Jill Epstein in today's Boston Globe


All in good taste

Where to Eat publisher hasn’t lost her appetite for the Boston restaurant scene

By Taylor Adams Globe Correspondent / August 19, 2010

Jill Epstein has seen a lot of changes in the restaurant business in Boston since she started the Where to Eat guide in 1999, particularly an increase in interest in the chefs around town.
(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff) Jill Epstein has seen a lot of changes in the restaurant business in Boston since she started the Where to Eat guide in 1999, particularly an increase in interest in the chefs around town.

Since she began publishing Where to Eat in 1999, Jill Epstein has followed the ups and downs of the Boston restaurant business while building her own brand. Where to Eat — which today includes a robust website, an online newsletter, and the counterpart guide Where to Drink — began as a simple guidebook but now incorporates features and interviews to satiate diners’ ever-growing hunger for knowledge about the personalities behind their favorite restaurants. “I have enormous respect for the restaurateurs,’’ said Epstein, 38, who has a regular gig on NECN’s “TV Diner.’’ “I’ve always kind of wanted to have a restaurant or a cafe. But seeing how hard these guys work,’’ she said with a laugh, “I don’t think I have that dream anymore.’’

Q. How has it been running Where to Eat these past 10 years?

A. It’s been great. It’s been an industry that I’ve really enjoyed working in, and a total breath of fresh air. It’s had challenging times, and less challenging times. When I started it, in 1999 and 2000, it was a very different economy then.

Q. How has the Boston restaurant scene changed since you first started?

A. It was a different climate. Over the first few years, it was really the more expensive, the more exotic, the better. The economy was booming, and the restaurants were doing so well. The stuff they’d put on the menu — the truffles, the foie gras, the really top-shelf liquor and high-end wines — it was kind of like the sky was the limit. It was like a big party, it was crazy. I’ve seen it go the other way as well, and return to a lot of comfort food, and a lot of smaller restaurants, and that’s what we’re seeing obviously now because of the economy. There are still a lot of restaurants opening, which is really exciting, but they’re much smaller. There are a lot of smaller bistros now, places like Keith Pooler’s Bergamot in Somerville and Joe Cassinelli’s Posto. They’re mostly smaller places, and independently owned. Fine dining has also really expanded into the suburbs. We’ve seen a lot of trends come and go and stay, and it’s really been a great decade.

Q. How have these changes informed the way you put together Where to Eat?

A. We’ve definitely had to adjust to the times, and things have gotten more competitive. Also, the way that people want their information has changed. When we first came out, it was a coffee-table-style restaurant guide, came out two times a year, and we had a very basic website to accompany it. Over the years we’ve definitely expanded — not only our geographic area to include the suburbs and not just Boston proper — but to adjust to the times we’ve added a much more significant website, which has monthly recipes and chef features.

Q. How does this engage your readers?

A. I think it has made us have a better dialogue with our readers, and it’s much more interactive. It has made it much more personal to people also, they like to know the name of the chef, and to go into the restaurant and know the story behind it, it’s a major activity for people now. I think they really like it, and that’s what we’ve heard from the beginning: It’s making the restaurants personal to people.

Q. Do you think the Boston restaurant diners are generally more interested in the industry and its restaurateurs?

A. Oh, definitely. If a chef is doing an auction item at a local event, saying that they’ll come to someone’s house and do a dinner party, it goes for an insane amount of money. People are really into it, and even having the restaurants directly cater. People are contacting the chefs directly now, saying, “I love your food and the restaurant. Can you do my daughter’s bridal shower?’’ Or: “Can you do my baby shower?’’ Or: “Can you cater my wedding?’’ And the chefs are out in the dining room now more than ever and really interacting with their customers.

Q. What are some of your own personal favorite places to eat in Boston this time of year?

A. I love eating outdoors right now. I love the outdoors at Via Matta. Dante I really enjoy, and Gaslight on Harrison in the South End has a great outdoor space. Le Voile on Newbury Street for French [cuisine] is amazing. And Scampo I’ve been loving and sending everyone to. I would say all of those, they are sort of my “go-tos’’ right now.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

Taylor Adams can be reached at tadams@globe.com.