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According to Eater   Let the grumbling begin.

Even now when everybody has seen pictures of all the major reviewers, there's hope for anonymous restaurant reviewing.

[Deleted]

I thought it was a pretty well rounded article. It does point out some of Wells' flaws. The exclusion of Luksus. His inability to write an enthusiastic one star review. And then there's his Crazy Streak. All reviewers have them. In his case it was his weird enthusiasm for Senor Frog (by all means go and have a good time but don't insult us by telling us its a 2 star) and the inflated 3 he gave Il Buco Alimentari.

But that was a fraction of the article. Mostly it documents his critical process and the nuts and bolts of how he does his job. He also has a well justified dislike of giving negative reviews. You know what that article sounds like? Frank Bruni's valedictory interview in Eater.

The last third of the article is devoted to David Chang and Nishi. There are some choice quotes.

Chang told me, later, that he had conceived of the menu as a “Fuck you” to Italian cuisine.


As a starting premise for a restaurant, what could possibly go wrong?

And this.

But, even before the reviews, Chang knew that the restaurant would have to become either faster and cheaper (“I’ve been wanting to do buffet forever”) or grander. The latter was more likely. Chang defended the dining room in its original, punishing (noisy) form, but said that, some time earlier, he’d had a meeting about cushioned seating. “And, if you look, there are fucking flowers now,” he said. “I hate flowers in restaurants.”


Clearly Chang will stop at nothing to appease his customers.

The portrait of Chang is not particularly flattering. Chang seems to believe his own press clippings and considers himself untouchable. This isn't based on a single observation by the author - he supplies plenty of supporting details. Read the last third of the article. You can almost hear him say:

"Don't you know who I am?"

ETA -

In case you think I'm exaggerating, here's how Eater summed up Chang's reaction.


Chang was still reeling from it while talking to the New Yorker. He whined to Parker (the author of the New Yorker article) for ninety minutes about his anger and conspiracy theories and then later sent the writer a long email about the same topic. "He’s being a fucking bully," Chang says of the critic.

 

 

It was like something from one of those "Downfall" parodies.

 

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There are some funny quotes:

 

“If you look at where the good food is in New York, it’s really in Manhattan and Queens,” he said. “I’m sorry, other boroughs, I’m sorry.”

[This] led to talk of other restaurants that, like Romera, presented diners with expensive, stage-managed tasting menus, involving many dainty courses and scant choice. In Wells’s phrase, “You just sit down and take it.” It was a curious trend at a time of increasing informality in New York restaurants: no-reservation policies; Led Zeppelin on the playlist. As Gordinier put it, restaurateurs now regard the tasting menu as the “delivery system of perfection.” Wells said of this consensus, “It’s as if you couldn’t win Best Picture if you didn’t have a costume drama set in the nineteenth century.” Amanda Cohen, of Dirt Candy, told me that this style of eating can remind her of the fact that powerful people have been known to enjoy recreational powerlessness in bondage clubs.

But such a menu makes a long meal almost unavoidable, Wells said, “and it doesn’t leave room for the messiness and chaos that is a lot of the fun of going out to eat” [...]. (Wells was noting a preference, but he was also indirectly defending territory. A tasting menu disempowers the critic, to the extent that he or she is no longer the only person in the room who has plowed through everything on the menu.) Wells offered another grievance: “If someone’s coming every ten minutes to describe a dish, you’re not going to have much of a conversation.” In 2012, he visited Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant with vast aspirations for international recognition. In a Critic’s Notebook article, not a full-scale review, Wells spoke of feeling worn out by servers doing magic tricks and making little speeches. “By the end of the four hours, I felt as if I’d gone to a Seder hosted by Presbyterians,” he wrote.

Wells told me that the star system indicates how close restaurants “come to being the best possible version of themselves,” but he acknowledged that this idea doesn’t fully hold. “It’s hard to imagine a four-star genre restaurant . . . an egg-cream place,” he said. [...] He recalled a conversation with Alison Cook, the food critic of the Houston Chronicle, who once gave three stars to a burger joint. “She thought it was easier for her to do that in Houston,” Wells said. “The Houston stars didn’t have the same legacy.”

The four stars, though gratifying, hadn’t neutralized the sting of Wells’s words. “Congratulations!” Gordinier said. Guidara looked at him. “His face was ashen,” Gordinier recalls. “He looked like he’d just been hit by a bus.” Guidara asked Gordinier, “Did you read it?” Gordinier backed out of the restaurant, leaving Guidara to his grief.

In the days after Wells and Kinsman ate at Señor Frog’s, they exchanged texts that, in Wells’s description, asked, “Is it possible to say with a straight face that Señor Frog’s is a better restaurant than Per Se? Can you get those words out without collapsing under your own idiocy?”

[He] talked of restaurant empires, noting that someone with Chang’s reputation will “attract the most talented and ambitious people, but after six months or a year they want more—they want to move up.” The needs of deputies risk becoming a driver of excessive growth.

It was maddening, Chang said, “to be lumped in with this fucking plague” of corporately owned restaurants. “He’s being a fucking bully,” he added.

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@Adrian re Luksus: It's an utterly hopeless excuse, I agree. He's a career journalist. It's 300 or so words. Wo/man up.

 

Still haven't finished it, but the Gordinier apercu on anonymity is comparably lame. If a restaurant doesn't even notice Wells, that in itself shows they're not paying attention.

 

1. Has no real applicability to restaurants not expecting to be reviewed, whether because type (Senor Frog, Fieri) or because open years and either reviewed already or long ignored.

 

2. More importantly, it's vacuous to take spotting Wells as a marker for attention to food, service and ambience. Contingently, they may well correlate, but needing to spot Wells is wholly an artifact of the anonymity trope and not--food, service, ambience--something the restaurant needs to pay attention to anyway.

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Again, as a jobbing journalist, I can't help noting that he files once a week; Sheraton, it says, filed three pieces a week; and we know Frankie was gifted that blog to fill with content.

 

Wells seems a nice guy, but there is no room for agonizing about an assignment like that. (I probably file about four times what Wells files in average week, as well as editing work by others, recording podcasts, webcasts, etc; and my workload is probably featherweight compared with, I dunno, Morabito's :D).

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JoJo renovation and rethink.

 

If this doesn't lead to Pete re-evaluating the fourteen year-old three stars awarded by Grimes, I will cancel my free subscription.

 

When you are limited to one review a week, you have to decide what constitutes "news". The fact that JoJo is no longer a three-star restaurant is news to no one. It's important, only if you feel the NYT has a moral obligation to keep all of the stars consistent and correct, a duty it relinquished long ago.

 

But ironically, the renovation will probably accomplish what Wilfrid's begging did not: he most likely will review it now.

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I have a lot of rage that Pete Wells is reviewing restaurants in California just as the Times discontinues restaurant coverage in the greater metropolitan area. I don't know where this rage is coming from, since I don't really care about restaurants in Westchester. But there it is, nonetheless.

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The Times has made its strategy pretty clear: no guesswork is required. They want to be the national paper. A couple of months ago, they introduced a feature called California Today. It is probably not a coincidence that Pete's first starred review outside of NY Metro was in California.

 

I expect that Pete's non-NY reviews will only appear occasionally, and he will only cover restaurants making a claim (even if it's a "failed" claim) to national attention. Westchester restaurants, in contrast, almost never state a claim to importance outside of the local people who visit them. Nothing prevents Pete from venturing outside of the five boroughs, if another Blue Hill at Stone Barns opens. But the really good tapas joint in Port Chester? Not happening.

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Again, as a jobbing journalist, I can't help noting that he files once a week; Sheraton, it says, filed three pieces a week; and we know Frankie was gifted that blog to fill with content.

 

Wells seems a nice guy, but there is no room for agonizing about an assignment like that. (I probably file about four times what Wells files in average week, as well as editing work by others, recording podcasts, webcasts, etc; and my workload is probably featherweight compared with, I dunno, Morabito's :D).

He's trying to do cultural criticism and be literary.

 

No, really:

 

He had just e-mailed the draft of a two-star review to the paper. He files copy once a week. Mimi Sheraton, the Times’ restaurant critic in the late seventies and early eighties, recently recalled that she was expected to write at least three articles weekly. “I could not make the review my whole week’s literary effort!” she told me. “And I felt that a review was very temporary—it wasn’t going to live for posterity.” Sheraton, who likes Wells and values his discernment, cares little for his column. “A lot of reviews now tend to be food features,” she said. She recalled a reference to Martin Amis in a Wells review of a Spanish restaurant in Brooklyn; she said she would have mentioned Amis only “if he came in and sat down and ordered chopped liver.”

 

Craig Claiborne, in a review from 1966, observed, “The lobster tart was palatable but bland and the skewered lamb on the dry side. The mussels marinière were creditable.” Thanks, in part, to the informal and diverting columns of Gael Greene, at New York, and Ruth Reichl, the Times’ critic during the nineties, restaurant reviewing in American papers has since become as much a vehicle for cultural criticism and literary entertainment—or, as Sheraton put it, “gossip”—as a guide to eating out. A contemporary Times restaurant critic is expected to maintain a degree of mandarin authority about mussels marinière (and Asian-Italian noodles), but he must also appeal to readers in Miami and London who have no plans to visit New York, and who may come to a review through Twitter and have an opinion about a chef from his or her appearances on TV. As Wells put it, “I have to hit the marks that I have to hit”—food, service, vibe—“without making you die of boredom.” The task can feel like “crossing the desert,” he said.

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It should be noted that almost every Mimi Sheraton review covered two restaurants. Only for "very important" restaurants (usually 4*) would the entire review cover just one restaurant.

 

But one need not go back to Mimi Sheraton. When Frank Bruni started, he wrote a review every Wednesday; plus a "Diner's Journal" on Fridays; plus a "Critic's Notebook" every other month, or so. Those "Critic's Notebook" pieces did not take the place of starred reviews: the weeks they appeared, there generally was a starred review, too.

 

Partway through Bruni's tenure, the DJ column transferred to a blog, but he still contributed to the blog regularly — at least once a week, and often more. After Sifton took over, he blogged a lot less often, and when he did, it was generally for meta-critical topics, like Q&A's, and so forth. At some point, The Times killed most of its blogs, and DJ was one of these. But that function never migrated back to the paper.

 

Wells not only doesn't have to write the Friday pieces that Bruni did; but in weeks that he writes a "Critic's Notebook" (or the like), he is relieved of having to write a review. It really is a very cushy gig, compared to even the very recent past.

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To use an old expression, the man thinks his shit doesn't stink.

 

If I'd been lauded the way he has been, it would be tough for it not to go to my head.

 

I well remember the posts here and on eG, shortly after he broke on the scene, and for the next few years thereafter. For a while, people wrote as if he were the Messiah. Jesus Himself could only have dreamed of so many fawning admirers.

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Today, Pete Wells awards three stars to Cassia in Santa Monica, CA — the first time the paper has bestowed a starred review on a restaurant outside of the New York metro area. It's another step in the direction of, "I write about whatever the fuck I want to write about."

To be fair, this is another step in the Times's program to reposition itself as a national newspaper. Note that it follows immediately upon the Times's abolition of its regional arts and restaurant departments. The Times is now having its New York-based arts and restaurant departments provide national rather than New York coverage.

 

ETA -- The problem with posting just before I go to sleep is that I miss that oakapple already said whatever I purport to be adding to his post.

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I well remember the posts here and on eG, shortly after he broke on the scene, and for the next few years thereafter. For a while, people wrote as if he were the Messiah. Jesus Himself could only have dreamed of so many fawning admirers.

 

 

Perhaps, and in retrospect certainly easy enough to say.

 

But he was a fairly groundbreaking NYC chef and restaurateur, despite what he's become.

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