Dining Out

Dining Out

Dining Out - Awards

1999 James Beard Book Award Finalist
1999 IACP Cookbook Award Finalist
1998 Gourmand World Cookbook Award

Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs and Restaurateurs

by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
Photography by Michael Donnelly

(John Wiley & Sons; 1998)

“DINING OUT is an extremely creative and entertaining work.
I was really pleased to find out that some of my ideas had been useful in its conception.”

—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity and Flow

DINING OUT is the first book to demystify the clandestine process of restaurant criticism, and to unlock the secrets of a great restaurant experience.  And yes — that’s former New York Timesrestaurant critic Ruth Reichl who appears incognito on DINING OUT’s cover, her face shielded by the brim of her black hat.  DINING OUT shares her trials and tribulations as a restaurant critic, along with those of other leading critics, from Gourmet‘s Jonathan Gold to New York magazine’s Gael Greene to The Washington Post‘s Phyllis Richman and Tom Sietsema to Chicago‘s Dennis Ray Wheaton.

DINING OUT was selected as a Finalist for the two most prestigious awards in American culinary literature: the 1999 James Beard Book Award and the 1999 IACP/Julia Child Cookbook Award.  It was also honored as one of the world’s best books on gastronomy of 1998 at the Salon International du Livre Gourmand (World Cookbook Fair) held in Perigueux, France.

[To read the first chapter of DINING OUT, visit The New York Times website.]

“If you were ever curious about the practice of reviewing restaurants, here’s just the book for you. DINING OUT: Secrets From America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs explores in great, readable detail the sometimes friendly, sometimes strained and always symbiotic relationship dining critics share with restaurant people. Husband-and-wife authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page interviewed hundreds of industry leaders on both sides of the fence.”


“The fascinating new book DINING OUT gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the world of restaurants and restaurant criticism.  So who better to go to for advice on making a success of a Valentine’s Day dinner out than the book’s husband-and-wife co-authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page?”


“Dornenburg and Page undertook extensive research including interviews with 62 critics, chefs and restaurateurs to produce a labor of love.  Through the authors’ discriminating senses, readers and foodies alike learn the whos, whats, whys and hows of criticism and how to be a discerning diner.”


“Book Affords Insider View of Dining Out:  MORE THAN 20 years ago, a boy and his dad sat down to lunch at the old Adobe restaurant in downtown Concord. It was just the two of them; the meal was a reward the boy had negotiated for getting good grades in school.  Andrew Dornenburg, who was that boy, thinks that his fascination with restaurants may date back to those days….”


“A good source to the secrets of dining out:  DINING OUT: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurants is the first book I have ever covered that contains not one single recipe. Yet, this book holds the potential for making your future dining experiences exceptional and may help you get what you want on your plate.”


“Job Often Hard to Swallow, Food Critics Tell Authors:  Ever think you’d like to be a food critic? After all, how difficult could the job be, eating free meals day after day? Trying Japanese then German cuisine, digging into a hearty steak dinner, sampling Vietnamese delicacies, exploring the world of sushi, moving on to a big Moroccan feast and wrapping it up with spicy Indian cuisine could only be a dream job, right? Better reach for the antacid, because you’re in for a few surprises in the world of reviewing restaurants.”


“A great new book.”


“Anybody who has ever dreamed of joining a restaurant critic’s inner circle will thoroughly enjoy this gossipy, insider’s view….Thanks to the unexpectedly dramatic lives of the characters involved, the pages buzz with often surprising tension, humor, and emotion.”

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (lead starred review)

THE BAY AREA’S TOP 10 COOKBOOKS OF THE WEEK: DINING OUT appeared weekly on this bestseller list from Oct. 28th – Dec. 9th, 1998.


PG2diningoutsfexaminer1998 Excerpt from DINING OUT

“About a dozen new restaurants opened in the Twin Cities in the past six months, keeping local reviewers busy. But who reviews the reviewers? If you want to learn what makes restaurant critics tick and how they form their judgments, there’s a wonderful new book to help. DINING OUT: Secrets From America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, covers some of the brightest names in the business….There is something on every page to delight, ponder or file for future use. In the end, Soltner has perhaps the most notable words of wisdom: ‘The verdict of a restaurant critic is an opinion and only an opinion. If you have a race, there is a finish line, and the first one who crosses the line wins. But in judging restaurants, there is no line…most restaurant reviews rely only on the subjective judgment of human beings.'”



—Bonnie Boots, critic, TAMPA BAY WEEKLY PLANET

“Finally, the best insider’s view of our business for the discerning restaurant goer. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page do a wonderful job of explaining the behind-the-scenes side of professional cooking. As [New York Times restaurant critic] Ruth Reichl would say, ‘* * * *!’”

—Daniel Boulud

“Time was that restaurant reviews consisted of items copied from celebrity columns, mounted in flyspecked frames next to the entrance. This volume is evidence that today’s restaurant critics have taken on new gravitas. William Rice of the Chicago Tribune remarks: ‘Restaurant reviewing seems to me, without question, the least understood, the least researched, and the most difficult of the critical arts.’ Not a few of those represented herein think of themselves not as mere eaters but as sociologists, chronicling the burgeoning role of food and restaurants in American culture.”


“This is no fair it took me a lifetime to learn all these insights into the restaurant business!  Well done!”

—Ella Brennan, owner, Commander’s Palace (New Orleans)

DINING OUT leads readers through the often temperamental world of the restaurant business. With a Rashomon-like perspective, Dornenburg and Page interview reviewers, chefs and the managerial minds who make the business buzz. Each side of the kitchen door gets their say, contributing to a fascinating and accurate depiction of what the restaurant trade is all about. Anyone who’s ever been on the inside of the biz, as well as anyone who’s ever penned a review, is bound to get a kick out of this one.”

—Rebecca Cook, TUCSON WEEKLY

“Staff Favorites: DINING OUT: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs, by Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page.”

—Cooking School of the Rockies (Boulder, Colorado)

“…By the way, for anyone interested in learning more about restaurant criticism and how other critics approach this job, I highly recommend borrowing or buying a copy of DINING OUT: Secrets From America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. And, yes, I’m featured in the book.”


“Although I didn’t have a reservation, the restaurant passed my first test, which Andre Soltner, former chef-owner of New York City’s famed Lutece, stated in the 1998 book DINING OUT: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs and Restaurateurs: ‘ If you walk into a restaurant and are not greeted well, it’s already over.'”

—Albert Eisele, THE HILL: The Newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress

DINING OUT promises to deliver the dish on the restaurant world circa 1998.  ‘Food has become our national obsession,’ the authors write, and thanks to the proliferating number of city magazines, Web sites, Zagat guides and grungy zines, there’s no escaping restaurant criticism everywhere you turn, somebody’s pushing a steaming bowl of adjectives in your face. (Steve Forbes tosses in a few reviews at the close of his monthly columns; Consumer Reports now rates chain restaurants.) But as DINING OUT makes clear, a handful of critics usually those at major daily newspapers continue to wield an almost monopolistic power. ‘The King of Spain is waiting in the bar,’ Le Cirque owner Maccioni is reported to have said to Times critic Reichl, ‘but your table is ready.’…Enjoyable…The pair bring fresh ingredients to the table.

—Dwight Garner, SALON.COM

“What makes a restaurant great? Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page are fascinated by the creative culinary process. In their previous books, the pair has profiled the brightest minds in America’s kitchens. DINING OUT talks with critics, restaurateurs and chefs about what it takes to make a restaurant superior…This book is a thorough, behind-the-scenes look at America’s dining obsession.”


DINING OUT takes a look behind the restaurant scene to discover what makes a dining experience memorable and what criteria critics use when judging a restaurant.”

—Susan Crenshaw and Michael Young, Great Day America on PAX-TV

DINING OUT takes you behind the scenes as restaurant critics and chefs strive to satisfy their clientele.  These two groups, of course, have different masters.  This creates a lively tension, played to the hilt by the co-authors with more than 60 interviews of foodie celebrities…This book is worth the price to become a wiser diner and review reader.”

—Deborah Grossman, THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE

“’It used to be the armchair traveler; now you have armchair diners,’ said Andrew Dornenburg, a chef turned award-winning author. ‘You get this vicarious pleasure from reading good writers.’…Becoming a food writer doesn’t require the same rigid qualifications that it takes to become a doctor or airline pilot. ‘People think everybody eats three times a day, so everybody is an expert,’ said Karen Page, a food writer based in New York. But the best critics approach it as a serious discipline that takes knowledge and passion, rather than getting caught up in the perks and power the position brings, she said. ‘First and foremost is loving food,’ Page said. Page and her husband, Dornenburg, have written a series of acclaimed books that examine what it takes to achieve success in different aspects of the restaurant business. On their Web site, they blog about restaurant experiences and dining news. In DINING OUT (Wiley, 1998), considered a modern-day primer for restaurant critics, they detail what being a good critic entails, from the perspective of both chefs and writers. Having worked in a restaurant or knowing how to cook are important, Dornenburg said. ‘A lot of it is being able to identify certain ingredients and being accurate in reporting,’ Page said. ‘It’s an appreciation and compassion for what a restaurant goes through. I think restaurant critics who don’t have that are at a real disadvantage and do readers a real disservice.’”

—Maria C. Hunt, restaurant critic, San Diego Union Tribune (May 31, 2006)

“Do I have a book for you. If you’re a reader of The Dish, you’re keen on the ins and outs of local and national restaurant criticism. And no book addresses the subject with more detail, insight and clarity than DINING OUT by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. The tome, which feels like a textbook for a cooking school, has been out since 1998 — but I just read it. It’s a fascinating inside look at the dining experience through the eyes of both the critic and the restaurateur. Here are some quotes to give you a taste: ‘Eating out is as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. And, after a meal, you usually don’t have to apologize.’ Merrill Shindler, LA Zagat. ‘Endurance and a strong stomach are, without doubt, extremely important. This isn’t an easy job. Everybody loves it the first couple of times until they realize what they’ve got to taste, and that they’ve got to keep thinking about it, and that they can’t go back to that one terrific restaurant because they’ve got to move on to the next one. It’s demanding, difficult work, and the glamour of it ebbs very fast when you consider how few really good restaurants there are.” William Rice, Chicago Tribune. ‘Anonymity is important for reception and service. But what can they do to the cooking? If they’re bad cooks with bad produce, there’s not much they can do about it.’ Henri Gault, Gault-Millau. ‘It is nearly impossible to be truly anonymous, but I think it’s really worth trying. It can’t change the food much, but it can change the experience pretty substantially. And I think that experience is a big part of going out.’ Ruth Reichl, New York Times. ‘The king of Spain is waiting in the bar, but your table is ready.’ Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni to Ruth Reichl. ‘People are kidding themselves if they think they can really maintain anonymity.’ John Mariani, Esquire. ‘I would prefer to have my privacy. I’m not there to converse with the restaurateur; I’m there to do my own job, and to bring my own companions along. I don’t need another one.’ Phyllis Richman, The Washington Post. ‘The first requirement of restaurant criticism is the ability to transcend personal taste. ‘I don’t like it’ is not a professional response and, after 20 years, I have no trouble judging food on its merits. I can easily assess dishes I wouldn’t dream of ordering if I were not on the job. But ‘I like it’ is not appropriate either, and that one is more difficult. After all these years, I still find it hard to control my enthusiasm when I come across food that is very much to my taste.’ Ruth Reichl, New York Times. ‘I just wish the public would understand that there are bad reviewers as well as bad reviews.’ Norman Van Aken, Norman’s restaurant. “I hate it when people write negative things about me, but thank God they’re writing about me in the first place. Thank God restaurants today are thought to be important enough to occupy space in newspapers and magazines.’ Chris Schlesinger, East Coast Grill. ‘This has the perception of a glamour job. People say, ‘Oh, you get to go to all the glamorous places!’ And I tell them that I get to go to all the crappy ones too — three times!’ Penelope Corcoran, The Arizona Republic. New Post restaurant critic Bill St. John is the only Colorado critic interviewed in the book.”


“An inside look at restaurant reviewing….These critics mouth of about working undercover (they often carry phony ID and credit cards); eating off the beaten path (have you eaten pig uterus? Jonathan Gold has); food poisoning (‘I had campylobacter,’ says Penelope Corcoran. ‘It was truly a work-related injury, but it wasn’t seen that way’); and other hazards of the trade….Not just a collection of gripes and grudges, DINING OUT is full of insights that could help improve the restaurant experience for diners and restaurant staffers alike.”


“This is your entree into the tense, bitchy world of the committed ‘foodie’…Read all of Dornenburg and Page’s obsessive report on the friction between America’s restaurant biz and its press and you risk a pleasant but debilitating food coma. These are tough times, with truffle oil seeping into the hinterlands and the star system falling in to entropy. At least they haven’t resorted to….letter grades.  A-.”


“…Meanwhile, the town was atwitter this week when word began circulating that Reichl’s picture appeared in an ad from Marymount Manhattan College’s continuing ed department, touting an appearance by the phantasmic foodie there next Wednesday. But the pic is apparently the same one that appears on the cover of a new book about restaurant reviewers, DINING OUT, which shows Reichl with her face obscured under a hat.

—Richard Johnson, Page Six, THE NEW YORK POST

“John Mariani, commenting on the culinary capabilities of American cities in the book DINING OUT (Dornenburg and Page), refers to New York as ‘unquestionably the restaurant capital,’ Seattle as ‘interesting,’ and San Francisco as ‘a little pompous about their food,’ which is ‘not such a bad thing.’ Chicago is ‘a great, great restaurant town,’ Los Angeles ‘has the size but I don’t think it has the power anymore,’ and Boston ‘seems to have gotten a new lease on life.’ What does Mariani have to say about Miami’s dining credentials? Just one word: ‘Sunk’.”

—Lee Klein, restaurant critic, MIAMI NEW TIMES

“Dear Andrew and Karen, Just received an enews[letter] from you, and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write to you for some time to tell you how much I enjoyed, and still refer to, your book DINING OUT…. Keep up the good writing.”

—Lee Klein, restaurant critic, MIAMI NEW TIMES (July 2005)

An intriguing and well-documented in-depth view of the world of dining as seen from the contrasting perspectives of those of us who professionally critique restaurants and those who create the cuisine and operate the restaurants where it all takes place.  Fascinating!”

—Steve Knight, host of Steve Knight’s Broadcast Bistro on KIEV Radio (Los Angeles)

“Americans now spend about $336 billion each year nearly half of their food dollars away from home. U.S. News‘s Linda Kulman spoke with Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, authors of DINING OUT: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs to get the latest dish on restaurants. What tricks do critics use to tell how good a kitchen is?”


DINING OUT is a fascinating book, well-researched and full of insights into the food world.”


“A good source to the secrets of dining out: DINING OUT: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurants by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page is the first book I have ever covered that contains not one single recipe. Yet, this book holds the potential for making your future dining experiences exceptional and may help you get what you want on your plate.”


“Once [Ruth Reichl] was recognized but didn’t know it until much later, when the incident was published in the book DINING OUT….”


DINING OUT is arranged somewhat like a meal, with a host of tasty appendixes — covering wine, cheese, lists of the critics’ favorite restaurants, and more — serving as the dessert….This book delivers the goods as promised.”


“A great book.”

—Pat Miller, The Gabby Gourmet on KHOW-AM (Denver)

“A delicious look at the taste makers themselves.  DINING OUT shows us that the love of food leads some people to the kitchen and others to the pen, and that ultimately chefs and critics alike are all found on the same page under ‘P’ for ‘passion.'”

—Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger

DINING OUT is both entertaining and educational, and can make your restaurant experience the same.  The sommeliers’ comments add to the pleasure.”

—Robert Mondavi

“An intriguing foray into the secret and powerful world of restaurant criticism.”

—Nancy Novogrod, TRAVEL & LEISURE

The first scholarly treatise on restaurant criticism.  This book will enrich and enlighten anyone with an interest in dining out.”

—Patrick O’Connell, The Inn at Little Washington (Washington, VA)

“[In] the recently published DINING OUTPage says that some critics ‘have tried to opt out…and review only the food…In this era, that’s a cop-out. Any critic can look at any dish and say that is the best or the worst…but what it really gets down to is, Does the restaurant have heart? Does the staff care?'”

—Mietta O’Donnell, THE HERALD SUN (Melbourne, Australia)

“If you enjoy dining out, you are invariably influenced by reviews. Finally, here is a perfect look at how they’re created. This book is a gem.”

—Ronn Owens, radio host, KGO-AM/San Francisco

“FoodTalk with Lisa Cole:  Q.  What are you currently reading? A.  DINING OUT by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (Wiley, 343 pages, $29.95). It examines the food industry from three viewpoints: Critics, chefs and restaurateurs.”


“It’s such a terrific book….I’m proud to be on the cover.”

—Ruth Reichl

DINING OUT is a fascinating story, one that absolutely needed to be written. I found this book to be a compelling, revealing and utterly entertaining look at what the critics, and those they criticize, had to say.”

—Michael Romano, Union Square Cafe

“Ah, the life of the food critic! Anyone who enjoys a good meal and a fine wine has probably, at one time or another, fantasized about how wonderful it would be to do something one loves, namely eat, and get paid for it, too. But as Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page reveal in their new book DINING OUT, it’s not all truffles and champagne. Critics eat out at least nine times a week, often wear peculiar disguises to maintain anonymity, and must endure bad service, undercooked food and ugly decors. They will be our guests to dish the dirt on a seemingly glamorous lifestyle that can just as easily give a bad case of indigestion as a five-star taste of heaven.”

—Milt Rosenberg, Extension 720 – WGN Radio

DINING OUT is a fascinating collage, a study of the profession of restaurant criticism from the vantage point of scores of critics and the chefs those critics review, and criticism’s effect on the booming restaurant business   ultimately, a book-length panel discussion on cuisine’s growing prominence in our culture…Offering insider’s knowledge and illuminating insights from some of the country’s best chefs and food critics, Dornenburg and Page have brought a generous curiosity and balance to a subject of compulsive interest to a growing number of people.”


“Not unlike theater, restaurants have been made or destroyed by the words of a critic. DINING OUT goes beyond the words to explore the underlying logic of the restaurant critic. It is an invaluable addition to the library of those who like to dine out.”

—Leonard Schlesinger, professor, Harvard Business School

“Chef Andrew Dornenburg and author Karen Page have done it again!  Wonderfully and intelligently written, DINING OUT takes away the fear, misunderstanding, and mystery of being reviewed and makes us see that restaurant critics are also people with heart.  I enjoyed this book immensely.”

—Dieter Schorner, professor, The Culinary Institute of America

“Some reviewers also believe they’re critiquing ‘art,’ making the chef into some sort of artist. I don’t think so. (Neither, incidentally, do the courts you can’t copyright a dish.) Sure, food can be artfully prepared. But a chef who masterfully puts together a wonderful meal is no different from a skilled carpenter or tailor. Cooking is a craft, not an art. It requires knowledge, diligence, originality and pride in one’s work. But it’s not a soul-wrenching statement on the human condition. There are no starving chefs, plotting meals in garrets. You want art? Go to a museum. You want artsy musings on the art of restaurant criticism? Read DINING OUT.”


DINING OUT by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page gives you the lowdown on critics: how they got started, what they look for, etc. It is the single best book on the field.”

—Tom Sietsema, THE WASHINGTON POST (June 11, 2003)

“We love your book [DINING OUT]. It really is an essential volume, a keeper that we think is going to get more interesting as time passes. Nicely produced, too! Congratulations on a job very well done.”

—Michael and Jane Stern

“A must-read! DINING OUT is an intelligent and courageous exploration of the restaurant review process. Understanding the minds of some of America’s most powerful restaurant critics will no doubt improve the quality, performance, and design of restaurants and give diners a good understanding of how restaurants strive for excellence. Michael Donnelly’s photographs capture brilliantly the people and the moments that make restaurants special.”

—Adam Tihany, designer and restaurateur

“Fascinating…DINING OUT takes the reader through the world of restaurants and critics, through the changing temperament of the American palate and the evolving relationship between chefs and restaurant criticism. It explores a variety of interesting topics, such as the beginnings of a culinary critical establishment in Europe and in the U.S. and the ‘sociology’ of the food critic. Through interviews with the country’s leading dining critics, such as Ruth Reichl of The New York Times (who models for the book’s cover), the authors help demystify the dining review.”

—Teri Tynes, THE FREE TIMES (Columbia, SC)

“The Guiness Book of World Records will now be forced to be the second most hotly-debated book in the nation’s bars and cafes at least the ones habituated by the world’s foodies.  I want to thank Andrew and Karen for lifting the velvet rope and letting us all mix it up a little.”

—Norman Van Aken

“Karen and Andrew have offered the reader a unique opportunity to sit at the critic’s table. Through impeccable research and humorous anecdotes, the secretive work of a food writer is revealed. And for the chef and restaurateur, the book is full of first-hand tips, straight from the mouths of the critics themselves.”

—Jean-Georges Vongerichten

“Don’t start this book if you’re hungrythe guide to leading critics’ favorite restaurants across the country is a challenge to start one’s own food odyssey and eat at least one meal in them all!”

—Jeanette S. Wagner, vice chairman, The Estee Lauder Companies Inc.

“[A] wonderful book [that] finally lets us all take Max [McCalman, maitre fromager of Picholine] and his cheese cart home!”

—Wendy Wasserstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright

“Michael Donnelly’s photographs of restaurant life shimmer with elan, bursting on the page in glints and daubs of light and shade.  If you are a connoisseur of fine cuisine and artful photography, you will delight in these pictures.”

—William Wegman, artist and photographer

“A new book, DINING OUT capitalizes on America’s national obsession with food, on chefs’ increased celebrity cache, and on the fascination harbored for how food critics do what they do. DINING OUT is Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page’s third volume in the trilogy that also includes BECOMING A CHEF and CULINARY ARTISTRY. Their new book is a fast-paced and fascinating study of the dining industry, with a primary focus on those who critique it people who, in some cases, have become nearly as famous as those who cook it.”


“Recently, I’ve been thinking about what gifts I’d bequeath to the local food community if it were within my power to grant them anything at all. Here’s what’s in my bag…A copy of DINING OUT for every chef, restaurateur, author, and would-be restaurant reviewer in town. This book is an interesting exploration of the restaurant review process that helps dispel the fear, loathing, and misunderstandings involved. Convinced that a restaurant reviewer whom you’ve never met set out to close your business or that your book was reviewed on the basis of your love life? Read this book and get over yourself.”