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NYT Articles on Food, Drink, Cooking, and Culinary Culture (2002–2005)


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That's mentioned in the article, but again without context. Have rents on that block gone up more than rents on average for commercially populated neighborhoods? How much would menu prices need to change to support a rise from $7k to $10k a month in rent? Assuming even a very low number like 100 covers per day, that's 3k covers per month -- in other words you need to increase menu prices enough to generate one dollar more per cover to fill the rent gap. Over a 5-10 year period that's hardly significant enough for customers to notice. "You know, I used to be able to get a great meal down there for $12 in 1999 but now that it's $13 in 2004 I just don't think it's worth the trip."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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This is just a guess -- I don't have any hard figures -- but basing my estimation of commercial rents on the residential rent prices people I know are paying down there compared to 8-10 years ago... I'd think the rents could easily have doubled during that time period. And for a lot of these places... I don't know... 3k covers a month sounds like an awfully ambitious number. Plus, any time you have a bunchg of restaurants packed in next to each other all serving more or less the same food, you have to figure that there was a lot of competition for customers based on price and other incentives.

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Are there an abundance of shops, markets

Yes, there is an abundance of little stores in this neighborhood that sell Indian spices, etc. Dowel, the best of them, is good indeed.

As far as I'm concerned, 6th St. is mostly a case of "The Emperor has no clothes." But this neighborhood is not likely to be devoid of Indian food for some time to come. The restaurants like Banjara, Haveli, and Madras Cafe that charge a little more and serve something other than a super-oily slop of identically-identified dishes are probably doing better than the row of eateries that could be served by the mythical central kitchen. I certainly think this is true of Madras Cafe, the first restaurant in the neighborhood to really break with the "North Indian" model of the 6th St. restaurants. It had trouble for a year or so, but gradually, positive word of mouth and good reviews came through for them. I wouldn't shed a tear for the demise of a bunch of cheap, lousy places. The only thing I'd feel bad about is that some of those places have employed some good musicians, and I hope those guys get work somewhere else.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 1 month later...

Admin: This thread began with posts split from the thread for the restaurant Ici following Bruni's review in the NY Times

One of the things that's interesting is that, looking at the prices, this restaurant - though really, probably about $35-40 for a 3-course dinner - is closer to the genuine $25-and-under category than quite a number of places that have been put into that category previously by the Times. I'm thinking of August, for example.

I like that Bruni is reviewing more places outside of Manhattan, and I like that he isn't restricting himself to hoity-toity places only.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Blovie caught Bruni's report on NY1.  Bruni explained that he chose Ici because he wanted to show that there are quality places to eat in the outer boroughs.  Plus, even though it's a neighborhood place it's a couple of blocks from BAM so other people might want to check it out.

This is a welcome trend — a curative to the Times's historically Manhattan-centric coverage. By the way, one of my personal theories is that, by definition, once the Times reviews a restaurant, it can no longer be deemed a "neighborhood place."

The review had a "Hand of God" feel to it. No doubt the proprietors feel that way! There are probably many places in the outer boroughs that are worth reviewing, but it's almost a random event when the Times gets to them.

Pan wrote:

One of the things that's interesting is that, looking at the prices, this restaurant - though really, probably about $35-40 for a 3-course dinner - is closer to the genuine $25-and-under category than quite a number of places that have been put into that category previously by the Times. I'm thinking of August, for example.

I had that exact reaction. At Ici, per the Times, entrees are $12-17. At Maia, reviewed in today's $25-and-under column, entrees are $12-21. In Eric Asimov's review of August, the entrees mentioned were in the $16-22 range, and I believe at least one entree there is $24. But I have often said that the Times should rethink the star-eligibility of the $25-and-under restaurants. Today's review offers yet another example of why that should be the case.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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The review had a "Hand of God" feel to it. No doubt the proprietors feel that way! There are probably many places in the outer boroughs that are worth reviewing, but it's almost a random event when the Times gets to them.

Really? I got the distinct sense that the only reason Ici showed up on Frank Bruni's radar is that it's owned by Laurent from The Restaurant. Despite this gimmicky hook (luckily downplayed in the actual writeup), it was indeed a delightful review and particularly welcome when the $25 And Under was the in-my-experience underwhelming Maia.

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I'll state right off the bat that I am not from New York, and have only eaten in a smattering of New York's starred restaurants. However, I have been a frequent reader of New York Time's restaurant reviews over the last five years.

I loved reading the reviews because they were generally critiques of restaurants that were head and shoulders above anything that I had in the cities I called home. To use a sports analogy, New York City was the heavyweight division of fine dining in the US, and the weekly Times review evaluated the contenders.

I was surprised by the Ici review, not because it wasn't well written, but because it was about a small, well run restaurant achieving modest culinary heights.

The kind of restaurant plentiful in every major city in the country.

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I was surprised by the Ici review, not because it wasn't well written, but because it was about a small, well run restaurant achieving modest culinary heights.The kind of restaurant plentiful in every major city in the country.

There are also a boatload of overpriced, over-hyped restaurants that are more about buzz and design than food, but the Times reviews them, as well.

I agree with Busboy, and I think Pan said

One of the things that's interesting is that, looking at the prices, this restaurant - though really, probably about $35-40 for a 3-course dinner - is closer to the genuine $25-and-under category than quite a number of places that have been put into that category previously by the Times. I'm thinking of August, for example.

This was just the first review I can remember in a long time that wasn't a "big deal" type restaurant, and seemingly opens up the chances for NYT Stars to restaurants of different genres, pricing, etc., IMO.

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I was surprised by the Ici review, not because it wasn't well written, but because it was about a small, well run restaurant achieving modest culinary heights.

The kind of restaurant plentiful in every major city in the country.

That's a really interesting perspective, Clifford. Of course, just as other cities need good neighborhood restaurants, so do we New Yorkers. As a New Yorker, I'm glad the Times is reviewing them, and I'll be glad if not all of them get relegated to the "$25-and-under" category, no matter how much a dinner would actually cost. To a large extent, the reviews of "big deal" restaurants aren't reviews I can use. I never expect to go to Per Se or Alain Ducasse, but if I have a reason to be in the neighborhood, I could easily see myself enjoying a meal at Ici. So while I'll definitely read Bruni's eventual review of Per Se with interest - just as I've read various eGulleteers' meal reports on Per Se with interest - it is at most curiosity and vicarious enjoyment. Unless one of you wants to treat me to a meal there. :raz::laugh:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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This was just the first review I can remember in a long time that wasn't a "big deal" type restaurant, and seemingly opens up the chances for NYT Stars to restaurants of different genres, pricing, etc., IMO.

We shall see, but I doubt that this signals a sea change. The fact is, there's a certain number of restaurants the Times must review — pretty much any restaurant that has aspirations of two stars or higher, plus any restaurant in the one-star class that has garnered sufficient public attention that it can't be ignored, plus a certain number of re-reviews of major restaurants whose old reviews are no longer current. Once all of those reviews get written, there's no more than a few slots per year where the critic can come out of nowhere, and cover a restaurant that no one had expected to be reviewed.

My own preference would be to make the $25-and-under category eligible for stars. That would give the Times 104 star-eligible slots per year, rather than 52. The fault line in this week's pair of reviews is particularly evident, where the restaurant reviewed in the $25-and-under column was actually more expensive than the restaurant Frank Bruni covered.

However, I recognize that my approach also has its problems. Some people feel that the $25-and-under column has suffered from grade inflation, and the Times should use it for the truly cheap restaurants. Indeed, although there is some overlap between the two critics' turfs, at times Asimov has reviewed hole-in-the-wall sandwich and taco places. To give a star to this type of restaurant, no matter how good it is, would really bastardize the system beyond recognition. It's not that there's anything intrinsically bad about tiny sandwich shops, but people have a minimum expectation of a one-star restaurant that these places simply cannot satisfy. One possible compromise is to introduce the Times equivalent of the "Bib Gourmand," which quite apart from the stars would denote restaurants that excel in simple fare at prices that keep the wallet happy.

Anyhow, I don't see any evidence that the Times is ready for a fundamental re-think. This week's Ici review, welcome though it was, is probably an exception.

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I wouldn't mind actually seeing a three-tier reviewing system: highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, if you will. All with star ratings.

As it is right now, we have a "highbrow plus a little middlebrow" reviewer and a "lowbrow plus a little middlebrow" reviewer. In both cases, the reviewers are delving into somewhat inappropriate territory when they reach into the middle. Also, every time a middlebrow neighborhood place is reviewed by the high end guy, we're missing out on a potential review or re-review of a haute place. Likwise, we're missing out on a potential review or re-review of a cheap eats place every time the <$25 guys review a middlebrow neighborhood restaurant. There is also somewhat of an inequity as to which middlebrow restaurants are reviewed by which reviewer. There is no denying the fact that a review by the high end guy, even if some faults are mentioned, is more prestigious and beneficial to the restaurant than a glowing review by the <$25 guy.

The inevitable result is that quality middlebrow neighborhood places are underrepresented with reviews. What we're left with is a situation where certain middlebrow places are raised above their peers with a big review (e.g., Ici), others are given a <$25 review that doesn't devote the kind and depth of scrutiny they deserve (e.g., Franny's), and most of them are simply never reviewed (e.g., @SQC). I'd like to see a system whereby all thee of these places would have an informed, well-written review that was made by a reviewer who was familiar with middle-level dining, and that could be viewed against the history of other such reviews. This is a particular shame considering that middlebrow dining is one of the largest segments of NY dining.

Anyway... I'm not going to hold my breath until the Times hires a third full time critic for middle-level dining.

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I wouldn't mind actually seeing a three-tier reviewing system: highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, if you will. All with star ratings.

As it is right now, we have a "highbrow plus a little middlebrow" reviewer and a "lowbrow plus a little middlebrow" reviewer. In both cases, the reviewers are delving into somewhat inappropriate territory when they reach into the middle.

Whether the Times has two, three, or eight reviewers, inevitably there will be some tough-to-classify restaurants that don't obviously fall in one critic's turf. Of course, anyone who frequently dines out would love to see more reviews, and adding a third critic would make that possible. But I don't see that as the main problem.

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I wouldn't mind actually seeing a three-tier reviewing system: highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, if you will.  All with star ratings.

As it is right now, we have a "highbrow plus a little middlebrow" reviewer and a "lowbrow plus a little middlebrow" reviewer.  In both cases, the reviewers are delving into somewhat inappropriate territory when they reach into the middle.

Whether the Times has two, three, or eight reviewers, inevitably there will be some tough-to-classify restaurants that don't obviously fall in one critic's turf.

Oh, I agree. But, when you have one reviewer whose job is fundamentally to define and describe the higher end of the spectrum in terms of "fancyness" and price, and another whose job is to do the same at the lower end of the spectrum. What this means is that there is a big hole in the middle where "$120 - $150 a couple" restaurants live. The expensive places we know are going to get a review. But I sometimes wonder if it isn't easier for a falafel shop to get a Times review than a good bistro/trattoria type place.

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I like that Bruni is reviewing more places outside of Manhattan, and I like that he isn't restricting himself to hoity-toity places only.

A neighborhood restaurant is, well a neighborhood restaurant. There are plenty of one star neighborhood restaurants throughout NYC. There really is no reason to write about them since no one will make a trip to dine at a one star neighborhood restaurant except the neighborhood that the restaurant is on. The neighborhood already knows about its restaurants, shops, etc. So its really a waist of paper. But if a neighborhood restaurant was a two or more star restaurant and doing something really interesting with food then it would be worth writing about.

by the way how could it possibly be possible for this restaurant and V to have one star each.

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xyz, I don't really follow any part of your reasoning. People from outside of the immediate neighborhood who didn't know about the restaurant may know now. Also, people who don't live in that neighborhood but have some other reason for being there. In addition, I think it's very unclear that at least 2 stars are required for a visit from a distance away. Check out the lines at DiFara's and Spicy & Tasty at peak hours and ask the people waiting where they came in from. I don't think you'll find that they're all locals, but you may find that some of them originally found out about the restaurant from reviews.

Finally, if the New York Times agreed with your argument, they'd do away with "$25-and-under" reviews, too. Maybe those are a "waste of paper" to you, too, but some of us want to know about places that don't cost 1/10 or more of our monthly rents.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The Times devotes a lot of ink to expensive, fashionable restaurants that come away with only one star -- or less. There's usually a good reason for this: they have to report what's hot, what's "significant" and what's important to the trade, as well as what's good. The amount of space devoted to trendy underachievers more than justifies the occasional review of an outer-borough over-achiever, though. As a visitor trying to spend time outside Manhattan, appreciate the opportunity to learn about a restaurant that may be well-placed if I decide to go hunting for Boss Tweed's grave or take in the blasphemy at the Brooklyn Museum. Hell, I'll bet even Manhattenites get to Brooklyn, sometimes. And every positive review of a neighborhood joint in the Timed Food Section sets another hundred chefs thinking how they can make their place better, too.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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As long as there is a star system in place, it's hard to avoid the following conundrum. Every time Frank Bruni writes a one or even zero star review, many people will immediately dismiss the restaurant in question (perhaps without even reading the review.) If that's the case, does it really make sense to invest time and effort into a restaurant that few people will consider? I don't know. What I do know is that many of the one and certainly two star restaurants are wonderful places to eat.

One solution, then, it seems, is indeed to split into three tiers as has been suggested, but to define them not as highbrow, mediumbrow, lowbrow, but as "1: extraordinary experiences", "2: neighborhood gems", and "3: budget finds". It would be the responsibility of the Tier 1 critic to find the places that astound him/her the most, and review only these places. The Tier 2 critic would seek out lesser known but remarkable places, without regard for price one way or the other. The Tier 3 critic would seek out the best food he can find for dirt cheap prices. Stars would be abolished across the board, but a review in and of itself would be a recommendation. The critics would not all be obligated to write every week.

Luke
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So you'd do away with bad reviews? I can't see that.

Well, it depends what you want from a newspaper. If you want the most useful advice on the restaurants of the city, I think that making any review worth something is a good idea. I'm not saying that the critic can't criticize certain aspects of his meal, but rather that he should only print reviews of places that gave him a special experience overall. Whether the Times would actually put such a system in place... :wacko:

Luke
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I think that, at least in theory, a bad review of a place that has an unjustified (or outdated) good reputation can be very useful to potential customers.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Fair enough, and I also agree that bad reviews help restaurants improve, but I guess I was envisioning a system where the lack of a review of an overhyped place would speak for itself. Or, I suppose, they could find some space elsewhere in the section, like in the food gossip area that has taken over one part of "Food Stuff", to debunk unworthy praise.

No, wait...a whole new column simply devoted to dissing bad food or undue attention! They could call it "Big Bad Apples", with an intentional pun on nyc's moniker. :laugh:

Luke
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No, wait...a whole new column simply devoted to dissing bad food or undue attention! They could call it "Big Bad Apples", with an intentional pun on nyc's moniker. :laugh:

And maybe they can hire A.A. Gill to write the column. :laugh:

"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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