Not every opening sentence is going to be “Call me Ishmael.” That one I just wrote was only okay. Ledes are notoriously hard to write — you have to hook a reader, give them a little tease, and make them want more. But even when you extend the grace to a fellow writer that comes with knowing how difficult this is, sometimes you read a lede that makes you say, “Holy shit, this is nuts.”
Such was the case today, when I read the first paragraph of Eater chief food critic Ryan Sutton’s review of Sushi On Me, an omakase restaurant in Queens:
To refer to Sushi on Me as yet another exclusive omakase restaurant would be as nonsensical as writing off the rapper Common as yet another Oscar-winning performer. Just as the critically acclaimed hip-hop artist is also a producer and an actor with too many roles to list — an Italian-speaking security chief in John Wick 2, a loose cannon in Terminator: Salvation — Sushi on Me doesn’t fit into the typical framework of an ambitious Japanese tasting-menu spot. Better to think of the Queens venue as something quite different: a free-wheeling, expletive-laden, booze-fueled house party that happens to serve luxurious raw fish over rice.
I know that’s a lot to process at once. I’ll let you go back and reread it to really take it in.
This was the first time I’ve thought about Common in maybe six months — that was probably the last time I remembered that he is dating Tiffany Haddish. When I do think of him, it’s not as an “Oscar-winning performer.” It is, if anything, as a Grammy-winning performer, because he is most notably a musician and is only an Oscar winner because he wrote and performed a song that made Chris Pine shed a single tear. Sutton’s assessment would have perhaps made more sense if he had said that it would be unfair to write off Common as a rapper because he is also an Oscar-winning performer. Framing this the other way around is indeed, to use his word, “nonsensical.”
Not all analogies are perfect. Nevertheless, Sutton doubles down on his comparison, going so far as to list two of Common’s acting credits. But those two roles don’t even emphasize the breadth of Common’s abilities as an actor. Why not include one of the action movies and then, say, his role in Selma or his role in the Entourage movie where he plays himself?
And then we get to the actual point of the comparison, Sushi On Me “doesn’t fit into the typical framework” of an omakase restaurant. Am I to believe that Common is the rapper that comes to mind when we think about who is really thinking outside the box? Is he really the musical equivalent of “a free-wheeling, expletive-laden, booze-fueled house party”? He is by no means the first rapper to transition to acting, and among his fellow rapper-actors — Will Smith, Ludacris, André 3000, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah — surely he is the least edgy of the bunch. (Though in terms of Microsoft spokespeople, I’ll admit, he is pretty punk rock.) I would argue Common is in fact the rapper equivalent of a normal, by-the-book exclusive omakase restaurant — exactly the kind of thing that Sushi On Me allegedly is not! .
The only way I can imagine this whole faux pas happening is that Sutton was watching John Wick: Chapter 2 (perfect title) while writing this and thought that Common’s performance was just incredible. As someone who was simply reading a restaurant review and then decided to blog about its first paragraph, I can relate.
The real crime here is that Sutton’s second paragraph is completely serviceable as a lede. It’s fun, it gets to the point, and it makes me want to read more about what seems like a pretty cool restaurant. Here’s a free little tip from one blogger to another: You can usually just cut the first paragraph, especially if it’s one of the stupidest things you’ve ever written.