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Leonard Kim

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  1. It's 11:00 now and still no link to it on the website, but you can read it here: http://events.nytimes.com/2007/05/30/dinin...html?ref=dining
  2. I was in Denver for a convention at the convention center in 2005. Of the places mentioned upthread, I did have lunch at Rioja, which was fine, and dinner at Bistro Vendome, which didn't go well -- slow, rude service and disappointing food. The best meal I had on that trip was probably at Zengo.
  3. If Sokolov can give a star to McDonald's, MSB's lunch is surely worth two. (Of course I'm kidding.) On 3/2/73, NYT restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov reviewed McDonald's, giving it 1 star for food and 3 triangles for "atmosphere, service, and decor." Of the latter he wrote Of the food, he writes,
  4. Recognizing Marc's point that it's not clear any reviewer started doing anything differently as a result of a change in the official "what the stars mean" description, price has gone in and out of that description, and it's coincided fairly well with the starts and ends of some critics' tenures. Specifically, price is not in the description when Sokolov, Miller, and Reichl were critics. About six months into Grimes' tenure, it changed from to the current
  5. As someone who looks to TV for entertainment and not education, I maintain it's hard to do better than Iron Chef America. What it boils down to is that you get to watch real, well-known chefs create something out of nothing -- not to teach but with the intent of showing themselves at their best -- trying to wow tasters and outdo their competition. The time limit adds genuine excitement to the process. Many of the tasters are well-known food professionals too and are fun to see. As I see it, the main reasons people put down this show are: 1) they find the whole idea of competitive cooking stupid -- fair enough 2) it's not as "good" as the Japanese original. Matter of opinion. It's certainly not as "campy" as the original, and some people enjoyed the original mainly for that. You'll find people arguing that the participants on the American show are somehow not of the caliber of those on the Japanese show. I think objectively this is indefensible. 3) there is a *small* chance that some of the outcomes are not on the level. (The Japanese show is, I believe, more suspect in this regard.) With the exception of 1), I don't think these are dealbreakers. Just don't sweat the verdict -- heck turn it off before they announce it and get back 5 minutes of your life. Don't sweat some of the less-qualified judges. And pick the episodes with participants that interest you.
  6. I was in Baltimore for two nights last week. Was taken to G&M for crabcake one night and the Ambassador Dining Room the other. My immediate reaction upon receiving the menu at the latter was that it didn't look much different than the menu of other, considerably humbler Indian establishments, except that the prices were 2-3x higher. The food didn't seem obviously worth the price hike to me. Were we really just paying for the ambience? The person taking me to G&M warned me ahead of time that it was a "dive." That's a bit much, and perhaps he was exaggerating just to make clear we weren't embarking on a fine dining experience. I don't have any reference point for crabcakes, but enjoyed eating the one I got. I asked how large they were, didn't account for a third dimension to the circle the waiter made with his fingers, and over-ordered. Oh well.
  7. Let me start by saying that I'm no statistician, and am well aware there many ways to goof this up, so what follows should be taken in the spirit of giving everyone a feel for the numbers, and nothing more definitive than that. I took a fairly narrow view of "Italian" -- I didn't include Little Owl or The Orchard (where "border jumping" is mentioned in the headline). The review pretty much has to identify the restaurant as Italian. Given that, Bruni does not obviously review more Italian restaurants than Grimes or Reichl. Everybody is at about 15% of reviews. Part of the problem, as has already been noted, is that we don't know what the "expected" star distribution of Italian restaurants is. Before reading further, it's worth thinking for yourself whether, for each star rating, you'd expect the rate of Italian restaurants getting that rating to be more or less than the "average" rate. Four stars is no problem -- everybody knows that the Italian rate is going to be less (zero) than the average rate (1-3%). But do you expect Italian representation in 0, 1, 2, and 3 stars to be more or less than the average? Getting to the individual critics: Bruni's rate of giving 0, 1, 2 stars to Italian restaurants are very close to his average rates. However, 3 stars is overrepresented -- he gave 3 stars to Esca, Felidia, Del Posto, Babbo, and A Voce. Given his average rate for 3 stars, you'd expect more like 2 restaurants to get 3 stars. Felidia and Babbo are re-affirmations. Esca is a promotion. The other two are new. For Reichl, one and two stars for Italian restaurants are pretty much at her established rates. The discrepancies are at three stars -- she only gave three (Felidia, Babbo, and San Domenico) where you'd expect seven, given her usual generosity -- and at Satisfactory, which she only gave eight times in her tenure, but four of those are Italian (where you'd expect maybe one). Grimes "underrates" Italian restaurants, putting most in the one star bin at the expense of both two and especially three stars. Only one Italian restaurant has 3 stars from Grimes. So I'd say there is a difference between Bruni and his predecessors, particularly at the three star level. As I noted in a previous post, there's an argument this has to do with increasing ambitions of Italian places. Maybe there are just more "actual" three star Italian restaurants out there. Even if Bruni got Del Posto wrong, there's Alto. Asimov gave three stars to L'Impero, etc. Whereas perhaps Reichl and Grimes didn't give out their usual numbers of *** to Italian places because there were no candidates. (Though I can't explain Grimes' stinginess at the ** level.) Historical note: Parioli Romanissimo had four stars from 1974-84.
  8. Hmm. This is a little tricky. If one compared his Italian ratings to his ratings at large, one could argue, as with female chefs, that any discrepancy has to do with an external bias in the real world. For example, no matter what his percentages are, there are no 4-star Italian restaurants, but that's not Bruni's fault. You could simply count how many Italian restaurants he reviews, regardless of rating, compared to other critics, but I think Marc is suggesting the bias is actually in the ratings. If I compare his ratings of Italian restaurants to previous critics, there's always the argument that Italian restaurants are more ambitious now, aiming for 3-4 stars off the bat, and that might explain higher ratings. Based on some of his writings, I wouldn't be surprised if Bruni held that opinion. With that caveat, this is probably the way to go, so I'll do a comparison against, say, Grimes, unless you have a different preference, and get back to you.
  9. I'm not disagreeing with anyone here, just clarifying my last post. If you took 14 chefs and expected them to be distributed according to Bruni's averages, you'd expect no four stars, 2 three stars, 5 two stars, and 7 one or zero stars. In actuality, you get zero three or four stars, 2 two stars, and 12 one or zero stars. It is possible, but improbable that this is dumb luck. I estimate a 6% chance it is just luck, which is just on the wrong side of statistical significance. However, if there is a bias, I repeat, I doubt it's due to Bruni for all the reasons cited. I agree with Nathan and Dave H -- it's just the present reality that women chefs are underrepresented at the highest levels. Edit: I followed McNally in lumping zero and one together. If you separate them out, the dumb luck probability goes up to about 9% (because female chefs are not being overrepresented in the zero star category -- so the issue is really just in 1-3 stars.)
  10. I read the links and it does seem that McNally did his homework in that he appears to have read all of Bruni's reviews in order to make his assertions. There are some things he says that are subject to statistics. 1) 2 female chefs have 2 stars 2) 12 female chefs have zero or 1 star. Given Bruni's known rates of giving out stars, you can do a chi-square test. As I see it, it's actually not that probable that this is just dumb luck, though by the usual standard (5%) this just barely fails to be statistically significant. So I credit McNally with an interesting observation which may well point to some bias somewhere. But if there is a bias, it has certainly not been proven that it's Bruni's. My own opinion is that any bias is likely to be out there in the "real world" of high-end restaurant business. As Nathan's post suggests, it's only Bruni's fault if he seems obviously to have gotten these 14 ratings wrong. One detail is that McNally self-admittedly doesn't count Felidia. I guess it's his right to focus only on who's running the kitchen. Bruni's 2-star and up reviews do include a number female owners (and also pastry chefs.) McNally makes some factual statements of questionable relevance. 1) neither of the 2 star female chefs are in Manhattan 2) the gender of the 2 star female chefs are not mentioned in the reviews and one subjective assertion that seems silly to me (Bruni does a "song and dance" about chefs' maleness.)
  11. My wife and I had dinner at Crush again last night for her birthday. I admit that part of the reason was that they sent us a $15 birthday gift certificate as part of the rewards program I mentioned in my last Crush post. We both enjoyed our meal -- I cleaned off all of my plates, which is a good sign. We were there roughly between 6-7 on a Saturday. There were few diners when we arrived, and not many more when we left. Maybe it filled up later, but my wife half-joked that maybe this place isn't long for the world. We ended up spending more than last time ($100 before discount and tip vs. $70) which was probably due to our both getting salads and my getting dessert in addition to the bread and entrees. As I noted in my last post, it's not the entrees that run up the bill here. For bread, we chose the French ladyslippers. We both had hearts of Romaine salad. I had mussels and linguini while my wife had filet mignon. I had creme brulee. We both had a glass of white (I had a "taste" size.) As I said above, I cleaned off all my plates, but the salad was my favorite part of the meal and the entree the part I'd quibble with, if forced to come up with something negative (pasta very slightly overdone and oily.) We were amused by the choice of piped music. Maybe they're going for "hip and happening" rather than reposeful. (I prefer the latter, myself.)
  12. Apropos of last week's discussion, Bruni wrote this in Friday's Diner's Journal "Brand-new doesn’t have to equal bungling. Most restaurants rehearse a bit before they open their doors, and many come out of the gate as strong as they’ll ever be." Bruni doesn't put numbers of visits in his reviews, instead choosing words like "several." In addition to Marc's mention of Moskin's review of the Morgan Dining Room (six meals), Burros' review of Ben & Jack's Steak House, which was also done during Bruni's tenure, was done over at least 4 visits. Reichl would occasionally mention number of visits in her reviews -- she once wrote, "Restaurant critics make lousy customers. We sneak into restaurants when they are too new, make five or six quick visits, and are not seen again for years." Looking at her reviews, that seems right, though there are some with four. In his reviews, Miller puts # of visits at 3-4, but of course he and earlier critics often reviewed multiple restaurants per week. In Sheraton's reviews, examples of two to six visits can all be found. There's even one instance of 10 (though in that case she talking about her experience with the restaurant's service "over the years.") FWIW, the New Jersey restaurant reviews tend to mention # of visits fairly consistently, and the norm there seems to be two or three. I get a vague sense that re-reviews of established restaurants are based on fewer visits. My own guess, based on nothing in particular, is that, currently, new restaurants get 5-6 visits and established restaurants get about 4.
  13. I don't have it here, but I believe Buford's Heat mentions the number of times Bruni visited Babbo before his debut review. The older critics I get the sense mentioned the number of visits more consistently. Canaday almost makes a rule of it -- thing is, his number of visits was more like 1-3. It'd take a lot of work to measure first review timing (since I'd need to find dates of restaurant openings) -- I could maybe do one or two critics (Bruni and x) just to see. Re-reviews are simple: Bruni: 19% Grimes: 17% Reichl: 32% Miller: 58% Sheraton: at least 30% (I say "at least" since some of her reviews may be of restaurants that were reviewed before what I have data for.) This is consistent with a couple of informal observations I'd made earlier -- Miller was the champion re-reviewer Grimes almost never issued a self-correcting review. Although that's somewhat different than what's measured here (as this includes previous critics), that surely contributes to his figure. Bruni's "stats" are very consistent with Grimes (which is itself unusual since every other change of critic introduced large differences). One interesting thing is that Reichl, even though she was the one who got rid of the multi-restaurant review, managed to maintain a high percentage of re-reviews.
  14. Just a crude search here, so may well have missed some: Bryan Miller gave Taormina one star on 5/5/89 writing, "While Mulberry Street's fading Old New York image still lures the tourists, New Yorkers from other parts of town no longer consider it the epicenter of authentic Italian cuisine. In recent forays to Mulberry Street, I found five-year-old Taormina to be one of the more consistent and congenial spots on the block" He downgraded it to Satisfactory on 10/16/92, writing, "When out-of-town visitors ask advice about Italian restaurants, my suggestions rarely include Little Italy, which with few exceptions has evolved into a garish Mediterranean sideshow where marinara sauce flows from the faucets. When diners insisted on eating around Mulberry Street, I often suggested Taormina." The downgrade appears mostly on account of service, "The last time Taormina was reviewed, in 1989, it was praised for the warmth and efficiency of its staff. Lamentably, that has not held up." Mimi Sheraton gave two stars to a place called Giorgine Carmella on 8/5/83, writing, "Little Italy has never before seen quite this level of sophistication, neither in food nor decor. Both would be more at home in SoHo or Greenwich Village." She has several Littly Italy restaurant reviews to her name including ** to the upthread-mentioned Benito II (Grotta Azzurra, btw, got two Diner's Journal mentions, but no review) and a mass "theme" review of 6 Littly Italy restaurants (one **, two *, two zeroes, one "too soon to rate") dated 3/26/76. John Canaday gave ** to G. Lombardi in 1976, but wrote that he, "would without question be giving the place a third star except that we were favored customers on both of our visits." Sokolov gave *** (and three triangles) to Villa Pensa in 1972. (Reichl gave Onieal's Grand Street one star in 1996, making it the most recent review I could find of a restaurant in Little Italy, but I don't think it's the kind of restaurant under discussion.)
  15. My question-- in some of his older pieces, Steingarten, in addition to praising this site, refers to recipes (associated with whatever he's writing about) that he's supposedly posted here. He even gives a URL. Can't find them now. Are they still here and if so where? About finding his writings online: Vogue doesn't make his articles available, and I believe I read somewhere (maybe even the Q&A here?) Steingarten himself claiming his writings are not available on-line. My main reason for posting is to note that transcriptions of his Vogue stuff from June '04 to the present can be found at www.accessmylibrary.com. In theory, you need to have a library card from a participating library; in my case, the state of Michigan provides access. Apparently, you can also simply register yourself for free. The Men's Vogue site has two articles by Steingarten, the one on foie gras and one on knives. There are 2-3 things at slate.com and a number of videos at seriouseats.com
  16. Well, Flay has said, I think on his website, that he's lost throwdowns where he thought he might have been better. And as people might have gathered, his record in the first season was abysmal: 3-10-1. He's already appearing to do a little better in the second season, having won two already, out of six. Since the show is now known and some contestants seem savvy enough to anticipate it, perhaps the producers are letting Bobby win a little more often. This is from the blog of a throwdown judge (jerk chicken.) I wonder if Flay knows about this? One hopes this is isolated, or at least rare. http://negroshire.blogspot.com/2006/08/bob...y-tv-debut.html Less egregious, and in the other direction, Tobin Ellis stated the following in his extensive article about the experience: http://www.barmagic.com/cutoffaug06.pdf Again, I wonder if Flay knew about this. In his voiceover, he expresses surprise that Ellis would "choose" not to compete with his proven award winners. Also, there has been a tied throwdown (chili). My own opinion, which is completely speculative, is that the producers more or less make up the rules based on their read of the competitor and the situation. For example, if a competitor were really upset by the surprise and didn't want to participate, what're the producers supposed to do? Cancelling would probably not be an option. Isn't it in the realm of possibility that they might, as a last resort, guarantee victory in order to secure participation?
  17. Was the Four Seasons ever a four-star restaurant? It's an honest question since I can't say for sure (progress is slow and incomplete.) I did a quick online search, and I very well may have missed a rating. The earliest I saw was Sokolov's review of 1971 which gave three stars (but four triangles for "atmosphere, service, and decor. BTW, the other restaurant reviewed, Peking Restaurant, also received three stars as "probably producing the best Chinese restaurant food in New York", but only two triangles.) Sokolov wrote, ". . . the most perfect modern restaurant setting yet built in this century. The food does not quite match the setting, but it is often superb and the menu is as original and ambitious as any in the United States." Since then, the Four Seasons has received a rating every 2-7 years until this most recent 12-year hiatus. The Bar Room received a separate review from Jean Hewitt and got **. (I gather this is the Grill Room? -- Sheraton's 1979 review, for example, refers to the pool room and the bar room with a "grill menu") The Grill Room only, "this recent addition," got *** from Frank Prial in 1977. In 1979, the Four Seasons was demoted to ** by Mimi Sheraton in its 20th anniversary year. She attributes the demotion to a shaky start after the sale of the restaurant 5 1/2 year prior and notes that it "may be on its way to three." Two reviews by Bryan Miller and one by Ruth Reichl are both ***. They are dated 1985, 1990, 1995, I'd guess to mark 5-year anniversaries. Miller rather amusingly writes, "I have received complaints from customers who have been unhappy with the food or service; however, disappointments seem rare based on my six visits over the last four months. Although I am known to the owners, Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi, this does not obviate a valid report. A careful observer should be able to rise above his situation and watch how others are treated." Reichl writes at length about a visit-in-disguise to the Four Seasons in her memoir. Her recollection is glowing, but she does write: "It might have had something to do with the recently published Le Cirque review. I may have reminded him of his mother. Perhaps the management of the Four Seasons occasionally amuses itself by lavishing attention on perfect strangers. Or maybe he saw through the disguise." John Canaday in 5/2/75: "This business of rating restaurants by stars can get confusing when you try, as we do, to average in half a dozen factors. Istanbul Cuisine is obviously a four-star restaurant in some respects. . . When a simple place like Istanbul Cuisine and a high-toned one like the Chateau Richelieu both wind up with two stars, what's it all about?" And just for the heck of it, some other choice Canaday-isms. I'd pay to see Bruni write stuff like this: "I'd describe the food at Meson Botin as authentically Spanish except that I'm getting leery of that word, which always draws letters telling me I don't know what I'm talking about." "Several letters of reprimand, one abusive, the others patient, but all pointing out that I was not an authority on Thai gastronomy. . . Among other things, I didn't know that lemon grass is an herb used in flavoring. . . I gave a favorable comment on the basis of 'I don't know much about Thai cuisine but I know what I like'"
  18. I already cited this in the Rachael Ray thread. In a January interview in the Detroit Free Press, she says that she used to be a waitress and in fact always leaves huge tips (going over $40). Because of the premise of the show, they can't in fact televise that particular reality. . . .
  19. Sokolov wrote the New York Times restaurant reviews from 1971-1973. One thing of interest was he actually used the kind of dual rating system that some posters have been wishing: food received 0 to 4 stars and service, atmosphere, and decor received 0 to 4 triangles. In Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl portrays herself along with Mimi Sheraton and Raymond Sokolov as embattled kindred spirits against what she perceived as Eurocentric bias in the Bryan Millers of the world as well as the Times reading public at large. She writes, "I had once heard rumors that Raymond Sokolov, who had been the food editor of the Times in the early seventies, had been pushed out because of his excessive fondness for ethnic foods."
  20. Here's how you get on the show. . . . http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6424725.html
  21. In the June '04 Vogue, almost exactly coincidental with the start of Bruni's tenure, Jeffrey Steingarten commented on the same (or very similar trend.) The essay itself is specifically devoted to chain restaurants, but he talks about "fast-casual-elegant" in general as well. For Steingarten, the time factor (70 minutes vs. 4 hours) is significant as well as the casual/formal thing. But there may well be a restaurant-specific trend here, perhaps spurred by the growth of chain restaurants that ape fine-dining experiences. Quotes: NY Times historical quote of day: "There's one trouble at Mortimer's--the noise. We can't really get three-star enjoyment in a restaurant where you can't talk. . . it is the restaurant's fault when the music is there at all if it means that normal table conversation has to be carried on in shouts. Apparently there are people who like the noise, so if you are one of them, add your own third star. Now on to the three-star food." John Canaday, 4/29/76
  22. The menu prices were a definite positive in my book. Of the three -- and I've eaten at each exactly one time, I'd say our worst experience was at the Grill at the Ritz Carlton. Our meal at the Rugby Grille wasn't perfect, but I'd rank it at the top.
  23. My wife and I ate at the Brookshire Restaurant last night. It's in the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, a relatively new (~2 years) luxury hotel that seems intended to operate at the level of, say, the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham or the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn. The restaurants at both of the latter have won recognition, garnering "restaurant of the year"-type accolades locally, and being rated well in travel guides and the like. I'm not aware of any review of the Brookshire. There weren't many diners there while we ate (7 pm Saturday). The hotel itself is quite nice and the setting (with a creek, conservatory, etc.) is much prettier than the Ritz (which essentially sits amidst a shopping mall) and the Townsend (in the middle of downtown Birmingham.) The restaurant was fine. Not as formal as the Grill at the Ritz, and we preferred the food at the Rugby Grille at the Townsend. My wife found her chicken both overly bland and sweet. I enjoyed my meal more, though I found the muzak obtrusive. Here's the dinner menu. http://www.royalparkhotel.net/Menus/DINNER...NU%20010807.pdf
  24. Adam Perry Lang appeared on Iron Chef America last year, but I don't think they mentioned Robert's on the show. . . Actually, this is irresponsible scholarship, but I had to share some of this. As some of you might have surmised, I've been assaulting the Times restaurant review archive (and for free! On another, old-but-recently resurrected thread FG offered money to someone to do basically what I've been doing.) I've just started on John Canaday, critic from 1974-76, and just four reviews in (going backwards), he may already be the funniest, most quotable, and least responsible restaurant critic I've encountered yet. In his farewell column he gives a long, personal restaurant list but notes he's excluding restaurants in hotels, Chinatown restaurants, and restaurants-cum-nightclubs. He says he does so either because they're not on his professional beat or because he's "not interested." Each restaurant on the alphabetical list comes with a short comment. The first three (Alfredo's, Algonquin, Arirang. . .) read: "Further, and rather extensive, research is required before we can say that there isn't a weak dish on the menu," "We said 'no hotel restaurants' but the Algonquin isn't a hotel, it's an institution," "Another research problem. Do the waitresses who serve you this delicious, mildly exotic Korean food belong to the order Lepidoptera or Orchideae? So fine, I think, it's his farewell column. Then the one before that opens: In the same review, he awards three stars to a restaurant, but devotes only four tiny paragraphs to it: the first describes the chef's "ashen" reaction when Canaday identified himself and told her he was going to give a positive review. The other paragraphs mention price, clientele, and decor. As for food? "Since the menu changes week by week, there is little point in our commenting in detail on last week's dinner. Everything was excellently prepared and beautifully presented." That's it. The review before that includes this: Sure enough, there are three printed stars, one in parenthesis. (Great John, how's my spreadsheet supposed to deal with that?)The review before that starts like this: Later in that same review, Maybe he just got silly, knowing he was retiring soon. Marc mentioned another review of his upthread which seemed simply clunky.
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