The controversial act of snapping photos of meals, once relegated to only the nerdiest of nerds, has become a full fledged fad (and a problem for many restaurant owners and employees). Our obsession with food logging doesn't end with a few flash photos of foie gras either, as many mobile technology users then share those images on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, while also remembering to check into the dining establishment on Foursquare while they're at it. The mobile app Evernote Food (free) gives food fanatics a way to save, store, and search for all those dining memories, while throwing in recipes and restaurant listings to explore to boot.
In testing the iPad version of the app, I was surprised to see how much food-related content Evernote Food delivers in addition to the storing and search capabilities it provides when connected to an Evernote account (free to $45 per year for Premium). An Evernote account is a necessity if you want to save anything from the food app, from photos you've shot of your meals to that new lunch spot near work you want to remember to visit next the time you have $20 burning a hole in your pocket.
What holds the app back from greatness, however, is that it is for dabbling in your food interests rather than seriously exercising them. Recipes come from a list of fairly wide range of blogs and websites, but that list isn't one you can control. The list of included restaurants and their associated information are merely powered by Foursquare (free, 4 stars). And while in Evernote proper I have long heralded app and service's openness and flexibility in giving users the power to control the organizational framework (like tags, notebook names, and notebook grouping and nesting), in Evernote Food I wanted some guidance in how to arrange and tag my notes.
Evernote Food Basics
Evernote Food has four sections: Explore Recipes, My Cookbook, Restaurants, and My Meals.
Explore Recipes The first section does what its name implies: shows you recipes to browse or search. If you have the willpower to peruse photos of chocolate haupia pie, grilled pepper-crusted sirloin, Singapore noodles, and perfectly pink raspberry gin fizz without rushing off to stuff your pie hole, then you'll fare better in this section than I did. The recipes come from a wide variety of websites and blogs, including Serious Eats, Food52, Bon Appetit, The Pioneer Woman, Allrecipes, Simply Recipes, Martha Stewart, Smitten Kitchen, and many other online sources. Tap the image of any recipe you find, and you'll see the full ingredients list, instructions, and any additional photos and text that come with them. A pencil icon lets you save any recipe you find into your Evernote account, and a little info box appears when you do that lets you add relevant tags and associate the recipe into whatever Evernote folder you like from your primary Evernote account.
You can also search the recipe area for specific terms. Type a key word or two into the search bar, and any matching results from the websites, as well as any of your own recipes from your Evernote account, will appear in the results.
The full list of included websites and blogs isn't revealed, so you have no ability to add or remove sources, as you can do in other aggregation apps, like Flipboard (free, 5 stars), for example. I follow a number of food bloggers who don't show up on Evernote Food, and I'd like to be able to drop their URLs into a customization screen to add them as recipe sources. I could, however, surf over to the sites I like and clip recipes I find into my Evernote account, which means they will turn up in relevant searches in Evernote Food. But that still requires me clipping specific recipes rather than browsing all the recipes from that site.
My Cookbook. The second section, My Cookbook, narrows down your recipes into just the ones you've saved from the Explore Recipe section and any others saved in your Evernote account. If you haven't neatly organized your Evernote account by creating a notebook called Recipes (or a stack of notebooks that includes Baking, Breakfast, Side Dishes, etc.), here's where the Evernote Food iPad app really shines. Evernote identifies your recipes automatically, and if it mistakenly identifies a note as a recipe when it is in fact not one, you can hit a "not a recipe" button to remove it.
Restaurants. The Restaurants section works much like the Explore Recipes section, only it looks at restaurants stored in Foursquare rather than recipes from websites. Using geolocation services, you can look for restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, bars, and so forth, near you, or key in some search words to find what you want. Because this section only taps into whatever information Foursquare has on hand, it will work best in the major cities where that social check-in network is used.
Special features in the Restaurant section let you save restaurants and their related information into your Evernote account (it's very similar to saving a recipe), zoom in and out of a map view while exploring restaurants, and even pull up a restaurant's menu when available.
While I like having a restaurant resource at my fingertips, this section of Evernote Food turned me off because it doesn't offer any new information that isn't found in Foursquare. I'd like Evernote users to be able to contribute photos from a caf? or notes about which dishes they like at a bistro so that unique content surfaces just for the Evernote community. Otherwise, this section has nothing more than Foursquare content with some Evernote clipping tools built in.
My Meals. My Meals is the most Evernote-y of the sections, and it's the place for keeping photos and notes about things you eat. You can save pictures of foods you eat, or other images from a dining or cooking experience, like the friends who helped cook or joined you for dinner. You can add notes and other associated information, and save it all to your primary Evernote account.
My Meals is another section where I would like to see a little more help from Evernote, perhaps a list of suggested tags?how about red wines, white wines, sparkling wines??to encourage people to log details and notes that might otherwise allude them. In a food-specific app, I imagine that many people are looking for advice and suggestions, although let me mention that I don't think suggested tags and notebook names should be included in the flagship Evernote app. Its flexibility and openness in letting users choose how to arrange their information is pinnacle to its success.
Eat Your Words
The crucial thing to understand about Evernote Food is that it's not just a place for saving notes about things you eat, which is what I initially assumed based on the name and my previous experience with Evernote. The Evernote Food app does offer that function, but it also has an entire section devoted to browsing recipes, as well as information about restaurants nearby, including their menus when available. You can save anything you find into your standard Evernote account?it's just that the Food app doesn't go the distance in its? foodiness.
Despite the fact that Evernote Food doesn't scour the depths of food-related content, I highly recommend using the original Evernote to save and organize recipes, as its simplicity and flexibility actually empower you to do save, tag, and organize recipes in a way that make the most sense for you (see "Get Organized: How to Digitize Your Recipes" for tips). Pair it with Evernote Food if you so choose, or just use the Evernote Web Clipper independently to save recipes, restaurant notes, and other food related materials you find online.
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