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Leonard Kim

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  1. Shawn Mac, unless something has happened that wasn't reported, is at Twingo's in Detroit, and was heavily involved with its re-opening a year ago. Oh, and the Free Press reported yesterday that Rick Halberg, after the closing of Emily's in Northville, is now working for Hiller's (the supermarket) as "Director of Culinary Services."
  2. Molly Abraham reported Tim Voss is going to Fiddleheads in Royal Oak -- he may actually be there now, since she wrote he's going to start "in January." This is just fine with me, since I like this restaurant, and I don't view it as being significantly "less conspicuous" than Forte.
  3. We all read differently, but my own opinion is that the food part of the RTR review is not quite ***. Marc's already referenced an older post where I talked about Bruni's *** reviews, and yes, there I said Perry St. was an anomaly. Since that time he's done 7 more: Del Posto, A Voce, Country, L'Atelier, Blue Hill, Picholine, and Felidia. The last three are re-reviews with Blue Hill getting a bump from ** to ***. I think most of what I said in the old post still holds basically true. Two of the reviews, Picholine and Country, have no negative food remarks whatsoever. In another two, the only negative food comments are basically insignificant: A Voce: "If April Robinson's fittingly straightforward desserts. . . are a bit of a letdown, it's because she has such a tough act to follow." Blue Hill: "For better and worse, Mr. Barber loves the tenderness that comes from sous vide cooking. . . . But while the results are gorgeous they can often be sexless, making you long for crunch and ooze, for some charred skin here, some messy fat there." The other three do have negatives, but to my reading nothing on the level or quantity of the RTR review. And note that these negatives don't actually say individual dishes are bad -- just comparatively less successful or just unexciting. Del Posto: "[reducing the # of menu offerings] would improve the ratio of outstanding dishes to less successful ones. The veal shank. . . was dull and slightly dry, as was swordfish. Pappardelle with wild boar needed more kick" L'Atelier: "a few undistinguished slices of roasted rack of lamb. That lamb was one of the menu’s definite soft spots" Felidia: "Seafood is not Felidia's strength While grilled branzino. . . had a clean, clear taste, it mostly seemed like a sop to health-conscious or timid eaters. A poached fillet of striped bass couldn’t quite stand up to the mushroom and tomato broth and celery root purée around it." "desserts are an otherwise uneven affair, the joy of a peach-flavored tiramisù undercut by the joyless pairing of a watermelon sorbet with a chocolate-almond cake. Felidia is uneven in other ways, too. Humdrum lamb chops didn’t live up to heavenly beef cheeks. A dull dish of fettuccine with soft-shell crab couldn’t compete with a salty, zesty dish of chitarra with speck and razor clams." In terms of positives, the majority of these reviews have a blanket, across the board statement about the dishes such as "most are fantastic" "mostly exhilarating" "mostly terrific" "most ... make you happy ... very happy" and they also continue to display Bruni's bias against what he sees as pointless inventiveness: "straightforward . . . tend not to go off precious, rococo tangents" "They don't wow you with their inventiveness, but they do wow you with their execution." "cares more about robust flavors than about clever conceits. . . sating diners as opposed to wowing them" "avoid excessive trickery or unusual flavor combinations"
  4. One basic question raised by those linked discussions: who have been the anomalous critics? Miller or Reichl? Miller invoked Sheraton and Claiborne in defending the "system" against Reichl. Reichl compared herself to Sheraton and Sokolov in defending her star choices (in Garlic and Sapphires.) Funny thing is that, for all that, there haven't been a lot examples of critics changing predecessor's ratings over philosophical disagreements. Miller's Hatsuhana review is one (cited in the previous page.) I'll have to go back and read them, but Reichl did re-review some restaurants relatively quickly after Miller had. Sheraton's tenure was briefly interrupted by Moira Hodgson, and I get the impression that afterwards, a number of Sheraton's reviews served only to change the ratings back.
  5. Thanks. That link links to two other discussions devoted to two individual guides and are really good reading. Just goes to show that everything really has been talked about before.
  6. Before the internet, and the Times search engine, how would the average consumer consult the star ratings (short of clipping and saving each review)? You could have clipped and saved the guides that went under various names over the years: "Eating Out", "Dining Out Guide", "Directory to Dining" which would present weekly capsule reviews and information on several restaurants under some theme (like a type of restaurant, or a neighborhood, or a holiday, or something like that.) In these guides, until 1985, not only was the star rating and the date of the last review given (as in the online guide now), but also stuff like "not reviewed in the past five years" or "re-visited in the past two [or three] years and the rating is still valid." In combination with frequent re-reviews, I can see how this might be useful: an up-to-date shorthand for the consumer. (I mentioned earlier the very first star ratings appeared in these directories, not in the review articles.) I always suspected when Miller complained Reichl was destroying the system upheld by him and his predecessors, this was his real beef, not noodle shops, but changing the system into something less useful, because it was necessarily less up-to-date. The ratings become almost "permanent" as SE says. Reichl did do some rapid re-reviews as an admission of getting a rating wrong. But it's a problem. Bruni blogged that the trouble with ratings is that you had to come up with something that not only accurately represents your experience, but is likely to stay valid in the long-term future.
  7. Long, quote-ridden post -- sorry. 1) Yes, Miller and his predecessors did multiple restaurants in a single column with no pretence of linking them thematically. 2) Just my opinion -- I've already expressed negative opinions of the Times' classical music reviews. I think they'd be more useful if they were actually more like the restaurant reviews. I think it would be more useful to have reviews (and re-reviews every year or couple of years) of institutions (not performances) taking into account the venue, the staff, the personnel, audience makeup, prices, programming choices, general performance quality (considering several performances and programs), consistency of performances, strengths and weaknesses in different repertoire and genres, performance with and without guest artists, general caliber of guests artists, etc. With all that, heck, I'd even accept a star rating. This could even be done (though harder to accept) for individual artists (on the basis of several recent performances and recordings, with periodic re-reviews.) I'm not saying they have to be written in the breezy, anecdotal style cited above (of which Bruni is not the only offender.) 3) The history lesson. Regarding ADNY, I think **** star restaurants have been demoted for less, or been slammed worse for the same faults (inconsistency). Reichl's *** review of Le Cirque is famous, but here are some others: Grimes' *** review of the "new" Daniel, which seems almost Bruni-esque to me Hatsuhana (**** from Sheraton on 4-15-83, demoted to *** by Miller on 2-21-86) Miller says he encountered "a few rough spots." I think this is one of the few reviews that actually support the popular image of him as having "frankly Continental" sensibilities. Here's Grimes not quite having the heart to deliver a full ** smackdown of Le Cirque 2000 after the departure of Sottha Khunn. (After her famous review, Reichl did "come around" and re-instate the fourth star for Le Cirque 2000). He gives *** but writes: Others have had fewer qualms. At least five restaurants have actually been demoted from **** to **: 1) Lafayette (**** from Miller on 4-22-88, ** from Miller 10-18-91). Changes: Chef Funny thing is, this is a positive review, like it's not a bad thing to be docked **. 2) Vienna '79 (**** from Sheraton on 1-9-81, ** from Burros on 7-6-84). Changes: Chef 3) Le Cygne got **** in 6-20-80 (in a themed reviews of three restaurants, all awarded **** stars -- the others were La Grenouille and Lutece). A little over a year later, Sheraton demoted it to ** on 10-16-81. There doesn't seem to be an external motivation for a re-review (and she specifically says the menu itself has changed very little over the years.) All she seems to be saying is some dishes are exceptional, most are above average, but several are, in brief, not as good as they were last year. 4) Of the other two restaurants from that 6-20-80 review, Lutece held on the longest (12-1-95 -- with a new chef, Reichl knocked it down to ***, but implied it still had **** potential). La Grenouille fell to ** on 3-15-85. Miller wrote: 5) Chanterelle got **** on 2-27-87 from Miller and was demoted by the same critic to ** on 7-28-89. Changes: moved to new building Miller eventually bumped it back up to ***, and Reichl to ****. In 2000, Grimes reduced it to ***, giving it a positive, but nuanced review.
  8. As for ADNY vs. Spicy and Tasty, maybe I'm the one who can't read now In principle, Bruni could have, without changing his feelings or ratings written a substantially positive review about ADNY and a substantially negative review of Spicy and Tasty. He could have described those evenings and dishes at length reserving negatives at the end ("I have had an occasional disappointment. . . ." as Ruth Reichl wrote at the end of her **** Daniel review). That is the format of the Spicy and Tasty review. But then people would have been really confused by the *** rating. Demoting the restaurant forces him to emphasize and elaborate on the negatives. Similarly, people would be confused with the ** of Spicy and Tasty if he had written it in the format of the ADNY review -- if he had devoted a short paragraph stating the restaurant was "modestly priced", "hugely enjoyable", and "eye-opening", and then devoted more than a small, closing paragraph to the rather substantial charges that the menu has All those negatives in the ADNY review amount to is the contention that he thought it did not consistently deliver on the promise of its reputation and prices. That is very different from saying that the negatives mean that he wouldn't want to eat there again (because he didn't like it or thought it was bad or something). And all the positives in the S&T review amount to saying that people who don't know it should take a chance on it -- they'll probably enjoy it.
  9. Let me put it this way. If the online archive is to be trusted, the first ratings carried no author's byline (because stars apparently were introduced not in the review articles, but in the dining directory listings.) The stars were in existence for three years before Claiborne's name appears on them. In the stars explanation, the reviewer is not mentioned in the formula for the first 10 years of the stars existence. Only then, coincident with a new critic, is the formula change to mention "subjective judgement" (a stronger statement than "reviewer's reaction" which it was later toned down to, but I'll accept that as a non-substantive change.) To me there is something substantive there. I'm not sure what, but it has something to do with this discussion on "objectivity."
  10. Looking back at my chronology, there have been times when price is explicitly mentioned in the ratings definition. I'm surprised nobody picked up on Canaday's remark, which seemed noteworthy to me, that if two restaurants serve food of comparable quality, but one is more expensive, the more expensive one gets the lower rating. I can sort of understand this (and this may explain some of the "** smackdowns"). I think it is simply true that, to a point, money buys you quality. A restaurant operating on a limited budget has very real constraints on what it can offer. Though one can perform admirably under such constraints, that ceiling is there. And maybe that ceiling is **. On the flip side, if a luxurious restaurant is not "cost-effective" in terms of quality, then might not ** be also reasonable? What the reviewer is saying is, "at these prices, you damn well better expect ***, but you won't get it here. You're money is better spent elsewhere." I believe historically there have been a number of expensive restaurants that have been given zero stars. And sure, there has been some star inflation (Miller and Reichl being the culprits). So maybe it does all make sense.
  11. Quick point regarding this. I suspect Bryan Miller meant to replace "Fair" with "Satisfactory." I say this because after he (or the paper) introduced the "Satisfactory" rating, he never again gave a "Fair" rating. Unfortunately, his successors did use both, confusing the issue.
  12. Geez, I'm sorry I brought it up. Just two comments: From 1973 on, the stars definition always specifies that the rating is based on "the reviewer's reaction." Wouldn't you read as saying subjectivity must be understood to be implicit in the ratings, with no pretence otherwise? In fact, when Hess was critic, the definition actually says, "based on the author's subjective judgment of quality. . ." Second, wouldn't you kind of think that, despite the tenor of the reviews, and despite the flaws and strengths he cites, Bruni would if given a choice rather eat at ADNY than Spicy and Tasty?
  13. I've said this before, but I am kind of fond of Bruni's description of his "system." For him stars come down to how excited he would be to return to the restaurant. Food, service, and ambience are all considered, but that excitement is the bottom line.
  14. I reported in an earlier post that Mimi Sheraton's most common rating (which you might take to be her baseline) was 1 star (45% of reviews) with pretty good symmetry around that (25% 2 stars, 23% zero stars). I don't have all her ratings in this calculation but this figure considers 383 ratings. Don't forget "comparable establishments" were part of the stars definition at the time she was reviewing. Actually specifying whether a no star restaurant was "poor" or "fair" happened sometime in her tenure, I think. I'm not sure where yet. I think there are a couple of really interesting facets to Sheraton's reviewing. When I have time, I'll compile a few examples. Stuff like giving a restaurant 3 stars and then, within five months, knocking it down to "fair". In the era of multi-restaurant reviews, star ratings were much more malleable, subject to change in very short time frames, without any need for external justification like personnel change, etc. She lamented more than once that some restaurants were unable to handle the interest generated by a high rating, resulting in poorer service and food, resulting in a lower rating in re-reviews just a couple of years, or less, later.
  15. FYI. I'll comment more later, when I'm not working. But here is a rundown of what the stars have "meant" over the years. Dates should be fairly close to first appearance of each description. I sure as heck can't find any long consistent period matching what FG describes (and says "had value") where people would have gotten their "long experience." 5/24/1963: Stars, when they appear, are employed as follows: one star denotes restaurants of more than routine interest; two stars denote those of superior quality, and three stars pertain to restaurants regarded as among the finest in the city. 10/30/1964: [range expanded to 4 stars] "Four stars pertain to restaurants regarded as among the fittest in the area." 9/3/1965: [the introduction of relative ratings] "The criterion is the food and service in relation to the cost of dining in any particular establishment." 5/21/1971: (Sokolov) [split ratings] The restaurants reviewed on this page on Friday are rated both for their food (four stars to none) and for their service, atmosphere and decor (four triangles to none). 6/1/1973 (Hess): [death of split rating. relative rating now considers "comparable establishments" as well as price] "The restaurants reviewed here each Friday are rated four stars to none, based on the author's subjective judg ment of quality in relation to the price of meals and the quality of comparable establishments. Roughly, one star may be translated as fair, two stars as good, three as excellent and four as superb." 1/18/1974 (Canaday): The restaurants reviewed here each Friday are rated four stars to none, based on the author's reaction to cuisine, atmosphere and price in relation to comparable establishments. [one star is now "good" and two stars "very good"] 3/8/1974 (Canaday): "I'd like to get to get a few things straight about the stars. . . A restaurant serving excellent food at high prices will get a lower rating than one serving food of the same quality at reasonable prices." [four stars is now "extraordinary"] 10/15/76 (Sheraton): These ratings are based on the reviewer's reaction to food and price in relation to comparable establishments. [i.e., no more "atmosphere." Also this is when the definition of no stars as "poor to fair" was added] "It seems appropriate to point out that that rating [one star] is a positive one, meaning good, and it is not easily come by. It has become apparent that such a rating is all too often taken as a put-down, meaning, in fact, not very good at all, so some clarification is definitely in order." 3/9/84 (Burros, between Sheraton and Miller): These ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction primarily to food, with ambience and service taken into consideration. ["Comparable establishments" removed suggesting an "absolute" rating system.] 5/9/86 (Miller): "Satisfactory" rating added. Kurumazushi gets the first "Satisfactory" rating (Sheraton before and Reichl afterwards, both gave Kurumazushi 3 stars, but this is actually not necessarily evidence that Miller treated Asian restaurants differently than his colleagues.) The stars description doesn't change after this I believe. The biggest change implemented by Reichl is the one review/one restaurant policy. In my opinion, the biggest effect of this is on re-reviews. Before Reichl, many restaurants were re-reviewed every three years or so, and some even more frequently than that. On the other hand, a Grimes or Bruni re-review is more on the order of 10 years since the last review. Reichl, as I've mentioned before, was the most generous with her star ratings, giving more 2 and 3 star ratings than any other critic.
  16. After taking my kids to the Hands-on museum Sunday, we walked over to Sabor Latino, a restaurant which has had some very strong advocates on this board, though I remember one poster describing it as ho-hum after going on the strength of those recommendations. My wife, who lived at Kingsley and Main before we met, used to eat there often. I think that may be the appropriate context when characterizing this restaurant. It is inexpensive. There are things on the menu that you can't readily find elsewhere. It's good up to a point, especially given the price. If I were still a resident or a student within walking distance, I could easily see myself eating there frequently. (I lived in Ann Arbor for six years, and lived in various neighborhoods, but not anywhere that would have made that scenario realistic.) But I don't live there now. I visit with some frequency, though, and I doubt I'd seek it out again. Not because I didn't like it, or thought it wasn't good, but because it's, shall we say, "every day" food and my visits to Ann Arbor aren't every day. Maybe that doesn't make sense (and I definitely hope that didn't come across as snobbery.) I guess an analogy might be the cheap Korean places around campus, which have also gotten favorable comment on this board. I am Korean-American and to me these places, some I find good, some bad, serve what I'm calling "every day" food, food that you could and sometimes do live on day-to-day, whether at places like this, or eating at home, depending on your situation. But it would never occur to me, if I were traveling, to seek out a place like this, unless it were something I just happened to really be in the mood for.
  17. This quote is from e-gullet's own chat with Ruth Reichl. My own kids (4 years and nearly 2 years) both stopped eating fruits and vegetables almost overnight at about a year and a half. It's not like anything about the example their parents set for them changed. There is probably more nature (i.e., genetics) and development at play here, rather than nurture. It's Ruth Reichl's kid for pete's sake.
  18. Reichl reviewed it twice, first in December '93, giving it two stars, then again a little over 2 years later, in March '96, bumping it to 3 stars, writing, "I wasn't crazy about Picholine when it opened. . . . [brennan] has pushed himself. . . to make Picholine the best restaurant in the area. . . . And he has succeeded. . . . everything about Picholine has improved." In his *** review, Bruni starts by recounting a very bad experience he had there just pre-makeover. But the overhaul he says makes it, "arguably the nicest restaurant surprise of this disappointing season."
  19. Cuisine is art when it's not repetitive, if you are following a recipe, even if it is one you created in the past, it is a craft. The same with painting, you have "artists" who simply reproduce the same style over and over, now that's not a bad thing, but it becomes more of a craft as the creativity isn't necessarily at a maximum. That said, as a diner, the first time you try something new, it is art to you. ← It's tricky making analogies across different media, but I disagree with this because, by this logic, only classical music composers, but not performers, can be "artists", and I doubt this is a commonly held opinion. I think music is probably a better analogue for the culinary arts than painting because of the importance of the ephemeral re-creation (the musical performance or the food we eat) as well as the permanent creation (the musical score or the recipe.) Both creation and recreation have objective technical standards (the "craft") which is somewhat related to, but is not synonymous with artistic merit. A person can be a creator or re-creator or both, and art is possible either way. I could go on, but this is somewhat OT, and there's probably a thread devoted to this topic elsewhere.
  20. I usually end up eating at Applebee's a couple times a year for one reason or another. Anyway, I was there tonight and tried one of the Tyler Florence items: penne rosa, which consisted of penne in a "traditional" spicy tomato sauce, sweet sausage, and peas. Verdict: if Florence's name weren't on it, it wouldn't have seemed obviously out-of-place with the rest of the menu. That is, it's still clearly Applebee's food first. On the other hand, it was "good" Applebee's food. I don't subscribe to the idea that a feature of eating at a chain restaurant is getting the same experience and the same food regardless of which outpost you're in. In my experience, what can make the chain restaurant experience so awful sometimes is exactly the individual execution. At its worst, the food is poorly prepared, overly greasy and salted, served cold, and leads to later gastric distress. In different hands, everything is just fine and even tasty. Anyway, my dish was just fine, even tasty. I've had worse at some local Italian places. I can easily picture the same dish being virtually inedible if executed less happily. But for now, you can up the tally to "pasta: 2 pos."
  21. They are breaking the law, and have just decided that they are unlikely to be reported. http://www.michigan.gov/cis/0,1607,7-154-1...99198--,00.html ← Interesting how the law is worded to make both parties at fault. If I were a belligerent customer that absolutely insisted on bringing and drinking my own drink in a restaurant, yeah I'm breaking the law, but so is the restaurant. If the restaurant called the cops on me, it would be for something they're technically at fault for too (i.e., they'd be calling the cops on themselves.) Compare this to a situation with less force of law behind it, say if some establishment (not a restaurant) had a "no food or drinks" sign posted (and assuming there were some obvious good reason for this), if I don't respect that, common sense suggests I'm at fault and not the establishment. But in this case, what this law is saying is that the establishment is also at fault for not enforcing the ban. What surprises me is that, given this wording, it's a little unclear to me what purpose the law is supposed to serve. I would understand it if the patron only was at fault, i.e., this is a law to protect licensed and unlicensed businesses alike from people trying to frequent an establishment but bringing their own "goods." I suppose it is intended to serve a safety function (safe driving etc.) in that BYO reduces the control the establishment has over the amount of alcohol consumed. I'm amused that, just a couple tables down from the BYO party, there was a table of uniformed police officers. But I guess enforcing compliance and reporting such violations isn't (or is it?) part of their everyday responsibilities. After all, there's an "enforcement toll free line." The year of the regulation linked to by tammylc is 1998, but I'm assuming that it's possible that particular section could be older and just unrevised.
  22. I have been to one restaurant in Michigan where I have definitely seen diners bring their own (and on multiple occasions, so it's wasn't just a fluke or mistake or something.) I don't know what the situation is there.
  23. http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/?p=91#more-91
  24. Watched the episode -- great shirt, Chris. So what did you and Steingarten fight about? It didn't seem to make the edit.
  25. I think John's point about the importance of the particular neighborhood is well taken (implying that "neighborhood restaurants" differ in character depending on location.) I think Grimes was sensitive to this in his reviews. Here are some examples (which I did not include in my original list of Grimes' "neighborhood restaurants". as they were not specifically ID'd as such, despite the following.) In my opinion, SE's post about two discrete senses in which "neighborhood" is used and his analysis of its meanings and origins seems pretty dead on and might even close the discussion.
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