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Bruni and Beyond: Reviewing (2008)


Nathan
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i just had to reply to this thread because i just served frankie b very recently for the second time at my restaurant. we have spotted him every time.

i just wanted to talk about service here a little more. first of all - bruni almost never ever talks about service in a times review unless its bad. ditto adam platt.

next - what is a service failure exactly? a screw up rate? i probably had 10 interactions with him directly recently.

there's a million things i could have said.

"may i enquire about your water preference?"

"would you like still or sparkling?"

"is tap water ok or would you like bottled?"

"bloomberg water?"

he could have had tap water poured in his bottled water. that would have been a screw up. but is that enough to demote a 3 star restaurant to 2? probably not.

i could have not known the spices on the tuna, or the components of a sauce on the monkfish.

i could have not described wines by the glass with passion, accuracy, and understanding.

there are a million little service interactions that waiters have with bruni's table when he eats for him to judge.

i firmly believe he has an overall impression of service based on the many interactions he and his dining companions have with who is serving him. its a general impression of service.

but ultimately, the food is the star, and the service should match the food.

on to the food. the kitchen and the line cooks certainly know who they are cooking for. they are definitely pulling their best steak, the best fillet, the newer mise en place, the larger favas, the bigger morels, etc etc etc. the plates are wiped and triple checked. you can absolutely see if something is not cooked correctly just by looking at it. ditto with an espesso (the freshest and creamiest crema, etc). in fact, i think the only food you can't really tell its quality by looking at it is sea urchin.

the silver is triple polished and glassware too.

but ultimately a restaurant can only do SO much once they know.

say a hypothetical dish is a red mullet fillet (sous vide) with some peas, pea greens, cous cous, and some saffron broth ...... i dont know im just coming up with something.

you can bet everything will be cooked perfectly....but ultimately.... is that dish a good idea? is it really absolutely fucking delicious?

some dishes are genius because of the idea, the composition. the oysters and pearls at per se, egg caviar at jean g, that pig candy bar at eleven madison, the lychee and foie at momofuku ko.

what im trying to say here is that when bruni comes in and samples most dishes, he will over time have a very good impression of the quality of the cooking and the thought and creativity (and hopefully originality) of the chefs cuisine, and i haven't read a review of his lately where he was far off the mark.

him being anonymous is almost irrelevant at the end of the day ultimately i believe. a restaurant can only really present their best self when he is spotted, and a restaurants best night can really truly be a 2 star restaurant (otto, artisinal, little owl, august, etc).

anyway those are my thoughts on the matter.

Edited by chefboy24 (log)
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Nathan, that makes no difference.  All it says is that there is a low percent chance that he'll experience a screwup event when he sits down.  That defines his experience, but doesn't allow us to extend his experience to the restaurant at large, because the sample size is way too small (never mind the fact that we all understand that even a restaurant with great service will still occasionally give sub-par service to a valued customer or recognized critic).

The trouble is, I understand what you're against, but I don't see what you're for.

Do you envision the Times saying one day, "From now on, we no longer report on service, because we've decided we can't."

Or do you envision the Times deliberately sending Bruni out to be feted as if he were the King of England, then writing reviews that disingenuously suggest that every customer can expect a similar experience?

Or do you envision a series of reviews like Craig Claiborne's famous $4,000 dinner, which no one claimed could be reproduced by the ordinary consumer, but which he reviewed mainly for the readers' entertainment?

I'm certainly "for" abandoning the argument that "it exposes bad service for non-VIPs" as a justification for presumed anonymity of restaurant reviewers. Because I don't think it does, in any meaningful way.

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I think there's an erroneous assumption underlying some of the recent discussion.

I don't think it's the case that a four-star restaurant will screw up service 0.5% of the time, a three-star will 1%, a two-star will 15% of the time, and a one-star will 25%, or anything like that.

I think there are different levels of service you get in different classes of restaurants. And while I think we tolerate more frequent screw-ups in lower classes of restaurants, I don't think it's the case that a one-star restaurant is a four-star restaurant that screws up service 50 times more often.

A one-star restuarant could have a nearly perfect service record and still have only one-star service.

ETA: I guess that if you're deciding how much you should dock an otherwise three- or four-star place for service screw-ups, the frequency of the screw-ups would matter. Maybe. Service would have to be really awful to bring an otherwise three- or four-star restaurant down to one star, though.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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There is some truth to that. But the other assumption is that the 4-star place, will have a very low failure rate while trying to execute 4-star service, whereas it is acceptable for the 1-star place to have a higher rate of failure. The margin of failure is also significantly narrower with the 4-star place. If you wait 15 minutes for someone to refill your water glass at Jean Georges, that's a pretty big deal. If you wait 15 minutes at Landmarc, not so much.

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I see what you're saying.

But I think what you're really saying is that what would be considered a screw-up at one level is considered tolerable service at another. In other words, Landmarc might still deserve its one star even if 100% of its patrons had to wait 15 minutes for water refills 100% of the time.

But those aren't the kind of screw-ups we're talking about here, are they? We're talking about disasters like the wine-spilling and misrepresentation of a dish at Ago. Things that, if uncorrected, wouldn't be tolerable at any level.

The way I look at it is this. Think of food quality instead of service. Obviously, three- and four-star restaurants use better ingredients and feature generally more complex and creative recipes than two-star restaurants. But if Le Cirque, say, burned its duck 15% of the time, that wouldn't make it a two-star; it would make it a "Poor". And if Little Owl burned its pork chops 15% of the time, it would also demote it to "Poor" instead of demoting it to one star.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Well, in her memoirs, Reichl wrote the difference between her two Le Cirque meals was between four stars and one star.

The whole "failure rate" metric is intentionally vague -- it's really just some arbitrary measure of quality, or lack thereof. If you went with my alternative measure, you would certainly have an asymmetric distribution where a restaurant was, say, two stars 60% of the time, one star 30% of the time, and zero stars 10% of the time. This is still a "two star restaurant" but even on its best night, it's never a 3/4 star restaurant for the reasons you've all given.

I think you have go back to the question of how much can a restaurant do if it recognizes the critic? If the difference is a "failure rate" of 1 in 10 improving to, say, 1 in 25, I'd say you couldn't meaningfully tell the difference in four visits, and that's what FG is implying when he says the difference between three and four stars, at least, is small, so you can't base a rating on that. It's similar to what Stephen Jay Gould (I think) once wrote about baseball players. There's a huge difference in perceived quality between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter. Yet the difference between them is 1 hit per 20 at-bats. There's no way you can tell the difference between them even after watching a week's worth of games, let alone one.

On the other hand, large differences in quality, such as those given by Nathan (which were 10x different), and implied by FG when he wrote you can basically tell immediately whether a restaurant is in the neighborhood of four versus one stars, is measurable in a few visits, and Nathan's analysis was qualitatively on the mark. So the question is how big is the spread?

I think anecdotally people are accepting, if grudgingly, of a one star difference of opinion because of an innate understanding of the sampling issues involved. I think that a two star difference of opinion is considered more serious, partly because most people feel they can readily distinguish the difference, even with a small sample. So the question is, can a restaurant effect a two star swing in quality of service (or food) for VIPs and recognized critics (whether through improvement or avoiding the bad)? My guess is very few can, and those that can are, at this point, well-known or publicized. So from that standpoint, there's not much point in anonymity particularly if, as FG points out, it limits the quality of critics one can employ. On the other hand, all other things being equal, there doesn't seem to me a compelling reason to actively toss it out the window.

Edited by Leonard Kim (log)
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However, just as it is possible for a simple coin flip to come up heads 100 times in a row, it's also possible for Bruni to hit either the jackpot or snake-eyes any number of times in a row.  With a sample size of 4, it's entirely possible for Bruni to experience a SUR of 50% at a restaurant where the overall SUR is 1%.  Indeed, given the number of restaurant meals consumed by Bruni, this is almost certain to happen.

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.

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We're talking about disasters like the wine-spilling and misrepresentation of a dish at Ago.  Things that, if uncorrected, wouldn't be tolerable at any level.

I'm not sure that I believe that so many of the mistakes at Ago wouldn't have been made if they had known it was Bruni. Yes, they wouldn't have been late with his reservation, they would have kissed ass after the wine spill ("spills happen," as Bruni said himself) and he would have been seated at better table the one meal he was seated at a bad table. Do these things represent overall horrible service at Ago? Maybe. Maybe not. It's really not possible to tell, because it's based on one occurrence.

As for Bruni's other complaints, which I believe (hope?) formed the basis for his "poor" rating (mediocre food, poor reservations, staff not on the same page, etc.) -- I don't believe these are things that could have been gamed to the extent that would have made the review any better. Any restaurant that is operating at such a low level won't be able to get its act together to game a critic into an undeservedly good review (certainly not without getting nailed -- it's not like he's not going to notice that his waiter is only serving his table, or that the chef is personally delivering each dish). Rather, the wine spilling incident is employed simply to illustrate and reinforce his negative impression of the restaurant. I have no doubt that, even if that incident had gone as poorly as it did, if the rest of his experiences had been positive on balance, it wouldn't have found its way into print. And, indeed, it very well may be the case that Ago's service isn't as bad as Bruni's review makes it seem by leading with the wine spill story.

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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...What is not a matter of random chance (except in the most pedantic sense) is what the restaurant does next.

Indeed, Bruni said that he would not have mentioned the spill, had the restaurant did something at least remotely reasonable in response.
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to comment on Dave H's point:

I'll go back to Leonard Kim's reference to baseball (a subject which, unlike statistics and dining, I do know something about):

you can pretty clearly see the difference between a career .250 and .300 hitter at the plate...in just one at bat. (with rare exceptions...Kirby Puckett and the like) the .300 hitter will be more disciplined, chase less, not try to pull everything, will hit better fouls (a foul straight back means they just missed nailing the pitch), and when they make outs...are more likely to make that out hitting a hard line drive at someone. the reason why hitting is one of the hardest things to do in all of professional sports is that you can do everything right and you'll still mostly get an out. but the difference in approach is obvious to the careful observer. scouts rely upon this a great deal.

the thing is: merely making contact will get you enough grounders in the right places, bloops and the like to get to the Mendoza line (this is why National League pitchers generally manage to hit .200)....but the .300 hitter might hit the ball hard five times more in 20 at bats than the .250 hitter.

(put differently, one look at Will Clark's swing during a slump and you would still know that he was an above .300 hitter)

likewise, there's something to this for restaurants. I suppose the real test of service is what happens when a restaurant screws up. I think anonymity matters here.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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It's similar to what Stephen Jay Gould (I think) once wrote about baseball players.  There's a huge difference in perceived quality between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter.  Yet the difference between them is 1 hit per 20 at-bats.  There's no way you can tell the difference between them even after watching a week's worth of games, let alone one.

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

Edited by Dave H (log)
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likewise, there's something to this for restaurants.  I suppose the real test of service is what happens when a restaurant screws up.  I think anonymity matters here.

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.

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The question we're debating is exemplified by this passage in Bruni's infamous review of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House:

Ducasse's astonishing and formidable wine list doesn't have very many bottles under $100, but it carries hundreds over $200. And so I initially offered few particulars one night when I asked a sommelier to recommend a French red that would be full-bodied enough for my suckling pig, not too heavy for the preceding lobster tart and about $175.

''But what region?'' he said with a derisive huff and repellent hauteur. ''What grape?'' I wish I could report what he chose, but when I later thanked him for the fine selection and asked him to write down its name, he wordlessly reached over and started picking at the label, then abruptly spirited the bottle away. That was that: I never received the information.

During later visits, when the restaurant clearly knew me, I was treated with reliable courtesy, as most diners, from my observation, seemed to be. An infinitely friendlier sommelier, asked to do wine pairings, made consistently inspired, interesting selections...

Is it wrong that the first sommelier's performance played a part—though it was only a part—in determining the restaurant's demotion from four stars to three?

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Not to mention that, as with this recent example of a customer's perhaps mistaken reaction to a waiter's perceived "attitude," we have to wonder whether this was truly the sommelier's "fault" or a reaction more founded in Bruni's attitude than the sommelier's. Of course, Bruni gets to write the story...

Edited by Dave the Cook (log)

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Not to mention that, as with this recent example of a customer's perhaps mistaken reaction to a waiter's perceived "attitude," we have to wonder whether this was truly the sommelier's "fault" or a reaction more founded in Bruni's attitude than the sommelier's.  Of course, Bruni gets to write the story...

Sure, but as one of the diners involved in that fiasco I'll say that even if it was all in our heads his response to the situation (i.e. his response to a diner apologizing for getting snippy at him) was breathtakingly unprofessional. So I suppose in that sense, I saw it the same way as Bruni ... the waiter's grating tone (perceived or real) was hardly anything newsworthy in MePa, but his response to the situation - like the Ago staff 's response to the spilled wine - was so wrongheaded that it made the story one worth telling.

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Is it wrong that the first sommelier's performance played a part—though it was only a part—in determining the restaurant's demotion from four stars to three?

There are a lot of problems with that scenario, the most critical of which is that I have no good reason to believe Bruni's interpretation of the events of that evening. Next time you're at Atelier, or if you dined at the Modern during the relevant time period, you tell me if you think Stephane Colling is anything less than a total pro.

I have no idea whether the four-to-three demotion hinged on that incident -- maybe the food alone would have earned three anyway -- but it's clear to me from reading that review and from talking to people at the restaurant (I have to check my notes but I think I was in the kitchen either that night or the night right after) that the incident with Colling poisoned Bruni against the restaurant's service team. Later when he was handled by Andre Compeyre it seems he chose to conclude that whatever good service he got from Andre -- who is one of the best working sommeliers I've ever dealt with -- was a charade. When in reality I think the restaurant had two excellent sommeliers and Bruni just had bad chemistry with one of them on one evening.

So yes, I think that's a good example of how random anonymity -- especially in the hands of a weak critic -- can produce random outcomes.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Dave H and Nathan,

I think the viewpoint you take about my baseball reference shows you to be actually sympathetic to FG's position. To take the analogy further, I think FG would say that even if Ducasse went 1 for 5 in the game Bruni watched, it should have been obvious through observation that Ducasse is a .350 hitter, and his scouting report should say as much. This is a scouting-versus-results approach. It doesn't matter what actually happens in the small sample; it's too small to make a judgment, based on results alone, about the caliber of player, but information is there to make a judgment nonetheless.

I'm not so sure where I stand on that, whether in baseball or restaurant reviews.

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Dave H and Nathan,

I think the viewpoint you take about my baseball reference shows you to be actually sympathetic to FG's position.  To take the analogy further, I think FG would say that even if Ducasse went 1 for 5 in the game Bruni watched, it should have been obvious through observation that Ducasse is a .350 hitter, and his scouting report should say as much.  This is a scouting-versus-results approach.  It doesn't matter what actually happens in the small sample; it's too small to make a judgment, based on results alone, about the caliber of player, but information is there to make a judgment nonetheless.

I'm not so sure where I stand on that, whether in baseball or restaurant reviews.

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.)

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The appearance of a conflict of interest comes not from connections but from lack of disclosure (and subsequently getting caught). If Hesser had simply said "by the way he blurbed my book and I'm known to him" then there wouldn't have been a problem. Bryan Miller was thoroughly connected to the industry, and it wasn't a problem.

In other news, I thought Bruni's most recent review -- of Bar Q -- was his worst in recent memory. Just when I think, "You know, he's getting better at reviewing," he always manages to let loose with one of these. I thought the review was not only self-indulgent and lazy with all that talk of his dining companions but also relatively incoherent in that the meandering, ambiguous narrative simply did not make the case for two stars.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In other news, I thought Bruni's most recent review -- of Bar Q -- was his worst in recent memory. Just when I think, "You know, he's getting better at reviewing," he always manages to let loose with one of these. I thought the review was not only self-indulgent and lazy with all that talk of his dining companions but also relatively incoherent in that the meandering, ambiguous narrative simply did not make the case for two stars.

Me too. As I noted on the blog, Bruni has been criticized for giving two stars to places that were traditionally one or unrated, such as Sripraphai. But at least he made the case for them as passionately as it could be made. This week, he didn't even try.

I also agree that critics shouldn't be telling us how tough it is to be one of their dining companions.

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I, too, thought the review well below his recent improvements.... I read the review, which read as more negative than positive, and I didn't see the connect with two stars--read like a one star review to me. Also, I kept thinking that his references to his dining companions was a distraction. What was all that in the review for, anyway?

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  • 1 month later...

Today's NY Times restaurant review, finds Bruni back reviewing what he likes best, Italian food, at Scott Conant's Scarpetta.

Fairly straight forward review, he seemed to love the pastas, only mentioned a few secondi, calling the scallops "lovely," and the sliced sirloin "perfectly fine," and the desserts "utterly solid without being notably ambitious."

So, is this a 3 star affair, or did it get bumped up by the Bruni's love (and knowledge) of Italian food?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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