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Bruni and Beyond: NYC Reviewing (2007)


slkinsey
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as we know....I completely disagree (re: Bruni).

rather than assume that Little Owl and Le Cirque were in separate categories with separate maximums and minimums...I find it just as easy (if not easier, see Bar Room at the Modern) to explain the ratings simply by noting that Bruni weighs price quite heavily (which also explains the rating for Cipriani)

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as we know....I completely disagree (re: Bruni).

rather than assume that Little Owl and Le Cirque were in separate categories with separate maximums and minimums...I find it just as easy (if not easier, see Bar Room at the Modern) to explain the ratings simply by noting that Bruni weighs price quite heavily (which also explains the rating for Cipriani)

Nathan, under your theory, one would expect to see some casual three and four-star restaurants. Indeed, if what you're saying is true, there ought to be quite a few of them. But Bruni has more-or-less hewed to the traditional distinctions, stretching the rules occasionally at the two-star level, and arguably only once at the three-star level. I have to conclude there's more to it than the "quality divided by price" algorithm you've suggested. Edited by oakapple (log)
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I agree. The problem with Michelin's ratings at the one star level is that they appear to be determined by an entirely different mechanism that categorizes restaurants, and then selects those believed to be "a very good restaurant in its category". In other words, grading on the curve.
The New York Times does the very same thing, as does just about every media outlet that awards stars. When Frank Bruni awarded two stars to Le Cirque and The Little Owl in consecutive weeks, could anyone argue that those two ratings were at all comparable? Le Cirque's two stars make sense only against the ratings given to other luxury French restaurants, and The Little Owl's only against other casual Italian restaurants.

The breakpoint between one and two Michelin stars? It's the same as the breakpoint between two and three NYT stars. That's why The Little Owl's two-star review sounded ecstatic, but Le Cirque's was the opposite. For casual Italian places, two stars is the maximum, which means that The Little Owl hit it out of the ballpark. For Le Cirque, four is the maximum, which makes a rating of two rather disappointing.

There are a few differences between the two systems. Frank Bruni awards more stars in a year than there are in the whole Michelin guide. The Michelin folks say that every restaurant with a star is at least "very good in its category," but Bruni very clearly did not think that Le Cirque was a very good luxury French restaurant. No one would read his two-star review, and believe he was enthusiastic. In that sense, the Michelin system feels more honest. Every one of their stars translates to an enthusiastic recommendation.

Thus, we are left to presume that Michelin believes Eleven Madison Park is not  good upscale French, Felidia is not good upscale Italian and Sushi Yasuda is not a good sushi place, but The Spotted Pig is an above average gastro-pub, so it gets a star.

All they're saying is that EMP, Yasuda, and Felidia are not very good (as opposed to merely good) in their respective categories. I might argue with some of those judgments, but I also argue with some of Bruni's judgments.

Actually, that wasn't quite what I was saying. I was saying that they actually seem to use a different set of reviewers or at least fewer of them (if ANY in some cases, as some of the restaurants seem not to have been visited literally in YEARS), a different number of visits, and a different basis of choosing which places to visit in the first place than they do for two and three stars. Furthermore, the very methodology of Michelin, whereby any stars is considered a very good thing, means that many places are totally left out of the review process. It covers up the fact that they simply haven't visited many important restaurants by equating those places with ones they visited and deemed to be below the one star level. This, combined with other factors, makes their one star choices highly unreliable, but their two and three (as stated many time) seem to be as good or better than anyone's.

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Actually, that wasn't quite what I was saying.  I was saying that they actually seem to use a different set of reviewers or at least fewer of them (if ANY in some cases, as some of the restaurants seem not to have been visited literally in YEARS), a different number of visits, and a different basis of choosing which places to visit in the first place than they do for two and three stars.
It's safe to assume that the two and three-star places get more scrutiny, as they should. Frank Bruni has acknowledged that he follows a similar system with the NYT 3/4-stars, as he should.

We don't know how much time elapses between Michelin visits to one and zero-starred restaurants, but then again, we don't know that with Bruni either. But as Michelin has fewer starred restaurants and more than one reviewer, they are probably doing a better job of it than Frank is.

Furthermore, the very methodology of Michelin, whereby any stars is considered a very good thing, means that many places are totally left out of the review process.
That assumes that the unstarred restaurants received no scrutiny at all, which of course is not the case. Similarly, Bruni visits many restaurants that he eventually decides not to review.
It covers up the fact that they simply haven't visited many important restaurants by equating those places with ones they visited and deemed to be below the one star level.  This, combined with other factors, makes their one star choices highly unreliable, but their two and three (as stated many time) seem to be as good or better than anyone's.

The more you expand upon this, the clearer it becomes that their system is pretty much the same as Bruni's (or any critic's), but better.
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seriously? a restaurant can change everything when we spot bruni.  from the best protein cuts (newest, thickest, center of the fillet), to larger portions, to fresher mise en place, the biggest mushrooms, to better flatware, stemware, china, to the best captain in the dining room.........to stopping all of service and fucking every other table in the restaurant to make sure bruni's table goes flawlessly, to EVEN seating friends of the restaurant in tables around bruni so he sees that those around him are having a great time.

When I was cooking at the Bar Room at The Modern in and Bruni came in (definitely a surprise as we had already been reviewed) the Bar Room Chef insisted NOTHING be changed from what typical service would have been like. Just asked everyone to make it with care but at no time were portion sizes changed, better proteins selected...even the server who ended up with the table wasn't even told it was Brunil till after the meal.

He trusted his kitchen crew and felt the food spoke for itself without any alterations.

Keywords-ALREADY BEEN REVIEWED. Your place had so much less to lose. 'Trusting' evryone is a noble concept, but to have done that BEFORE a review would have been a little more of a commitment to the egalitarian nature of the manager's comments. But, in any event, what is the big deal? I'm sure we're all adults here and understand that some customers get treated better than others, and that the New York Times Restaurant Critic perhaps is treated the best of all. I can live with that.

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. It's become clear during Bruni's tenure that he has been re-reviewing restaurants if there is a chef change and is also blogging with some frequency meaning that any time he is in your eatery it would be to your benefit to be on point.

While I wasn't working there during the initial review I was told by other kitchen staff that the Bar Room chef took the same approach at that time.

As it turns out it was a re-review of the Bar Room without including the main dining room and it actually got bumped to three stars.

While that decision is still one of the more "interesting" ones Bruni has made during his tenure I found it interesting that the Chef's attitude never changed.

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I'm going to have to respectfully disagree.  It's become clear during Bruni's tenure that  he has been re-reviewing restaurants if there is a chef change and is also blogging with some frequency meaning that any time he is in your eatery it would be to your benefit to be on point.

There are also a number of prominent chef changes that he didn't re-review, such as Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay. His blogging is about 80% "non-food" related.
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I'm going to have to respectfully disagree.  It's become clear during Bruni's tenure that  he has been re-reviewing restaurants if there is a chef change and is also blogging with some frequency meaning that any time he is in your eatery it would be to your benefit to be on point.

There are also a number of prominent chef changes that he didn't re-review, such as Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay. His blogging is about 80% "non-food" related.

Perhaps but even as this attachment shows he is making a point on his blog to revisit places he's been or check out places that have been overlooked. This is from April of this year and written by Bruni:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...757C0A9619C8B63

This week the Dining section introduces Dining Briefs, short reviews that include first looks at new restaurants, updates on places that have been reviewed or overlooked and critiques of bars and lounges that offer noteworthy drinks and food. The feature will provide an informed opinion on places around New York City that are worth consideration even if they don't receive a full review in Frank Bruni's Restaurants column or in $25 and Under. Dining Briefs will alternate every other week with $25 and Under.

I guess my only point is that the chef's decision to not to do anything different when the Times critic is spotted there is a cavalier one these days.

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I'm going to have to respectfully disagree.  It's become clear during Bruni's tenure that  he has been re-reviewing restaurants if there is a chef change and is also blogging with some frequency meaning that any time he is in your eatery it would be to your benefit to be on point.

There are also a number of prominent chef changes that he didn't re-review, such as Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay. His blogging is about 80% "non-food" related.

Perhaps but even as this attachment shows he is making a point on his blog to revisit places he's been or check out places that have been overlooked. This is from April of this year and written by Bruni:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...757C0A9619C8B63

This week the Dining section introduces Dining Briefs, short reviews that include first looks at new restaurants, updates on places that have been reviewed or overlooked and critiques of bars and lounges that offer noteworthy drinks and food. The feature will provide an informed opinion on places around New York City that are worth consideration even if they don't receive a full review in Frank Bruni's Restaurants column or in $25 and Under. Dining Briefs will alternate every other week with $25 and Under.

I guess my only point is that the chef's decision to not to do anything different when the Times critic is spotted there is a cavalier one these days.

I agree-cavalier, perhaps even dangerous.
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Actually, that wasn't quite what I was saying.  I was saying that they actually seem to use a different set of reviewers or at least fewer of them (if ANY in some cases, as some of the restaurants seem not to have been visited literally in YEARS), a different number of visits, and a different basis of choosing which places to visit in the first place than they do for two and three stars.
It's safe to assume that the two and three-star places get more scrutiny, as they should. Frank Bruni has acknowledged that he follows a similar system with the NYT 3/4-stars, as he should.

We don't know how much time elapses between Michelin visits to one and zero-starred restaurants, but then again, we don't know that with Bruni either. But as Michelin has fewer starred restaurants and more than one reviewer, they are probably doing a better job of it than Frank is.

Furthermore, the very methodology of Michelin, whereby any stars is considered a very good thing, means that many places are totally left out of the review process.
That assumes that the unstarred restaurants received no scrutiny at all, which of course is not the case. Similarly, Bruni visits many restaurants that he eventually decides not to review.
It covers up the fact that they simply haven't visited many important restaurants by equating those places with ones they visited and deemed to be below the one star level.  This, combined with other factors, makes their one star choices highly unreliable, but their two and three (as stated many time) seem to be as good or better than anyone's.

The more you expand upon this, the clearer it becomes that their system is pretty much the same as Bruni's (or any critic's), but better.

That is all true in principle, but leaves some problems: Michelin presents itself as a complete guide to New York, while Bruni is simply a reviewer of local restaurants. So there is no expectation or promise of completeness on Bruni's part. Nor are his collected reviews available anywhere in one guide that claims to cover all New York restaurants. If he doesn't review a place, readers don't assume it sucks, they just don't draw any conclusions. Since Michelin presents itself as a guide to New York restaurants, an omission of any but the most obscure places implies that the place has been deemed unworthy of even a single star. Furthermore, since Bruni doesn't publish reviews suddenly of places he hasn't visited in four years, he doesn't mislead people into thinking he's been there of late and that his info is current.

Overall, I'm still happy to agree with you that the Michelin guys have better taste and knowledge of food, and that their methodology is better at the high end, but no more than that. I trust their opinion more than I do Bruni's with respect to two and three star places. But their execution is more flawed, and draws greater attention to its flaws, especially in light of the implied promise of their format, a problem Bruni doesn't have to deal with. This is a shame, as the problems with Michelin would be fairly easily fixed, while Bruni's problems are inextricably linked to his personal idiosyncracies and his inherent lack of expertise in many aspects of food.

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my understanding is that the inclusion of a restaurant in the Michelin Guide (I think over 500 restaurants are included in the NY guide) signifies that that restaurant is recommended.

bad restaurants are simply omitted altogether. that's the idea anyway.

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That is all true in principle, but leaves some problems:  Michelin presents itself as a complete guide to New York, while Bruni is simply a reviewer of local restaurants.  So there is no expectation or promise of completeness on Bruni's part.  Nor are his collected reviews available anywhere in one guide that claims to cover all New York restaurants.
Actually, they are: it's called the New York Times website.
If he doesn't review a place, readers don't assume it sucks, they just don't draw any conclusions.
No sensible reader would assume that the unstarred restaurants "suck". As Nathan noted, even being mentioned in the guide is an honor, of sorts. Michelin's position is that every restaurant listed is respectable in its category.

Bear in mind the Guide's Eurpean roots. It's a travel guide. In some areas, you could find yourself hundreds of miles from the nearest "starred" restaurant. They are certainly not suggesting that the places without stars are unworthy of your attention.

This is a shame, as the problems with Michelin would be fairly easily fixed, while Bruni's problems are inextricably linked to his personal idiosyncracies and his inherent lack of expertise in many aspects of food.

Actually, I think it's inconceivable that anyone would produce a similar list without making a few selections that the rest of us would regard as dubious. Edited by oakapple (log)
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That is all true in principle, but leaves some problems:  Michelin presents itself as a complete guide to New York, while Bruni is simply a reviewer of local restaurants.  So there is no expectation or promise of completeness on Bruni's part.  Nor are his collected reviews available anywhere in one guide that claims to cover all New York restaurants.
Actually, they are: it's called the New York Times website.
If he doesn't review a place, readers don't assume it sucks, they just don't draw any conclusions.
No sensible reader would assume that the unstarred restaurants "suck". As Nathan noted, even being mentioned in the guide is an honor, of sorts. Michelin's position is that every restaurant listed is respectable in its category.

Bear in mind the Guide's Eurpean roots. It's a travel guide. In some areas, you could find yourself hundreds of miles from the nearest "starred" restaurant. They are certainly not suggesting that the places without stars are unworthy of your attention.

This is a shame, as the problems with Michelin would be fairly easily fixed, while Bruni's problems are inextricably linked to his personal idiosyncracies and his inherent lack of expertise in many aspects of food.

Actually, I think it's inconceivable that anyone would produce a similar list without making a few selections that the rest of us would regard as dubious.

I think the New York Times would be very surprised to hear that their website is meant to be considered a complete and up to date guide on all restaurants in New York, especially in light of the fact that they only re-review restaurants that they consider especially important, and only do that when "time permits". This sometimes takes years. (Seems Michelin does this, too, but doesn't admit it, suggesting that all their included restaurants have received multiple visits in the last year). As a result, the NYT website includes many reviews, and is a collection of archived features, but I defy you to show me where it claims to be a current guide to all the places in its archives or all significant dining in New York or to be a single body of work to be viewed as a whole. The Michelin guide makes this claim by its very format and nature.

And while even the unstarred places in Michelin are supposed to represent a certain quality level, there are many glaring omissions from the book entirely, and many one starred places that are obviously inferior to those without stars. I don't believe these are cases of subjectivity...many clearly seem to be cases of simply not having done the work. For example, it will be impossible for you to convince me that they've been to Jewel Bako as often as they've been to various two and three star restaurants, and still given it a star. In reality, it's highly likely they haven't been there more than once, if at all, in the last two years. However, unlike the New York Times, their very format suggests that they have. It's misleading. And that causes unreliability at the one star and no star level, because they suggest that they have recently and thoroughly evaluated those restaurants as thoroughly as the two and three stars, even though this clearly isn't the case.

This has nothing to do with disagreement or subjective differences of opinion, it has to do with Michelin not actually visiting the one-star and no-star establishments often enough (if at all) to be reliable in reviewing them. And it's easily fixed by just working harder. There's no way Bruni has written a new review in his column and not visited the place in question in two years. As I said, I think the Michelin guide is more reliable in their two and three star choices. This is when they really use their review process, which involves a consensus, and is therefore better in principle than having Bruni's bias at play. However, we can't take advantage of this better methodology if they aren't even going to actually eat at some of the restaurants that get one star or less.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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I defy you to show me where it claims to be a current guide to all the places in its archives or all significant dining in New York or to be a single body of work to be viewed as a whole. 

Every few years, the Times publishes "The New York Times Guide to New York City Restaurants." This is a guidebook that includes the main dining reviews, the $25 and Under reviews and various other tidbits. The cover claim is "The Most Authoritative Guide to Eating Well in New York." The latest edition was dated 2004 (link). I imagine they'll prepare another edition soon, now that Bruni has been on the job for long enough to write a significant number of reviews. Or they won't, because sales of the book were never particularly good. Nonetheless, the Times has long made these sorts of comprehensive, guidebook-ish claims. I have an older edition of the book, for example, from the Bryan Miller era (the 1992 edition), and there's a Ruth Reichl one as well (the 2000 edition). I believe there have been five editions altogether.

In addition, it's pretty clear to me that the Times has structured and presented its website as a restaurant database akin to CitySearch. Once you put up a "FIND NYC RESTAURANTS" tool, where you can search "By Restaurant Name," "By Type/Location/Price," restrict to "Top Picks," etc., and once you have specially formatted guidebook-like results pages, you've stepped outside the role of newspaper reviewing restaurants and into the role of cityguide-type website.

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 defy you to show me where it claims to be a current guide to all the places in its archives or all significant dining in New York or to be a single body of work to be viewed as a whole. 

Every few years, the Times publishes "The New York Times Guide to New York City Restaurants." This is a guidebook that includes the main dining reviews, the $25 and Under reviews and various other tidbits. The cover claim is "The Most Authoritative Guide to Eating Well in New York." The latest edition was dated 2004 (link). I imagine they'll prepare another edition soon, now that Bruni has been on the job for long enough to write a significant number of reviews. Or they won't, because sales of the book were never particularly good. Nonetheless, the Times has long made these sorts of comprehensive, guidebook-ish claims. I have an older edition of the book, for example, from the Bryan Miller era (the 1992 edition), and there's a Ruth Reichl one as well (the 2000 edition). I believe there have been five editions altogether.

In addition, it's pretty clear to me that the Times has structured and presented its website as a restaurant database akin to CitySearch. Once you put up a "FIND NYC RESTAURANTS" tool, where you can search "By Restaurant Name," "By Type/Location/Price," restrict to "Top Picks," etc., and once you have specially formatted guidebook-like results pages, you've stepped outside the role of newspaper reviewing restaurants and into the role of cityguide-type website.

I stand corrected about the claim in general, then. But the fact that they haven't issued one since 2004 kind of backs up my point. And since I maintain that Michelin hasn't actually visited some of the restaurants in its 2007 guide since about 2004, it may be a wash. Since the NYT guide from 2004 was current in 2004, I don't think anyone would assume that same guide was current in 2007. My point was that the 2007 Michelin guide contained a few reviews that clearly hadn't reflected the usual number of visits in the last year or so, and therefore was misleading. Thanks for the additional info, FG.

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In addition, it's pretty clear to me that the Times has structured and presented its website as a restaurant database akin to CitySearch. Once you put up a "FIND NYC RESTAURANTS" tool, where you can search "By Restaurant Name," "By Type/Location/Price," restrict to "Top Picks," etc., and once you have specially formatted guidebook-like results pages, you've stepped outside the role of newspaper reviewing restaurants and into the role of cityguide-type website.

Moreover, the write-ups on their website are usually a summary of the most recent rated review, even if that review was quite a while ago. If you had looked up Harry Cipriani two weeks ago, you would have found a glowing recommendation derived from Byan Miller's two-star review, which was sixteen years out-of-date.
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Those of you active on this topic might also be interested in the "Best restaurant reviewer you never heard of" topic. My contention there is that Paul Adams of the New York Sun is the best restaurant reviewer working today, not just in New York but in America.

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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  • 5 weeks later...

Forbes has released its (annual?) All-Star Eateries in New York. These restaurants earned four stars:

Alto

Aureole

Bouley

Chanterelle

Country

Daniel

The Four Seasons

Gordon Ramsay at the London

Jean Georges

La Grenouille

Le Bernardin

Le Cirque

Nobu

Per Se

Rosanjin

‘21’ Club

These restaurants earned three stars:
Babbo

Bette

Blue Hill

Café Boulud

Café Gray

Cru

Danube

davidburke & donatella

Del Posto

Eleven Madison Park

EN Japanese Brasserie

Etats-Unis

Fives

Fleur de Sel

Gilt

Gotham Bar and Grill

Gramercy Tavern

JoJo

Kai

L’Atelier de Joël Rob

L’Impero

the little owl

Maremma

Masa

Maya

The Modern

Morimoto

Nippon

Orso

Perry St

Peter Luger Steak House

Pinocchio

Pure Food and Wine

The River Café

San Domenico

Sant Ambroeus

Soto

Spice Market

Spigolo

Strip House

Sugiyama

Swifty’s

Tabla

The Tasting Room

Thalassa

Tocqueville

Town

Union Square Cafe

Veritas

Waverly Inn

wd-50

They don't award one or two stars, but a number of other restaurants were listed as "special" (see the article). Obviously their admits more four-star restaurants than the Times does. There are a few strange choices and a few provocative ones—there always are on such lists—but it is always useful to see another viewpoint.
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