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The Pete Wells Thread


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#61 oakapple

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 03:17 PM

I suppose I should add that it's not merely the comparison between Parm and a place like Lincoln.

The important point, I think, is that if Parm gets 2 stars, then NO RESTAURANT will be happy to have just one star, and ANY restaurant with even the slightest ambitions will feel insulted to get less than three.
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#62 Sneakeater

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 03:39 PM

Okay, I know its sacrilege for someone as active on food boards as me, but I gotta admit that I wont have this problem. I take each review on its own and try to discern what the reviewer is telling me, for the sole purpose of whether I then go or not. So, a 2 star here tells me how he sizes the place up enjoyability wise but I dont compare it to how many stars he gives any other place. Each is a snowflake, unique unto itself.

Frankly, I think this comparative thing is only interesting to those in the industry, including those who write about it. I've never had a friend wonder why 2 very different places got the same star rating. Just my 2 cents here.... I dont expect you to agree.


I wonder about that, Steve. More particularly, I wonder whether you (and apparently the people you know) are really that representative of the Times's readership. I would think that many "normal" readers take the stars more literally than that, looking at the list of ratings and thinking that two-star restaurants are roughly equivalent. Maybe I'm wrong. There's no real way of knowing.
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#63 Sneakeater

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 03:43 PM

The important point, I think, is that if Parm gets 2 stars, then NO RESTAURANT will be happy to have just one star, and ANY restaurant with even the slightest ambitions will feel insulted to get less than three.


I think this is the important point, too. A perfectly good place like, say, the Brindle Room now has to get two stars or else it's been dissed.
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#64 Steve R.

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 04:37 PM


Okay, I know its sacrilege for someone as active on food boards as me, but I gotta admit that I wont have this problem. I take each review on its own and try to discern what the reviewer is telling me, for the sole purpose of whether I then go or not. So, a 2 star here tells me how he sizes the place up enjoyability wise but I dont compare it to how many stars he gives any other place. Each is a snowflake, unique unto itself.

Frankly, I think this comparative thing is only interesting to those in the industry, including those who write about it. I've never had a friend wonder why 2 very different places got the same star rating. Just my 2 cents here.... I dont expect you to agree.


I wonder about that, Steve. More particularly, I wonder whether you (and apparently the people you know) are really that representative of the Times's readership. I would think that many "normal" readers take the stars more literally than that, looking at the list of ratings and thinking that two-star restaurants are roughly equivalent. Maybe I'm wrong. There's no real way of knowing.




The important point, I think, is that if Parm gets 2 stars, then NO RESTAURANT will be happy to have just one star, and ANY restaurant with even the slightest ambitions will feel insulted to get less than three.


I think this is the important point, too. A perfectly good place like, say, the Brindle Room now has to get two stars or else it's been dissed.


I do get the point. And, I'll even bolster Sneak's point and say that tourists who are into coming to NYC for good food are even more likely to create a listing based on the stars and then going to places based on that. However, as scary as it is to be in agreement with Stone, I dont think many "normal" NYC folks who read the NYTimes are in danger of comparing apples to oranges and will readily figure out that one is a sandwich shop and another is a tablecloth place and wont be expecting comparable situations or use the review to accidentally eat a sandwich instead of a tasting menu for their anniversary dinner.

As for stars resulting in staying open, feeling insulted, etc.... well, that's just another internal issue to those in the industry. Personally, I think they'll get over it if/when paying customers come thru the door. Not my problem. Or my interest.

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#65 Sneakeater

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 04:40 PM

I don't think the point is to look at whether places feel insulted. I agree with you about that. I agree that that's the restaurant's problem, not ours. I worry more about readers looking at the ratings and thinking, "I'm not going anywhere that gets 'only' one star." That screws up the system and renders it inflexible. For most restaurants, one star ought to be seen by the reading public as a compliment.
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#66 Sneakeater

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 04:51 PM

The other thing is, even if Lincoln's detractors (such as Sifton) are right (I obviously disagree), is Lincoln as much worse than most three-star restaurants (clearly the status it would occupy if it were viewed as successful) as Parm is better than most zero-star restaurants (clearly the status it would occupy if it succeeded at what it tries to do at a normal rather than supernormal level)?
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#67 oakapple

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 04:53 PM

As for stars resulting in staying open, feeling insulted, etc.... well, that's just another internal issue to those in the industry. Personally, I think they'll get over it if/when paying customers come thru the door. Not my problem. Or my interest.

Well, I think it IS our problem.

For starters, I think Sneakeater is entirely correct that many Times readers DO look at the stars and draw rather basic, naive conclusions. There is certainly NO question that restaurateurs care about the stars and believe the rating very much affects business.

If the city's most influential critic is unable to properly differentiate excellence and mediocrity, it very much SHOULD matter to anyone who cares about the survival of a thriving (and most importantly: GOOD) restaurant industry. I assume that every regular on this message board DOES care about that.

I mean, if you can open something as unambitious as Parm or The Dutch and get two stars, it sends a pretty loud signal that there is no reason for any sane chef to waste their time (or investors' money) on anything better. If that doesn't matter to you, then I am truly surprised.
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#68 Steve R.

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 05:06 PM


As for stars resulting in staying open, feeling insulted, etc.... well, that's just another internal issue to those in the industry. Personally, I think they'll get over it if/when paying customers come thru the door. Not my problem. Or my interest.

Well, I think it IS our problem.

For starters, I think Sneakeater is entirely correct that many Times readers DO look at the stars and draw rather basic, naive conclusions. There is certainly NO question that restaurateurs care about the stars and believe the rating very much affects business.

If the city's most influential critic is unable to properly differentiate excellence and mediocrity, it very much SHOULD matter to anyone who cares about the survival of a thriving (and most importantly: GOOD) restaurant industry. I assume that every regular on this message board DOES care about that.

I mean, if you can open something as unambitious as Parm or The Dutch and get two stars, it sends a pretty loud signal that there is no reason for any sane chef to waste their time (or investors' money) on anything better. If that doesn't matter to you, then I am truly surprised.


You might be surprised but it's probably because you've drawn some conclusions that I dont share. When you conclude that "...there is no reason for any sane chef to waste their time (or investors' money) on anything better.", I differ. I think that plenty of places will open up and do well even if the star system remains totally inconsistant as an across the board measuring stick. When you say that "...many Times readers DO look at the stars and draw rather basic, naive conclusions", well I've already agreed but think that there's still more than enough business and other reference guides that make it less than the conclusive "very much affects business" that you state. I go to many under-rated places and many places that I think got stars inconsistant with some over-rated places. I dont think it matters much.

As for caring about a reviewer not being able to "properly differentiate excellence and mediocrity, it very much SHOULD matter" -- well, with that I fully agree with you & I do care about incompetence & ineptitude. My guess is that reviewers who exhibit these traits will be drummed out by their employers (sometimes too eventually), who will give them less than one star in their own employee rating scale.

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#69 Eatmywords

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 06:12 PM

Besides very little justification for the stars, there’s not much in the review compelling even the semi plugged-in ny diner to get down there.

Some background re sibling to Torrisi, a little broken record red sc nostalgia, couple points on tweaked simple classics. No hooks or in depth ingredient/menu/service coverage. It’s thin.

I can’t remember another that did as little to convince why it deserves two or one let alone why it’s being reviewed as a feature. Wells looks pretty green here.

#70 oakapple

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 06:46 PM

. . . you've drawn some conclusions that I dont share. When you conclude that "...there is no reason for any sane chef to waste their time (or investors' money) on anything better.", I differ. I think that plenty of places will open up and do well even if the star system remains totally inconsistant as an across the board measuring stick.

The dots, though, are pretty easy to connect . . . trivial, I'd say.

I can't count the number of times that people in the industry have told me that the stars affect business; that the NYT review is more important than all the others combined; and that critics' perceived perferences influence the sorts of restaurants that get built, and the food they serve.

And it's pretty clear there's an unmistakable trend that chefs and restaurateurs opting overwhelmingly to dumb down their ambitions, to aim low, to do less than what they are capable of, more timid versions of things they have done before. There are exceptions, but that is the trend.

While I would not suggest that critics and criticism explain this trend entirely, it would be awfully naive to suppose they are totally unrelated.
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#71 mitchells

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 06:58 PM

I don't think the type of restaurants opening now has anything to do with potential stars awarded. It has to do with the economics of running the business. Lower opening costs and higher margins. Alex Stupak and his investors have a higher margin selling a taco and 3 Margaritas to each person at a 4-top and flipping that table 3 or 4 times than a $85 3 course dinner that might earn 3 stars in the NYT.

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#72 Steve R.

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 07:06 PM


. . . you've drawn some conclusions that I dont share. When you conclude that "...there is no reason for any sane chef to waste their time (or investors' money) on anything better.", I differ. I think that plenty of places will open up and do well even if the star system remains totally inconsistant as an across the board measuring stick.

The dots, though, are pretty easy to connect . . . trivial, I'd say.

I can't count the number of times that people in the industry have told me that the stars affect business; that the NYT review is more important than all the others combined; and that critics' perceived perferences influence the sorts of restaurants that get built, and the food they serve.

And it's pretty clear there's an unmistakable trend that chefs and restaurateurs opting overwhelmingly to dumb down their ambitions, to aim low, to do less than what they are capable of, more timid versions of things they have done before. There are exceptions, but that is the trend.

While I would not suggest that critics and criticism explain this trend entirely, it would be awfully naive to suppose they are totally unrelated.


I never said "unrelated". I just think you overstated it and seemed to draw too much of a clear cut "cause & effect" conclusion. I dont doubt that the industry folks you talk to are saying that the stars affect business. And that overrating a place with too many stars therefore gives them competition that they dont want or deserve. And that they may have more trouble opening a good place because of this. I'm just saying that I'm not interested in this nor are most folks I talk to. That's something the industry needs to internally correct. What I'm saying is that your overstatement would lead one to believe that, because of this, I will only have dumbed down places to go to. I havent felt this. Certainly not at the one and two star level. And, until I do, I repeat that it's not my problem. Even as a food board person.

Frankly, I have more places to go to than I can manage to eat at. And not the dumbed down food ones either. I have not been to either of Ng's places, even though I loved him at World Tong, yet I dont feel that I'm deprived of very good Chinese dim sum. I have not been to Torrisi and probably wont go to Parm, yet I can get my fill of good red sauce places that even Orik might appreciate (well, now I'm the one overstating :blush: ). And, despite the "trend" (which I'm not disagreeing with you on), the sheer quantity of choices in NYC makes it a moot point for me & I pay little attention to it.

To go back to the original point I was making, I repeat that I use the NY Times review (& the # of stars given) to calibrate how good that place is on its own, not compared to others getting the same # of stars. I dont care if the "ruler" isnt a consistant measuring stick, I only care to see how good, on a scale of 0-4, the review thought that particular place was. And, if the reviewer's taste doesn't match mine over the course of several reviews, I stop reading his/her reviews.

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#73 oakapple

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 07:14 PM

I never said "unrelated". I just think you overstated it and seemed to draw too much of a clear cut "cause & effect" conclusion. I dont doubt that the industry folks you talk to are saying that the stars affect business. And that overrating a place with too many stars therefore gives them competition that they dont want or deserve. And that they may have more trouble opening a good place because of this. I'm just saying that I'm not interested in this...

You are not interested in visiting restaurants that you would consider "good"? How could that be?

...your overstatement would lead one to believe that, because of this, I will only have dumbed down places to go to.

I am certainly not suggesting that. But are you saying that, over the last 5-10 years, you have perceived no trends that you would find deleterious? It is the trend I am referring to, not a complete lack of enjoyable, useful restaurants. Things are not THAT bad.
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#74 oakapple

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 12:52 PM

Today, Pete Wells awards one star to Crown. I liked it quite a bit more, but Wells probably sampled 4X as much food as I did. If I'd had some of the less impressive dishes, I probably would have liked it less. I do agree with his premise that when you are charging Crown's prices, the duds should be very rare or non-existent.

But early on in the Wells era, I think we can see the clear pattern, which is the one I expected: he is a Frank Bruni with experience. He is not a culinary novice, as Bruni was when he started, but his dining sensibility is pretty much the same. You can tell that Parm (two stars last week) is a place he is predisposed to like, and Crown is a place he is predisposed to loathe. He has the journalistic integrity to give Crown two stars if it nails every dish (which it didn't), but the tone of the review is apparent: this is not a place where he really wants to be.
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#75 Sneakeater

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 02:49 PM

Not to defend Wells, but I think Crown is a pretty special case.

It isn't just an upscale restaurant; it's an avowed (and apparently successful) attempt to appeal to a very specific crowd. If you don't like that crowd, the most you can do is acknowledge your prejudice and then try to be fair.

While I don't doubt at all that Wells shares Bruni's aversion to fine dining, this review may not be the best evidence. (I'm sure more will come.)
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