Check, please

Reviewer takes her leave with fond memories

Stacee Sledge

Nov 27, 2003 — The time has come for me to pass the pen.

After two years of sampling every style of restaurant our area affords, I'm moving on. Now I can look forward to simply reading the column every Thursday, as opposed to writing it.

It's fitting that I learned of the writing opportunity over a languid lunch.

"I just heard about the perfect job for you!" my friend Julie exclaimed over D'Anna's Café Italiano's delectable pasta.

Julie had accompanied my predecessor, Robin Parks, on many review meals and knew that the columnist was ending her tenure.

I was a full-time freelance writer at the time, but food had not been a subject I'd written about. Home design? Plenty of experience. Business profiles? Done to death.

But food?

I knew a lot about the subject, but I wasn't confident I could adequately apply appropriate adjectives to every devoured dish on a week-by-week basis.

The art of preparing and presenting food had interested me for years, starting with my days at Better Homes & Gardens a decade ago, when I would walk past rows of test kitchens daily. Photo shoots of carefully crafted dishes were fascinating to watch, as high-end cooking gadgets grew exponentially in my house.

I couldn't pass the possibility by, so I put together a portfolio of my published works, dropped it off at The Herald and crossed my fingers. Somehow, I won my editor over with my decorating articles, and she gave me the gig.

At first I was thrilled, and then I was nervous.

Thinking back over the two years of reviews I've written overwhelms me. I sat down to write my first column — showcasing my beloved Calumet — and stared at the blank page, convinced my editor had made a mistake in hiring me. After much struggle, I turned in a piece I thought was passable, but couldn't imagine pulling it off week after week.

Luckily, it got easier over time — and never grew boring. There was always a new restaurant around the corner, or an old favorite that I hadn't yet tried.

Regrets? I've had a few. Most involve restaurants that I didn't get to try.

Earlier this summer, I had my eye on Sadie's Tea For All Seasons, a tea house on Meridian Street that charmed me each time I drove by. I added it to my schedule, but the week I was to go, it closed for renovations. I waited and waited, even adding it to my calendar a couple months later, well after the posted sign said it was set to re-open, but the date came and went. By the time it finally re-opened, my final calendar was already full.

I've also been looking forward to Mannino's move from downtown to Fairhaven for well more than a year. When the remodeling of the new space began, we lived in the neighborhood and watched the changes with anticipation. But a year later, we've moved to another neighborhood, and Mannino's is still in its downtown locale.

When it finally does make the move to charming Fairhaven, I'll be one of the first to make a reservation.

Sadly, I missed reviewing both of these eateries, but I look forward to my successor's take on them, if they land on her schedule at some point.

One person who won't miss my columns is my husband. He loves food and is a voracious (yet frustratingly fit) eater, but even he hit his tolerance point for going out to eat so often — especially since it was increasingly an eatery he wasn't interested in trying. He has his favorites and doesn't like to deviate from them.

A big thanks goes out to him and all the people — friends, family, co-workers — who joined me for review meals, even when the restaurant in question wasn't high on their must-try list.

A casual meal turns into something else entirely when the person you're eating with takes notes on the sly and asks you to wait before you dig in, so she can commit to memory each dish's presentation.

One thing I won't miss? The tab. In the interest of objectivity, I paid for every meal that I wrote about over the course of 100 columns.

Some weeks I only just broke even between what came out of my checking account and what The Herald's payment put back in. But I'd do it all over again without hesitation.

I am going to miss hearing from my readers. I've kept every note you wrote, good and bad, and was shocked to dig through my files yesterday and find nearly 200 e-mails and letters.

The raves far outweigh the razzes, but I appreciate each of you who took the time to share your opinions with me. Thank you for letting me do the same for the past two years.

C. Nicki Krom, a Western Washington University graduate, takes over as Take Five dining columnist next week. E-mail Stacee Sledge at StaceeSledge@hotmail.com.

 

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