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A Hypothetical 4 Stars


Holly Moore
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I have been to Bern's several times. It is a very fine steakhouse. It would get three stars, just like Luger.

In my opinion, to rate Bern's on the same level as PL is a total insult to Bern's. Aside from the food being much better, the menu is infinitely more varied, the service is far ahead of PL, the wine list is probably the best in the world, the cheese selection is second to none, the caviar choices are exemplary, the decor is quite tasteful and the dessert rooms are a unique experience.

As a bonus, there's Sidebern's next door where you can experience the same wine list with some of the most creative American cuisine in the country.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I have been to Bern's several times. It is a very fine steakhouse. It would get three stars, just like Luger.

In my opinion, to rate Bern's on the same level as PL is a total insult to Bern's.

I totally agree with all you say about the Bern's experience, but Peter Luger is a very atypical three-star restaurant — and, in FG's view, the third star is tenuous.

Compare Bern's to the typical three-star restaurant in New York — and that includes some pretty impressive places, like Bouley, Oceana, Danube, Veritas and Gramercy Tavern. Bern's is not in a higher class than those places.

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Not only would a great hot dog place with luxury service, a 35,000 bottle celler and appropriate sommeliers be a bit of a travesty but it would also be a one ring circus, even if the pony knows two or three tricks. How does one have an elegant multicourse dinner of hot dogs? The idea of a four star hot dog restaurant may be grist for Woody Allen or even Thomas Pynchon and one could enjoy reading about it, or the idea of it, but it would be a travesty and lovers of four star restaurants and hot dogs would both feel cheated, I suspect by anything attempting to be just that. Four star dining is a total concept and not a synonym for "the best."

The result of the research Fat Guy is suggesting would be fascinating. I was thinking earlier that I'd be happy with little things such as a list of all four star reviews--who got them and who gave them. A history of four star restaurants would be interesting too. What was their entry rating for instance as well as any ups and downs. None of it will prove much. It may say as much, or more, about the reviewer as the restaurant. I don't know that there's been consistency between reviewers or that all of the reviewers have been consistent across their tenure. I don't understand why there's all this confusion over what a four star restaurant is, or shoud be. That's a totally different matter than agreeing on any particular restaurant.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Maybe this stuff is all available for free at some big public library. I don't know. But if we have a person or people willing to do the work of finding out and then extracting and summarizing the information, please PM me.

Definitely available free of charge through most public library systems (it may take an inter-library loan request to get it). Problem? It's on microfiche. We'll someone with really good eyes not to mention plenty of patience and loads of time to spare.

I surely don't have the time or inclination to do this project, but I can't imagine a library that has microfiches or/and microfilms but no machine that magnifies them for the viewer. Anyone in New York who wants to take on this task will probably spend a lot of time on the 3rd floor of the 42 St. research library.

The only problem I foresee is that photocopying from microfiches is expensive, and that combined with round-trip subway rides is considerably more than $1 per article. [Edit: Well, perhaps not if the volunteer spends hours per visit, but still.] And I can't foresee any library lending microfiches/-films for use outside the library.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Maybe this stuff is all available for free at some big public library. I don't know. But if we have a person or people willing to do the work of finding out and then extracting and summarizing the information, please PM me.

Definitely available free of charge through most public library systems (it may take an inter-library loan request to get it). Problem? It's on microfiche. We'll someone with really good eyes not to mention plenty of patience and loads of time to spare.

I surely don't have the time or inclination to do this project, but I can't imagine a library that has microfiches or/and microfilms but no machine that magnifies them for the viewer. Anyone in New York who wants to take on this task will probably spend a lot of time on the 3rd floor of the 42 St. research library.

The only problem I foresee is that photocopying from microfiches is expensive, and that combined with round-trip subway rides is considerably more than $1 per article. And I can't foresee any library lending microfiches/-films for use outside the library.

One other thing to consider....whoever volunteers for this project should have a strong stomach. Just thinking about microfilm makes me feel queasy.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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One other thing to consider....whoever volunteers for this project should have a strong stomach.  Just thinking about microfilm makes me feel queasy.

Why is that?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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One other thing to consider....whoever volunteers for this project should have a strong stomach.  Just thinking about microfilm makes me feel queasy.

Why is that?

Volunteer for the task and you'll find out. :raz:

Seriously, the film speeding by makes me (and many others I know) dizzy and nauseous.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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The only problem I foresee is that photocopying from microfiches is expensive, and that combined with round-trip subway rides is considerably more than $1 per article. [Edit: Well, perhaps not if the volunteer spends hours per visit, but still.] And I can't foresee any library lending microfiches/-films for use outside the library.

I recently did a major microfilm photocopying project (not food realted) at the main branch (42nd St) of the NYC public library. They charge 25 cents a copy. I suspect most reviews are on a single page, so the cost would be about 25 cents per review.

But it is not necessary to photocopy the reviews. I think the idea of the project was just to copy down the main indicative data (restaurant name, restaurant genre, reviewer, date, rating, and perhaps a brief summary). This is of course time-consuming, but doesn't require that you photocopy each review.

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  • 1 month later...

Just thinking back, my recollection is that at its inception, the NYT stars applied to food only. I don't know when it was that service, decor and price entered into the equation, but my guess is that it was in the last 10-15 years. Early on, the selection of 4 star restaurants was much more eclectic than today.

Ahead of Uncle Tai's, I remember that the original Hunam restaurant on the west side of 2d avenue just north of 45 street got 4 stars (I hope that I'm remembering this correctly). It was excellent and a revelation in New York, although the dishes were classic Hunnan, but nothing else about the restaurant was special, it was less upscale than David K, which foodwise represented the "americanized" opposite end of the spectrum.

With regard to Bern's, I believe that in NYC it would get one or two stars. The steak isn't close to top NY quality, I personally tend to order the whole pompano. The desert balcony is a clever idea, but its really ultimately a gimmick for turning tables. The wine list is certainly outstanding, but only a small percentage of the selections are available in the restaurant on any given day, and within the past few years it has been repriced to market and is really now quite expensive. For many years they used to price it based only on their cost.

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I see that more and more, Marcus, as I uncover the older collections of Times reviews. Even allowing for context, perspective, and contemporaneous expectations and tastes, it's undoubtedly true that back in the day an offbeat, not-very-attractive, seemingly run-of-the-mill restaurant with an awesome kitchen could get four stars from a Times critic. And I think what Mimi Sheraton said about what four stars means to her, and about four stars meaning something different for every critic, was very illuminating -- how could it not be, given that she and Craig Claiborne invented the New York Times reviewing system?

But I also think it was inevitable that the system would evolve in the direction of Michelin's wholism, wherein the top rating implies as much about style as about cuisine. I'm not aware of any mainstream star-type system -- any major paper, Mobil, AAA, you name it -- where the pure food school of thought has held sway in the long term. With respect to the Times at least, I believe that's because of the institutional aspect of things. When Claiborne and Sheraton were the Times reviewers, they were the institution. They were the first, and they set the rules and the tone. They were also massive personalities -- perhaps the biggest in the history of restaurant reviewing, with Gael Greene also going on that list.

Moving forward, though, the Times needed to make restaurant reviewing about the institution of the newspaper and not about the institution of any one critic or a founding generation of critics. From the perspective of the Times, and I think this serves the cause of good journalism as well, the restaurant reviewing standards have to be about more than just the individual critic at any given time. If it's just what the critic thinks, then your institution is only as good as your critic and there's no larger, immutable, historical standard you can appeal to in order to explain why Amanda Hesser's restaurant reviews were so bad -- after all, they reflect how she felt. For an institutionally oriented paper like the Times, that's untenable -- as untenable as not having checks and balances and regulations to guide government officials -- and it destroys the sense of continuity that is such a point of pride for the Times.

So now, without question, we do have a system with a life of its own and we do have expectations and standards that are inherited from each previous generation of critics. When William Grimes or Frank Bruni -- neither of whom has the individual institutional aspect or blinding personality of a Mimi Sheraton -- come into the system, their jobs are to work within that system and it's a big deal when they make even minor modifications to it. That being said, the system does need to be dynamic and evolving, because the New York restaurant culture is dynamic and evolving. It's a question of balance.

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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  • 2 years later...
There are a few issues. A restaurant that contributes nothing to cuisine in terms of creativity or evolution has a serious disadvantage when vying for that last star.

What about Lutece? Would that still get four stars today?

It has been many years since a restaurant in that genre has had four stars, so you have to assume that it can't happen any more.

Beyond that, the current critical environment (and I don't just mean Frank Bruni) isn't favorably disposed to that kind of restaurant. So, even if someone wanted to, they'd be a fool to open another Lutece, and believe they had a shot at four stars.

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There are a few issues. A restaurant that contributes nothing to cuisine in terms of creativity or evolution has a serious disadvantage when vying for that last star.

What about Lutece? Would that still get four stars today?

Not a chance.

I disagree... but I also think that's because Andre Soltner wouldn't necessarily be cooking in the same style he did then. Still, having eaten *many* meals at Lutece and many at Daniel, I think that if the latter deserves four stars given its time and place, the former would as well.

The Coach House (mentioned earlier) fits the "old-school restaurant with four stars" example perfectly, IMHO. But that was twenty-five years ago now...

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Lutece was my favorite restaurant, so I'm not knocking it. I guess I'm just puzzled by your insertion of the phrase "for its time and place." It's precisely because it's a different time and place that I believe Lutece would no longer get four stars.

As for your assumption that Andre Soltner would be cooking different food if he were active now, who can know? His friend Rachou is certainly cooking the same.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Andre Soltner wouldn't necessarily be cooking in the same style he did then.
Probably not, but I assumed the poster was referring to Lutece as it originally was. What Soltner would do today is imponderable.
Still, having eaten *many* meals at Lutece and many at Daniel, I think that if the latter deserves four stars given its time and place, the former would as well.

If Daniel opened de novo, I don't think it would get four stars from Frank Bruni. As it is, Daniel is the only remaining four-star restaurant that he hasn't either reviewed or re-reviewed. Based on some offhand comments Bruni made in a Diner's Journal write-up of Café Boulud, Daniel could be at risk.
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Gordon Ramsay is proof of that.

today, innovation is a part of the four-star paradigm.  it just is.

At what point did innovation become part of the four-star paradigm? Was it Ruth Reichl who ushured in a new era, who changed the rules of the game?

Its interesting to note that such innovation doesn't appear to be as necessary under the Michelin system, given the stars Ramsay has garnered.

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Lutece was my favorite restaurant, so I'm not knocking it.  I guess I'm just puzzled by your insertion of the phrase "for its time and place."  It's precisely because it's a different time and place that I believe Lutece would no longer get four stars.
Sorry, I wasn't being clear. What I meant was that Lutece was a "relatively but not quite traditional French restaurant with a clear eye toward quality of ingredients and focus on the plate rather than the setting" in, say, 1980. That's what Daniel is now. IOW, I was *not* suggesting that Lutece was somehow "avant-garde" or "trendy." Just trying to forestall any argument to the effect that I was equating it to WD-50 or Alinea.
As for your assumption that Andre Soltner would be cooking different food if he were active now, who can know?  His friend Rachou is certainly cooking the same.

Actually, I think the Rachou example is very illustrative of how Lutece might have evolved. The reviews of LCB back in the day pretty clearly indicate that it was a place with a particular (moneyed) crowd that wanted particular (traditional French) food, and that Rachou gave his clientele what it wanted. Even then, Sheraton's reviews had words like "stodgy" to describe certain preparations. Lutece, by contrast, was seen by Sheraton and by Bryan Miller (and I agree with this) as chef-driven with a firm focus on the food and a serious culinary aesthetic.

Incidentally, I don't think that GR is necessarily a useful comparison to drag into the mix. The food there is, IMHO, simply not as good as what NYC's best has to offer. Whether it's worth two stars or maybe three (although I would argue that the latter would an insult to Bouley) is a different question.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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At what point did innovation become part of the four-star paradigm? Was it Ruth Reichl who ushured in a new era, who changed the rules of the game?
I think it has happened gradually, as old restaurants close (or get demoted), and new ones get the top ranking.
Its interesting to note that such innovation doesn't appear to be as necessary under the Michelin system, given the stars Ramsay has garnered.

I haven't seen a report yet from anyone who has dined at both Royal Hospital Road and The London Hotel. Are they in fact equal?
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I haven't seen a report yet from anyone who has dined at both Royal Hospital Road and The London Hotel. Are they in fact equal?

In a recent Sunday Times, AA Gill said that GR @ The London was inferior to *all* restaurants bearing the Ramsay name in the UK.

Si

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I haven't seen a report yet from anyone who has dined at both Royal Hospital Road and The London Hotel. Are they in fact equal?

In a recent Sunday Times, AA Gill said that GR @ The London was inferior to *all* restaurants bearing the Ramsay name in the UK.

Si

I'm prepared to believe that. But that also explains why his reception here has been underwhelming...it just isn't that good right now.

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