An Eater Critic’s Night Out With TikTok Food Influencer @stephtravels_nyc

During my first visit to Zou Zou’s, a clubby Eastern Mediterranean restaurant that specializes in flaming cheese platters and $130 riffs on halal-cart-style street meat, I invite along someone like me: a fellow anonymous restaurant reviewer — of sorts. As the waiter brings over a glammed-up meze platter, my companion, the person behind the TikTok account @stephtravels_nyc, whips out a device known as a Lume Cube and starts filming our appetizer.

The period of filming is not brief.

Steph — who asked to be identified by her first name only, citing general privacy as well as a corporate day job — pans her iPhone slowly around a collection of elegant ramekins: carefully swirled hummus with black garlic, kabocha squash with sliced almonds, and green tahini under white foam. The panning takes over 120 seconds. The Manhattan-based TikToker has brought along her friend Olimpia, an engineering student, to manipulate the handheld lighting as she films. Perhaps, at some point while dining out, you’ve accidentally let the flash go off while photographing your rigatoni or whatever, turning heads at nearby tables and creating a bit of momentary embarrassment? Imagine letting that flash go off for two minutes straight.

@stephtravels_nyc’s dining companion lights up a platter with a handheld light.

A waiter comes up, presumably to check on how we’re enjoying our first bites. This is for naught, as no one has tasted anything yet. By the third minute, Steph and her assistant are engaging in slow motion depictions of dredging soft bazlama bread through chickpea foam. The light is still on. Around the fourth minute, a manager comes up and asks us to see if we can try to blind fellow patrons a bit less, while also noting the restaurant is into… whatever it is we’re doing. I am petrified by the minor scene we’re causing, to the point that I consider retreating to a bathroom stall with a strong martini. “We’re shameless,” Steph says.

It isn’t until the fifth minute that we start eating. What had just occurred is the most intense flurry of hand posing, lighting, arranging, filming, and

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