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Advice for the NYTimes's New Restaurant Critic


oakapple
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That's a slightly more complex and somewhat different question -- internal corporate memoranda are often considered fair game in news coverage -- that we could discuss on another thread. Although, I know so little about how Gawker works (presumably someone at the times feeds Gawker the memoranda) that I probably wouldn't have much to say. I'd like to know more, though.

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 dont know, maybe its because I am a laid back California dude...but you guys in New York seem to really take this stuff seriously. I dont think anyone would care as much out here about photo's and all that...I could never see this stuff going on out here..Oh yea, the e gullet dinner is this evening..I think we have about 8 members going to Fora in Long Beach...I am bringing my bitchin new Canon Rebel 6.3 SLR to tale pics with...so check out the thread!

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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Haha. But I've never written a search warrant -- not that kind of lawyer. I'm just generally a geek.

I have written a ton of search warrants, and I have never even heard of that word...I will have to try and work it into the next one I write :biggrin:

When I was an ADA - I used to write search warrants too. Don't think most of the cops - not to mention the judges - would know what I meant if I used the word :smile: . Were/are you an ADA in California (I was an ADA in Philadelphia)? Robyn

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Aside from the fact that Gawker has almost definitely violated the copyright laws by reproducing those photos (one assumes without permission from PBS and HarperCollins), I really don't see how that kind of attempted sabotage is called for. The Times has its system. If you think it's stupid, make the argument -- we've done that here. But don't resort to virtual guerrilla warfare.

Just because THE TIMES (said in deep serious voice) has its system doesn't mean that everyone else in the world has to follow it. (It's a good thing that every publication in the world doesn't follow the Times in everything it does.) And - like Chris said - most of us in the rest of the world are more laid back about this stuff.

I have mentioned the Ruth Reichl review of Le Cirque 2000 a couple of times in the last week. That is the ultimate if you're X you get this treatment - if you're Y you get that treatment kind of review. What did you think of the review - and what do you think of restaurants treating different people differently (I'm sure it goes on all the time in restaurants all over the world)?

I have friends in 2 camps - those who think that all people should be treated equally at fine "big deal trendy" restaurants in trendy cities - and those who *know* that they aren't. I tend to think that people in the former category are hopeless romantics - and those in the latter are realists. Robyn

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P.S. Unless there's another Bruni writing for the New York Times in Italy - a simple Google search shows that Bruni has made more news recently by writing catty articles about Silvio Berlusconi (alleged plastic surgery etc.) than writing about food. So is this simply a way to repatriate the guy to New York after repeatedly insulting the PM of Italy? Already - there is something I don't like about this guy.... Robyn

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Haha. But I've never written a search warrant -- not that kind of lawyer. I'm just generally a geek.

I have written a ton of search warrants, and I have never even heard of that word...I will have to try and work it into the next one I write :biggrin:

When I was an ADA - I used to write search warrants too. Don't think most of the cops - not to mention the judges - would know what I meant if I used the word :smile: . Were/are you an ADA in California (I was an ADA in Philadelphia)? Robyn

A Deputy DA write a search warrant....not ever gonna happen out here!..Us hard working Detectives have to do that...Lawyers are to important to do grunt work..plus they cant miss those lunches with the judges and stuff!

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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P.P.S. And you know I have to ask this question - even if I get a ton of hate mail here. Is this the same Frank Bruni who - when you do a Google search Frank Bruni and New York Times - you come up mostly with articles and discussions and interviews about homosexuality - not food?

If this is the same guy - well what do all of you think this means in terms of the position of the head Food Critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES (again - said in deep serious voice)? What credentials does this guy have for this job? Asked in all seriousness. I have nothing against homosexuals - I am a design/art freak - so - of course - some of my best friends - etc. But having a deep interest in homosexual issues - or being homosexual - isn't in any way a qualification for being the lead food critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES - in my humble opinion.

Perhaps there are 2 Frank Brunis - or those of you in New York know more about this than I do. Any information or insights would be appreciated. Robyn

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What credentials does this guy have for this job?

Good point.

I guess a high-ranking staffer who likes to eat is good enough for the Times. His specialty appears to be George Bush.

Can't wait to read his Masa and ADNY reviews. You have to pity a guy whose first sushi review is of one of the best sushi restaurants on the planet.

But, hey, let's wait and see. Maybe he'll surprise everyone.

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P.P.S. And you know I have to ask this question - even if I get a ton of hate mail here. Is this the same Frank Bruni who - when you do a Google search Frank Bruni and New York Times - you come up mostly with articles and discussions and interviews about homosexuality - not food?

If this is the same guy - well what do all of you think this means in terms of the position of the head Food Critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES (again - said in deep serious voice)? What credentials does this guy have for this job? Asked in all seriousness. I have nothing against homosexuals - I am a design/art freak - so - of course - some of my best friends - etc. But having a deep interest in homosexual issues - or being homosexual - isn't in any way a qualification for being the lead food critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES - in my humble opinion.

Perhaps there are 2 Frank Brunis - or those of you in New York know more about this than I do. Any information or insights would be appreciated. Robyn

Yes, without question it's that Frank Bruni. But a fair reading of his output reveals that he has written on a wide variety of topics, including food and culture, and by no means limited to (or even primarily) so-called "gay" issues. Indeed, if he wrote on that topic at all, it was only occasionally. Frank Bruni is, simply, a professional reporter.

One might reasonably ask whether someone belongs in that job who isn't chiefly known already for his food/restaurant writing. The Times certainly could have gone for someone who was already a proven restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl was. But of all the things in Bruni's background that are not food related, why pick on one in particular? I have no reason to think that a given sexual orientation disqualifies one from being a great restaurant critic.

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But of all the things in Bruni's background that are not food related, why pick on one in particular? I have no reason to think that a given sexual orientation disqualifies one from being a great restaurant critic.

That's just what came up first in my Google search. Pages of it. I agree - being a man or a woman - heterosexual or homosexual - is in no way a *disqualification* for the job. Robyn

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We also have to keep in mind that the powers that be at the Times probably know some things about their personnel that we don't know. If Bruni is a well-qualified restaurant critic, we'll find out soon because his reviews will prove that.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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6) Indeed, the Times's own description of the paper's rating system isn't reflective of the true facts. It says, "Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration." But the fact is, with rare exceptions, only very pricey places reach 3 or 4 stars. This suggests that, while a restaurant might be punished for charging a lot and failing to deliver, few restaurants are ever highly starred for delivering wonderful things at a low price.

A few months back, the restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Craig Laban, awarded the equivalent of four stars to a BYO restaurant, Django, where (apropos price) you can do three courses and easily get out for under $50, tax & tip included. While Philly eGers are enthusiastic about Django, the decision to award a BYO four stars generated a heated discussion about the type of restaurant that "qualifies" for 4-star status. Read it here.

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We also have to keep in mind that the powers that be at the Times probably know some things about their personnel that we don't know. If Bruni is a well-qualified restaurant critic, we'll find out soon because his reviews will prove that.

A lot of Bruni's feature work from the Rome bureau involves food and restaurants, so it's not like he hasn't done any reviewing. Plus, there's certainly precedent in having someone from the "hard news" side of the fence with an interest in food do some reviewing - RW Apple's certainly done well with it, even if he's doing reviews from wherever he happens to be rather than within the city limits.

"Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cookbook! Little Red Cookbook!" --Eddie Izzard
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A few months back, the restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Craig Laban, awarded the equivalent of four stars to a BYO restaurant, Django, where (apropos price) you can do three courses and easily get out for under $50, tax & tip included.  While Philly eGers are enthusiastic about Django, the decision to award a BYO four stars generated a heated discussion about the type of restaurant that "qualifies" for 4-star status.

This is where tradition collides with innovation. The NYT defines four stars as "extraordinary." Can a BYO restaurant get four stars for being extraordinary in its class? Or must a four-star restaurant, by definition, have the "whole package"? I guess I'm more of a traditionalist myself---bearing in mind that, when the ratings were more rigorously applied, it was quite a compliment to earn even one star. But nowadays, there's probably no restaurant in the "reviewable" class that is altogether happy with one star, except for the odd occasions when the Times critic picks a place out of nowhere, and just getting noticed is a success in itself.

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This is where tradition collides with innovation. The NYT defines four stars as "extraordinary." Can a BYO restaurant get four stars for being extraordinary in its class? Or must a four-star restaurant, by definition, have the "whole package"? I guess I'm more of a traditionalist myself---bearing in mind that, when the ratings were more rigorously applied, it was quite a compliment to earn even one star. But nowadays, there's probably no restaurant in the "reviewable" class that is altogether happy with one star, except for the odd occasions when the Times critic picks a place out of nowhere, and just getting noticed is a success in itself.

What if Michelin rated the restaurants of say, New York City?

Think of the argument this way:

Michelin = tradition

NY Times = innovation

Soba

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Can't wait to read his Masa and ADNY reviews. You have to pity a guy whose first sushi review is of one of the best sushi restaurants on the planet.

Anyone think Masa will get four stars? If it does, then it will be a significant break from the tradition of only French restaurants getting the Times' highest mark.

I have a feeling, though, that it's bound for three.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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i believe that hatsuhana had a 4 star review at one point. not that it means anything, but thought i would add that.

That's good to know. Thanks, cornellrob.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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Plus, there's certainly precedent in having someone from the "hard news" side of the fence with an interest in food do some reviewing - RW Apple's certainly done well with it, even if he's doing reviews from wherever he happens to be rather than within the city limits.

Bruni may very well do a great job as critic, but I wouldn't invoke RW Apple. Am I alone in not particularly liking his work? I've had a couple of situations where I've done some independent research on things he's written about only to find that his articles were not very well informed.

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What if Michelin rated the restaurants of say, New York City?

Think of the argument this way:

Michelin = tradition

NY Times = innovation

Soba

I personally wouldn't be so dismissive of Michelin. Does the organization have its faults? Yes - but so does the NYT. And it really isn't totally mired in tradition (at least when it comes to France - which is where it's most useful in my opinion - just like the NYT is most useful in New York). I remember eating at Jamin (Robuchon) when it had 1 star. I think it had 3 stars before I got home from vacation! Robyn

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"Bruni may very well do a great job as critic, but I wouldn't invoke RW Apple. Am I alone in not particularly liking his work? "

"If this is the same guy - well what do all of you think this means in terms of the position of the head Food Critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES (again - said in deep serious voice)? What credentials does this guy have for this job? Asked in all seriousness. I have nothing against homosexuals - I am a design/art freak - so - of course - some of my best friends - etc. But having a deep interest in homosexual issues - or being homosexual - isn't in any way a qualification for being the lead food critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES - in my humble opinion. "

"

I have a very soft spot for RW Apple for two reasons:

1) He's used his enormous--nearly inestimable power at the Times to do what he wants--which is eat well all over the world and write about it. I mean--this is a guy who at the height of his power, could pretty much walk into the oval office without knocking. You have to admire that THIS is what he's chosen to do in "retirement".

2) People I know who showed him around or helped him "research" his articles are in absolute awe of of his amazing appetite, his relentless curiosity and his sheer stamina. He had a pal of mine in Singapore folding at the knees. Still shaking his head admiringly at the swathe Apple cut through town. Apparently, as a robust and adventurous eater? He makes me look like a pussy.

3) He may not qualify for Food Nerd--or poet laureate--of the year, but the man has enjoyed, during his long career, more and better legendary meals and wines than the cumulative experience of everyone on this board.

So what's not to like?

As far as Bruni? Sounds like an eminently good choice. Outsider. Comes over from the news side. Likes to eat well. Knows what it's like to eat well. I see nothing to inspire fear, dread or wild speculation.

As far as the "homosexual issues" shit robyn mentions? What the FUCK are you babbling about?!! I'm about the hardest guy in the world to offend. You've just done it. That is some ignorant shit oozing out of your keyboard..

abourdain

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As far as Bruni? Sounds like an eminently good choice. Outsider. Comes over from the news side. Likes to eat well. Knows what it's like to eat well. I see nothing to inspire fear, dread or wild speculation.

As far as the "homosexual issues" shit robyn mentions? What the FUCK are you babbling about?!! I'm about the hardest guy in the world to offend. You've just done it. That is some ignorant shit oozing out of your keyboard..

What issues? The guy is openly gay - and apparently middle of the road politically (although some people don't think so after his Berlusconi bashing). What's offensive about that? His being gay doesn't bother him - and it doesn't bother me.

I think I asked what his qualifications were to be THE food critic for the New York Times. Is knowing what it is to eat well - and liking to eat well - enough for you (I mean - you're likely to run a restaurant that might be reviewed by this guy - not me)?

To me - well - I know hundreds of people who know what it is to eat well - and like to eat well. All you have to do is go to a lawyer or doctor convention to find them. And I'm sure there are tens of thousands more I don't know.

So is that what the fate of dozens of restaurants in New York is riding on - the opinions of someone "who likes to eat well, and know's what it's like to eat well"? I don't know whether to laugh or cry (think I'll laugh because I don't run a restaurant). Robyn

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What if Michelin rated the restaurants of say, New York City?

Think of the argument this way:

Michelin = tradition

NY Times = innovation

Soba

I personally wouldn't be so dismissive of Michelin. Does the organization have its faults? Yes - but so does the NYT. And it really isn't totally mired in tradition (at least when it comes to France - which is where it's most useful in my opinion - just like the NYT is most useful in New York). I remember eating at Jamin (Robuchon) when it had 1 star. I think it had 3 stars before I got home from vacation! Robyn

I wasn't being dismissive -- au contraire:

oakapple's quote, which you left out by the way, is central to my point:

This is where tradition collides with innovation. The NYT defines four stars as "extraordinary." Can a BYO restaurant get four stars for being extraordinary in its class? Or must a four-star restaurant, by definition, have the "whole package"? I guess I'm more of a traditionalist myself---bearing in mind that, when the ratings were more rigorously applied, it was quite a compliment to earn even one star. But nowadays, there's probably no restaurant in the "reviewable" class that is altogether happy with one star, except for the odd occasions when the Times critic picks a place out of nowhere, and just getting noticed is a success in itself.

that if Michelin rated the restaurants of New York, I'd suspect the order of top rated restaurants would be reversed in ways that would surprise quite a few people.

Certainly the order of three and four star rated restaurants....Atelier (*cough*) springs to mind.

Soba

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I wasn't being dismissive -- au contraire: 

oakapple's quote, which you left out by the way, is central to my point: 

This is where tradition collides with innovation. The NYT defines four stars as "extraordinary." Can a BYO restaurant get four stars for being extraordinary in its class? Or must a four-star restaurant, by definition, have the "whole package"? I guess I'm more of a traditionalist myself---bearing in mind that, when the ratings were more rigorously applied, it was quite a compliment to earn even one star. But nowadays, there's probably no restaurant in the "reviewable" class that is altogether happy with one star, except for the odd occasions when the Times critic picks a place out of nowhere, and just getting noticed is a success in itself.

that if Michelin rated the restaurants of New York, I'd suspect the order of top rated restaurants would be reversed in ways that would surprise quite a few people.

Certainly the order of three and four star rated restaurants....Atelier (*cough*) springs to mind.

Soba

I'm not familiar with Atelier. What kind of restaurant is it?

And I'm not sure that a great wine list has anything to do with being a great restaurant. You can look at the Wine Spectator ratings - which give wine a higher emphasis than most reviews do. Do they give too much? I can't say for sure. But - due to medical reasons - I can't drink wine - so it's not on my radar screen when I'm dining. Even if it were on my radar screen - I'm not sure I'd be interested in paying 200-400% markups on bottles. Therefore - I personally am just looking at food when I dine somewhere. To me - a fabulous $20 dessert is worth a heck of a lot more than a $25 bottle of wine I can buy in a lot of places which is marked up to $75.

As for BYO - it reminds me of restaurants in Utah - where - when you can get liquor at all - it's usually in state stores in kiosks in the middle of restaurants. I don't think anyone would put the best restaurant in Utah in the top 10 - or perhaps 100 - of the US :smile: - but the way they serve booze can give you some food for thought on the relative importance of booze in restaurants. And - at least in my opinon - drinking wine/liquor in Utah is a total bargain!

Just about all of this is totally subjective in my opinion - but - if I had to vote on things - I'd vote only for "best food" (and not best wine list, table linens, dishes, flowers, interior decorating, etc.). To put this in somewhat of an historical perspective - the first time I went to Archestrate - it was ghastly from any design perspective. The whole place was a terrible shade of purple. The table settings were mediocre. It did have a fine wine cellar (first time I ever spent more than $100 on a bottle of white wine - and that was about 25 years ago). But I'm sure that it was the food that got the stars - not anything else. Robyn

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Oh ho, Atelier's rating was one surprise out of many during Grimes' tenure. It's haute French cuisine, of the Lespinasse/ADNY level. Chef Gabriel Kreuther, formerly the chef-de-cuisine of Jean-Georges, opened Atelier in early 2003. The restaurant is located in the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South. I think you might like it.

Many on eGullet thought that it merited four stars. How wrong we were.

New Zealand langoustines, apparently, large and earthy (good), served grilled over the neatest, tidiest, least raggedy soft poached egg you can imagine. Each langoustine was anointed by the waiter with a spoonful of something which looked like caviar but which was a fine brunoise of pineapple moistened with balsamic vinegar. A chunk of the shellfish, coated with the brunoise and dipped in the egg yolk provided a deeply satisfying bolus of tastes and textures.

Atelier thread in the NYC forum

Champagne sauce has the deceptive tensile strength of a spider web. Sweet and slightly piquant, it stands up to a muscular slab of wild salmon coated in a hot horseradish crust. Perhaps most impressive is the featherweight fines herbes jus pooled around slices of pink Muscovy duck baked in a clay papillote. As with the seared foie gras, Mr. Kreuther reveals the flavor of his main ingredients without resorting to the usual syrups and fruit sauces. He has a talent for confounding expectations.

Atelier (William Grimes) (from the NYTimes DIGEST update for 20 August 2003. Scroll down for the appropriate link.)

Soba

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