The Curious Case of Esquire's John Mariani

Besides Frank Bruni handing in his three-months' notice, there was another big story this week, and it took place in Chicago. A quick recap: Esquire restaurant writer John Mariani spent a few days in the city last week, which prompted such an outpouring of disgruntlement over Mariani's comportment (he doesn't dine anonymously, and the general feeling is that he'll give a favorable writeup to the restaurants that treat him with the most deference) that MenuPages Chicago editor Helen Rosner* was inspired to aggregate current complaints (and a handful of past ones) together in a post that answers the question Why Does Everyone Hate John Mariani?.

The next day, an editor from Esquire came to Mariani's defense, and then yesterday Mariani himself issued a point-by-point response that MenuPages reprinted in full. (We loved the line, "Bloggish exaggerations aside, the assertions on are so at odds with the truth that I need to de-mythologize them here." Good fun reading!)

While the back-and-forth between New Media and Old Media is a case study in itself (note how Mariani's editor says "in general I think blogs, yours included, have been great for the food world" while Mariani himself rails on "blogs" as the journalistic Wild West, and makes a Dick Cheney reference), we're particularly tickled by the comments that have shown up on the first two posts in the saga.

Clocking in with more than 20 responses so far, MenuPages's original rundown of complaints is followed by a remarkable who's-who of sucking up to Mariani, from Chicago chef Graham Elliot Bowles (whose restaurant was visited by Mariani on this most recent Windy City visit) to "notorious" Las Vegas restaurant critic John Curtas to Chicago PR queen Janet Isabelli. They're all pooh-poohing the opinions and allegations rounded up in the post, telling their version of the story as a Mariani who is gracious and brilliant and, of course, check-paying.

That might be the case (Mariani's defense of himself definitely helps us believe that he's basically a good guy at heart) but an anonymous commenter did raise an important point: "Also not mentioned is the fact that a writer is dining with publicists. That's straight up unethical and full of bias. Not only that, but one wonders about pay for play. Jen Galdes [who left a comment defending Mariani] would love business from graham elliot or the Bristol, you don't think mariani's doing her some favor by saying look who brought me in, you should hire her."

So far all the defenses of Mariani (his own, included) have focused more on dismissing his lack of anonymity and reinforcing the fact that he (or at least Esquire) pays the check at the end of the night. But no one's addressing the odd fact of a "freelance restaurant correspondent" having dinner with a restaurant PR manager. Or Mariani's curious habit of declaring a restaurant one of the "20 Best in America" in the pages of a well-read magazine based on having eaten just one meal there. Either way, the three posts and their comments are a surprisingly candid chronicle of a dinosaur — and an industry — in decline.

*Who, disclaimer, you might have noticed is also Eat Me Daily's Books Editor, and who politely declined to comment for this post.

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