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Pete Wells Reviews 2 Restaurants, Awards 2 Stars

Pete Wells Reviews 2 Restaurants, Awards 2 Stars


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The New York Times restaurant critic gave Noreetuh and The Eddy one star each

Pete Wells reviewed Noreetuh and The Eddy this week, both in New York’s East Village.

In his second double review of the year, Pete Wells gave his readers his judgment of the East Village’s Noreetuh and The Eddy, awarding each eatery one star.

Noreetuh serves Hawaiian food, and Wells identifies chef Chung Chow’s biggest hurdle: New Yorkers’ unfamiliarity with the staples of his dishes, writing: “A knowledgeable audience can’t be imported, either… the average New Yorker has almost no idea what the residents of the 50th state eat. Don’t they like… Spam?” There are a few elegant dishes on the menu that Wells believes a Manhattanite should try, like the Spam-stuffed agnolotti with hon-shimeji mushrooms and the monkfish liver torchon with jellied passion fruit, the latter of which the critic names as “one of the most exciting tastes to wash up on Manhattan’s shores this year.”

There were a few dishes and other characteristics that counted against Noreetuh, which were most likely the reasons it did not receive a multi-star rating from Wells. The panko-crusted pork croquettes didn’t impress the critic, nor did a certain poke dish with octopus and fingerling potatoes or the white asparagus with Chinese sausage and egg. The space also lacks ambience, according to Wells, who took special issue with the Taylor Swift-heavy playlist.

The Eddy is just around the corner from Noreetuh, and serves seasonally driven American fare. Wells reveals that he “wasn’t always sold” on chef Brendan McHale’s cooking, but there were a number of dishes that he found pleasing from McHale’s kitchen. The roasted potatoes with rib-eye and Brie were “unimprovable,” and the critic also amicably calls out the soft-shell crab with arugula pesto, the cardamom panna cotta with crystals of rhubarb granite, the fried beef tendon with Greek yogurt and smoky trout roe, and the bacon tater tots.

The restaurant critic had nice things to write about the service, cocktails, and wine list, too. In the end, he pays The Eddy a compliment that is truly a rarity in the New York dining scene: “The Eddy, in other words, is one of those restaurants that gets so many little details right that your main course can be a little shaky and you can still walk out happy.”


Opinion: The New York Times taking down LocoL was like booing at an elementary school musical

When chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson opened the first LocoL near 103rd and Grape streets in L.A., they weren’t grasping for restaurant-review stars. It wasn’t about reviews it was about bringing a sense of “We’re not forgotten-ness” to places like Watts and Oakland, where the second LocoL opened at Broadway and Grand in May. LocoL’s motto is “revolutionary fast food for everyone,” and that’s about right.

But, lo and behold, the Oakland LocoL just got what it didn’t need: a nasty critique in the New York Times food section. As part of a very occasional series on restaurants not in New York, Pete Wells wrote the review.

Wells was in the Bay Area, but he passed up the chance to review the French Laundry in St. Helena, or Quince, which just got three Michelin stars, in S.F., or the equally honored Manresa in Los Gatos. Instead, he went for LocoL, and he went for it with a vengeance.

LocoL didn’t even rate one star Wells blasted it with “satisfactory.” He referred to a fried chicken sandwich “mysteriously bland and almost unimaginably dry…. The best thing to do with it is pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Choi responded with an eloquent post on Instagram: “The pen has created a lot of destruction over the course of history and continues to. He didn’t need to go there but he did…. It compelled him to write something he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle.”

In a text to me Choi wrote: “I ain’t mad at Pete. But, what he didn’t take into context is that none of our team ever had a job before. They didn’t deserve these harsh words as they’re trying their best every day. It’s like yelling ‘booooo’ at an elementary school musical.”

Maybe Wells decided that Choi’s and Patterson’s resumes — rife with awards, stars, books, even a movie (Jon Favreau’s “Chef” is based on Choi’s food truck) — opened LocoL to all critical comers.

In highly seasoned language, I texted Choi back. He might not be mad at Pete, I said, but I’d like to give Wells the opportunity to meet several Grape Street Crips in the Juniper Street parking lot at Jordan Downs.


Justin Yu named Best Chef Southwest at 2016 James Beard Awards

When Yu, 31, reached the microphone to accept the award, he let out an expletive that summed up his surprise at snagging the gold medallion hanging around his neck. Reading from his cellphone, he thanked the city of Houston for its support, and then a number of local chefs and restaurant employees including his business partner and ex-wife, Karen Man. He also thanked his mentor, Ryan Pera of Revival Market and Coltivare, and his aunts who he said "came to this country to see someone like me hopefully succeed."

The Beard Awards are the nation's most prestigious food honors. Before Yu, only two other Houston chefs won the regional chef prize: Chris Shepherd in 2014 for his work at the acclaimed Underbelly and Robert Del Grande in 1992 for the groundbreaking Café Annie.

1 of 11 NOTE: THIS PHOTO IS FOR TOP 100 RESTAURANTS. DO NOT USE BEFORE 09/24/2015 Justin Yu, chef-owner of Oxheart restaurant, photographed, Friday, May 29, 2015, in Houston. ( Nick de la Torre / ) Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

2 of 11 Oxheart chef Justin Yu for the Top 100 Restaurants project, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Houston. ( Michael Paulsen / Houston Chronicle ) Michael Paulsen/Staff Show More Show Less

3 of 11 Oxheart: Roasted and charred sun chokes with salted cream, jasmine tea, honey, and Meyer lemon. Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

4 of 11 Oxheart's carrot mousse glazed in Greenway coffee with sable breton and citrus. Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

5 of 11 Oxheart restaurants steamed 'zephyr' squash with charred succotash, gremolata, corn milk, and mint Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

6 of 11 Oxheart restaurants roast sirloin and sausage of grass-fed beef, with pickled beets and citrus leaf, black tea, and a sauce of dried offal. Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

7 of 11 Oxheart's slow-roasted carrots with cured smoked carrots, celery and a white onion black pepper emulsion. Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

8 of 11 Oxheart's chef Justin Yu plates a dish. Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

9 of 11 .Oxheart restaurant partners Karen Man, left, and chef Justin Yu, in 2014. Nick de la Torre Show More Show Less

10 of 11 Téªte de cochon with cucumbers cooked in whey sauce of brown butter and preserve lime at Oxheart restaurant Johnny Hanson/Staff Show More Show Less

11 of 11 Justin Yu, of Oxheart, poses for a photo at the second-annual Houston Chronicle Culinary Stars event, to mark the announcement of Alison Cook's Top 100 Restaurants. Jon Shapley/Staff Show More Show Less

Yu was nominated in the same category as fellow Houston chef Hugo Ortega for his work at Caracol. It was Ortega's fifth nomination in the Best Chef Southwest category.

Yu said he was overwhelmed at the win.

"I'm quietly freaking out," he said, in a phone interview. "It's definitely an amazing feeling."

He said he thanked Houston first because the city has been so supportive of his work.

"The city is second to none," Yu said. "They've embraced us even though we're that weird, quirky kid off to the side. It doesn't matter if we're not the most popular restaurant. But they know the work we do."

"Justin has changed the face of dining in Houston," said Underbelly's Shepherd. "He's an amazing force. (Winning a Beard award is) so good for the city and it's so good for him. He's a great chef."

Yu, co-owner of Oxheart, is a Houston native of Chinese descent who graduated from Memorial High School. He worked at the 17 restaurant in Houston, Green Zebra and Spring restaurants in Chicago and Ubuntu in Napa, Calif. His stages, or apprenticeships, include In de Wulf in Belgium and AOC and Geranium restaurants in Copenhagen.

Yu and Man, a pastry chef, opened the 30-seat Oxheart in downtown's Warehouse District in 2012. It became an instant hit with foodies. Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the country's 10 best new restaurants. In a 2013 review, New York Times food critic Pete Wells called Oxheart "one of the growing number of places around the country that are rearranging our notions of what fine dining means. It is also an example of the growing ambition of the Houston dining scene."

Yu pays close attention to seasonal and local ingredients, making vegetables the center of the plate. He also brings finely layered techniques to his cuisine, from fermentation to sous vide. Yu has also integrated Asian influences into Oxheart's tasting menu.

In her June 2012 review of Oxheart, Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook praised Yu's work, comparing his dishes to the visually captivating presentations at Rene Redzepi's Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, considered at the time to be the best restaurant in the world.

She wrote of the Oxheart kitchen: "They're busy making art. Not just on the glorious-looking plates of food, but on the palate as well: a single Gulf oyster shimmering in a gleam of green tomato water, capped with a tuft of green herbs and teeny-tiny flowers or a nest of roasted fingerling potatoes on a field of pureed chard so vividly green it seems otherworldly." She continued: "At 3 months old, Oxheart is already functioning on a (dare I say it without irony?) world-class level. It could easily turn into a destination restaurant, one that looks to the future of fine dining, and even what foods we choose to eat, rather than modeling the past."

Almost all of Oxheart's staff of 14 traveled with Yu to Chicago. One of the rewards for employees of more than a year, he said, is that they get to go to the ceremony if he's nominated.

"Now we'll have to figure out another incentive for people to stay with us for a year," Yu said.

The crew will be returning to Houston on Wednesday and service at Oxheart will resume Thursday.

When asked what this means for the culinary scene in Houston, Yu said: "It says that we're always going strong. That we're always trying to push ourselves to do something better we're always trying to make ourselves better. I know we haven't stopped that at Oxheart. Sometimes it feels like it's not worth it but sometimes it is. Like tonight."


Harlem’s Queen of Soul Food

Sylvia’s is Harlem’s most famous restaurant. It might also be its worst.

Thanks to its celebrated past and its importance to the neighborhood, Sylvia’s has mostly escaped honest critical scrutiny of its food.

The problem isn’t the heavy, old-school menu featuring smothered chicken and “world famous talked about bar-b-que ribs” at a time when young Harlem chefs such as Carlos Swepson at BLVD Bistro have lightened things up with “crafted American soul.”

The problem is that Sylvia’s turns out its classic dishes so badly — e.g., chicken that’s usually overcooked and dry, gummy sauces that stick to your teeth.

It’s as cozy as ever. Politicians and celebs still make the pilgrimage. But how much better it would be if the kitchen measured up to what’s happening in so many new and fine Harlem restaurants of every kind?


2004 James Beard Foundation Awards

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion won the prize for KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year at the the 2004 James Beard Foundation Awards, held on Monday, May 10, at the New York Marriott Marquis. More than 60 awards were presented, honoring cookbooks, chefs, and restaurants. Below are some highlights:

» S. Pellegrino Outstanding Restaurant Award: Chanterelle.
» All-Clad Cookware Outstanding Chef Award: Judy Rodgers, Zuni Café.
» Illy Best New Restaurant: Bradley Ogden.
» Gallo of Sonoma Rising Star Chef of the Year: Allison Vines-Rushing, Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar.
» American Express Best Chef: New York: David Pasternack, Esca.

Awards were presented to food journalists in a separate ceremony on May 7. The Kansas City Star was named Best Newspaper Food Section (with circulation under 300,000) and The San Francisco Chronicle was named Best Newspaper Food Section (with 300,000 circulation and above). Julie Powell, of Julie/Julia fame, won the prize for Magazine Feature Writing Without Recipes for her article, “People and Places: Julia Knows Best” (Bon Appétit).

Below is a complete list of all of the winners:

2004 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION/KITCHENAID BOOK AWARDS FOR COOKBOOKS PUBLISHED IN 2003

CATEGORY: KITCHENAID COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR
The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
Authors: King Arthur Flour
Publisher: The Countryman Press
Editor: Kermit Hummel
Price: $35.00

CATEGORY: KITCHENAID COOKBOOK HALL OF FAME
The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking
Author: Barbara Tropp
Publisher: William Morrow, 1982
Editor: Maria Guarnaschelli

CATEGORY: BAKING
The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts
Author: Sherry Yard
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Editor: Rux Martin
Price: $35.95

CATEGORY: COOKING FROM A PROFESSIONAL POINT OF VIEW
Flavor
Author: Rocco DiSpirito
Publisher: Hyperion
Editor: Leslie Wells
Price: $35.00

CATEGORY: COOKING OF THE AMERICAS
It’s All American Food
Author: David Rosengarten
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Editors: Deborah Baker & Judy Clain
Price: $29.95

CATEGORY: GENERAL
The Quick Recipe
Authors: The Editors of
Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Publisher: America’s Test Kitchen
(Formerly Boston Common Press)
Editor: Jack Bishop
Price: $29.95

CATEGORY: HEALTHY FOCUS & VEGETARIAN
Taste Pure and Simple
Authors: Michel Nischan
with Mary Goodbody
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Editor: Bill LeBlond
Price: $35.00

CATEGORY: INTERNATIONAL
From Curries to Kebabs
Author: Madhur Jaffrey
Publisher: Clarkson Potter Publishers
Editor: Pam Krauss
Price: $32.50

CATEGORY: SINGLE SUBJECT
The All American Cheese and
Wine Book
Author: Laura Werlin
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Editor: Leslie Stoker
Price: $37.50

CATEGORY: TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
BBQ USA
Author: Steven Raichlen
Publisher: Workman Publishing
Editor: Suzanne Rafer
Price: $35.00

CATEGORY: WINE AND SPIRITS
Wines of South America
Author: Monty Waldins
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Editor: Hilary Lumsden
Price: $40.00

CATEGORY: WRITING AND REFERENCE
A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove
Author: Laura Schenone
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Editor: Amy Cherry
Price: $35.00

CATEGORY: PHOTOGRAPHY
Shunju: New Japanese Cuisine
Photographer: Masano Kawana
Authors: Takashi Sugimoto & Marcia Iwatate
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, American Distributor
Editor: Eric Oey
Price: $49.95

WINNERS: 2004 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION/RUMS OF PUERTO RICO RESTAURANT DESIGN AND GRAPHICS AWARDS

CATEGORY: OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT DESIGN FOR THE BEST RESTAURANT DESIGN OR RENOVATION IN NORTH AMERICA SINCE JANUARY, 2001
Design Firm:
Avro Ko
Designers: Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie, Kristina O’Neal & William Harris
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
212-343-7024 ext. 42
Project:
Public
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
212-343-7011

CATEGORY: OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT GRAPHICS FOR THE BEST RESTAURANT GRAPHICS EXECUTED IN NORTH AMERICA SINCE JANUARY, 2001
Design Firm:
Avro Ko
Designers: Greg Bradshaw, Adam Farmerie, Kristina O’Neal & William Harris
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
212-343-7024 ext. 42
Project:
Public
Address: 210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012
212-343-7011

WINNERS: 2004 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION/VIKING RANGE BROADCAST MEDIA AWARDS FOR TELEVISION AND RADIO PROGRAMS AIRED IN 2003

CATEGORY: TELEVISION FOOD SEGMENT
Show: CBS News Sunday Morning: “Head Table”
Host: Martha A. Teichner
Network/Station: CBS
Executive Producer: Rand Morrison
Producer: Judith Hole

CATEGORY: TELEVISION COOKING SHOW - LOCAL
Show: Good Eating
Host: Steve Dolinsky
Network/Station: CLTV, Chicago
Producer: Nelson Howard

CATEGORY: TELEVISION COOKING SHOW - NATIONAL
Show: Chefs A’ Field: Culinary Adventures That Begin on the Farm
Network/Station: PBS
Executive Producer: Chris Warner
Producer: Heidi Hanson

CATEGORY: TELEVISION FOOD JOURNALISM
Show: CBS News Sunday Morning:
“Eat, Drink and Be Merry”
Host: Charles Osgood
Network/Station: CBS
Executive Producer: Rand Morrison

CATEGORY: RADIO FOOD LONG FORM
Show: A Matter of Taste
Hosts: Rachel and David Michael Cane
Network/Station: Universal Talk Network, San Francisco
Executive Producer: Rachel Cane

CATEGORY: RADIO FOOD SHORT FORM
Show: Here and Now
Host: Scott Haas
Network/Station: WBUR, Boston
Producers: Lindsay Crudele & Jonathan Marston

WINNERS: 2004 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION RESTAURANT AND CHEF AWARDS

CATEGORY: ALL-CLAD COOKWARE OUTSTANDING CHEF AWARD
The working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals. Must have been a working chef for the past five years.

Judy Rodgers
Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-552-2522

CATEGORY: S.PELLEGRINO OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT AWARD
The restaurant in the U.S. that serves as a national standard bearer of consistency of quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service. Restaurant must have been in operation for the past ten Years.

Chanterelle
Owners: Karen and David Waltuck
Chef: David Waltuck
2 Harrison Street
New York, NY 10013
212-966-6960

CATEGORY: ILLY BEST NEW RESTAURANT
A restaurant opened in 2003 that already displays excellence in food, beverage and service, and is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.

Bradley Ogden
Chef/Owner: Bradley Ogden
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-731-7410

CATEGORY: GALLO OF SONOMA RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR
A chef, age 30 or younger, who displays an impressive talent, and who is likely to make a significant industry impact in years to come.

Allison Vines-Rushing
Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar
246 East Fifth Street
New York, NY 10003
212-673-0338

CATEGORY: ALL-CLAD BAKEWARE OUTSTANDING PASTRY CHEF AWARD
A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads, who serves as a national standard bearer of excellence. Must have been a pastry chef or baker for the past five years.

Emily Luchetti
Farallon
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-956-6969

CATEGORY: GALLO OF SONOMA OUTSTANDING WINE SERVICE AWARD
A restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, knowledgeable staff and efforts to educate customers about wine. Restaurant must have been in operation at least five years.

Babbo
Wine Director: David Lynch
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
212-777-0303

CATEGORY: ECOLAB OUTSTANDING WINE AND SPIRITS PROFESSIONAL AWARD
A winemaker, brewer or spirits professional who has made a significant national impact in the wine and spirits industry. Must have been in profession at least five years.

Karen MacNeil
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
2555 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
800-333-9242

CATEGORY: SMITHFIELD FOODS OUTSTANDING SERVICE AWARD
A restaurant that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service. Must have been in operation for the past five years.

Eleven Madison Park
Owner: Danny Meyer
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
212-889-0905

AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEFS IN AMERICA
Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Chefs may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been a working chef for the last five years. The three most recent years must have been spent in the region where chef is presently working.

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: CALIFORNIA
Charles Phan
The Slanted Door
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
415-861-8032

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: MID-ATLANTIC
Ann Cashion
Cashion’s Eat Place
1819 Columbia Road NW
Washington, DC 20009
202-797-1819

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: MIDWEST
Paul Kahan
Blackbird
619 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60606
312-715-0708

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: NEW YORK CITY
David Pasternack
Esca
402 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
212-564-7272

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: NORTHEAST
Sam Hayward
Fore Street
288 Fore Street
Portland, ME 04101
207-775-2717

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: NORTHWEST/HAWAII
Eric Tanaka
Dahlia Lounge
2001 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
206-682-4142

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: SOUTHEAST
Louis Osteen
Louis’s at Pawley’s Island
10880 Ocean Highway, US 17
Pawley’s Island, SC 29585
843-237-8757

CATEGORY: AMERICAN EXPRESS BEST CHEF: SOUTHWEST
Luciano Pellegrini
Valentino at The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-414-3000

CATEGORY: GALLO OF SONOMA AMERICA’S CLASSICS RESTAURANTS

MIDWEST:
Al’s Breakfast
Owners: Doug Grina and Jim Brandes
413 14th Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN, 55414
612-331-9991

MID-ATLANTIC:
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Owners: Ben and Virginia Ali
1213 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202-667-0909

NEW YORK CITY:
Prime Burger
Owner: Tony DiMiceli
5 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022
212-759-4729

NORTHWEST/HAWAII:
Sam Choy’s Kaloko
Owner: Sam Choy
73-5576 Kauhola Street
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
888-414-2469

CATEGORY: LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
Alice Waters
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
510-548-5525

CATEGORY: HUMANITARIAN OF THE YEAR
Robert Egger
DC Central Kitchen
425 Second Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
202-234-0707

WINNERS: 2004 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION JOURNALISM AWARDS FOR ARTICLES PUBLISHED IN 2003

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER FEATURE WRITING WITHOUT RECIPES
Kim Severson
The San Francisco Chronicle
“A Lot of Cooks in the MRE Kitchen”, 4/17/03

CATEGORY: MAGAZINE FEATURE WRITING WITHOUT RECIPES
Julie Powell
Bon Appétit
“People and Places: Julia Knows Best”, 12/03

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER FEATURE WRITING WITH RECIPES
Leslie Brenner
Los Angeles Times
“Forget What You Know:
This is Gazpacho”, 8/13/03

CATEGORY: MAGAZINE FEATURE WRITING WITH RECIPES
Pete Wells
Food & Wine Magazine
“Captain Bacon”, 5/03

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER FEATURE WRITING ABOUT RESTAURANTS AND/OR CHEFS WITH OR WITHOUT RECIPES
Russ Parsons
Los Angeles Times
“Chefs Ideas, Fresh From the Market”, 5/7/03

CATEGORY: MAGAZINE FEATURE WRITING ABOUT RESTAURANTS AND/OR CHEFS WITH OR WITHOUT RECIPES
Pete Wells
Food & Wine Magazine
“A Chef At Peace”, 7/03

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER RESTAURANT REVIEW OR CRITIQUE
Alison Cook
Houston Chronicle

CATEGORY: MAGAZINE RESTAURANT REVIEW OR CRITIQUE
Alan Richman
Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ)

CATEGORY: MAGAZINE SERIES
David Nussbaum, Ann Herolo,
Anne Mendelson, Robert Sherrill
Saveur
“Mother Milk”, 8/03, 9/03

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER SERIES
Bill Ward
Star Tribune, Minneapolis
“Cucina Italiana”, 4/03, 7/03, 9/03, and 11/03

CATEGORY: MAGAZINE WRITING ON SPIRITS, WINE, OR BEER
Colman Andrews
Saveur
“Treasures of the Land”, 12/03

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER WRITING ON SPIRITS, WINE, OR BEER
Barbara Hansen
Los Angeles Times
“Mezcal: Good Drink, Bad Rap”, 3/5/03

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER, MAGAZINE OR INTERNET REPORTING ON CONSUMER ISSUES, NUTRITION AND/OR HEALTH
Allison J. Cleary
Eating Well, The Magazine of Food & Health
“Razing the Pyramid: Piece by Piece, Harvard’s Walter Willett is Dismantling Nutrition Dogma That Has Fueled the Obesity Epidemic and Contributed to “Millions of Deaths”, Winter/03

CATEGORY: INTERNET WRITING ON FOOD, NUTRITION, TRAVEL, RESTAURANT AND BEVERAGE
Natalie MacLean
nataliemaclean.com
“Dining in the Wild, Wild West”, 5/22/03

CATEGORY: NEWSLETTER WRITING ON FOOD, BEVERAGE, RESTAURANT AND NUTRITION
Cole Danehower
Oregon Wine Report

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER FOOD SECTION WITH CIRCULATION UNDER 300,000
The Kansas City Star
Jill Wendholt Silva, Food Editor

CATEGORY: NEWSPAPER FOOD SECTION WITH CIRCULATION 300,000 AND ABOVE
San Francisco Chronicle
Miriam Morgan, Food Editor

CATEGORY: MFK FISHER DISTINGUISHED WRITING AWARD
Natalie MacLean
nataliemaclean.com
“Calling the Shots”, 12/20/03

Source: James Beard Foundation

Posted by Josh Friedland on May 12, 2004 in Media | Link | | Print this page | Share This


Going Solo Instead of Joining the Chorus

The dining room at Contra, located on a not-yet-trendy block of Orchard Street, is narrow and earnest, but the two chefs at work in this kitchen have ambitions that are anything but small.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

The dining room at Contra, located on a not-yet-trendy block of Orchard Street, is narrow and earnest, but the two chefs at work in this kitchen have ambitions that are anything but small.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Hanging on one inside wall (more art than ad), almost invisible, is the restaurant’s name in red neon script.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

The restaurant offers five courses for the relatively modest sum of $55.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

The bartender Ethan Van Buren pours a cocktail.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Jeremiah Stone, second from right, is a former sous-chef of Rino in Paris who helped open Isa in New York. He and his partner in the kitchen, Fabian von Hauske, have got a personal, understated, modern approach to deeply seasonal cooking.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Mr. von Hauske, who worked in the pastry kitchen of Jean Georges and, briefly, at Faviken in Sweden, makes the desserts and bread.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Beef tartare with a mussel emulsion, blanketed in fava bean leaves and half-circles of raw mushroom.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Red fish is cooked gently with fried scallops, scallop cream, shallots, garlic and broccoli rabe pesto.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Slow-cooked and grilled duck served with slices of grilled pear.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Olive oil mousse with pickled celery, pistachio cream and elderflower granita.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Goat’s milk vanilla ice cream with roasted pickled beet purée and popcorn.

Credit. Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

When you make a reservation at an independently reviewed restaurant through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.

The outside makes no grand statements. A glass wall stares out at a not-yet-trendy block of Orchard Street. It’s blank except for the small menu posted by the door, offering five courses for the relatively modest sum of $55. Hanging on one inside wall, more art than ad, and almost invisible unless you are walking southbound very close to the window, is the restaurant’s name in red neon script: Contra.

At work in a compact kitchen at the far end of the earnest and narrow dining room are two chefs whose ambitions for Contra are anything but small. They want to create a style of cooking that New York can call its own.

“This is an incredible food city, but sometimes you can see a lack of identity in the restaurants here, where people want to channel another place, another time,” Jeremiah Stone, a former sous-chef of Rino in Paris who helped open Isa in New York, told Eater shortly before the restaurant opened in October. “They want to do modern Thai, Roman, creative French.”

His partner in the kitchen, Fabian von Hauske, who worked in the pastry kitchen of Jean Georges and, briefly, at Faviken in Sweden, pursued the idea. “I don’t think there’s that much of a style here,” he said. “You go to San Francisco and there is definitely a style there when you go to places like Coi or Commis. I think there should be more of an identity here, something that’s contemporary that you can’t find anywhere else.”

In most other cities, hatchets would be out for a pair of 20-something chefs who rode into town promising to show everybody how it’s done. But not New York. Here we just say, All right, kids, let’s see what you’ve got.

What Mr. Stone and Mr. von Hauske have is a personal, understated, modern approach to deeply seasonal cooking. Mr. von Hauske makes the desserts and the bread, which costs an extra $3 and is worth it for the supremely creamy butter alone. Mr. Stone does the rest, but their styles are compatible. I’m not enthusiastic about what strikes me as a Northern European phobia of spices, but I came to admire their restraint with salt and added fat. You can see this approach catching on among other young chefs, some of whose food gets lumped in with the New Nordic movement. A more accurate name for their quiet, naturalistic, drama-averse approach may be mumblecore cuisine. Contra, at the moment, pulls it off with an originality that is sometimes dazzling and always worth following.

The monkfish that appeared one recent night was cooked with faultless timing, roasted slowly, with the kind of tender pink center you’d find inside a seared scallop. It shared its chunky earthenware plate with leaves of charred kale, a marmalade of caramelized onions and a fish-sauce foam, but if you are thinking Vietnamese-molecular fusion, forget it. The fish sauce was a complex and milky froth made of monkfish bones and smoked trout, and it was very, very good.

Image

This was truly expressive cooking, exploring shades of flavor more watercolor than acrylic. The dish is either changed or gone by now, no doubt, but the impression lasted.

And I won’t forget Contra’s pairing of chicken breast with pickled daikon, toasted sesame seeds and blood sausage. The sausage had been transformed into a swipe of soft, tangy, beet-red paste, dotted with marjoram leaves and tart nubs of dried raspberries. It all came together in a way so unexpected and right that I had to shake my head.

New dishes roll onto the tasting menu every few days, and old ones are subject to restless tinkering. (Old, at Contra, means anything that was invented before today.) The first time I ate monkfish there, a mash of raw walnuts and garlic in miso was trying out for the role that was later played, with more depth, by the onion jam. And I liked watching the evolution of a raw scallop dish outfitted with noodle-like ribbons of raw kohlrabi. As wide as seatbelts the first time, they had slimmed down and looked more like fettuccine the next. On the other hand, the dried raspberries had gone from the blood-sausage swoosh the second time I saw the monkfish. I missed them a little.

You get the luck of the draw at restaurants that offer only tasting menus, but the format suits Contra’s food unusually well. The flavors are subtle, and on first encounter it’s a bit like walking out of the daylight and into a candlelit room: you need to adjust. Five courses is enough time to open your eyes (you may get more time than you need on nights when the pace drags).

Another advantage of the tasting menu becomes clear when you are served dessert, followed by a second dessert. As you may have guessed, Mr. von Hauske is judicious with sugar and quite comfortable with vegetables. I liked a beets-and-yogurt number more than I did a creamed gianduja studded with tough sunchoke chips that put up more of a fight than I could face at the end of the night.

But at least I knew everybody else would be crunching along with me, and I’d already smiled my way through a less-antagonistic dessert, a kind of rebuilt apple crisp, with an oat crumble and whipped oat-infused custard around a cider-like apple granita. This dessert was pure fun and charm, like Mr. von Hauske’s partnering of tangerine granita with a smooth popcorn-infused mousse and smashed bits of caramel popcorn.

Linda Milagros Violago, who stocked the cellars at Mugaritz in Spain and Geranium in Denmark, has put together a list of bottles from the kind of small winemakers who think of themselves as farmers and avoid modern tricks. The results aren’t always what you’d predict a French cider, she said, had a note of blue cheese, and it did. The list almost forces you to try something unfamiliar, which feels just right for this restaurant.

I hope Mr. Stone and Mr. von Hauske achieve all their goals except the one about creating a shared New York style. The crazy riot of voices chattering in hundreds of accents is the whole point of this crazy, riotous city they have adopted. We don’t need other chefs imitating Contra’s style. We’ve got the original now.


Pete Wells

From 1999 to 2001, Wells was a columnist and editor for Food & Wine. [3] Wells was articles editors at Details from 2001 until 2006, when he joined the Times as dining editor. [3] Wells is the recipient of five James Beard awards for food writing. [3]

Wells's caustic 14 November 2012 review of Guy Fieri's American Kitchen and Bar, which consisted entirely of questions about the poor quality of the food, was described by Larry Olmsted of Forbes as "the most scathing review in the history of the New York Times," and "likely the most widely read restaurant review ever." [4] It was the fifth-most-e-mailed New York Times article of 2012. [2] His 2016 review of Per Se, downgrading the restaurant from 4 stars to 2 stars, also attracted wide attention, with an Esquire headline stating: “Why That Per Se Review May Change Fine Dining Forever.” [2] He also attracted considerable attention for his October 29, 2019 zero-star review of Peter Luger Steak House. [5] [6]

  1. ^ ab"Pete Wells, Restaurant Critic, Answers Readers' Questions". The New York Times. 3 December 2012 . Retrieved 7 January 2013 .
  2. ^ abcd
  3. Parker, Ian (12 September 2016). "Knives Out: Pete Wells, the Times' Restaurant Critic, wants to have fun -- or else". The New Yorker (p. 46-55).
  4. ^ abc
  5. "Talk to the Newsroom: Dining Editor Pete Wells". The New York Times. 23 July 2007 . Retrieved 8 September 2013 .
  6. ^
  7. Olmstead, Larry (5 December 2012). "Tables Turned - Top Chefs Review Pete Wells And Other Restaurant Critics". Forbes . Retrieved 7 January 2013 .
  8. ^
  9. "Iconic NYC Steakhouse Peter Luger Gets Zero Stars in Scathing New York Times Review". WNBC. October 29, 2019. Archived from the original on October 30, 2019.
  10. ^
  11. Gardiner, Aidan (October 29, 2019). "Readers Respond to the Pete Wells Review of Peter Luger: 'Finally ' ". The New York Times. ISSN0362-4331 . Retrieved October 30, 2019 .

This article about a United States writer of non-fiction is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.


The 7 Biggest Takeaways From the New Yorker's Pete Wells Profile

Though the public has come to trust the news media less and less with each passing year, the restaurant critic still wields a remarkable amount of power in 2016. With just a few simple words, the right critic can either propel a chef to fame and fortune, or condemn a restaurant to certain death. And while business of restaurant reviews has changed drastically since 1962, when Craig Claiborne became the first writer to regularly judge the merits and faults of meal for the New York Times, few critics today are more accurately aware of the power they hold than the paper's current critic, Pete Wells.

To those who live outside the somewhat insular world of food-media, Wells is best known for penning a scathing, viral review of Guy Fieri's eponymous restaurant/tourist attraction in Times Square, and for downgrading Thomas Keller's Per Se from four stars to just two.

Like most restaurant critics, Wells operates under a veil of anonymity (though there are some caveats to this), and rarely gives interviews. Earlier this year, Thrillist published a "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"-style article on Wells, which he declined to be interviewed for. But now, offering a rare glimpse into the clandestine workings behind some of New York's most earth-shaking reviews, the New Yorker's Ian Parker has published a lengthy, in-depth profile of the critic.

From Wells' undying love of Señor Frogs, to the anguished that gripped David Chang following the Times' review of Momofuku Nishi, here are the five biggest takeaways from "Pete Wells Has His Knives Out."

1. There’s only one photo of Wells available online, and David Chang has it hanging in his restaurant.

“Momofuku Nishi was the company’s first full-scale, sit-down restaurant to open in New York in five years. A visit from Wells was a certainty,” Parker writes in the piece. “A copy of the one photograph of him that is widely available online, in which he looks like a character actor available to play sardonic police sergeants, was fixed to a wall in the restaurant’s back stairwell. Chang recently told me that, despite the profusion of opinion online, he still thought of the Times as the ‘judge and jury’ of a new venture, if not the executioner.”

2. Wells’ Guy Fieri review marked a turning point for the New York Times .

“After the success of the review, Wells said, ‘people said that the Times had lost its virginity,’” Parker writes. “In other words, that the paper, having discovered the secret of viral success, would scramble to replicate it. One could argue that this has happened, with reference, say, to such articles as ‘How to Train Like the Mountain from Game of Thrones.”

In another sign of the changing times, the Gray Lady will also start having Wells review restaurants outside of New York City, beginning with Cassia in Santa Monica, California.

3. Wells really, really loves Señor Frogs.

“In the days after Wells and [Extra Crispy’s Kat Kinsman] ate at Señor Frog’s, they exchanged texts that, in Wells’s description, asked, “Is it possible to say with a straight face that Señor Frog’s is a better restaurant than Per Se? Can you get those words out without collapsing under your own idiocy?”

Wells also brought Jason Biggs along for the ride, and mourned the restaurant’s closing on social media.

Behold: The long-awaited Zapruder film from @pete_wells's Senor Frog's review starring "birthday boy" @JasonBiggs . pic.twitter.com/ OveF2Vd9SF

— Kat Kinsman ( @kittenwithawhip ) August 17, 2016

You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Señor Frog's,
The world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

— Pete Wells ( @pete_wells ) August 17, 2016

4. Wells once wore a mask and cape to perform his Guy Fieri review.

“Wearing a highwayman’s mask, and billed only as the Masked Avenger, he walked onstage, read the Fieri review to a live piano accompaniment, then walked off,” Parker writes. “Although the article was relevant to the event’s theme—Southern food in popular culture—one member of the audience still found the performance a little unbecoming, ‘like a musician who had one hit and is singing it, a cappella, years later.’”

5. Wells doesn’t care much for one-star reviews.

“No one likes one-star reviews,” he told the New Yorker. “The restaurants don’t like them, and the readers don’t like them. It’s very tricky to explain why this place is good enough to deserve a review but not quite good enough to get up to the next level.”

“I’m looking for places that I can be enthusiastic about,” he added. “Like a golden retriever, I would like to drop a ball at the feet of the reader every week and say, ‘Here!’”

6. Chang was furious over the one-star review Wells gave Nishi.

“I can’t ever read that review again—I’ll get so fucking angry I’ll die,” Chang told the New Yorker. “I made a lot of that food! I tasted it! It was delicious. And . . . fuck! I believe in the fucking food we make in that restaurant, I believe it to be really delicious, I believe it to be innovative, in a non-masturbatory way.”

“He’s being a fucking bully,” he added.

7. Wells and Fieri might have more in common than we originally thought.

“According to [Kinsman,] who has known Wells since the late nineties, he is “never more relaxed than when he’s tending a grill and wearing a Hawaiian shirt and has some kind of rum-based drink,” Parker writes.


Thomas Keller’s Fall from Grace…Is this recipe his redemption?

Last week the unthinkable happened. Thomas Keller is surely one of the most famous of all American chefs. His “The French Laundry” in Yountville, CA was called “the best restaurant in the world, period” by Anthony Bourdain. Chef Keller’s other offerings sealed his place in the culinary firmament. His Per Se, down the street from us at Columbus Circle, is considered one of the city’s top restaurants and has been since the day it opened in 2004. Per Se also has the distinction of being at the very top of the city’s restaurant price lists. Its nine course prix fixe is offered at $325.00. Without wine. Lunch is a virtual bargain: $215.00 prix fixe but that’s for only 5 courses. You’ll have to ante up to $255.00 if you want seven courses. Well last week, The New York Times dropped a bomb. The newspaper’s Restaurant critic, Pete Wells, dropped Per Se from 4 stars to 2. And, as a friend said yesterday after reading its review, “it’s amazing it got that many”.

Per Se overlooks Central Park

Phrases calling the restaurants offerings “ranging from respectably dull at best to disappointingly flat-footed at worst” were bolstered by food descriptions like “bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water”, “purée that tasted like peanut butter to which something terrible had been done,” and “a dismal green pulp of cooked romaine lettuce, crunchy and mushy at once”. My, my. Surely the service made up for the kitchen. But no. “Servers sometimes give you the feeling that you work for them, and your job is to feel lucky to receive whatever you get”. At this point, I had to feel a certain twinge for Thomas Keller. After all, the man has contributed mightily to this blog. His 5 recipes here have garnered 23, 733 views and counting. So today, I am going to republish the most popular of all. It’s for Santa Maria Tri-Tip, a roast of beef which, mercifully, sells for 6.49 a lb. But what exactly is a Tri-Tip? Read on…
Atri-tip is a 1 ½ to 2 ½ lb. triangular piece of beef that sits at the bottom of the sirloin. Because it is extremely low in fat, it generally ended up in the hamburger pile or chopped into cubes for soup making. Today it is prized for its rich flavor. However, having a lower fat content means it can dry out faster than fattier cuts. But use a good rub or marinade, and it’s hard to go wrong. And almost certainly it will win you over on price if nothing else. Or perhaps you will be tempted to try it because Chef Keller uses it.

The recipe comes from Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan/Workman 2009), and it contains many of the items served at Chef Keller’s second restaurant in Yountville, “Ad Hoc”. I have three of the Chef’s cookbooks, “The Laundry” and “Bouchon”, and while all three are filled with glorious food, gorgeously photographed, the recipes in the first two books are just pipe dreams for most home cooks. “Ad Hoc At Home” succeeds in making its recipes far more approachable.

Before I get to the actual recipe, I want to repeat a story that Jane Kramer wrote about Thomas Keller in the New Yorker in 2005. It seems that, at age 20, wanting to spend the America’s Cup racing season in Newport, Rhode Island, Keller needed to find a job. One day on the beach in Naragansett, RI, he met his mentor. A chef at the Dune Club, Roland Henin, hired Keller to work in his kitchen. Later Keller would say that what he admired most about Chef Henin had nothing to do with cooking: The Chef was “6 foot 4, French, in his thirties and had a great-looking girlfriend and his own Jeep”. What exactly Keller learned that summer was hard to imagine. As Ms. Kramer points out the membership of the Dune Club “usually sat down to dinner three sheets to the wind and unlikely to taste the difference between a homemade demi-glace and a can of College Inn.” Apparently Chef Keller applied himself vigorously and the rest, as they say, is history.

The recipe for Santa Maria Tri-Tip takes its name from the town of Santa Maria, just north of Santa Barbara CA. That town was famous for using this cut of beef at barbecues. This recipe browns the meat on the stovetop and finishes it off in the oven. But when summer comes, it will be worth trying on the grill. First, it is rubbed all over with two kinds of paprika and freshly ground pepper, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and left to overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, you take it out of the refrigerator a half hour before cooking. The Meyer lemons and the rosemary give the dish a surprising amount flavor, so do the requested basting on the stovetop. After browning, your Tri Tip roasts in a low oven for 40 minutes. The recipe says for 40 to 60 minutes but I found it was ready in 40 and my Tri Tip topped the scales at 2 ½ lbs. Let it rest a good long time then carve against the grain. This is a great way to enjoy roast beef mid-week. And to be able to say, “I had dinner with Thomas Keller the other night…” and then be able to repeat Per Se’s dreadful review verbatim.


Guy Fieri Battles Scathing New York Times Review by Pete Wells

It’s war between the critic and the TV chef! Katie Baker asks: why are foodie tensions running so high?

Katie Baker

Jeff Christensen / AP Photo

The duel began with a single question. “Guy Fieri, have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square?” asked Pete Wells, The New York Times dining critic, in his scathing takedown of celebrity chef Fieri’s latest joint, a 500-seat Times Square behemoth wedged between Broadway theaters and red-sauce Italian trattorias, just around the corner from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. “Did you eat the food? Did it live up to your expectations?”

Wells published his review, titled “As Not Seen On TV,” in the Times dining section on Wednesday as a series of pointed queries, each more mordant than the last, aimed at the baby-faced peroxide blond Food Network star, whose tattooed surfer-dude persona has won him legions of male viewers and a dedicated following at his California restaurants, Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s.

“Did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita?” Wells wrote. “Any idea why it tasted like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?” Wells seemed incensed that, over the course of four visits to Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, orders routinely went missing. When the food did make it to the table, it was apparently “pale and unsalted,” at best, and at worst, “one chaotic mess.”

“Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?” “When we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?” “Does this make it sounds as if everything at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is inedible?” “Is this how you roll in Flavor Town?”

The hatchet job quickly went viral, with the twitterverse agreeing that it was terribly funny and horrendously mean. Squeamish onlookers called it “the most brutal restaurant review ever,” while partisans on both sides rushed to cheer Wells on (“@petewells, your keyboard has been perfectly honed for butchery”) or tell off the journalistic bully (“@petewells Are you serious with the Guys [sic] Fieri review?? You sound like an asshole!”). Online fans called the piece the “Stairway to Heaven” of food criticism and “the magnum opus of #snark,” while Fieri’s defenders shot back that he was “a genuine nice guy, a real dude that loves big flavor, leave him alone.”

Tensions escalated when Fieri decided to throw down a gauntlet of his own on the Today show on Thursday morning. In an interview, Fieri scored a publicity coup by coming across as an unflappable average Joe just working hard to serve up good grub to the American people, and by questioning the Times’ ulterior motives. “It went so overboard, it really seemed like there was another agenda,” he said. “The tone, the sarcasm, the question style. I mean, I think we all know what’s goin’ on here … it’s a great way to make a name for yourself—go after a celebrity chef that’s not a New Yorker.” Later in the program, a panel that included Star Jones and Dr. Phil called the piece mean-spirited and let loose the bombshell that, if the place was so bad, why did the Times sales department host some 200 clients there for a dinner even as the review hit the presses?

Meanwhile, the Times public editor weighed in on the issue and put herself squarely in her colleague’s camp, pronouncing Wells’s review “brilliantly negative,” “fun to read,” and “a masterpiece of scorn,” before concluding that Wells was perfectly within his rights as a critic to speak his mind.

Remaining mysterious in all the back-and-forth between Team Pete and Team Guy was why the review had touched such a raw nerve on both sides. After all, it certainly wasn’t the first time that a Gray Lady food critic had penned a withering screed in the Internet age. Who could forget Frank Bruni’s infamous write-up of Ninja, “a kooky, dreary subterranean labyrinth that seems better suited to coal mining than to supping”? He advised diners to flee “right back out the door … you will be spared an infinitely larger measure of tedium.” His smackdown was so deadly, certain fans still refer to Bruni as “The Ninja” seven years on.

Or what about Sam Sifton’s zero-star pan of Lavo, which he kicked off with a spoof letter from an imaginary jock before proceeding to lambast the city’s Tom Buchanan-esque One Percenters? “I’m a 35-year-old professional in Manhattan and I am looking for a place where I can take my boys from the office to meet this smoking-hot girl I hooked up with at Lily Pond in the Hamptons this summer,” the faux-bro wrote. Sifton assured him that Lavo was the perfect place, a hotbed of thin, tan bodies and social-climbing aspirations. “The socialites and reality- television personalities Tinsley Mortimer and Kelly Bensimon were both there on the first night and apparently put some kind of spell on the place, because roughly 70 percent of the women who eat at the restaurant look like one or the other of them.”

So maybe it was the fact of Fieri’s celebrity that got everyone hot and bothered. Then again, Bruni handed a tepid one star to Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in 2008, calling it an “overly familiar, somewhat tired production” and noting the tacos contained “the most shriveled, desiccated pieces of meat I’ve seen outside a bodega buffet at 3 a.m.” And back in 2002, Bill Grimes wrote a lugubrious column about Anthony Bourdain’s downtown offshoot of Les Halles, lamenting that “it doesn’t aim very high” and seeming to question, like Wells did of Fieri, whether the celebrity chef had even set foot in the place.

As the war of words went on, though, it quickly devolved into a red-state blue-state showdown for a nation still smarting from Election Day wounds. In this narrative, Wells was the entitled, dismissive voice of the East Coast media elite while Fieri, with his big gold chains and his recipes for Mojito Chicken and tequila-soaked “No Can Beato This Taquito,” was the face of rough-and-tumble Middle America (never mind that his other restaurants were located in the vaunted GOP bastions of Sonoma County and San Francisco). “Ignore all those critics in New York,” one fan tweeted at Fieri. “Guy Fieri served me my first pork slider w/cole slaw ever, from a trailer booth at our county fair,” posted a second. “For free, told me to pay if I loved it.” Whatta guy, the tweeters said. A real American who likes downhome comfort food—a guy you could kick back and eat ribs and po’ boys with while watching the big game. Certainly, his restaurant couldn’t “be as bad as all those snooty New Yorkers say.”

Fieri’s supporters also questioned why Wells had, just the week before, opened his no-star review of 21 Club by solemnly advising “readers who look forward to the dark thrill of a public execution on days when there are no stars attached to this column” to “turn elsewhere to satisfy their blood lust.” Woah there, Fieri’s fans said, but what changed in the course of a week? Was it because 21 Club didn’t ooze redneck as much as red Burgundy? Was it because 21 Club was so very classic old Manhattan? The olives in the martinis “are as cold as a walk along Park Avenue in January,” Wells rhapsodized. The venison on the meat platter was pretty icy, too, “as cold as if it had been carried all the way from the hunting lodge”—but no matter. It still was a place where the chattering classes could go to don a jacket and tie, gaze at the art deco-era murals, and relax to “the gentle swirl of old Bordeaux.” A place, let’s be honest, very far from the “Rawk and roll” (Wells’s words) rowdiness and sticky-sweet margaritas of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar.

Behind the frontlines of the other side, Wells’s centurions were busy garlanding him the conquering cultural hero for taking the air out of Fieri’s “greasy, good-old-boy” persona and calling the new restaurant a “fatty tumor” choking the nation. Fieri was “a great symbol of Fat America, of Big Food, of Unnecessary Food Celebrity,” one foodie wrote, “hellbent on turning us all into grease incubators.”

Fieri, for one, seemed eager to play into the Heartland versus Harvard stereotypes. In a statement, he reiterated his belief that Wells “went into my restaurant with his mind already made up” before triumphantly noting that “countless people … yes, even New Yorkers” enjoyed his restaurant. Fieri would not be cowed by a review that more than half of all Today show viewers deemed too harsh.

But Wells was a little more reluctant to get into further mud-slinging. In a conversation with the Times public editor and with Poynter, he painted his beef as merely a wish that Fieri had paid more accurate, and more tasty, homage to the American classics the chef purported to love on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives treks through America. “This is important American food that makes a lot of people very happy. And since that’s the case, you ought to do it right,” Wells said, before noting, “I did go in hoping there would be good things on the menu. I would have liked to write the ‘man-bites-dog’ review.”

These themes do appear in Wells’s piece, it’s true, though perhaps in a less lofty tone. “Has anyone ever told you that your high-wattage passion for no-collar American food makes you television’s answer to Calvin Trillin,” Wells wrote to Fieri, “if Mr. Trillin bleached his hair, drove a Camaro, and drank Boozy Creamsicles?”

“When you cruise around the country for your show … rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it? Or is it all an act? Is that why the kind of cooking you celebrate on television is treated with so little respect at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar?”

When asked about these questions, Wells told Poynter that they were certainly not meant to be mocking, and all made in the most grave earnestness. “I really did have a lot of questions,” he avowed. “There was so much about the restaurant I couldn’t figure out.”

If one goes by the gadfly nature of the Internet cycle these days, the Wells-Fieri fight will likely be brief. It will probably generate great traffic for both parties involved—both in terms of foot-soldiers flocking to chow down on Fieri’s Donkey Sauce burgers in a show of solidarity, and in terms of feverish page views at the Times. But long after the specifics of the smackdown fade, we’ll likely still be wrestling with the fallout from the famous foodie rumble of ’12.

For one thing, it will be difficult for critics (and their bosses) seeking page views to steer clear of the temptations of cruel personal attacks and witty snark bombs. Wells has written some lovely, thoughtful, and evocative reviews over the past year. And it’s a safe bet that not one of them garnered the number of clicks that his Fieri piece did. Even outside of the restaurant world, sniping between critics and their targets is fast becoming yet another blood sport in our gladiatorial cyber-arena. (Witness the tiff last summer between a New York theater critic and Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence over a less-than-glowing review of a Zach Braff play.) In our online crucible where the spat or scandal of the day tends to dominate the news cycle—and where both writers and chefs are expected to be brand names in their own right—how can a critic hope to keep up, except for jumping on the bandwagon of hyperbole?

Then again, maybe we’re just heading in the direction that literary ingenue Rebecca West envisioned in 1914, when she longed for a “new and abusive school of criticism” to cut through all the sycophants and charlatans. Erring on the side of cruelty was desirable—it allowed one to approach a more objective rendering of the subject under consideration. All great critics have understood that being disliked is part and parcel of the job, which is, as Matthew Arnold once said, to see “the object as in itself it really is.” (“We have no friends,” Baudelaire reflected as he embarked upon his day job as an art critic. “This is a great thing.”)

It’s a mantra that food critics on the other side of the Atlantic have long embraced. London writers such as A.A. Gill and Michael Winner have been called “the most feared men in London,” “vicious” fellows with “poison pens” whose eviscerations of restaurants are carried about in the most cold-blooded and pitiless of terms. They swagger into a restaurant on its opening night, surrounded by a group of rowdy friends, boldly announcing their presence and watching headwaiters scurry around in terror. No darting about in wigs à la Ruth Reichl for them. Restaurateurs are lucky if their food even gets reviewed at all. Gill is infamous for writing about everything but the cuisine, and if he does comment on the grub, it’s usually a bad sign. When Gill ventured over to New York to skewer a Jean-George Vongerichten restaurant in Vanity Fair one year, he noted that the shrimp-and-foie dumplings resembled nothing so much as “fishy, liver-filled condoms.”

So, moral of the story: Guy Fieri, maybe you got off easy in New York. Think twice, though, about opening a place in London.


Watch the video: 15 Celebrities You Didnt Know Were Gay! (July 2022).


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