Do Cities Need Professional Food Critics

Oh, that Hanna Raskin: the hornet-nest kicking restaurant critic at Seattle Weekly put on her trolling hat today with her blog post, “Professional Food Critics Not Needed in Portland.” Its thesis — that Portland, a city Raskin recently visited for the first time, is “doing just fine without an Anton Ego type issuing culinary decrees” — sparked a discussion about the necessity for restaurant critics in Seattle, Portland, and, sigh,Dallas. (Raskin used to be the Dallas Observer critic and stillbrings the city up. A lot.)

But there is a larger matter at hand, and that’s the question this post raises: do restaurants need professional food critics to thrive? Raskin brings up the case of Portland, which saw several of its prominent food critics laid off last year, but what about other cities? Below, critics and others respond to the issue.

· A commenter who appears to be LA Weekly critic Jonathan Gold piped up in Raskin’s comments, defending the work of former Oregonian critic Karen Brooks’ contributions to the Portland dining scene: “Context is a lot, and careful enthusiasm, and the fact that by [Brooks’] last years at the paper, even people who may have gone out to eat maybe twice a month could rattle off the Oregonian’s last three restaurants of the year. It was an integration between city and critic that the rest of us can only aspire to.”

· Adam Martin for the Atlantic Wire calls would like to point out that the Oregonian does have someone reviewing restaurants, Michael Russel: “The most important part about being a good reviewer isn’t knowing a lot about food or being hyper-critical about restaurants. It’s writing well and descriptively…As for Portland as a city without a proper critic, it looks like disproving that assertion will be up to Michael Russell.”

· And D Mag’s Nancy Nichols pulls no punches in Dallas:”Hannah [sic], you take one trip to Portland and declare ‘Portland appears to have entered the post-professional critic era, and the food scene hasn’t suffered.’ Oh my. I need a Xanax. Writers in Portland were sadly laid off by print publications. Raskin should be next.”

So, what’s the verdict? Do cities need professional critics in order to have a thriving restaurant scene?