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Dave H

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  1. Having stopped in somewhat randomly Saturday afternoon, some items to report: 1) Kimchi stew is available on request. Of the rest of your list, the corn and asparagus were always seasonal items (some winters they subbed grits for corn in the shrimp dish--not a favorable trade IMO), so they seem likely to make an appearance in one form or another in summer and spring, respectively. As for the stew, which I had not had in quite some time, I'll admit it didn't wow me quite as in years past. Could be related to its unofficial spot on the menu, or could be because it was preceded by: 2) The braised kale (in pork broth with pickled crosnes) and tokyo turnip (glazed in miso butter with pearl onions) dishes are stupendous. Nothing out of keeping with great Momofuku dishes past, but easily in their company. I'm at Noodle Bar pretty rarely these days, so I don't know how new these are, but it was a nice change of pace from the stagnant menu at Ssam Bar in the wake of its recent (ongoing??) lack of a head chef. Given the daily-changing $20 menu of new dishes, I might even posit that we're in one of those uncommon periods where Noodle Bar is more interesting for repeat visits than Ssam. 3) You must be a moron to try to go here on a Saturday night. My friend and I, in the mood for a late afternoon snack, rolled up at 5:25 to find a large crowd gathered on the sidewalk awaiting the 5:30 reopening time. Felt a bit awkward to be standing outside with the tourists waiting for Disneyworld to unlock the gates, but we managed to get seated in the first wave with no problems. By the time we left an hour later it was a madhouse. Obviously I recognize how silly it is to report "Momofuku Noodle Bar crowded on Saturday night", but we're talking a line 100 people deep to give their name to the hostess. At 6:30. Sad thing is, you'd probably cut out two thirds of that line if they started selling pork buns from a food truck parked outside.
  2. It only supports FG's position if you take it as a given that Bruni is a bad critic and that three stars for ADNY was the wrong result--that is, if you think Bruni happened to see the .350 hitter strike out and didn't have the chops to notice the hitter's talent despite the random bad result. (Again, I don't think the degree of randomness inherent in the outcome of a single baseball at bat is at all comparable to the degree of randomness in a restaurant meal, much less four or five restaurant meals.) I disagree. I think Bruni has grown into a fairly good critic, and I find his star ratings reliable and approaching authoritative. I think he started off as a not-very-good critic, and was still in need of improvement when he wrote the ADNY review. I never ate there, so I can't say whether three stars was obviously incorrect or not. Certainly there were many very experienced diners who were very unimpressed by ADNY. On the other hand I can say that I don't think Bruni's two star for Gilt was at all supportable. But every critic produces his or her share of howlers, and for the past couple years Bruni has been solid and consistent IMO. If they'd followed the FG principle of hiring a well-known food writing talent regardless of her ties with the local restaurant industry, the Times in 2004 would have probably ended up with Amanda Hesser. We all know what she managed in just a few weeks as interim reviewer. Let me add BTW that I don't think her Spice Market review was the result of cronyism on behalf of a restaurateur who blurbed her book, I think it was simple bad (critical) judgment. But few people seem to agree with me. As a result of that review, her credibility and her extremely promising career were greatly diminished. And she was just the interim reviewer! This is what happens when the Times reviewer has any sort of connection to the restaurants she's reviewing. (I mean--a book blurb!?) And while the details would be different, it would happen in a second if the Times adopted FG's suggestion and started pre-arranging personal dinners in lieu of reviewing restaurants. The plausible appearance of a conflict of interest is absolutely fatal to the institution of NYT dining critic. Nor do I buy the notion that only someone who is already famous and well-connected in the NY food world is qualified for the Times reviewing gig. Bruni's promotion from Rome Bureau political reporter may not be a confidence-inspiring model--certainly his long learning curve was unacceptable--but it's not the only way to get someone who can be plausibly anonymous. Best would probably be to follow the Ruth Reichl model--hire a talented, pseudo-anonymous critic from far away. (I'd prefer from another country.)
  3. That is one test of a restaurant's service, and anonymity is certainly critical in such a case. But good service is mostly a matter of proper training, and small interactions done right. Does the server correctly read how inclined the table is to hear long descriptions of the dishes? Can the server tell when to interrupt and when to leave the table alone? Can the server usefully describe the cheeses on the cheese plate? That sort of thing. In this case, anonymity helps inasmuch as the restaurant can assign their best waiter to Bruni's table, and give him more attention without visibly shortchanging the tables around him. Of course if the best waiter is not very good, or if they don't want to draw attention to how bad the first waiter was by switching when they recognize him in the middle of service, then they're screwed. Contrast this with a prearranged visit, when they can drill the staff beforehand, and make sure their best waiter is working that night or even have a manager pretend to be a waiter for the night.
  4. But you can tell the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter from watching a single game, much less a week's worth of games. If you know baseball, you can frequently tell the difference from watching a single at bat. The .300 hitter will have a better eye and chase after fewer bad pitches. The .300 hitter will better anticipate which pitch the pitcher will throw in any particular situation--on any particular pitch he might guess wrong, but his will be a smarter guess than the .250 hitter's. The .300 hitter will do a better job fouling off borderline pitches when he's got two strikes. The .300 hitter will have a better and more consistent swing. The .300 hitter will do a better job guiding the ball towards gaps among the fielders, or to avoid force-outs if there are runners on base, or behind the 2nd baseman as he moves to cover 2nd on a hit-and-run. On any particular at-bat these only increase the batter's chance of success marginally. (Well, from 25% to 30%.) But they are still visible to anyone who understands what is going on. It is only on the box score that it is difficult to tell a .250 hitter from a .300 hitter without a large number of observations. This is the problem with trying to judge a restaurant's service on the basis of a "screw up rate". Even disregarding the fact that there is a difference between one star service and four star service, there is a difference in service between a good restaurant and a bad one at the same level of formality. It is true, of course, that the good restaurant's better service will manifest itself in fewer gigantic screw ups, but it will also shine through in the dozens of smaller service interactions that affect every diner, every time. edit: cross-posted with Nathan, obviously
  5. I'm not a mathematician, but this is not terribly difficult to calculate. To repeat your postulates, we're saying Bruni makes exactly 4 visits to a restaurant where on any individual visit he has a 99% chance of getting "good" service and a 1% chance of getting "bad" service. Given these binary options ("good" and "bad"), there are 16 (2^4) different distributions of experiences Bruni can have after 4 visits: gggg (all "good" visits) gggb (first 3 visits "good" and last visit "bad") ggbg etc. In total, there is 1 possible distribution of 4 "good" visits (namely "gggg"); 4 distributions of 3 "good" and 1 "bad" ("gggb", "ggbg", "gbgg", "bggg"); 6 distributions of 2 "good" and 2 "bad"; 4 with 1 "good" and 3 "bad"; and 1 with 0 "good" and 4 "bad". (For those who want to relive middle school Algebra this is just Pascal's Triangle.) Now, the chance that Bruni has a particular distribution of visits is just the product of the chance of getting each type of visit. For instance, the probability that Bruni gets "gggg" is just .99 * .99 * .99 * .99 = ~.9606, or 96%. The probability that Bruni gets "gbgg" is just .99 * .01 * .99 * .99 = ~.0097, or 1%. But the probability that Bruni gets one "bad" visit and three "good" visits is ~.0388, or 4%, because there are four ways to get one "bad" and three "goods". As for the question you were asking, the probability of Bruni observing "a 50% SUR", i.e. 2 "goods" and 2 "bads", it is 6 * (.99 * .99 * .01 * .01), or .000589, just above one twentieth of one percent. If we instead compute the probability of Bruni observing at least a 50% "SUR" at a 1% "SUR" restaurant on the basis of 4 visits, the number goes all the way up to .000592. In other words, we would expect that Bruni would observe a "50+% SUR" on the basis of 4 visits to a "1% SUR" restaurant roughly one out of 1689 times. Given that Bruni writes 50 reviews a year, if every review were of a "1% SUR" restaurant, and if he always visited each reviewed restaurant exactly 4 times, we would expect to see one such inaccurate review every 33 years, 9 months. Unfortunately Bruni's tenure is unlikely to last that long, so the best we can say is that if we expect him to last 6 years (he's just passed his 4th anniversary on the job), the chance he will get a review this badly wrong in his entire tenure is a bit higher than one in six. Of course in reality if Bruni observed such widely contrasting service on successive visits he might be inclined to make 5 or even 6 visits, in which case the chance of getting a "50% SUR" drops precipitously. Moreover, this entire probability-based approach to characterizing restaurant experiences is, IMO, fairly misguided. It is a commonplace on food boards that "even the best restaurants have off nights", but I think people are taking this claim too far. For one thing I think that statement is often invoked to paper over the common experience of two posters disagreeing on the merits of a particular restaurant. Of course some of the variation they see will be actual variation in the restaurant's performance; but I think far more of it is due to differences in the posters' tastes and past dining experience, what they order, and, perhaps most importantly, their expectations. Certainly I've had better and worse visits to the same restaurant, but I think the difference typically has much more to do with me (or my party, or what I order, or whether I've had the dishes before) than the restaurant. All of these are considerations that a good reviewer should be able to factor out. Also I think the tendency to ascribe these things to "random chance" and then make up some numbers and wave our hands a bit does not characterize the reality of service at a good restaurant vs. a bad one. Some types of bad service events--the bartender pouring a bottle of wine down Bruni's guest's shirt, for instance--are to some degree truly random occurrences. In theory it is possible--in theory--for Bruni's guest to have a bottle of wine accidentally poured down her shirt while waiting for their table in the lounge at Per Se. (In theory.) It's probably quite a bit less likely when the bartender is not on drugs, or a complete idiot, or trying to deal with 85 douchebags and their dates all yelling at him because they've been waiting an hour for their reservations, but it is still possible. As Bruni wrote, "spills happen." What is not a matter of random chance (except in the most pedantic sense) is what the restaurant does next. Nor is it a matter of random chance that a party for 4 have to wait 52 minutes past their scheduled reservation time to be seated in a 110 seat restaurant. That is a result of egregious overbooking. Similarly, if we knew the number of 4-tops in Ago, and subtract the number that are reserved for VIPs, then we could very easily calculate the chance that an unrecognized Bruni's party of 4 would be seated at the one 4-top that is partially obstructed by a giant column. On the other hand, the chance that Bruni would get seated at a table partially obstructed by a giant column in a restaurant that does not place its tables where they are partially obstructed by giant columns is zero.
  6. You'll have to excuse me if I don't exactly take innuendo from Page Six and Gawker as accepted fact. ← The innuendo comes from Danny Meyer. Gawker just did the minimal legwork required to work out who Meyer was talking about. ← Edit: it's not innuendo. It is a baldfaced accusation of soliciting and rewarding bribes. Well, I suppose the accusation that everyone else in the restaurant industry knows and plays to Lape's M.O. qualifies as hearsay. Further edit: and this isn't some off-the-record comment Danny Meyer made that was overheard by a gossip rag. This is something Danny Meyer published in his book.
  7. You'll have to excuse me if I don't exactly take innuendo from Page Six and Gawker as accepted fact. ← The innuendo comes from Danny Meyer. Gawker just did the minimal legwork required to work out who Meyer was talking about.
  8. I think that David Rosengarten, as non-anonymous a reviewer as you are likely to find, has more credibility than the NY Times -- certainly under the last few reviewers. ← Certainly David Rosengarten has plenty of credibility. Not being a subscriber I'm unfamiliar with the protocol he uses for "Rosengarten Report" reviews. Is he non-anonymous in the sense that he has his picture published and appears on TV--i.e. in the sense that Alan Richman is "non-anonymous"? In that case, I don't think the difference much matters; yes, it's silly (and PR theatrics) for Frank Bruni to only appear on TV with his face digitally blurred, but the visibility and relative importance of the NYT review is such that it really does make sense to try to make the average restaurant staff less likely recognize Bruni as opposed to more reviewers for more obscure outlets. (Whether these attempts have any effect is another question.) If the Rosengarten Report is more in the line of magazine feature journalism--i.e. he travels to a particular restaurant, pre-announced, and writes the equivalent of a feature story on it--like when a particular restaurant is the cover story on Saveur, or featured on Tony Bourdain's show--then that sort of thing is valuable, and still relies on Rosengarten's credibility as a gastronome and cook and journalist and author, but it is in a different category from what Bruni does, or Richman does, or Michelin does. (The problem with John Mariani IMO is that he blurs these categories; he makes claims to objectivity, and to rank restaurants against each other--"The Best X New Restaurants", etc.--while following the protocols of feature journalism.) If it's something else, then depending on the details perhaps I do have a problem with the protocol he uses for his reviews. It's important to point out that while a particular protocol could work for David Rosengarten, it might not work as well for an institutional position like NYT reviewer.
  9. What, exactly, do you think this demonstrates? It demonstrates that one non-anonymous reviewer (Bruni) gave Kobe Club a poor review whereas, according to Chodorow, three other equally non-anonymous reviewers (Greene, Lape, Mariani) "loved it." It's also possible that at least Green and Lape were "anonymous" when they dined there. ← Well no, Chodorow didn't draw attention to Adam Platt's zero star review of Kobe Club in his paean to all the "respected" "critics" who loved it. But I assumed everyone remembered it was there. The story of Bob Lape I already linked to in my previous post, but there it is again if you couldn't find it. As for the notion that Gael Greene tries to maintain the pretense of anonymity, I believe if you actually read the review in question and noted the comped $295 item you might think differently. (If you somehow had the notion that Gael Greene tried to maintain the pretense of anonymity. But I digress.) And that's the important point: the pretense of anonymity. The pretense of anonymity is frequently more important than actually going unrecognized. (For instance when $295 dishes are being sent out.)
  10. Sam, you can find your demonstration of the difference between anonymous reviewers and Fat Guy's "100% non-anonymous" reviewers right here. (Check the footnotes...)
  11. Something that's been obscured so far in this discussion is that critical anonymity is not just a binary on/off proposition. Even assuming arguendo that Bruni is recognized at some point during 80% of his visits to a reviewed restaurant (and where did that number come from?), it matters when in his visit he gets made. Consider that of all the appalling service mishaps Frank relates in his Ago review, the only one that provably demonstrates that he had not been recognized was when his party had to wait 52 minutes for a scheduled reservation even after the bartender poured a bottle of wine down his guest's shirt. Assuming Bruni let one of the other people in his party deal with the hostess, it's possible that up to that point the only person at Ago who'd seen him was the bartender. Even if he got recognized by his waiter or a manager later in the meal, he nonetheless gained valuable evidence that vastly improved the review over what would have happened had he walked up to the hostess and said, "Hi I'm Frank Bruni here for my 8:30 reservation." Which brings me to my next point. Fat Guy seems to be arguing as if there's no difference between when a pseudo-anonymous reviewer like Bruni gets recognized in the middle of service and the sort of pre-announced fully-comped let-the-kitchen-cook-for-me "reviews" of a John Mariani. (Or of a "Travel & Leisure" type journalist, although at least those don't typically claim objectivity. And yes, I know that GQ pays for some of Mariani's meals, but he extracts others and indeed entire vacations from restaurants and chambers of commerce, etc.) Even if every restaurant recognized him the second he walked in the door, there's still a tremendous difference between a Bruni "futilely" playing by the rules of anonymity and a critic who makes a reservation in his or her name and thereby gives the restaurant ample notice to prepare--to make sure the head chef and GM and best waiters are in; to block out the best table in the house for the night; to splurge on better ingredients or plan out extra courses, etc. And there's also a difference because the restaurant has to play by the rules of anonymity. Even if they spot Bruni, they can't comp him extra courses or off-menu luxury ingredients or really anything he doesn't order off the standard menu. (In fact this is probably one of the primary effects of Bruni being recognized--anyone else who went to a review-eligible restaurant five times in a row would be getting VIP'd all over the place by the time they were done.) Even if anonymity is a knowing charade played out by both reviewer and restaurant, it still has tremendous value in preventing outright corruption. And this last example demonstrates the tremendous value of having the resources of an NYT dining section behind a reviewer. I'm unclear whether Crain's uses the same official guidelines as legitimate publications, but without the budget of a NYT to pay for 3-6 meals at the top new restaurants in New York you wind up with reviews written on the basis of too little evidence and, in some cases, tainted by corruption. Fat Guy seems to be proposing that because not everyone can afford to pay for the integrity of the Times review process that the Times should unilaterally disengage and worsen the credibility of its reviews. But it's not entirely clear to me exactly what he is proposing. What does "100% non-anonymity" mean to you, FG? Does it just mean the Times publishes Bruni's picture, as less important critics like Alan Richman are allowed? Does it mean they pre-announce and pre-coordinate visits with reviewed restaurants? Does the chef get to cook whatever the hell he wants for Frank Bruni? Can the restaurant swallow the cost of white truffles and spoonfuls of Osetra for Frank Bruni, or is the Times still paying? Do you really think John Mariani has more credibility than the New York Times? Or do you not care because the Times's extra credibility makes it harder for non-Times reviewers to do their jobs?
  12. If the ideas are marginally more elegant, and the best dishes are better than anything that's come out of Ssam Bar, then how can you say it fails to eclipse Ssam Bar in terms of straight-up inventiveness and deliciousness?Because elegance, and other factors like clarity of ideas and plating aesthetics, are orthogonal to inventiveness and deliciousness?? Hyperbole.You haven't eaten much at Ssam Bar. On those two criteria--inventiveness and deliciousness--I would put my top, say, 6 or 7 Ssam Bar dishes over the past year and a half up against any restaurant I've ever eaten at. Which obviously misses by far the majority of the world's great restaurants, but hits a number of them as well. This is partially unfair because I've eaten at Ssam Bar many more times than any of these other ones, but the menu at Ssam Bar changes more frequently as well. I chose my words fairly carefully--remember, I did not say no other restaurant was the equal of Ssam Bar on these measures, I said none eclipsed it--and did not intend it to be hyperbolic. On the other hand, I really can't claim any representative experience outside of the US. So I'll amend my statement to "but very likely no restaurant in America does."
  13. I agree with Nathan and Sneakeater: there's quite a bit of overlap in quality with an all-star best/most refined lineup of Ssam/Noodle Bar over the past year and a half, but the ideas are altogether marginally more elegant and the plating is of course on a totally different level. (And the best dishes are better than anything that's come out of Ssam Bar.) On the other hand Ko doesn't eclipse the Ssam Bar hall of fame in terms of straight-up inventiveness and deliciousness, but probably no restaurant in the world does. It is really difficult for me to see Bruni not giving Ko three stars. But it's certainly not a four star restaurant at this point; the food may be close, but the service experience is light years away. It'll get better as things get tweaked and the cooks get more comfortable and the waitresses more knowledgeable, but I don't see any way for the Ko format to really reach a four star experience. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'll probably want to go back every couple months, or every time they completely revamp the menu, whichever is slower.
  14. 7500 covers a year. Closed Tuesdays. If we estimate that the Momofuku Bars do roughly 5 times as many turns as Ko (counting lunch and tuesdays), with 10 times as many seats, that's a total of 50 times as many covers. Let's say 5% of those covers are "regulars", who go to a Momofuku an average of once a week. If those regulars were to eat at Ko an average of five times per year, they would take up 25% of Ko's covers. Of course the 5% guess is irrelevant to the conclusion, which is this: if we keep the once-a-week definition of a "regular", than regulars only need to eat at Ko once a year to make up the same fraction of covers. This argument seems to me to be some version of "that place is so crowded nobody ever goes there anymore." Needless to say, the profitability of Ko will only be impacted if seats not only stop selling out by 10:01 AM one week before, but actually go unfilled. More to the point of this thread, the one thing that could impact their profitability is if they serve too many regulars. Obviously Ko can be subsidized by Ssam and Noodle Bars, but I'm sure their margins are tight enough without having to comp wine and extra courses.
  15. It's more than that--most of the (rather few) places I get comps, special treatment, etc. I got comped the first time I ate there. It's all about being knowledgeable and interested and having a good rapport with your waiter or, more likely, bartender. And visibly loving the food. I mean, I'm never going to be a big enough spender to be an "important customer" at any fine dining restaurant, from a financial point of view. The thing is, neither (I don't think) are any of the other people here who get comps all the time.
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