Can somebody out there help me distinguish between one higher-end food/drink publication and the next? I've got a shiny nickel for anyone who can provide guidance and/or clarity.

Every week, several such titles land in my mailbox. They all take readers on a whimsical gustatory journey through a European city. They all showcase oddly angled, fuzzy-focused photos of brisket and absinthe and potato latkes. They all break into revisionist mode and rhapsodize about a previously dismissed foodstuff ("the saucy insouciance of butterscotch").

Intermezzo seems to have found a way out of the murk -- namely, by adding generic shelter and travel content. So if you're keeping track, the mag now ranks as the preeminent foodie/lushie/home-hound/suitcase-urchin title in the history of mass media. Start clearing mantel space for the Ellies.

Or not. By attempting to do so many things at once, Intermezzo does none especially well. Its food and drink commentary, while professional and nattily presented, lacks Imbibe's personality and Gourmet's authoritativeness. Yet despite the room for improvement in its core competency, Intermezzo still wastes its time on African safaris and home de-cluttering. If there's a good reason why a food-first title should devote a single column inch of space to yarn, organic foot balms or CD reviews, I'd love to hear it. "People listen to music while cooking" doesn't cut it.

Even given its too-expansive purview, the March-ish Intermezzo (technically, it's identified as "issue 15") doesn't have a single original thought in its head. It runs the four-gazillionth Napa Valley vineyard travelogue, eats its way through Berlin and peppers its pages with "Orange Gold" (that's saffron to the uninitiated) and "Fabulous Fruitcake" (is there any other kind?). The cover boasts a rousing "Omelets!" call to arms and the "grain punch: not just for fraternities anymore" story/recipe dump tries quite hard to get the epi-curious among us excited about something inherently lowbrow. Ultimately, though, nothing here passes the who-cares test. Intermezzo seems somehow unable to convey its enthusiasm in print.

It'd help if the magazine exercised better judgment. The "Special Section: Federation of Italian Chefs," which contains a hooray-for-us restaurant review and a smarmy mission statement, gets passed off as actual editorial. The food tour through "Beautiful Berlin" comes appended with a note that "Berlin Tourism contributed to this story" (okay, I'll bite: How?). Acknowledging and blurbing 13 contributors has an everybody-gets-a-medal-at-the-Special-Olympics feel to it; that number could become to magazine publishing what Joe D.'s 56-game hitting streak is to baseball.

On the plus side, several of Intermezzo's items make me feel much better about myself as a writer. The "Cooking School Adventure" in Bangkok begins one of its savagely frank paragraphs with "The next dish was green beef curry. This was one of the more memorable dishes for me." Hear that? It was "memorable." Along those same lines, one of the short CD plugs notes how "gentle strings and her delicate piano, touched by notes of pop and jazz, carry the purity of her voice as it travels through the many landscapes of the heart." I'm 37 percent less worried about getting regular assignments than I was before reading that last sentence.

Add to this frequent genuflection at the altar of cliché -- god forbid somebody should use a color besides red for a headline mention of the word "hot" -- and Intermezzo sure emerges from the cluster of food/drink titles, though not in the way its publisher might hope. Come the next advertising famine, it'll be gone like water down the drain.

Published by: T.F. Associates, Inc.
Frequency: Bimonthly
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