Spicegirldc has just moved back to town and wants to know where to get the best Thai food in the Washington area. Monica is in search of a good steak. On the other side of the country, in the Pacific Northwest forum, they're in search of a punk rock butcher. But that's just one very small part of eGullet.com, which is so much more than a typical search engine for restaurants.

"It's about food and cooking and ideas and issues and debates and preferences and fighting to raise awareness about all things culinary -- and often disagreeing passionately and cogently about them," says Steve Klc, a local pastry chef whose creations appear at Zatinya and Cafe Atlantico among other places and who is the coordinator of the Web site for pastry and baking topics.

Founded by Jason Perlow, a computer expert with a love of food, and food writer Steven Shaw (known on the site as Fat Guy), eGullet.com is a world of food, adventure and opinion, opinion, opinion. Its regulars read voraciously and carefully; they're supportive, curious and not shy about taking a couple of shots at an overrated chef or the latest celebrity cookbook.

The site has expert moderators around the world, open-minded authorities who conduct forums and encourage discussion. The site conducts Q&A sessions with provocative authors; provides plenty of opportunity for visitors to dispute the reviews of restaurant critics and catch errors made by food journalists; and showcases both the vast and arcane knowledge of its regulars.

"It isn't just that people are opinionated on eGullet," says Klc. "But they are encouraged to be opinionated by site philosophy -- by our user agreement. Their comments or posts or thoughts are not censored or deleted when they are writing about food topics -- even if they openly disagree with the moderator. We've had chefs and writers log on to the boards to defend themselves."

Last month the site was redesigned and now offers a webzine called The Daily Gullet -- where feature stories, reviews and editorials appear in a traditional magazine format, with the hope that this new look will incite even more discussion.

-- Jeanne McManus

Tom Sietsema's Weekly Dish column will resume next week.