Side Bar

An article in the New York Times Style Magazine by Kurt Soller entitled, “At Restaurants, Thank You for Not Sharing:After a decade of treating every plate like a pie, individual dishes are making a welcome comeback,” caught my eye. For over ten years, I have been attributing a quote I thought I read from Julia Child that she did not share any dishes she ordered at restaurants. If someone wanted to taste something, they would have to order it for themselves; and not having any poor sap with merely one bite after passing it around to everyone.  For the life of me, I cannot for the life of me remember where I read it and I cannot find it online after multiple clever search queries. It seems like something she would say, doesn’t it?

The main point is that I have always agreed that one shouldn’t feel obligated to share; or if you really did just want a bite of a particular dish, then to ask if anyone also wants a bite.  And I do feel that this has started to be more common over the last half decade.

The article goes on with “Living in the “sharing economy,” we are accustomed to apportioning cars, offices and, yes, plates of food. Lately, though, chefs and diners seem to have grown weary of the communal experience.” Seems like quite an enormous leap to lump sharing plates with the sharing economy, as even the author acknowledges that tapas and most Chinese dishes are inherently meant to be shared.  Also, an enormous leap to pronounce that chefs and diners alike are done with the communal experience, let alone sharing a plate. Yes, there is the cubicle dining experience aka Solo Dining Booth at Ichiran. But I still see many a community table at new restaurants, ones short on space like Niche to massive spaces like Tetsu. I also found that ending the piece with fluffy political discourse (socialism vs. democracy) and stringng together random dining annoyances to be neither cute nor clever. It truly bummed me out that what started out as an interesting read, turned into and ended in such a shallow way.

Like I said, I loved trotting out that Julia Child quote over the years and I thought this article would provide more cultural insights or at least a few more quotes for my arsenal.  I do think that sharing plates did seem more prevalent at one time but perhaps that was timed with an influx of casual dining overall. The point now is that sharing is just one way of eating; just a preference by some diners. Speak up if you don’t want to share and use that Julia Child quote as a shield against looking selfish!  

Pete Wells and His 2-Star Reviews

It feels so random. . .

Like many New Yorkers, I look to the The New York Times restaurant reviews for recommendations on where to eat (or not as the case may be). While there are several reviewers on staff, only one critic that gets the Restaurant Review headline and appoints the star ratings– Pete Wells. And it’s been over seven years that he has been cranking out reviews.  

I’m going to guess that it was probably after the first year or so that I realized that I had no insight into Pete Wells’ tastes and preferences.  Even today, over seven years later, I still don’t get him. It seems to me that most restaurants he reviews start and end with two stars. It is an ongoing joke in our household that whenever anyone announces a new NYT restaurant review, I would bet it got two stars.

This morning, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and actually break down the ratings since November 2011 when he took over the reigns from Sam Sifton.  It was a rather long and grueling process given some product glitches but I believe I have a reasonable guestimate for about 280 reviews*:

4 stars = 4
3 stars = 37
2 stars = 130
1 star = 96
Satisfactory = 9
Fair = 5
Poor = 1

Aha!  Two-star ratings are indeed the most popular of the seven categories, and almost half of the reviews Mr.  Wells has given fall into this bucket! My gut was rooted in reality!

Two stars for The New York Times is ‘very good’ and given the decline in popularity of formal dining and the rise of non-Western fare and fast-casual meals, it’s no surprise that the range in this category would be wide.  

How wide you ask?  Examples of two-star establishments include Superiority Burger (fast food),  Aviary (high-end bar with small plates), L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (fine dining), Marta (rustic pizzeria) and I Sodi (Tuscan fare).

And what type of restaurants do not get two stars? Three-star or ‘excellent’ ratings have gone to a casual pizza place in Brooklyn (Razza) and a one-star or ‘good’ rating was given to Manhatta, a puzzler given that there were enough tasty dishes to offset the mediocre, and if you read the comments, I am not the only one that didn’t understand the review and how it lead to the one-star rating.

Henry gets one star but gets into the Top 10 New Restaurants of 2018 list.  Why wouldn’t this restaurant pushing African cuisine in such an interesting manner get a better rating if it’s one of the city’s best? And why didn’t other new restaurants that received higher star ratings make the list?

It’s a rhetorical question for I know I am looking for a throughline or standard around these measurements where there are none.  At the end of the day, reviews are subjective and so it goes with the territory that the weighting of variables can seem random. . . and that the overall rating can seem random.

And so this brings me to the point that while the restaurant scene has changed, the rating system for many publications have not.

I have been mulling over how to perhaps improve the rating system without having something like  Yelp reviews which for the most part, I tend to disregard.

But I will save those thoughts for another day. . .

*Restaurants that have closed are not included in the restaurant search results; and some of these reviews have had their ratings stripped making an accurate breakdown of the roughly 330 reviews by Pete Wells difficult. I did get through enough of the 50-odd closed restaurant reviews to see that two-star ratings were still popular, and one-star ratings were not going to outnumber the overall two-star total.