Sassy restaurant guide explores city’s ‘Menu’

If Robin Goldstein LAW ’02 and Clare Murumba LAW ’04 could tell the dining hall-less Yalie one thing, it would be this: Put down that third bowl of Easy Mac and move on to bigger — and better — food.

Not sure where to go? They’ve got that covered, too. Breakfast: bacon, egg and cheese at Yankee Doodle (“pure buttery indulgence in an old-school atmosphere”). Lunch: the buffet at China Great Wall (“$5 feeds two”). Dinner: white clam pizza at Pepe’s (“quite simply one of the best pizzas you can get in America”).

Yes, Murumba and Goldstein care a lot about food; so much, in fact, that they spent a year of their lives as law students investigating all of New Haven’s gastronomical offerings, from Zinc to Thai Taste to Mamoun’s — even Burger King.

The result of many, many meals is the recently-published “The Menu: A relentlessly opinionated guide to eating in & around New Haven, Connecticut.” Packed with no-holds-barred advice about, as Goldstein put it, “where to eat and where not to eat,” this self-published guide tells Yalies and non-Yalies alike what’s what for 158 restaurants in and around the Elm City.

When writing their reviews, Murumba and Goldstein carefully ranked food, atmosphere, attitude and value, visiting each restaurant without announcing their status as soon-to-be food critics. But they weren’t out to create the next Zagat’s.

“We’re not interested in whether the service is high-end and French and whether they’re clearing plates from the right or left side,” Murumba said. “We want to know that [a restaurant] cares about the people who are there. We’re not going to mark it down for not having linen tablecloths.”

Goldstein said another distinctive feature of “The Menu” is its unapologetic honesty.

“We made a clear choice to come out and say what we thought,” Goldstein said. “We’re not going to waste your time.”

But both authors said they love to hear when readers disagree. They respond to every piece of fan mail — and every piece of hate mail. Which means that if you’re an Original Falafel devotee who vehemently disagrees with the declaration that “Ingredients taste, at best, insipid,” go to “The Menu”‘s online forum and pour your heart out.

Goldstein, who said he’s “sort of been a cooking and food fanatic all [his] life,” met Murumba when they were both undergraduate students at Harvard, where they bonded over their mutual love of food. Arriving in New Haven for law school, he said he didn’t know what to expect in the way of eating options. Murumba was even more concerned. After Harvard, she spent time in New York City and imagined that, food-wise, New Haven would never be able to compete.

Both were surprised to discover that the city’s lackluster reputation was more myth than fact. Or, as Goldstein explained: “Basically, New Haven is a lot better than people think it is.”

Atticus employee Ann Salomon said “The Menu” has already generated a lot of interest and is selling well.

“We’ve had a lot of really good buzz,” she said, noting that the bookstore’s staff have had to restock shelves pretty frequently. “[The Menu] is very helpful — people stand here, flipping through it, [and] they seem to agree to a large extent with what’s in there.”

Next up for Murumba and Goldstein is a five-college guide for restaurants in Western Massachusetts. And if that turns out well, the creation of a niche business — a small publishing company for college town restaurant guides — isn’t far off.

“It’s something we wish existed, and if other people agree with us, we’ll keep doing this,” Murumba said.

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