Bastille's kitchen

New restaurants almost inevitably have kinks to work out when they first open. That’s why the guidelines for professional restaurant critics say to wait at least a few weeks before visiting. The experience diners have that first week is probably not the same one they’ll have later.

But people want to eat at new restaurants regardless in those exciting first days. A few years ago, curious food-lovers would rely on writeups on forums like eGullet and MouthfulsFood to get an early look at what was working and what was not. And now, for better or worse, those first glances are being broadcast to a larger, viral audience, able to follow the meals even as they’re happening. Like anything else involving social media, it’s a work in progress.

Last night, for instance, was the eagerly-awaited opening of Bastille, a restaurant I haven’t stopped thinking about since a recent tour. Backed by an all-star cast, the Ballard restaurant has the most impressive interior I’ve seen in a Seattle restaurant in years. There are endless careful details — a 45-foot zinc bar, a Parisian metro clock — a lovely rooftop garden designed by Seattle Urban Farm, and a menu from chef Shannon Galusha that fits a big niche of dinnertime cravings, from a French rotisserie (with chickens specially raised for Bastille by an Eastside farm) to a takeout window for felafel.

I wanted to storm the place on opening night — even knowing that neither the food nor the service were likely to be as good as they would be in weeks to come — but when I (anonymously, not that I necessarily have to be these days) called, I was told the place was too packed. So we indulged in Chicky Pub for our date night, but saw a stream of updates through my Twitter feed from people who had scored Bastille tables. And the results? A mix of ups and downs, from various visitors who know the city’s restaurant scene well. A few edited excerpts: “one hour later, no food yet.” “Lamb burger and mussels best at bastille. Fries barely browned.” “French 75 at Bastille out on the patio, v. tasty.” “It was a so-so experience.” “Agree w/you re: chicken (dry) and frites (undercooked/has potential). Peanut butter ice cream was good” ”Loved @bastilleseattle’s octopus salad so far.”

The diners were in no way putting their thoughts forward as a “restaurant review.” They were simply sharing their experiences — and I was glad to tune in. But, as much as I liked having access to their thoughts, having a viral broadcast is so different than consciously seeking out a writeup on a food forum. Tweets show up in search engines, they’re now part of the more or less permanent record of the restaurant, even though I suspect later diners will enjoy their meals more.

Probably, they’ll be outweighed in the weeks to come by the pile of subsequent diners, and their thoughts, and, eventually, the formal reviews. But I do see this as a game-changer for restaurants. What could they do to add perspective? To some degree, the Twitter world itself self-corrects, with plenty of comments and debate about opening night kinks. But I would have liked to see one more person added to the busy Bastille staff for the night, tapping out their own account of the night’s highs and lows, using the restaurant’s own Twitter account to join in the hum of virtual conversation.

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