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"We call it like we see it," Jack Littman-Quinn says of his and his wife's food reviews.
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, May 28, 2014 5 years ago

Food reviewers love to share their meals

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by: Mallory Gnaegy A&E Editor

Jack and Beth Littman-Quinn usually don’t review new restaurants. A week and a half after Villa Toscana Ristorante Italiano opened, they made an exception.

The new Burns Court restaurant hasn’t advertised its opening. It doesn’t yet have a website or a phone number. However, it’s not a new building for restaurants. If you’ve spent time in Sarasota, you’d recognize it as the restaurant with the tented open-air patio, a restaurant that has passed hands (usually Italian) five or six times in the past five years.

When the Littman-Quinns first moved down the block from the building seven years ago, it housed the restaurant Uva Rara — a place they gave two thumbs-up.

The Sarasota-based food reviewers have been doing this for nearly a decade for their website, SRQreviews.com. The Littman-Quinns don’t do it for revenue — it’s solely a service they provide the community and a hobby they enjoy doing together.

They don’t tell restaurants who they are or what they are doing, and they never accept freebies. They’re strict about ethics because they want to be a reputable source for reviews.

On this night, their initial visit to Villa Toscana, they order a bottle of wine and look over the menu to negotiate the two starters they’ll select.

They skip the bruschetta because they aren’t extremely hungry and instead go straight to a salad and starter. Beth picks a cold chickpea, lentil, beet and arugula salad; and Jack goes for the vegetable-medley starter.

As they wait for the food to come out, they discuss their process. The Littman-Quinns use a scale of 1 to 10 to rate restaurants on food, presentation, décor, service and value. As a rule they have to eat at establishments two or three times before they review it. That way, it leaves room for an off-night experience, and they cover a wide range of the menu.

“You never know what’s going to happen just one time,” Beth says.

To keep up with it all, and also partly for pure enjoyment, the couple dines out five to seven times a week — sometimes twice a day. They like to cook on Sundays.

Neither Jack nor Beth has a background in food. The couple met in graduate school at Boston College. A mutual friend introduced them the night of Beth’s 23rd birthday party in 1976 — they were both vegetarians then. They are carnivores now. 

Professionally, Jack worked as a serial entrepreneur, starting five companies, and Beth was a mom. After their two sons and daughter entered the professional workforce, the couple moved to Sarasota and looked for something to do together.

The foodies love to dine out, but realized there wasn’t useful information online when they started to research. With their frequent dining habits, the Littman-Quinns thought they could do a review website. Plus, it was a great way to connect to their new community and meet people.

The conversation pauses as the server comes to take their dinner order. If there’s a shrimp dish on the menu, that’s what Beth usually orders. But this time, she orders red snapper. Jack goes for whatever sounds good at the time — in this case, it’s linguine in white wine sauce.

As the server trails off to the kitchen, Beth apologizes profusely and pulls out her cell phone. She explains that normally she wouldn’t be rude, but her Bruins are playing for the Stanley Cup. The Littman-Quinns love the Bruins.

As the starters arrive, the couple begins the ritual they’ve developed over the past seven years reviewing Sarasota’s food scene. Beth grabs her phone and two portable LED lights to light the food for photos — she has one in each hand. Jack grabs the camera.

After they take a photo to accompany their review, they each use their phones to post photos to social media (they use Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare). It’s a quick process that only takes a couple of minutes. During the meal, Beth takes all the notes about their meal on her phone.

Once they finish snapping photos, they stow the equipment until the next course. They’ve gotten this process down to a science, which helps because they love bringing friends with them to enjoy the experience.

They recently had a great night at Matto Matto Italian Café and Wine Bar. It was stormy, and a chilly 55 degrees. A couple of their friends came in to visit from New York for the weekend, so they decided to head to somewhere close. Usually they like the patio of the café, but the weather prohibited it.

It turns out the weather also scared Sarasotans from going out that evening because their party was the only one there. The servers were glad to have patrons with which to interact. They had a long meal and ordered lots of wine and food. Their party shared a great memory. That’s what it’s all about for the Littman-Quinns — a sense of community and togetherness.

When put on the spot, they talk about their favorite places (you can read all of their suggestions at SRQreviews.com). They rattle off places such as Made, Roast, Selva and State Street. But then they go on, mentioning another handful of places they love: Maison Blanche, MoZaic, Beach Bistro, Louies Modern, The Table. They love Ophelia’s on the Bay because it reminds them of Cape Cod.

The server brings out their entrees. And, just like before, out come the LED lights, cameras and cell phones. Then, back in their bags they go. They pause and look at each other.

“You ready?” Jack says. Beth nods, and they dive in.

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