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BryanZ

Sifton and Beyond

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Sam Sifton's first review is up, here. His first review is of DBGB, and though I don't necessarily agree with the rating, I will say it's a pretty well-written review. And surely this was out of Sifton's control, but the leading picture just makes me smile. It's as if it ushers in a new, happier time for both restaurants and their patrons.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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Yes, it is a well-written review. But didn't we already know he was a good writer?

I've been to DBGB only once, so though I enjoyed the experience, I have insufficient data with which to agree or disagree with his rating. It certainly seems rational, though. I have to go back some time and try some of the charcuterie.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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I was curious what the eG response would be as I remembered the angst caused by Bruni. Personally I thought the review a little self conscious, as if he's finding his voice, which makes perfect sense.

I'm too far away to have any opinion on the restaurant, but anyplace that specializes in one of my favorite food groups...works for me!

Ciao.

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I was curious what the eG response would be as I remembered the angst caused by Bruni. Personally I thought the review a little self conscious, as if he's finding his voice, which makes perfect sense.

Sifton has been writing about food for a long time, and I recall earlier pieces of his, which were in a similar style. He isn't finding his voice; he found it a long time ago, for better or worse.

Bruni's first review (Babbo) contained the howler that the restaurant did not get four stars because of the music. I don't see any mistakes on that level in this review. Angst about Bruni built up over a long time. The NYT critic has to cover a wide variety of genres. It's one thing to write a hip-hop review of a hip-hop place in a hip-hop neighborhood. It's quite another to write that same review of Marea or SHO Shaun Hergatt. We'll have to see if Sifton is able to respond just as appropriately to other types of restaurant, or if he becomes the Johnny one-note that Bruni sometimes seemed to be.

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Personally I thought the review a little self conscious, as if he's finding his voice, which makes perfect sense.

I thought it was more along the lines of "trying too hard" than "finding his voice." In any event, I emphatically do not agree with those who've said it was a well-written review. I found it to be the worst piece of writing I've ever seen from Sifton. Not that I've read everything he's ever written. No matter whether you're writing about CBGBs, "HEY, ho, let’s go!" is a poor opening gambit. Not to mention, what percentage of Times readers will even get that reference? Sifton is a terrific writer and may very well shape up to be a great critic -- he's the best shot the Times has had since Ruth Reichl for a critic who may be able to satisfy both serious food people and those who only read the reviews for entertainment. But this review is a bad start.


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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No matter whether you're writing about CBGBs, "HEY, ho, let’s go!" is a poor opening gambit. Not to mention, what percentage of Times readers will even get that reference?

I see your point, but if reviewers (or writers more generally) confine themselves to only using references that will be known to the majority or totality of their readership, then surely the writing becomes bland and devoid of character. I'd rather read a review in which I don't get all the references than one where everything is spelled out and made clunkingly explicit in order to make everyone feel comfortable.

I supposed writing (particularly reviewing) is a balancing act in that way, and you and I may have different views about where the optimum balance lies.

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"HEY, ho, let’s go!" is a poor opening gambit. Not to mention, what percentage of Times readers will even get that reference?

I didn't think that mattered much. I got that reference, but there were two others in the review that I couldn't place. What did matter is that I perfectly understood what he meant, even if I didn't know whom he was quoting.

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I supposed writing (particularly reviewing) is a balancing act in that way

When a writer is making a literary (or musical or other) reference that is not likely to be understood by most readers, and he or she doesn't plan to explain the reference (which, indeed, can be clumsy to do), then the test is whether the reference if not understood will still read like good writing. In the case of "HEY, ho, let’s go!" it seems like incredibly bad writing unless you get the reference, and even if you do get the reference it may seem like bad writing. It does to me.

More importantly, I'm wondering what is meant by the reference. Is it a self-important "HEY, ho, let’s go!" -- I'm writing my first review here, it's the dawn of an era, let's go? Is it "HEY, ho, let’s go!" we're going to have a restaurant review here? Is it "HEY, ho, let’s go!" Daniel Boulud has done it again?

Am I the only person who thought this was a poorly written review?


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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Am I the only person who thought this was a poorly written review?

Definitely not. The Feed did an informal survey of the blogs, and Sifton is batting at best 50/50. I liked the piece, but remember, most people liked Frank Bruni's first piece. In hindsight, that review was the harbinger of many bad ones to come.

The question is whether Sifton is going to deploy an "I'm so cool" style in every review, or if it was just his attempt to capture the vibe of DBGB. We'll know pretty quickly, as he's reviewing Marea next week — a very different kind of place.


Edited by oakapple (log)

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I thought the "hey ho let's go" opener was corny. It missed the mark for style. It doesn't really matter whether you get it or not--he's writing about a laid back place that associates itself with CBGBs so he tried to write in a laid back style. There's nothing wrong with that, but it seemed a little contrived to me.


nunc est bibendum...

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I don't know - I enjoyed reading the review. I probably would have given the place 1.5 stars, so I can't quibble with the rating (although I might have mentioned the severe attitude I encountered on both visits). Maybe we let him write 2 reviews before we rip him apart?

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I probably would have given the place 1.5 stars, so I can't quibble with the rating (although I might have mentioned the severe attitude I encountered on both visits).

My own review was one star, but like most of the pro critics, my visit was in the summer. If Boulud has been gradually improving the place, then time alone could account for the fact that Sifton rated it higher than many others did.

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I don't know what you are talking about in terms of "Hey, ho, let's go." I think of it as a chant at a stadium. So I probably missed whatever specific reference he was making. Yet that didn't bother me at all.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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I imagine that was the reaction of most Times readers: didn't get the reference, didn't care. But care or not, it adds up to bad writing.

Here's what I knew. I knew those were lyrics from a Ramone's song. I knew it had become very popular at sporting events, along with "We Are The Champions" and a few other mainstays. And I knew that the Ramones were a big act at CBGB back in the day. When I Googled it, I realized that in the recesses of my mind I knew the song was called "Blitzkrieg Bop." All that knowledge doesn't add up to me comprehending the reference. Maybe someone with deeper knowledge of the whole scene can explain it better.

I'm even more ignorant with respect to the next song reference: "We ain't got time for that now." Fleetwood Mac, right? Did they ever even play CBGB? My CBGB cred is minimal, but at least I was there, so if I'm too dumb to get this reference then what significant percentage of Times readers will?


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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I'm even more ignorant with respect to the next song reference: "We ain't got time for that now." Fleetwood Mac, right? Did they ever even play CBGB? My CBGB cred is minimal, but at least I was there, so if I'm too dumb to get this reference then what significant percentage of Times readers will?

Talking Heads, Life During Wartime ("This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. This ain't no mudd club, or CBGB, I ain't got time for that now.")

Be that as it may, I agree with Steven -- I did know both of the referent songs, and I still don't understand why Sifton was quoting them. All I can think of was that he wanted to seem cool and hip, and as usual, when a writer has to reach to sound cool, he doesn't.

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The article is titled "Now I Wanna Eat Some Sausage," which references "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" from the Ramones. Either Sifton is suggesting that Boulud's restaurant empire is like a Nazi stormtrooper assault and his food a cheap, brain-damaging high (maybe that's why she's smiling?), or the references (including the throw-away Talking Heads reference and the weird "rap precinct" line) don't add up.

Review for Marea -- three stars -- is up. Perhaps this over-the-top metaphor thing is going to be his metier, and I find it entertaining, even though it's a hit-or-miss affair. Style is a strange thing, and restaurant reviews even stranger. I'd rather watch this awkward process of transformation than read anything Bruni wrote.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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How could anybody think that a bunch of references to bands that became famous playing at CBGB's "don't add up" in a review of a place named after CBGB's on a stretch of blocks now mainly known for being where CBGB's used to be? (I agree the hip-hop reference was out of place.)


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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(I'm not claiming that they weren't overly obvious or overdone. Just that they weren't nonsensical or misleading.)

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They weren't nonsensical or misleading. They just didn't add up to anything useful related to restaurant review. If it had been a tweet -- "GABBA GABBA HEY! Now I wanna eat some sausage at DBGB." -- it's catchy, if obvious. As a multi-part framing device for your eagerly-awaited first NYT restaurant review, it doesn't do much.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think the world at large may think it's quaint that people like you and me think there's a difference between tweets and other kinds of writing.

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How could anybody think that a bunch of references to bands that became famous playing at CBGB's "don't add up" in a review of a place named after CBGB's on a stretch of blocks now mainly known for being where CBGB's used to be? (I agree the hip-hop reference was out of place.)

Exactly.

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Does anyone else have a hard time with Sifton's writing style? It just seems....dry, a bit thick, and uninteresting. Also, I found, with the Marea review, a disconnect between the descriptions (text) and the stars awarded.

I want to like him and his reviews, but I just can't get beyond the writing style. Anyone else have this reaction?

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Does anyone else have a hard time with Sifton's writing style? It just seems....dry, a bit thick, and uninteresting. Also, I found, with the Marea review, a disconnect between the descriptions (text) and the stars awarded.

I want to like him and his reviews, but I just can't get beyond the writing style. Anyone else have this reaction?

I have quite the opposite reaction (albeit off of a very small sample). I find his writing witty, a bit sarcastic, rich and entertaining. Look forward to more. I enjoyed "The Cheat" article too.

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Does anyone else have a hard time with Sifton's writing style? It just seems....dry, a bit thick, and uninteresting. Also, I found, with the Marea review, a disconnect between the descriptions (text) and the stars awarded.

After five years of Frank Bruni, whom I was not fond of, I am glad to read something in a very different style. At some point, I may grow weary of Sifton, but right now I am enjoying his work.

I do agree that if the fish entrees at a purported seafood restaurant are disappointing, the restaurant should not get three stars. He could have written the identical reviews, given 1 star to DBGB and 2 stars to Marea, and I would have been quite happy.

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