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Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2007)


slkinsey
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Mozza serves Neopolitan-style pizza, and by many accounts New York's best example of that genre is Patsy's.

In the immortal words of Buckaroo Banzai: yes on one and no on two.

Yea, they're making Neapolitan-style pizza at Mozza. At it's broadest definition, "Neapolitan-style" means individual-sized, thin crusted pizza with sparse (and largely traditional) toppings baked at high temperature in an Italian-style wood-fired oven. "new Neapolitan-style" takes the toppings concept in the direction of a Chez Panisse-inspired asthetic, with nontraditional but still impeccably fresh (local, seasonal) toppings -- a good example might be something like "spicy cauliflower." The pizza meny at Pizzeria Mozza seems fairly traditional, with a sprinkling of new Neapolitan-style offerings. I can only assume that Bruni has plentyenough experience in this area without going to Patsy's. Which brings me to...

No, Patsy's East Harlem is not making Neapolitan-style pizza. They are making coal-fired NYC-style pizza. This is larger, has a crust that is made with hard flour instead of soft flour, has toppings that are not within either the old or new Neapolitan-styles (pepperoni and low-moisture mozzarella?), is baked in a coal-fired oven which imparts a more aggressive char, etc. Patsy's is not an appropriate frame of reference for someplace like Pizzeria Mozza, for the same reason that lots of people in NYC don't "get" pizzerie like Franny's and Fornino.

I don't get that the Mozza article is connected to NY at all -- and I don't see any reason why it should be. If Bruni happened to take a jaunt out to Moldavia and wrote an article about a restaurant in Suceava in which Joe Bastianich was a partner, would he have to include a survey of all the Moldavian restaurants in Queens? The Mozza article is about something interesting that's happening in Los Angeles, and Bruni's expertise and understanding of this kind of pizza certainly seems to be miles ahead of many NYC critics (not to mention eG Forums participants) who kvetched about the prices, absence of Hormel pepperoni and lack of slices at Franny's.

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Mozza serves Neopolitan-style pizza, and by many accounts New York's best example of that genre is Patsy's.

In the immortal words of Buckaroo Banzai: yes on one and no on two.

Yea, they're making Neapolitan-style pizza at Mozza. At it's broadest definition, "Neapolitan-style" means individual-sized, thin crusted pizza with sparse (and largely traditional) toppings baked at high temperature in an Italian-style wood-fired oven. "new Neapolitan-style" takes the toppings concept in the direction of a Chez Panisse-inspired asthetic, with nontraditional but still impeccably fresh (local, seasonal) toppings -- a good example might be something like "spicy cauliflower." The pizza meny at Pizzeria Mozza seems fairly traditional, with a sprinkling of new Neapolitan-style offerings. I can only assume that Bruni has plentyenough experience in this area without going to Patsy's. Which brings me to...

No, Patsy's East Harlem is not making Neapolitan-style pizza. They are making coal-fired NYC-style pizza. This is larger, has a crust that is made with hard flour instead of soft flour, has toppings that are not within either the old or new Neapolitan-styles (pepperoni and low-moisture mozzarella?), is baked in a coal-fired oven which imparts a more aggressive char, etc. Patsy's is not an appropriate frame of reference for someplace like Pizzeria Mozza, for the same reason that lots of people in NYC don't "get" pizzerie like Franny's and Fornino.

I don't get that the Mozza article is connected to NY at all -- and I don't see any reason why it should be. If Bruni happened to take a jaunt out to Moldavia and wrote an article about a restaurant in Suceava in which Joe Bastianich was a partner, would he have to include a survey of all the Moldavian restaurants in Queens? The Mozza article is about something interesting that's happening in Los Angeles, and Bruni's expertise and understanding of this kind of pizza certainly seems to be miles ahead of many NYC critics (not to mention eG Forums participants) who kvetched about the prices, absence of Hormel pepperoni and lack of slices at Franny's.

Sam, this is clearly a semantic issue. Patsy's is not a Neapolitan pizza, but it is Neapolitan style in that it is round , thin crusted with a base of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. This is as opposed to a Sicilian style pizza which is square, thick crusted, also with tomatoes and cheese, but often with onions as well. That is common and long-standing (since before I was born) NYC usage based on the history and lineage of those who came over and started making those pizzas in NY. That Patsy's is coal fired and not wood fired is but one of the things that distinguishes it from a true Neapolitan pizza and that was more of a function on fuel availability then anything else.

As for why it is relevant, I have already addressed that.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Besides the reason Patsy's is even an issue on this topic is that in his blog, Bruni admitted that he hasn't ever tried their pizza. If he hasn't tried such a clear example of one of NYC's finest, what else hasn't he tried and how does that effect his frame of reference for anything? He doesn't necessarily need to review it, but he should be familiar with generally accepted NYC culinary institutions and their product, whether he travels to LA to review pizza or Moldavia to review whatever.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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To make what I hope will be perceived as a relevant analogy:

When I read rock criticism by writers who evidence no familiarity with the root musics from which rock evolved -- blues, rhythm & blues, jump jazz, swing, honky-tonk, etc. (much less with early rock and roll itself) -- I disregard them. They just dabblers. They can't say anything educated about the music. All they can have are opinions, and we all know the standard line about those.

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To make what I hope will be perceived as a relevant analogy:

When I read rock criticism by writers who evidence no familiarity with the root musics from which rock evolved -- blues, rhythm & blues, jump jazz, swing, honky-tonk, etc. (much less with early rock and roll itself) -- I disregard them.  They just dabblers.  They can't say anything educated about the music.  All they can have are opinions, and we all know the standard line about those.

Excellent analogy.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I'd assert that the tarte flambee at the Bar Room at the Modern might be the best pizza in NY.  . . . .

But how can you assert anything "might be the best pizza in NY" if you admittedly haven't tried at least one consensus favorite (and I doubt you've been to DiFara or Coney Island Totonno's, either)?

Of course, as oakapple said, you get a pass on stuff like that, where Bruni doesn't, because you're not a professional critic. But it helps even us dabblers to remember when we're not in a position to say anything too definitive.

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To make what I hope will be perceived as a relevant analogy:

When I read rock criticism by writers who evidence no familiarity with the root musics from which rock evolved -- blues, rhythm & blues, jump jazz, swing, honky-tonk, etc. (much less with early rock and roll itself) -- I disregard them.  They just dabblers.  They can't say anything educated about the music.  All they can have are opinions, and we all know the standard line about those.

that analogy works if you're asserting that Bruni is unfamiliar with pizza in Italy (something which I highly doubt). after all, pizza in Italy is usually cheese-less, sometimes tomato-less (though of course this varies widely by region and style).

I don't see the argument that Patsy's is an antecedent for Mozza. Rather, both Mozza and Patsy's are nouveau versions of older Italian roots (ok, so Patsy's is older than Mozza, it's still new-fangled). are you asserting that a writer critiquing The Killers must also be conversant with John Hiatt? (I think everyone should be familiar with Hiatt...but that's a separate matter.)

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I'd assert that the tarte flambee at the Bar Room at the Modern might be the best pizza in NY.  . . . .

But how can you assert anything "might be the best pizza in NY" if you admittedly haven't tried at least one consensus favorite (and I doubt you've been to DiFara or Coney Island Totonno's, either)?

Of course, as oakapple said, you get a pass on stuff like that, where Bruni doesn't, because you're not a professional critic. But it helps even us dabblers to remember when we're not in a position to say anything too definitive.

well, "might" is the key part. but anyway, I automatically disqualify any pizza that is sans meat.

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To make what I hope will be perceived as a relevant analogy:

When I read rock criticism by writers who evidence no familiarity with the root musics from which rock evolved -- blues, rhythm & blues, jump jazz, swing, honky-tonk, etc. (much less with early rock and roll itself) -- I disregard them.  They just dabblers.  They can't say anything educated about the music.  All they can have are opinions, and we all know the standard line about those.

that analogy works if you're asserting that Bruni is unfamiliar with pizza in Italy (something which I highly doubt). after all, pizza in Italy is usually cheese-less, sometimes tomato-less (though of course this varies widely by region and style).

But Bruni is not the major food critic for an Italian newspaper, is he? He should be familiar with the best of what NYC has to offer. Perhaps at the beginning of his tenure, he could have received a pass on that, but how long has he been at this job now?

Bruni did not have to directly compare the pizze at Mozza's directly to Patsy's or any other specific pizzeria, but he should be familiar with them. By his own admission on his blog he has never been to Patsy's. It makes me wonder what other NYC institutions he remains unfamiliar with. It makes it more difficult for him to relate to NYC, his principle feeding ground.

Nathan, I also question your assertion that pizza in Italy is usually without cheese. Often I can accept. I'm not sure about usually.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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are you asserting that a writer critiquing The Killers must also be conversant with John Hiatt?

The first thing I'm asserting that a professional writer critiquing either should be conversant with Chuck Berry.

But what I'm REALLY asserting is that I couldn't imagine taking any professional rock critic seriously who wasn't familar with all three (Chuck Berry, John Hiatt, the Killers).* This is their JOB. It isn't like they're some person who listens to whatever they happen to listen to.

So yeah, I'm not going to take any professional critiquing the Killers seriously if they're not conversant with John Hiatt.

(Again, I hope the relevance of this analogy is obvious.)

_____________________________________________________

* They don't have to LIKE all three. They just have to be conversant with them all.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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fine...but I don't think Hiatt is a root of the Killers just like Patsy's is not a root of Mozza.

"often" might be a better expression for cheeselessness in Italy. I don't know that it's measureable. very common in the north...mixed in the middle, not infrequent but not standard either in the south.

I agree with your larger point that as restaurant reviewer for the New York Times Bruni should be familiar with Patsy's.

I'm not sure that we're really in disagreement here...I just don't think that Patsy's is particularly relevant to an article on Mozza (Bianco, Spago and Otto are, I think, more specifically relevant). but I agree that familiarity with Patsy's is probably necessary for a well-versed professional food critic in NY.

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fine...but I don't think Hiatt is a root of the Killers just like Patsy's is not a root of Mozza.

"often" might be a better expression for cheeselessness in Italy.  I don't know that it's measureable.  very common in the north...mixed in the middle, not infrequent but not standard either in the south.

I agree with your larger point that as restaurant reviewer for the New York Times Bruni should be familiar with Patsy's.

I'm not sure that we're really in disagreement here...I just don't think that Patsy's is particularly relevant to an article on Mozza (Bianco, Spago and Otto are, I think, more specifically relevant).  but I agree that familiarity with Patsy's is probably necessary for a well-versed professional food critic in NY.

I believe that we have reached an accord :biggrin:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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In the past, we've talked about certain well known bloggers, and whether their "reviews" are invariably comped.

In the last week, Restaurant Girl has posted reviews of Soto and Fr.Og. I think there's zero probability that the Soto meal was comped, and Fr.Og is highly unlikely. If the latter was comped, the restaurant is no doubt dismayed, because it was one of RG's rare pans.

This week, Andrea Strong reviews Tocqueville. Here too, I would put the comp probability as very low, given that Tocquelle is a successful and long-established restaurant, and doesn't need Andrea Strong's help to attract customers.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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In the past, we've talked about certain well known bloggers, and whether their "reviews" are invariably comped.

In the last week, Restaurant Girl has posted reviews of Soto and Fr.Og. I think there's zero probability that the Soto meal was comped, and Fr.Og is highly unlikely. If the latter was comped, the restaurant is no doubt dismayed, because it was one of RG's rare pans.

This week, Andrea Strong reviews Tocqueville. Here too, I would put the comp probability as very low, given that Tocquelle is a successful and long-established restaurant, and doesn't need Andrea Strong's help to attract customers.

I usually find Strong's postings (I don't even consider them reviews) to be fairly unreliable but her recent one for Toqueville was so over the top positive that I REALLY want to go to the new location.

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I would put the comp probability as very low, given that Tocquelle is a successful and long-established restaurant, and doesn't need Andrea Strong's help to attract customers.

Successful restaurants often comp writers as part of their longer-term marketing and publicity efforts. Even restaurants that are full almost every night often strive to get more cred.

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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Today, Frank Bruni reviews Resto, awarding two stars. There's good and bad in this.

I've suggested that Bruni should spend more time on restaurants that haven't gotten as much publicity as they deserve. Resto fits the bill. Though not totally ignored, it hasn't gotten the widespread critical attention of, say, Anthos. I haven't dined at Resto, but if it's as good as he said, I'm glad he made the effort to bring it to our attention.

In the past, this restaurant would have fallen squarely in Eric Asimov's $25 & Under beat. But with Peter Meehan now reviewing taco trucks, places like Resto are Bruni's to cover. More commonly, they just don't get covered at all. Resto is a rare exception.

The Times reviewing criteria say that the stars take price into account. Today, Frank came right out and said that Resto, despite some serious limitations, gets two stars mainly because it's so cheap. Unfortunately, this leads to the two-star category being all-but meaningless. The fact is, Resto's two-star chops are rather flimsy. It should be one star, and would be if one star meant what the paper says it means: good.

Given that Belgian food is rare, Bruni missed an opportunity to do a useful double-review — say, Resto and the recently relocated Markt.

In a Critic's Notebook piece, Bruni covers Marc Vetri's two Italian places in Philadelphia. Just as he did with Mozza a few weeks ago, he took an out-of-town trip, to a city where the Times doesn't usually cover restaurants, and all he could come up with was an Italian place. The story was interesting, and at least the restaurants did seem to be the kind that warrants attention from the NYT's chief critic. But once again, it's Italian.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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The Times reviewing criteria say that the stars take price into account. Today, Frank came right out and said that Resto, despite some serious limitations, gets two stars mainly because it's so cheap. Unfortunately, this leads to the two-star category being all-but meaningless. The fact is, Resto's two-star chops are rather flimsy. It should be one star, and would be if one star meant what the paper says it means: good.

doesn't the first sentence negate the last couple? since price is officially taken into account doesn't it conceivably follow that a restaurant which would be one-star if it was expensive become a two star if it's cheap? what else would the Times mean when it says "price is taken into consideration"....nowhere does it say that restaurants can only be downgraded because of price....there's nothing that says they can't be upgraded.

one could certainly argue that price shouldn't be taken into account, but the fact remains that the Times explicitly says it is.

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The Times reviewing criteria say that the stars take price into account. Today, Frank came right out and said that Resto, despite some serious limitations, gets two stars mainly because it's so cheap. Unfortunately, this leads to the two-star category being all-but meaningless. The fact is, Resto's two-star chops are rather flimsy. It should be one star, and would be if one star meant what the paper says it means: good.

doesn't the first sentence negate the last couple? since price is officially taken into account doesn't it conceivably follow that a restaurant which would be one-star if it was expensive become a two star if it's cheap?

"Conceivably" sets a rather low bar, so yes, it does conceivably follow. But the Times doesn't say how the various factors are weighted, and actual critic behavior drifts over the years. Leonard Kim has documented how various critics' star weightings and reviewing practices change over time, without any "official utterance" from the paper that they're changing their policy. The official description of "what the stars mean" has also been changed on occasion, though it's not clear to me that any reviewer actually started doing his or her job differently because of it.

Bruni himself has said that the stars are basically just a measure of how "excited" he is about returning to the restaurant. So yeah, he's within his rights to give two stars to Resto. He's also within his rights to give it four. And we're within our rights to point out the mess he's making.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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Recognizing Marc's point that it's not clear any reviewer started doing anything differently as a result of a change in the official "what the stars mean" description, price has gone in and out of that description, and it's coincided fairly well with the starts and ends of some critics' tenures. Specifically, price is not in the description when Sokolov, Miller, and Reichl were critics. About six months into Grimes' tenure, it changed from

reaction primarily to food, with ambiance and service taken into consideration.

to the current

reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration.
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What key pieces of information should a restaurant review convey?

Food

Decor/atmosphere

Service

Cost

A good reviewer will provide this information within the text of the review with support from his or her observations. Also some context for the restaurant regarding the establishments pretensions. What is the place trying to be and what, in the critic's opinion. has it achieved (what is it in reality). The star (or whatever) is a shorthand compilation/summation of all these factors.

It is difficult enough for a skilled reviewer to do this consistently. Guess why the Zagat system is so successful?--the ratings are clearly laid out for each area of concern.

Bruni needs to support his conclusion in the text of the review and often (too often) he does not or is confusing. At the very least, one should look at the rating (stars) and after reading the review "get it." (one can always argue the perspective or the evidence provided) but it should be clear--this is a two (or one or..star) restaurant and here's why I believe that.

pretty simple y'ad think

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What key pieces of information should a restaurant review convey?

Food

Decor/atmosphere

Service

Cost

A good reviewer will provide this information within the text of the review with support from his or her observations. Also some context for the restaurant regarding the establishments pretensions. What is the place trying to be and what, in the critic's opinion. has it achieved (what is it in reality). The star (or whatever) is a shorthand compilation/summation of all these factors.

It is difficult enough for a skilled reviewer to do this consistently. Guess why the Zagat system is so successful?--the ratings are clearly laid out for each area of concern.

Bruni needs to support his conclusion in the text of the review and often (too often) he does not or is confusing. At the very least, one should look at the rating (stars) and after reading the review "get it." (one can always argue the perspective or the evidence provided) but it should be clear--this is a two (or one or..star) restaurant and here's why I believe that.

pretty simple y'ad think

I agree. The reason that Zagat (despite its flaws) is so successful (or, shall I say, enjoys widespread popularity) is the very reason that food, decor, service and cost are at least recognized. I've read far too many Bruni reviews where there is no mention of even service. Oh, well in case you count his review of Jean Georges, where he called the service "aloof", yet for some reason felt 4 stars justified!

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Recognizing Marc's point that it's not clear any reviewer started doing anything differently as a result of a change in the official "what the stars mean" description, price has gone in and out of that description, and it's coincided fairly well with the starts and ends of some critics' tenures.  Specifically, price is not in the description when Sokolov, Miller, and Reichl were critics.  About six months into Grimes' tenure, it changed from
reaction primarily to food, with ambiance and service taken into consideration.

to the current

reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration.

For what it's worth, price was taken into consideration during my time there and i felt it important to be so..that was pre-Burros and Miller..I believe in Claiborne's time too altho I am not sure of that nor exacrtly when they chnaged it.

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The reason that Zagat (despite its flaws) is so successful (or, shall I say, enjoys widespread popularity) is the very reason that food, decor, service and cost are at least recognized.  I've read far too many Bruni reviews where there is no mention of even service.  Oh, well in case you count his review of Jean Georges, where he called the service "aloof", yet for some reason felt 4 stars justified!

There are many reasons for Zagat's success. The breakout of food, decor, service & cost — good idea though it is — doesn't entirely explain it. It also helps that Zagat is compact and easy-to-absorb. It rates many more restaurants than the Times, and it rates them far more often (annually). I also think the mythology that it's a "survey" — the people's choice, rather than the opinion of a paid critic — gave Zagat something no one else had.

I think Bruni says something about the service, if only briefly, in most of his reviews. His "aloof" comment must be taken in light of Bruni's overall hostility to traditional luxury service. He has to give four stars on occasion, and no restaurant is perfect. Even in four-star reviews, he usually expresses mild displeasure at something or other.

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Makes sense Mimi.

I think the issue is how a critic explains and justifies the final star rating within the text of his or her review.

I believe it should be clear after reading the review how and why a critic arrived at one or two or however many stars.

There is, of course, room for argument and debate with/over a reviewer's conclusions and impressions. It is IMOP incumbent upon a reviewer to offer the reader a clear concise evaluation of a restaurant based upon criteria and context--a critic's standards and experiences.

The entertainment factor is a distant second to just good writing--beyond a review being accessible for the reader.

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according to Eater.com, the incompetent one reviews Katz's in tomorrow's Times. Did I miss something or did the dining review merge with the $25 and Under column? If so, I may have to cancel my subscription to the Times. Jeffrey Chodorow and Keith McNally, feel free to chime in!

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