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Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2007)


slkinsey
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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!

I guess he is just coming up to speed on the NYC standards. I hear Patsy's in East Harlem is next! :raz:

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

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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!

the Times has never purported the two columns as mutually exclusive.

nor should they be.

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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!

the Times has never purported the two columns as mutually exclusive.

nor should they be.

If the two columns aren't mutually exclusive, then why not simply eliminate the $25 and Under column altogether? Why have two different columns if Bruni reviews restaurants that are under $25, and the $25 and Under column does the same? Maybe the $25 and Under column should review Masa.

Edited by mikeyrad (log)
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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!

the Times has never purported the two columns as mutually exclusive.

nor should they be.

If the two columns aren't mutually exclusive, then why not simply eliminate the $25 and Under column altogether? Why have two different columns if Bruni reviews restaurants that are under $25, and the $25 and Under column does the same? Maybe the $25 and Under column should review Masa.

that's simply nonsensical.

google "venn diagram"

besides, Bruni's hardly the first NY Times restaurant reviewer to review a restaurant which could have been in either column.

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the $25 and under column reviews cheap (but usually good in some way -- it usually doesn't bother with complete crap -- unlike the main review column) restaurants that may not rise to a level of significance to merit a full review in the regular column.

when an otherwise cheap restaurant is deemed significant enough (or especially great), it can be reviewed in the main column.

all dolphins are porpoises. not all porpoises are dolphins.

perhaps the most succint way to put this is:

the main restaurant review column has never carried the subtitle (or title): $25 AND OVER

Edited by Nathan (log)
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I suppose we'll need to wait a couple of hours to see whether Bruni's review can justify the choice to review Katz's. Call me unimaginative, but I'm having trouble seeing how Room 4 Dessert gets $25 and Under treatment while Katz's gets a full review.

Perhaps one of our historians (ahem, Leonard) can point to a few examples of crossover reviews.

I think it's also worth noting that $25 and Under has just been scaled back to every other week, and seems to be focused on real cheap eats under the Meehan administration, as opposed to the somewhat more middle-market orientation of Asimov.

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 think it's also worth noting that $25 and Under has just been scaled back to every other week, and seems to be focused on real cheap eats under the Meehan administration, as opposed to the somewhat more middle-market orientation of Asimov.

This, I think, is exactly right.

a quick comparison to my recollection is Lupa and Otto.

Lupa received a $25 and under treatment (!!!) while Otto was two-starred in a full-length review by Grimes. Lupa is more expensive than Otto by almost any definition (in terms of food, wine didn't figure into the averages under Asimov---see August or just about any of his other reviews).

it's under Meehan that the differentiation between the columns has become most explicit. (there's no way that I can see to justify the Otto/Lupa dichotomy)

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the $25 and under column reviews cheap (but usually good in some way -- it usually doesn't bother with complete crap -- unlike the main review column) restaurants that may not rise to a level of significance to merit a full review in the regular column.

when an otherwise cheap restaurant is deemed significant enough (or especially great), it can be reviewed in the main column.

all dolphins are porpoises.  not all porpoises are dolphins.

perhaps the most succint way to put this is:

the main restaurant review column has never carried the subtitle (or title): $25 AND OVER

I get and agree with your gist, but I believe your analogy is reversed. All porpoises are dolphins, but not all dolphins are porpoises. Mahi-mahi, a fine food fish, is a dolphin, but not a porpoise. :blink::smile: I actually have no problem with Bruni reviewing this, because it is such an institution. I also agree that his reviews are not labeled $25 and over so he is not limited either way.

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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(No way does Otto deserve 2 stars except for the name behind it but that's beside the point).

Interesting about Katz's being reviewed. I have no problem with it, except I seem to recall a rumor that the building they're in might be sold? Does anyone know about this?

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I've read that, but it has been reported as rumor not as fact -- so I don't really know what to make of it.

One indication that Bruni is doing something smart by reviewing Katz's is that this is the first time I can ever remember caring enough about one of his reviews to make a point of checking the Times website at 9:01pm in order to read it. It's not up yet, 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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The review is now up: one star, which if you are going to review Katz's at all, is the only intelligent outcome.

the Times has never purported the two columns as mutually exclusive.

nor should they be.

The Times has never purported them to be overlapping, either. The Times hasn't purported anything at all. In the Grimes/Asimov administration, they overlapped a lot less often than they do now, mainly because Meehan has taken his beat sooooooo far down-market.

There are good reasons to be dismayed at the current trend. By my count, three of the last five weeks Bruni has reviewed $25-and-under restaurants. He doesn't even choose wisely. Max Brenner got a rated review, but Room 4 Dessert got $25 and Under. Bruni doesn't like Goldfarb's desserts, but at Max Brenner at least Gavin & Bella got free ice creams on the Times's dime.

Meanwhile, Peter Meehan reviews taco trucks—and not even superb taco trucks, which they certainly ought to be, if they're worth the space. Obviously, one can find past anomalies (Lupa/Otto), but they're becoming far more prevalent now.

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When I go to Katz's I usually spend about $60.

Just for yourself? I usually spend around $25 all told (including a tip to at least one counterman).

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The review is now up: one star, which if you are going to review Katz's at all, is the only intelligent outcome.[...]

It looks like one question mark to me, not one star. Did I read it wrong?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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That's probably just your browser rendering the page wrong.

Yes, I spend $60 on myself. I can't help it. If I'm going to schlep all the way down there I'm not going to eat just a sandwich. I like to get a platter with pastrami, corned beef and salami, with a stack of rye bread (the bread is lousy, by the way), a knoblewurst, a round knish, fries, two or three Dr. Brown's sodas . . . it adds up. I don't finish it all. Indeed, if I go with someone else we spend exactly the same amount of money together as I'd spend alone.

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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He did seem to get the Katz's review right.

I agree. Part of me says that if the main critic is going to go below his usual price range, Katz's was the right place for it. And I agree he got the review right—both the rating and the content.

If I have any complaint about the Katz's review, it's only to the extent it confirms the long-standing trend that casual carnivorous dining is what Bruni really loves. The fancy luxe dinners are a duty, not a pleasure. His descriptions of them often seem forced and contrived. They're not where he wants to be.

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If I have any complaint about the Katz's review, it's only to the extent it confirms the long-standing trend that casual carnivorous dining is what Bruni really loves. The fancy luxe dinners are a duty, not a pleasure. His descriptions of them often seem forced and contrived. They're not where he wants to be.

I think you're right on that....."casual carnivorous dining"

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First off, what sort of cretin goes to Katz's and orders a cheesesteak?

And assuming one orders with appropriate gusto, who has room for dessert?

Except for these ever-so-minor, irrelevant objections, this is a rave review deserving of more than one measly star. The pastrami is "among the best in the land." The service from the slicer guys is impeccable. The ambiance is extraordinary.

Knock off a star for the leaden knishes and questionable latkes, and we are still talking two stars at least.

Is there a better deli in New York? In the United States?

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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First off, what sort of cretin goes to Katz's and orders a cheesesteak?

And assuming one orders with appropriate gusto, who has room for dessert?

Both questions have the same answer: only a critic who has a professional obligation to try (and report on) the whole menu.
Except for these ever-so-minor, irrelevant objections, this is a rave review deserving of more than one measly star.... Knock off a star for the leaden knishes and questionable latkes, and we are still talking two stars at least.

This is the age-old objection when the same star system that has to accommodate Katz's and Jean Georges, and everything in between. You could argue that if Katz's is the city's best deli, it should carry the highest rating. It just doesn't. However, if you look at the ranks of one-star restaurants, there are probably no other delis. So, among delis, Katz's carries the highest rating the Times has assigned.

Remember, 90% of the time, "cheap eats" restaurants are reviewed in the $25 & Under column (if they are reviewed at all), and aren't eligible for stars. Being noticed by the main critic at all is, in a sense, a significant honor—at least in most cases.

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First off, what sort of cretin goes to Katz's and orders a cheesesteak?

And assuming one orders with appropriate gusto, who has room for dessert?

Except for these ever-so-minor, irrelevant objections, this is a rave review deserving of more than one measly star.  The pastrami is "among the best in the land."  The service from the slicer guys is impeccable.  The ambiance is extraordinary. 

Knock off a star for the leaden knishes and questionable latkes, and we are still talking two stars at least.

Is there a better deli in New York?  In the United States?

Even if there were, it would fit exactly with Bruni's oeuvre to give Katz no more than one star given the service, decor, and limited menu.

Okay, you say; it's Katz's, I must be joking, right? But read back over Bruni's reviews. He's trying to use some kind of bastardized Guide Michelin/casual carnivore-style review criteria and ends up failing to get it right on either end. You want to prioritize refinement of cuisine, service, atmosphere, wine cellar, etc.? Then how does the Modern merit two stars as opposed to three-plus? You want to prioritize the food and pooh-pooh stuffy service and ambiance? Okay, so how does Katz's not get two stars?

He pleases nobody, methinks, except in the narrow band of restaurants (the high-end Italians, the two-star foodie haunts) that fit his exclusionary and all-too-often mutually inconsistent criteria.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Perhaps one of our historians (ahem, Leonard) can point to a few examples of crossover reviews.

Without doing any research myself, there is an Asimov Q&A on this site in which he gives a couple examples of "$25 and under" restaurants that have full reviews:

Actually, some restaurants that I reviewed in $25 and Under eventually did get stars. I was the first to review 71 Clinton Street, and more recently Petrosino. Believe it or not, I reviewed Jewel Bako when it first opened and it was possible to eat there for less than $25. Perhaps on some level I realized that all of these places were worthy of stars, but I wanted to write about them and it wasn't really my job to tell other people what I felt they ought to write about. There are plenty of other places that I reviewed that could have stars under other circumstances -- Al Di La, Grand Sichuan, 360 come to mind -- but that's the way things go.

BTW, Asimov seems to be wrong about Grand Sichuan. Reichl reviewed it in 1997 (so I guess that'd qualify as a "crossover review.") Asimov covered Grand Sichuan International, International Midtown, and East from 1999-2003.

I don't know why "$25 and under" was inaugurated when it was, but I haven't seen any indication that the intention was to start splitting reviewing duties by cost. Miller continued to review some relatively inexpensive places after its inception. Perhaps the main point is simply that it allows more reviews (a particular boon once Miller left the scene less than 1.5 years later, and Reichl went to the single restaurant review format).

Of course the reduced space, lack of stars, and price limit do make a "prestige" distinction between the two columns, and Bruni sort of recognizes that in his latest:

But first let’s do something we don’t do often enough. Let’s take the occasion. . . to pause and appreciate Katz’s. To take its measure in a format that grants it the kind of recognition typically reserved for restaurants more proper but no more deserving.
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Okay, you say; it's Katz's, I must be joking, right? But read back over Bruni's reviews. He's trying to use some kind of bastardized Guide Michelin/casual carnivore-style review criteria and ends up failing to get it right on either end. You want to prioritize refinement of cuisine, service, atmosphere, wine cellar, etc.? Then how does the Modern merit two stars as opposed to three-plus? You want to prioritize the food and pooh-pooh stuffy service and ambiance? Okay, so how does Katz's not get two stars?

In what reviews did Bruni prioritize "refinement of cuisines, service, atmosphere, or wine cellar?" He has given less priority to those attributes than any of his predecessors. That does not, of course, mean zero priority.

You need to distinguish flaws in the system that Bruni created or exacerbated, from those he inherited. As far back as I've spot-checked, star ratings have been comparable only when looking at similar establishments. Sometimes, the NYT explicitly said so; other times, they did not. But that is clearly how it worked.

The Modern's two stars, therefore, can only be weighed against other places in its class (high-end luxury restaurants). Given that such restaurants—when the Times likes them—are three or four stars, two for The Modern is a significant slapdown. For a casual Belgian restaurant like Resto, two stars is like winning the lottery. Katz's one star is basically irrelevant, since there are no other starred delis.

Even when Mimi Sheraton was the critic, she would assign one or two-star "smackdown" ratings to luxury places, and "bonus" ratings to high-performing casual places. Whether you like that system or not, you can't blame it on Frank Bruni.

But there are several trends for which Bruni is clearly responsible. He has demonstrated very little appreciation for the kind of serious upscale cuisine that a place like The Modern offers. Its luxury trappings actually seem to offend him. So his two-star rating there just doesn't have much authority. (Luckily, it doesn't seem to have harmed the restaurant economically, which would have been tragic.)

Conversely, he often tosses out the second star like candy to casual places with one or two obscenely tasty dishes he loves. Coupled with his smackdowns of luxury places, his two-star rating becomes entirely meaningless. There are also the other biases we've talked about, e.g., his affinity for Italian food above almost all other cusines.

Bruni's ascent has corresponded with the virtual death of the $25 & Under category as a useful reviewing vehicle. Whether this was accidental or planned I don't know, but I think Bruni has reviewed more restaurants in that category than Grimes did. Coupled with his obvious hostility to the high-end, Bruni has basically become the $40 & Under (plus Italian & Steakhouses) critic.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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