Most of my work is done under cover. I go into restaurants. I order. I eat. I pay. I leave. I repeat the process a couple of times. Sometimes I wear my Sunday best. Other times, I could model homeless fashions.
I don't tell restaurants in advance that they may be reviewed. I eat first and ask questions later, by telephoning or e-mailing chefs and owners.
Even though my wife has blurted out my name and co-workers have introduced me to their friends in the middle of restaurants -- by both my first and last names, thank you very much -- I enjoy a low profile, even when I'm off the clock.
Only recently, after purchasing nearly 20 bags of food, did I tell the girls at the store where I buy my dogs' kibble what I do for a living. I sure don't tell the nice people who own my favorite coffeehouse what I do.
This turned out to be both enjoyable and uncomfortable last week as the coffehouse couple gossiped with cafe-owning friends (whose place I also enjoy) while I enjoyed espresso (and gossip) a few tables away. I swallowed the gossip with the dregs of my espresso. Unless someone repeats it to me, the gossip's "in the vault," as they say on "Seinfeld."
Which brings me to my point this morning: I recently met a South Sound chef in a hot tub. I was on assignment for a story on hot springs. I wasn't exactly under cover. Actually, we were both in our all-togethers.
She told me the name of her restaurant, her menu, her hours, her location, everything. I didn't tell her I was a restaurant critic, or even a hot springs critic. I told her I'd like to eat at her restaurant, thank you and good night.
We passed each other the next morning as she loaded her car. From the look on her face, I was just another hippie in a sarong.
We both went to Breitenbush Hot Springs for the waters. When I visit her restaurant, it'll be because the food sounds tasty and the location is unique. I'll be more than under cover. I'll be covered up, too.