As I forked up my first bite of sashimi rice salad at Logan's Takara Sushi last week, I had a strange realization: This was the first unfamiliar restaurant in a long time that I was visiting without planning to share it with Deseret News readers.
You see, this week's column is my last as restaurant critic for the News. Though I still greatly enjoy the work, the time is right for me to make a change.
A couple of years after I started reviewing restaurants, the movie "Ratatouille" arrived in theaters. It is not only one of my favorite animated movies, but one of my favorite films, period, for its humor, sincerity and unapologetic celebration of excellence.
Of course, I also love that it's about food. And I love the character of restaurant critic Anton Ego, a severe judge who, in the end, is won over by the unconventional ratatouille prepared by the rat chef, Remy.
After a night of soul-searching, Ego writes a review that, in part, contains these words:
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.
"But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
"But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends."
I have tried never to forget, as restaurant owners and chefs have unknowingly offered their work for my judgment, that I might be affecting their livelihood, their dreams, with my criticism.
But even more than that, I have kept in mind the diners sitting around me at each restaurant, and the people driving by wondering if the place is worth a stop. To do right by them while being fair to the places I visit has been my primary goal.
But as time has gone by, I also have become a friend of the new, and that is something that will not change. What a joy it has been to see the passion and enthusiasm of the owners and workers at a just-opened restaurant. What fun I have had eating charcuterie, octopus salad, Moroccan bastilla and burgers of every description.
And what a privilege it has been sharing it with you. Thank you for your reactions, both positive and negative, to my reviews. Thank you for your recommendations, which have been the lifeblood of my efforts.
And thank you for your patience as I ask you, once more, never to forget that the new needs friends. Rather than visiting the same familiar place next time you go out, why not try someplace new?
I promise you'll find yourself as rewarded as I was eating that sashimi rice salad, an invigorating blend of varied textures and clean, strong flavors. Guess I couldn't resist one last mini-review, but I'm so glad I tried that.
There's a delicious world of discovery out there waiting for all of us who summon the courage to leave behind what's comfortable and step, even a little, into the unknown. I'm doing that now, and it sure is anxious, and even a little sad.
But I can tell already that, as I move ahead pursuing different dreams, I'll be saying someday — no matter how it turns out — "I'm so glad I tried that."