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Critics Put Their Palates on the Line for Reviews

June 15, 1995|JEFF MEYERS | Jeff Meyers is editor of Ventura County Life

They get paid to eat at fancy restaurants?

Say what ?

It's a tough job to dine out several times a week, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, but somebody has to do it.

Week after week, our critical threesome of staff writer Leonard Reed and free-lancers David Goldman and Norm Chandler Fox risk indigestion to assess the quality of food in Ventura County so you, the reader, can spend your restaurant budget wisely.

Our culinary commentators never complain, except about the scarcity of quality restaurants in the county. True, they are often forced to eat bad food and endure incompetent service, but they are occasionally rewarded with a dining experience that goes beyond just stuffing their faces.

This week's Centerpiece allows our critics to spill their guts, so to speak, about their personal favorites, the places where they'd actually spend their own money and send close friends.

"Writing the critic's choice was a way of purging our collective souls--and stomachs--of years of eating and judging, of celebrating and dismissing, of being lauded and vilified," Reed said. "If Katherine Anne Porter said, 'A good man is hard to find,' I'll say, 'A good restaurant is harder to find.' In this piece, we guide our readers to a few good restaurants run by a few good men and women."

And what qualifies our critics to be judge, jury and executioner? "People often ask a critic: How do you know so much about food?" Reed said. "Before I disabuse them of such a grand notion, I tell them this: I eat, read cookbooks, cook at least three nights a week, and eat and eat and eat. Then I quickly cut to the real answer, down and dirty: Going to a restaurant is like going to Dodger Stadium. If you do it enough, you know who knows how to play."

Like our critics, I am on a hunt for the Great County Restaurant. Since moving to Ventura County four years ago, my wife and I have tried just about every popular restaurant in the county, with mixed results.

At one of those elegant east county eateries, my wife asked directions to the ladies' room and the maitre d' told her to "follow her nose." The beef was a little tough, too.

We live in Ventura and eat out about four or five nights a week. We try to stay local but worry about building up a tolerance to chicken-coconut soup at Tipps Thai, so we occasionally head to Santa Barbara and Montecito, both of which enjoy an abundance of excellent restaurants.

And what does it take to create an excellent restaurant? Reed has the answer: "A clean, pleasing environment; a chef of skill, perhaps even talent; a competent, unobtrusive service staff; competitive pricing; and, most challenging of all, night-after-night, vacation-proof consistency."

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