HAVING IN RECENT weeks vented my opinions about readers' criticisms of restaurants, I confess it's time to look at readers' criticisms of me. At least some of the milder ones.
Readers often ask why I don't indicate in restaurant reviews whether the place is accessible to the disabled. I admit that would be useful, but I haven't found a way to do it consistently and reliably. I've tried relying on the restaurant to furnish that information along with the hours, credit cards and so forth. But I've heard reports from frustrated wheelchair users who found the information unreliable -- maybe they could get in the front door, but they couldn't get to the back tables or the restrooms, or there was no accessible place to wait for a table.
As for my gathering the information first-hand, that's even more problematic. Since I visit restaurants as any normal diner does -- rather than announcing my visit -- I am not in the position to check out such subtleties as the width of the aisles, the configuration of the men's room or the accessibility of overflow waiting space on crowded evenings.
What it would take to get reliable information, I think, would be for knowledgeable researchers to check out all the facilities in person. It sounds to me like a good project for a volunteer organization or student researchers. And I'd be glad to publish the list or tell readers how to get the list.
A reader suggested I include information about carryout service along with restaurant reviews. In answer to that, I'll tell a story about the old Rive Gauche restaurant. Years ago I was writing about picnics and called several restaurants to ask whether they would prepare a picnic dinner for two. The Rive Gauche mai~tre d'ho~tel sounded enthusiastic about the idea and promised a picnic for a particular time. I showed up, ready to head for the park, only to be embarrassed and disappointed by that same maitre d'. He had changed his mind about preparing a picnic. As he put it, with a witheringly condescending look, "We are not a carryout restaurant."
While many restaurants are clearly carryouts and others definitely are not, some will package food to carry out if persuaded or wheedled, or if the manager is in the right mood. But when another manager is on duty or the manager is feeling harassed, the rules might change. And some restaurants will accommodate familiar customers but not bother for strangers.
So, rather than offer convenient but unreliable information, I prefer to leave it to the diner to call for the up-to-the-moment situation.
Another reader complains that I frequently criticize dishes for being too sweet. True, I do. But, he says, that for him there is no such thing as too sweet, and he figures he's not alone in that preference. So he suggests that I offer a critique of restaurants that are "exemplars of sweetness." A kind of sweet-tooth dining guide.
Not I. The idea of spending six months trying honeyed appetizers, sugary main dishes and achingly rich desserts sounds like a punishment I'd never undertake. Instead, I suggest such readers just save all the reviews where I complain about excess sweetness, and clip them together into their own personalized dining guide.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.