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Farewell to Sara Roahen When we began our search for a new restaurant critic some five years ago, we certainly weren't lacking for candidates. The applications became a blur after a fashion; how many more times, we wondered, would we read a cover letter that began, 'I don't have any writing experience, but I love to eat!' The passion of the application was rarely met with any tangible writing experience or any kitchen experience -- certainly not all three combined.

Then an application came seemingly out of nowhere, from a recent transplant who was getting a little burned out working in a local kitchen and had a strong liberal arts background. She knew she didn't have any professional writing experience, so on a lark she included a voluntary, sample review of Dick and Jenny's that probably could have run almost unedited. The editor, Michael Tisserand, and I raised our eyebrows.

But there was something almost shimmering in her prose and informative about her knowledge -- and perhaps more importantly, her curiosity -- about the food she was describing. Here, finally, was someone who could help us understand food, but entertain us with the kind of writing that makes you want to read about it regardless of subject matter. Frankly, if Sara had a passion for neuropsychiatric genetics, so would we. Despite her many strengths as a critic and journalist -- a discerning critical eye that could stand behind every argument, a sense of humor that comes from left field, a slavish attention to detail and structure, a willingness to listen, an uncanny sense of imagery, a curiosity about the connection between food and culture -- Sara will perhaps best be remembered for her ability to unearth those hidden gems of New Orleans-area dining.

So much of the charm of the alternative newsweekly is remembering the word 'alternative,' and that sense of discovery in learning about such little-known places as Perino's Boiling Pot in Harvey, Fiesta Latina in Kenner or Frosty's Caffe in Metairie is what can make writing about food such a grand adventure. Sara's adventures were honored with numerous writing awards, including a first-place nod for Restaurant Review at the 2003 Association of Alternative Newsweekly Awards and first and second place for Best Critical Review at last year's Press Club of New Orleans awards.

Sara has decided to seek out new food adventures, and hopes, every now and then, to bring Gambit Weekly readers along for the ride. While we know we'll never find another Sara Roahen -- isn't variety the spice of life? -- we will search for a replacement who is just as adventurous. Until then, we begin a series of staff-generated restaurant features, from writers who have a special connection to the restaurants they're covering.

Sara ended her reviewing duties with a look at her favorite neighborhood spot, Casamento's. We feel obligated to share with you some of ours. Until a replacement is found, please email any Food News to: -- David Lee Simmons


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