be in here” I wouldn’t think much of that response.

    P6: Come in and “actually try the restaurant out,” on us.

    I’m not FF’s PR flak and they can choose to respond however they like. However it’s not an attitude I find real delightful in a place I might take my patronage and I think it’s fair to question whether it reflects well on FF.

    I do concur, however, that it’s nicer than a dickpunch.

  27. I’m riffing on Don’s comment that Tom (TOM! not Tim!) is just defending his friends.

    The phrase “attacking our writer” is very different than “attacking our friend.” By having anyone with the title of editor (or 4), it implies control, a company, and a brand. And if someone with the title of editor uses such rhetoric, it sounds like it comes from WLDC, not a friend of the writer.

    If you want to be seen as a brand that covers DC, then there should be a clear editorial policy in place. When I get a work email I disagree with, my boss and co-workers (all friends) don’t also write and tell the person how very wrong they are. That’s also a difference between writing as a team (sharing tips) and ganging up on anyone who disagrees with the post. It begins to feel very insular – and less about loving DC than loving each others’ thoughts.

    An editor is the person who takes responsibility for the final content, a role Tom made very clear when pulled a story last month (and wrote a great post about it and the reasons behind his choice). Sometimes people serve the role of editor, and sometimes friend? Keep the personal out of it, or else the point of this blog is for friends to be writing together and commenting with one another. If that’s what you want, great: make that clear by not having an editorial staff.

    I want to love WLDC and feel like part of the community. Sometimes the blurred lines make that difficult.

  28. I don’t think it’s fair to say that we all just love each other’s thoughts, but I think you can assume that if a post is staying up, our editors will defend our right to say what we did even if they don’t agree with us. The main no-no in the comments is when we see personal attacks on authors, as outlined in the comment policy.

  29. Wow.

    For disclosure, I’m one of the editorial types running around here.

    And I’m staying neutral. Interesting discussion, to say the least. :) So rest assured, there is at least one dispassionate soulless editor on overwatch here. :D

    (Well, I stand behind my comment on my disappointment WLDC didn’t get a mention…)

  30. Thanks for that feedback. Allow me to clarify a couple of things that have been tossed back and forth between the writers about a couple of the points that you touched on.

    The idea behind WLDC was always that it would be, ultimately, “our” site, where “us” are the people who write for it. To put that in context, one of the catalysts for us starting WLDC was that in our previous blog home, it had become very clear that no matter how hard we worked on the site, it would never be “ours,” and fundamental elements of it could be changed by the people who owned it, whether they had any personal investment in the blog community or not. So, We Love DC is meant to be a fairly egalitarian effort, with all authors being stakeholders in the site.

    That said, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are rather a LOT of us. There were 12 or so who came over from the previous site, and we’ve added several since then. Someone has got to keep track of all that. We knew we wanted predictably-rotating content, and we knew we wanted to have some standards of quality because we want to be proud of our work, so as a GROUP, we agreed upon some rules. Our style guide is loose, dealing mostly with making sure we’re allowed to use the images we use and that posts are grammatical and whatnot, because again, the site is supposed to be a collection of divergent voices.

    But then once you have a style guide, SOMEONE has to enforce it. Which meant that we needed editors. Tom was City Captain at our old site, so by mutual agreement, he continues on in that role at WLDC. Don was co-captain with him, and he maintains that role, again by mutual agreement. When group discussion needs to be brought to a close and a decision be made incorporating the feedback, it’s usually them, but always in accordance with the will of the group. Ben Rome and I are “editorial coordinators,” which basically means we are project managers. We keep track of the Features calendar. We monitor the site for broken stuff and fix it. We wrangle new contributors. We enforce the style guide. But again, all of this is done as the agreed-upon representatives of the group. The group sets the policy, and then delegates the job of enforcing it to the “editorial staff.”

    When Tom pulled the post last month, he did so after extensive consultation with anyone from WLDC he could get hold of (which, due to the late hour on a Sunday night, was not many) as well as some other people who are trusted and known to the group. His job as “editor” really just means he has to figure out what the group wants, and do THAT. He took responsibility for it as Editor, not because his word is law, but because he had been able to confer with so few people about it, and because he wanted to put a face on the decision so it wouldn’t be like the post just mysteriously disappeared.

    As for comments, we have an internal policy that basically goes: WLDC authors are also WLDC readers, and should therefore feel free to comment on anything they like. As we do happen to be friends, that often means that we agree with each other in the comments and disagree with someone else. We’re compatible people; it’s why we’ve come together this way. But it happens almost as frequently that we disagree. And when that happens, we disagree with each other in the comments as well.

  31. And now for something COMPLETELY different…

    Not that I’m bitter or anything (seriously, I swear), but I did pay a teensy bit of attention to the Best DJ category, for obvious reasons, and having been a runner up last year, I thought there might be a chance – popularity contest or not… Honestly, I’ve never heard of any of the 3 people mentioned. In looking at them online, I had a hard time figuring out if they even LIVE in DC…

    AAAAAANYWAY – back to the FF/integrity/critique discussion… (heart you all, btw…)

  32. right??!! everyone loves positive recognition.

    and, whoa…what a mighty spark…there’s a lot of protesting going on, but i honestly can’t get bogged down in all the behind the scenes politics of WLDC.

    Katie T, i’m dropping you a line and you can totally make a reservation under a fake name to prove me wrong.

    cheers, and wow – what does everybody actually do for a living? I WISH i had that much time to blogalot.