Washington Post Restaurant Critic Replaced by A.I.

Photo:  Washington Post Food Section New Hire?

The rise of artificial intelligence (A.I.) has led some to fear the consequences, one being the fear we won’t be able to tell the difference between things done by a computer and a real person.  Now we have a test case! It looks like the Washington Post tried to replace Tom Sietsema, its chief restaurant critic, with an A.I.-generated review this week.  Luckily, it was easy to spot the A.I. attempt to mimic Sietsema by comparing this week’s review of warhorse Old Ebbitt Grill with a review by Sietsema of industrial-scaled Hamilton from four months ago.

We start with the obvious, the lead photos to the reviews.  This may be an indication that it is the editor and not Sietsema who has been replaced by a computer.

Hamilton Review Lead Photo:

Hamilton Crab Cake

Old Ebbitt Review Lead Photo:

Old Ebbitt Crab Cake

But it is in the format and language of the two pieces where the A.I. shows itself.  Let’s compare some interesting passages from the two reviews:

The Lead – They Do A Lot of Business

Hamilton: “Try the Hamilton, the downtown extravaganza produced by the Clyde’s Restaurant Group and among the most popular dining destinations — in the country. That’s the word from Restaurant Business, whose most recent survey gives the Hamilton its No. 16 spot on a list of the nation’s 100 busiest independent restaurants. (No. 5 is Old Ebbitt Grill, another Clyde’s success story.)”

Old Ebbitt: “To get a sense of how popular Old Ebbitt Grill is, just look at the numbers. Last year, the Victorian-inspired saloon and restaurant across from the Treasury building sold more than $33 million worth of food and drink.”

How big are they? (plus strange metaphor)

Hamilton: “why are so many of its 500 seats spoken for, even midweek? Eager to get off the merry-go-round of what’s new, if only for one column, I booked a bunch of dates with the 37,000-square-foot restaurant.”

Old Ebbitt: “take a look around the 567-seat expanse. The attendants at the host stand are as busy as air traffic controllers on the day before Thanksgiving.”

Mass Appeal? Mass Appeal!

Hamilton: “Count on salads that blow kisses to the season, appetizers that reflect the mass appeal of falafel and sushi, sandwiches that pack in all manner of surf and turf, steaks to pull in carnivores and (housemade) pasta for the noodle crowd.”

Old Ebbitt: “A menu with mass appeal helps. Seafood is a diner’s best bet, but various preparations of oysters, crab and mussels keep company with burgers, chicken fettuccine and roasted cauliflower presented as a main course.”

Did I mention the chowder?

Hamilton: “along comes a creamy, celery-laced clam chowder or an apple-packed fall market salad that goes down like a stroll through an orchard.”

Old Ebbitt:  “I told him the oysters were chewy and wondered where the promised sherry was. He asked, ‘Can I replace it with some clam chowder?’ I didn’t take him up on the invitation, but I appreciated the concern.”

I just love the Clyde’s corporate feel!

Hamilton: “the downtown extravaganza produced by the Clyde’s Restaurant Group and among the most popular dining destinations — in the country…. (No. 5 is Old Ebbitt Grill, another Clyde’s success story.)…A chip off the old block, the Hamilton brims with Clyde’s DNA…The restaurant group’s thorough, two-week training…”

Old Ebbitt: “the owners of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group relocated the Old Ebbitt Grill from 1427 F St. NW to its present location in 1983….Executive chef Sal Ferro, 35, worked at both Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Hamilton, part of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group… a collection of paintings commissioned by the late John Laytham of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group.”

Is every dish a winner?

Hamilton: “The caveat? Not every dish is going to make you wanna shout”

Old Ebbitt: “A restaurant of this size could be forgiven for a slip here and there, and Old Ebbitt Grill occasionally lets a patron down.”

Did you say there is a bar in the back?

Hamilton: “The quietest part of the complex, a onetime Borders bookstore, is the bird-themed Arboretum, waaaaay in the nether reaches of the Hamilton. Passing throngs of diners and multiple bars to reach it one night, I half-considered leaving bread crumbs for some stragglers in my party.”

Old Ebbitt: “Twice in recent months I’ve shown up sans a confirmed table and waded through the huddled masses, yearning to be watered and fed, to Grant’s Bar in the rear of the restaurant. It’s a relative pocket of calm amid the clamor, dressed with 21 (count ’em!) first-come, first-served stools.”

I know these places are mediocre, but Roman Hruska was right.

Hamilton:  “Big is one way to look at the behemoth. So is one-size-fits-all. Sometimes, that’s just what you need, and for those occasions, the Hamilton stands ready to assist.

Old Ebbitt: “It would be easy for the busiest establishment in Washington to rest on its laurels, age being one of them. At this point, however, Old Ebbitt has gone from being a watering hole to being a part of the fabric of Washington. Do you know of a more mouthwatering monument? I didn’t think so.”

Can I think of a more mouthwatering monument?  Not sure what that means. Is it more mouthwatering than the Jefferson, but maybe not the Women’s Titanic Memorial? I guess the Post’s A.I. program still needs to work on pulling the piece together in a coherent way for the closing. Just like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it goes a little off the rails at the end.

If eating a monument doesn’t seem appetizing, we’ve got you covered.  Our site has over 200 recommended restaurants listed in Washington, D.C. – also displayed in map format.  You can also be assured that the the content on this site is 100% human – even if it means more typos.