So I was reviewing a restaurant last night, minding my own business, all by myself, taking unobtrusive notes on the little notebook in my lap, revealing nothing about my true identity…when all of a sudden the owner approached my table.

(For the sake of whatever mystery we have left in this town, I shall leave the restaurant unnamed.)

"Hi," the owner said, offering his hand and introducing himself. I said it was nice to meet him and smiled politely. He paused, then blurted: "I talked to you today, didn’t I?"

Blush, stammer, choke. Yes, I had called him that day to casually interview him about his restaurant. No, I hadn’t told him I’d be visiting that night; no restaurant critic worth a dime would tip her hand that way.

Why? Because if a critic’s anonymity is blown, she might as well phone ahead and inform the kitchen to do its very best work that night. A critic’s job is to experience a restaurant the way a civilian would; then write about it honestly.

An unmasked critic is hardly a civilian. And, in light of the newly personal association, might have a rough time writing about a place honestly.

Aaaargh. How did he know it was me?

"Oh, I was told you’d be coming," he said enigmatically. "I have spies."

What? WHAT?!??? Couldn’t be true; nobody knew I was coming. I had made no reservation (if I had it wouldn’t have been under my name). My photograph is nowhere, except for the Mata Hari thing on this blog. I decline all restaurant openings, all press parties. PR people have long stopped courting me. To the best of my knowledge, exactly three restaurateurs in this town know my face: one I used to work with, one I’ve done radio with, and the third the owner of my neighborhood hangout.

OK, now four. Dammit.

If there’s anyone out there with an opinion on this, please share. I’m bummin’.

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