We had just been seated in the dining room of a new restaurant in Tacoma a week ago.
I told my dining companions it was my next-to-last restaurant review closing out my 21-year career as a restaurant critic and food editor for two daily newspapers.
“Nine out of 10 stories in the paper I read are yours,” my dining partner said.
He’s a journalist, and we always tell each other that for an ego stroke, even when it’s not true.
What he said next made me believe him.
He said my stories are the ones everyone wants to read because the topic of food is so universal. He’s right. In these polarizing times, the food and dining section is the communal table where we can find unity in carnitas, bibimbap and which restaurant really grills the best steak in Tacoma.
It’s been an honor to participate in the community conversation about food and dining in Pierce County for 15 years of that career.
My favorite colleague, Craig Sailor, who was my work partner for many years leading this paper’s former features team, likes to say that when you start working at The News Tribune, you’re issued a bucket. Over time, the company fills your bucket with pebbles representing your duties and responsibilities and you toss in a bunch of pebbles of your own.
When you can no longer carry around that bucket, it’s time to go.
For me, it’s time to put down that bucket.
Like a lot of people who hit their mid-career point, I started exploring jobs I thought I’d be good at. It turns out there are a lot of journalists who have found work outside newspapers. I have, as well. I won’t be a journalist anymore, but I’ll still do some storytelling.
My hope is that my colleagues here get to continue doing their own storytelling.
It’s terrifying that newspapers are closing all over the country, which is why I ask you to please continue subscribing. I know I will. The people at this paper are the smartest, hardest working superstars I’ve ever encountered, and they care deeply about this community. They deserve your support. Even Matt Driscoll.
I’ll miss my colleagues who love my wicked burns (especially you, Driscoll).
Thank you to every restaurant owner and chef who had to do “the Sue Kidd interview,” as one restaurant owner recently called it. I know I ask a lot of questions. Asking lots of questions makes a reporter a better writer. Thank you for trusting me with your answers and your stories.
There’s one last pitch I’ll make.
My advice to readers consistently has been that we should be more deliberate in our criticism of restaurants. The lure of the angry Yelp review is easy when a restaurant fails you. Thinking critically about restaurants and paying a return visit is tougher.
I follow the professional standards established by the Association of Food Journalists, and I shared those guidelines often with readers. Readers probably noticed the tagline I wrote on my first-bite reports: I avoid criticism of food and service during a restaurant’s first 30 days. So should you.
Food and service can wildly shift during opening weeks. Would you judge the Mariners season by the first game of the season? Yeah, I thought not. We know better. Please do the same with restaurants.
My advice: Always go back a second time. Too many readers visit a restaurant once, try one or two dishes, then email me to complain mercilessly and say, “You got it wrong.”
Well, that’s always debatable. Maybe I did get it wrong. However, what you should know is that I rarely penned a review based on a solo visit. If I wrote my reviews based off a solo visit, what I wrote all those years would have read a whole lot differently.
I realize my job came with an expense account (thanks, Uncle News Tribune!), but if you are on a tight budget, go for happy hour, look for the discounted specials, go with friends and share plates. You just have to be willing to do the investigation.
If I’ve taught you anything, I hope it’s that strip malls hold the region’s dining gems.
Skip that chain drive-thru and pay a visit to that Lakewood strip mall with the best Korean bibimbap.
Head to East 72nd Street in Tacoma to visit one of the five taquerias along a one-mile stretch from South Park Avenue to Portland Avenue East.
The next time you pass that little hole-in-the-wall you remember I wrote up, don’t skip it. Go inside. Eat something. Talk about food with the owner or chef.
What better way to connect with one another than through a conversation about food?
Thanks for reading me. I couldn’t have done all this without you.