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Saying Farewell to Naomi Wise

There are some food writers in town that I’ve had numerous lengthy conversations with. Despite those interactions, I really have no idea who they are, what they’re about or what they really think about anything. Yet, although I never met her, I always felt like I knew Naomi Wise.

One of San Diego’s longest-tenured restaurant critics, she salt-and-peppered her reviews with talk of her personal experiences. Often, such references were made to justify her judgments or bolster her foodie cred. I appreciated the fact she’d tell you she’d had a classic dish in its region of origin before bashing a subpar version of it being served up in La Mesa. More than that, I respected the fact that she’d make the negative comment in the first place.

We live in a day and age where there is little, if anything, to be gained by being anything but positive in print. Print media is struggling to survive as online information outlets eat up informational market share. Advertising dollars are harder to come by. As such, offending any businesses—read, potential advertisers—can have serious consequences.

Despite that, Wise never pulled punches and I commend her for that just as I applaud San Diego Reader editors for not siphoning the poison from her inkwell. Critics need to be critical. If they’re not, then they’re no good to anybody. The fact is, in the restaurant biz—as with any industry or medium—there are standouts and underperformers, and you can’t appreciate the top tier without understanding the dregs of the bunch.

Looking back on Wise’s hundreds of reviews reveals a level of consistency. She liked what she liked and she outright hated what she hated. I didn’t always agree with her, but at least she was the type of umpire who squeezed the strike zone for every hurler she scrutinized.

There was no critic in town more universally disliked by chefs and more across-the-board adored by pissed off malcontents. What does this mean? Well, likely that she was, to an extent at least, one of the latter. While cantankerousness was easy to detect in her writing, joyousness was not. Secondly, she was not interested in making friends.

She didn’t seek out chefs or congregate with industry elite. Her job was to review restaurants and that’s what she did for a great many years. Over that span, whether readers loved or hated her, agreed with her or thought she was off her banquette, she was always her and a voice unlike any other in San Diego right now. It’s a voice that had its place in the local dining dialog and will be missed.

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La Jolla’s “Street of Dreams”

Curve along the sea cliffs of Lower Hermosa

There are some food writers in town that I’ve had numerous lengthy conversations with. Despite those interactions, I really have no idea who they are, what they’re about or what they really think about anything. Yet, although I never met her, I always felt like I knew Naomi Wise.

One of San Diego’s longest-tenured restaurant critics, she salt-and-peppered her reviews with talk of her personal experiences. Often, such references were made to justify her judgments or bolster her foodie cred. I appreciated the fact she’d tell you she’d had a classic dish in its region of origin before bashing a subpar version of it being served up in La Mesa. More than that, I respected the fact that she’d make the negative comment in the first place.

We live in a day and age where there is little, if anything, to be gained by being anything but positive in print. Print media is struggling to survive as online information outlets eat up informational market share. Advertising dollars are harder to come by. As such, offending any businesses—read, potential advertisers—can have serious consequences.

Despite that, Wise never pulled punches and I commend her for that just as I applaud San Diego Reader editors for not siphoning the poison from her inkwell. Critics need to be critical. If they’re not, then they’re no good to anybody. The fact is, in the restaurant biz—as with any industry or medium—there are standouts and underperformers, and you can’t appreciate the top tier without understanding the dregs of the bunch.

Looking back on Wise’s hundreds of reviews reveals a level of consistency. She liked what she liked and she outright hated what she hated. I didn’t always agree with her, but at least she was the type of umpire who squeezed the strike zone for every hurler she scrutinized.

There was no critic in town more universally disliked by chefs and more across-the-board adored by pissed off malcontents. What does this mean? Well, likely that she was, to an extent at least, one of the latter. While cantankerousness was easy to detect in her writing, joyousness was not. Secondly, she was not interested in making friends.

She didn’t seek out chefs or congregate with industry elite. Her job was to review restaurants and that’s what she did for a great many years. Over that span, whether readers loved or hated her, agreed with her or thought she was off her banquette, she was always her and a voice unlike any other in San Diego right now. It’s a voice that had its place in the local dining dialog and will be missed.

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Comments
2

I will really miss her. I have read and respected her reviews since she arrived in town. Although I didn't know her she seemed like a friend. She will always be remembered.

Dec. 18, 2011

At this point in time, as a member of Naomi's Posse, I feel the need to respond to Hernandez's comments. The Posse is putting together a more traditional "obit" to be published later.He got some of her style right, but some of it wrong. He's right about what the real role of a restaurant reviewer ought to be. Naomi fiercely guarded her anonymity. In her opinion, any reviewer who made him/herself known to the restaurants was nothing more than a 'ho looking for favors. The SD restaurant scene is scattered with those. Having been part of her sorties on many occasions, I totally understood the comments, judgents, opinions in her reviews. She had an incredible knowledge-base about cuisines and food. Her articulate wit and sense of humor were cuttting sharp, and unsparing. On the other hand, when she appreciated the food experience, she would (joyfully) rave over the virtues of the chef and the establishment. She was a rare breed indeed, and will be sorely missed.

Dec. 19, 2011

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