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The Pete Wells Thread


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On 6/24/2022 at 10:06 AM, Wilfrid said:

Good question. It's something he should write about.

I think what Wells is thinking/doing is less nihilistic than you.  I don't think he's intent on "undermining" the star system, but rather on preserving his newfound freedom.

I think Wells's writing loosened up during the Lockdown -- and got better for it.  I think he enjoyed not being fettered by the stick-in-your-ass constraints the old star system imposed on him, instead eating around town and writing about whatever interested and excited him.  He sort of became a New York City Jonathan Gold, and I think he enjoyed it.

I think this extract from one of his reviews during that period is telling:

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Over the past two years, a lot of New Yorkers came to a fresh appreciation for the low-key neighborhood restaurants, the mom-and-pops we sometimes take for granted. Places like Ci Siamo play a different role in our lives. I don’t need to eat food cooked in a lion-size hearth, but given the occasional chance to find out what a chef like Ms. Sterling can do with one, I’ll take it.

I think the key word there is "occasional".

I think Wells is very happy to have full license to write about jerk stands and food trucks and mom-and-pop Latinx restaurants in Queens.  And not to have to review every cookie-cutter mainstream restaurant that can afford good PR.

So, when the requirement of giving star ratings was reimposed on him, I think he decided, in order to maintain his newly liberated approach, to abandon the previous rating standard that was based mainly on complexity of technique, expense of ingredients, fanciness of build-out, and formality of service, and instead to run with the rating standard he alluded to years ago in his Il Buco AV review (which I actually can't find, for fact- and quote-checking and linking, through a NYT website search):  as I recall, he gave that restaurant three stars because it "made his head explode".

I said then -- and I continue to say now -- that such a purely subjective response cannot support a numerical rating, which conveys at least an illusion of objectivity.  And my conclusion now, as it was then, is that numerical ratings have no place in cultural reviews (at least in publications like The Times that have aspirations to intellectual integrity).

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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.

You're conflating two different issues that I made the mistake of including in the same post. 1. Stars are useful to some people. 2. I'd rather read mostly facts with a little opinion than t

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1 hour ago, Sneakeater said:

It's worth noting that you can't find that review by a search on the Times' website….

I did not try searching the Times’ website. I Googled, “Ruth Reichl review Le Cirque.” When I clicked on the link, a small photo of the actual archived page appeared (showing ads and a $25 and Under column) with readable text below. A notation stated It was archived this way “before the start of online publication in 1996.”

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1 hour ago, Sneakeater said:

… I think I can refer to since it couldn't have been intended to be private.

I think I can now say, because it was so long ago, that he once told me some things in DMs on Twitter, then said, “That’s off the record of course. Oh wait, I’m supposed to say that first, aren’t I?” 😂

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@SneakeaterYour analysis is highly plausible. My very personal preference would be to rebrand the column as something other than a continuation of the long-running tradition of restaurant reviews, because if you’re right, it’s now something else.

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27 minutes ago, rozrapp said:

I did not try searching the Times’ website. I Googled, “Ruth Reichl review Le Cirque.” When I clicked on the link, a small photo of the actual archived page appeared (showing ads and a $25 and Under column) with readable text below. A notation stated It was archived this way “before the start of online publication in 1996.”

I totally get that.  My point is, The Times doesn't make it easy for you to find.  The Times is no longer enshrining reviews and ratings the way it used to.  And that appears to be a matter of editorial policy.

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8 minutes ago, Wilfrid said:

I think I can now say, because it was so long ago, that he once told me some things in DMs on Twitter, then said, “That’s off the record of course. Oh wait, I’m supposed to say that first, aren’t I?” 😂

Yeah, he didn't say anything like that in our email correspondence.

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59 minutes ago, Sneakeater said:

I totally get that.  My point is, The Times doesn't make it easy for you to find.  The Times is no longer enshrining reviews and ratings the way it used to.  And that appears to be a matter of editorial policy.

I'll add that the current ethos of the restaurant industry almost necessitates that.

It used to be that if a restaurant was good, you could expect it to stay good or even get better.  That's why the conventional wisdom used to be that you shouldn't try new restaurants within their first few months of operation, to give them a chance to settle in.

That went out the window at least 20 years ago.  Now, as we all know, restaurants go downhill fast after their initial review/PR period.  Menus are simplified, and "interesting" dishes are dropped.  Chefs leave for better opportunities or are reshuffled within the restaurant group, and are not replaced with commensurate talents.  Executive chefs turn their attention to new ventures.

The lamented Fat Guy, I recall, clung to the old conventional wisdom (which he advanced in Turning the Tables) long after its sell-by date.  I could never get him to see that it was outmoded.

Since any savvy diner -- and, more to the point, any professional restaurant reviewer -- now knows that new restaurants don't stay as good after their first few months, how could a publication like The Times claim its ratings retain any validity in the long term?

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It may be a coincidence, but very soon after our Parm email exchange, Pete Wells prefaced a review of some new place that reeked of imminent decline with a statement that he was opining on the restaurant now and had no idea how it would be in the future.

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Just to make clear what I'm trying to say (while also being boring and repetitious), it used to be that, if I wanted to find a three-star restaurant in Flatiron, I could go to The Times' restaurant review database and filter by neighborhood (Flatiron) and star rating (three).  The Times no longer maintains such a database.  There is now no way to do that kind of search on their website.  It isn't even easy to find the most recent review of a specific restaurant, if the review is more than a couple of years old.

Clearly, The Times has decided that being able to search restaurants by star ratings is no longer important.

I'm not complaining:  I agree with them.

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Again, I'm not taking credit for this.  But I note that this change occurred sometime after I challenged Wells's assertion in that email exchange that no one could reasonably expect that star ratings remain current beyond the date of the review, by mentioning that if you filtered for three-star restaurants in The Times's database, JoJo would still come up even though it hadn't been revisited in something like fifteen years (this was before the JoJo renovation, if that matters).

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4 minutes ago, Sneakeater said:

Just to make clear what I'm trying to say (while also being boring and repetitious), it used to be that, if I wanted to find a three-star restaurant in Flatiron, I could go to The Times' restaurant review data base and filter by neighborhood (Flatiron) and star rating (three).  The Times no longer maintains such a data base.  There is now no way to do that kind of search on their website.

Clearly, The Times has decided that being able to search restaurants by star ratings is no longer important.

I'm not complaining:  I agree with them.

To me, you are not and never will be boring. And when you do reiterate an idea, you always find a way to rephrase it in an interesting way. What can I say? I’m a Sneakeater groupie.

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1 hour ago, Sneakeater said:

Since any savvy diner -- and, more to the point, any professional restaurant reviewer -- now knows that new restaurants don't stay as good after their first few months, how could a publication like The Times claim its ratings retain any validity in the long term?

Lest I seem to be contradicting myself, let me state that my concern is that The Times’ restaurant section isn’t aimed at “savvy diners” like us but rather the general public.  And I can tell you from experience with all my off-board friends that the general public doesn’t know things like that.  Why would they?

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Of course restaurants are expected to be consistent and reliable.   But in fact they are not.    So a reviewer, a newspaper, is relevant only in so far as their writing and recommendation is current.   Which it seldom can be.   Seasons change; cadre changes, clientele change.   Historic reviews are interesting, indicative of what was but seldom of what is.   I've followed far too many friends with whom I have compatible taste and ultimate trust down more rabbit holes than I'd wished.   While I love referring to a past review, best not hitch my star to it.    (Did someone just say "star"?)

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