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Who's the best restaurant reviewer?


Fat Guy
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Who do you think is the best restaurant reviewer in the world? Why? What criteria do you use to determine the worthiness of a reviewer? Writing skill? Conformation with your own tastes? Experience? Apparent fairness and integrity?

For the purposes of this question, I think it's best to limit the answer to present-day reviewers with weekly or monthly columns in major newspapers or magazines, or in online publications that adhere to a similar, formal editorial schedule.

If your chosen candidate has reviews available online, please point to the best one you can find. If not, please include a short quote or two, with citation, illustrating the writer's style. If your candidate writes in a language other than English, an explanation of the style would be helpful.

We've had some discussions that touch on this, and I'd appreciate links to those, but I'd be interested to hear the narrow topic debated.

There are some obvious spinoff threads: Best reviewer of all time, worst reviewer of all time, etc., but let's keep those as spinoffs -- start a new thread if those topics are of interest to you.

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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Why do you want to know, O (Currently) Favourite Restaurant Reviewer of Mine?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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You can't nominate me, because I'm not the best and I'm not currently a real restaurant reviewer.

I want to know because I've been thinking about what makes a good restaurant reviewer and a good restaurant review, and I want to see what other people think. I'm also thinking I might learn about some reviewers I haven't yet heard of.

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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Do Ruth Reichl or Gael Greene qualify, since they are still writing but not as reviewers?

To the extent I am allowed to issue a ruling, the ruling is: No.

How about Patricia Wells?

Yes.

They make my top three list.

With respect to Ms. Wells, why? Please help us with an explanation of your fondness for her work as well as a link to an excellent example thereof.

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 have peoples kills.

Oh really?

It's part of the reference. In reality nobody has ever accused me of having any skills, people or otherwise.

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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The problem with reviewers is that sooner or later I find a review that seems so far off the mark that I loose all interest in going out of my way to read that person's reviews and pay scant heed to them when they're in front of my face. I can still remember some of the restaurants that made my lose faith in one reviewer or another.

I can't place my loss of faith in Patricia Wells on any single review, it's been a cumulative thing. I am looking forward to Eric Asimov's reviews in the NY Times. He's certainly paid his dues ferreting out cheap places.

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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Do Ruth Reichl or Gael Greene qualify, since they are still writing but not as reviewers?

How about Patricia Wells?  They make my top three list.

How could one speak of reviewers and not think of Gael Green? It would be blasphemy and wrong! She is amazing.. she makes food as sensuous as it is to those that really love it in every subtle way.

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I like French critic Gilles Pudlowski. He has his own guides, but also writes for various French magazines. I don't rely on this guides and frequently do not agree with his assessments of new restaurants (e.g., his glowing review of Hiramatsu, Paris), but he is quite immersed in the French restaurant scene. For me, writing in French is less beautiful when it is translated into English. The best French critic is the collective of Michelin, naturally. :raz:

When Jonathan Meades (UK) was still writing about restaurants, I liked his weekly column as well.

http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/ASIN/2840...0841273-9016250 (guide "Le Pudlo France 2002")

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Cab--this is completely off-topic and reply to me with a PM if you prefer--but are you aware of any professional critic or writer, anywhere, in any language, who has given Hiramatsu less than a gushing, glowing review?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Best restaurant reviewer? Depends on the city!

NYC -- Steven Shaw. (Best recent quote: "Show me what you got, you French bastard.") If Shaw declares himself ineligible, I'll just write-in his name on the ballot anyway. Knowledgeable. Entertaining. Discriminating. Elitist and down-to-earth simultaneously, which is a difficult trick to pull off. Not afraid to refuse to gush over Rao's. A good review from Shaw is better than a line at the entrance two blocks long.

St. Louis -- Joe Pollack. Demonstrates that eating everything on the menu is the best way to form a complete and informed opinion. Choice of language: elevated, with a whisper of elitism.

the world at large -- Anthony Bourdain. Fearless. Profane. Not afraid to make a fool of himself or admit that he doesn't know something.

New Orleans -- Dr. Richard Collin, author of The New Orleans Underground Gourmet and other collections of New Orleans restaurant reviews. No longer current (Collin was writing back when LeRuth's was open), but I loved his style: intelligent, concise, exact, cultured. He knew more than you did, but he would never be so ill-mannered as to act that way. He coined the phrase "platonic dish" to describe the best of all the different New Orleans restaurant versions of that dish.

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Cabrales, if you feel comfortable and have the time, would you tell members more about why you so appreciate the work of Gilles Pudlowski? What makes his reviews special, aside from his immersion in the local restaurant scene? Perhaps, in addition, you could quote a few lines of French and try to explain them to us. Or are his works translated, however poorly?

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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Bux - I know what you mean about Wells, but in trying to figure out why I find her less reliable than I used to, I think it has more to do with me and my palate than her losing any ground. I find her reviews a bit diluted compared to my taste. Certain things she raves over I find boring. Still, I think she is the most reliable of anyone out there.

Cabrales - I buy the Pudlowski Guides every year. One time it steered me extremely wrong by recommending a small Alsatian restaurant just off the intersection of Blvds. Montparnasse and Raspail. Pudlowski gave it one of his Coeur de Coeur rankings. So 10 of us show up for dinner one Saturday night. Well they hardly had anything to eat there and what they did have was as ordinary as it could possibly be. How it was included in his guidebook, let alone raved about baffles me to this day.

It is hardly ever mentioned but I find Claude Leby very good. He publishes two guides. Le Leby Guide to restaurants and Le Petit Leby which only reviews bistros. His books aren't filled with mountains of great prose, but the layouts of his guides are useful since he prints a list of important dishes a restaurant serves, and then he lists what he ate there when he last went including what wine he drank and how much it cost. He also has an index in the back of his guides that list places by dish and where he thinks you can get the best poulet roti, cassoulet etc.

For domestic reviewers I think the best person to read is R.W. Apple. Though his writing is infrequent, he gets to the heart of the issue better than any of the other writers. But that might be because he gets more lines

than other writers since he writes articles not just reviews.

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Cabrales, if you feel comfortable and have the time, would you tell members more about why you so appreciate the work of Gilles Pudlowski? What makes his reviews special, aside from his immersion in the local restaurant scene?

Well, I have to say that, apart from Michelin, I do not necessarily rely on French guides. It would have to be Pudlowski's immersion, rather than his assessments, that I appreciate. For example, following the announcement of Michelin's conferral of three-star status to L'Arnsbourg, Guy Savoy and Ledoyen, there was a Michelin-related dinner at which each chef was asked to prepare a dish. I believe I have described this dinner on the board. J-G Klein of L'Arnsbourg was initially reluctant to present what he really wanted to -- a series of smaller dishes, somewhat akin to Adria in Klein's mind. Pudlowski heard about Klein's consideration of this on a timely basis, and encouraged the chef to move ahead with this possibility. What I like about Pudlowski is conviction.

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I read Cuozzo on occasion, and have read one review by LeDraoulec. Do you think either of these reviewers is any good? I know LeDraoulec won a Beard Award, for what it's worth. I'd appreciate links to reviews by either of these writers that you think establish goodness or badness.

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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St. Louis -- Joe Pollack.  Demonstrates that eating everything on the menu is the best way to form a complete and informed opinion. Choice of language: elevated, with a whisper of elitism.

Agreed, he is great. Too bad he left the Post-Dispatch and now only does reviews on Saucecafe.com. Patricia Corrigan was a disaster for the P-D.

My vote is for Robin Garr for my hometown of Louisville. His reviews can be found on www.louisvillehotbytes.com.

For a reviewer with a more national audience, I guess I would select R.W. Apple or Eric Asimov as a default because I cannot nominate Fat Guy.

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Gael Greene has been mentioned elsewhere, what about throwing the two very large hats into the ring from New York magazine? I'd be interested if someone could make the case for Adam Platt and Hal Rubenstein.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I don't think anybody takes Platt seriously; his happily-ignorant-regular-guy schtick is exactly what is not needed in fine-dining restaurant reviewing right now. ("I'm someone of extended culinary appetites, the kind of eater the writer A. J. Liebling used to call a feeder. Feeders are discerning omnivores of the old school. They favor hearty dishes over subtle ones, and lots of food over just a little. Faced with a choice between a robust veal chop, say, or a tidbit of carefully articulated quail, a feeder chooses the veal chop every time.") But there's no question in my mind that Rubenstein has tremendous talent. (" Serviceable as they are, the crème brûlée and warm chocolate cake should go the way of that wallpaper, but two desserts -- okay, three -- complete Moore's triumph over design adversity. Rhubarb-and-red-fruit crisp is barely sweet, like a child's smile to a stranger, while banana-walnut strudel in caramelized rum sauce is completely lush, like a drunk's smile to everybody. As for the third, a velvety rice pudding with orange zest gets me as close as I will ever come to savoring this particular delicacy.") Of course one sentence doesn't make a case; I'm arguing that these are representative. You can see for yourself at

http://www.nymag.com/archives/archive.cfm?cat_id=28

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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