As someone who straddles the coinciding worlds of restaurants and food media, I’m very aware of the power of a nicely done iPhone photo. Some of the best press you can receive is a well-lit, in-focus pic of your food or cocktail posted by an enthusiastic diner or writer. Similarly, it’s one of the biggest compliments you can give to a restaurant. Social media might have its downsides, but in the right hands, you can’t deny its validation.

My tune about this guerilla-style photography has changed over the years. I used to scoff at writers who used their phone at dinner as much as their cutlery. It felt disrespectful to the chef and it interrupted the social element of the meal. Not to mention, I started my career in magazine journalism—a world where you laboriously work months ahead in a round robin of copy editors and fact checkers and art directors—and the immediacy of the whole blogosphere took me awhile to accept.

But as they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Today, I’m blog-positive and I truly appreciate the spontaneity of social media. Of course, there are dinners when I wish we could all just put our phones away and look intently into each other’s eyes, but I’d say most people who feel compelled to snap a photo of their food are only trying to show their appreciation for it.

All this social media pondering has brought up a deep and existential question in line with the age-old examination: If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a noise? Similarly, if a restaurant is so dark that no one can post a photo of it, does the restaurant exist?

This occurred to me when Joe and I were in New York on a recent trip. Though I love nothing more than good mood lighting, the restaurants that we went to were dark. At Navy, I felt like I was at one of those “Opaque” dinners. At Estela, I had to deduce from the mouthfeel, not the visual, that we were indeed eating steak tartare. But the most jarring thing was the fact that I couldn’t document one single dinner item. Thus our trip commenced and concluded with barely an Instagram post. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but there was a tiny part of me that felt like our some of our trip was invalidated.

A photo on Yelp of the steak with cardoons at Estela.

A photo on Yelp of the steak with cardoons at Estela.

Of course, I could have posted a pic as enticing as this one that I found on Yelp (I’ve seen more than my share of these, and often by established food writers)—or worse, used a flash. But unless you’ve been invited to a press dinner, such as the one that I attended at Hawker Fare the other night (see photo above of the Zagat writers doing their thing), flashes are generally not socially appropriate.

Chino is pretty dark too and thus it’s crossed my mind that maybe we should just set up a little food photo booth in back. But dimly lit rooms aren’t the only hindrance it turns out. Tacolicious North Beach recently hosted a decadent, and decidedly juicy, roasted crab dinner—the kind that requires a bib to start and warm towels with lemon juice to finish. The modern day, pro-blog me wanted to take a picture to document that beautiful crab. I was dying to show the world how delicious it was. But alas, my hands were too disgusting to even get close to my phone.

So now the question must be modified: If a restaurant is too dark or too crabby, does a restaurant exist? Discuss.


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