That’s the elegant level-headedness of Robert Sietsema, the longtime Village Voice food critic who was fired today, per a Gawker report. He’s the guy who writes about restaurants you’ve never heard of, because they don’t have publicists and they’re not listed on UrbanDaddy. Sietsema goes reviewing in parts of the city where yellow cabs don’t fill the streets, where subways aren’t always close by, in neighborhoods you didn’t know existed, and where English isn’t the first language of either the clientele, the waiters or the owners. He was, and still is, one of our most essential critics.
“His relationships with small restaurant owners not only led directly to the creation of the paper’s annual, sold-out “Choice Eats” event, but his written reviews literally changed the economic fortunes of several hundred small business owners throughout the five boroughs over the past two decades and left an indelible mark on the city’s food culture,” Hugh Merwin eloquently writes for New York Magazine’s Grub Street.
It’s important for us food writers and critics to cover the highly-touted new restaurants in Manhattan and cool parts of Brooklyn, because, well, that’s where people are spending their money, and it’s our job to follow and critique that money trail. Of course, every now and then, with re-reviews, we try to lead our readers off the trail by turning a spotlight on a more forgotton venue, or a venue that’s imporoved over the years.
And while Sietsema covered the big important new joints like the rest of us, his dedication to leading us WAY off the beaten path, outside of our Manhattan-Williamsburg-Carroll Gardens comfort zone, is why he’s so necessary. And with our city’s hospitality industry still getting back on its feet in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it’s ever more vital that these small “Sietsema restaurants” (if I can call them that) be given their proper due.
I hope we find him writing again soon. New York City needs Sietsema.
Robert is a treasure, and his being fired by the craven New Times management not only underscores that fact, it puts it in 148-point boldfaced type. That company knows about what New York needs from its media outlets (“Can’t we just post cameraphone-sourced gifs from plays instead of paying the most well-respected theater critic in the city?”) about as well as it knows how to run a digital news operation.