So Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic for the L.A. Times, has gone public. Shown his face. Done all the things that a critic does when he (or she) decides that playing the cat-and-mouse game is no longer worth it. He wrote a big piece in this weekend’s paper explaining his decision, saying, among other things:
“My tribe’s tastes include odd seafood, obscure white wines from the bottom of the list and the dodgier bits of the animal. (Barbara Kafka, a great cookbook writer and former restaurant consultant, used to devise what she called “critic bait,” eel terrines or pig-nose dishes that existed solely to be reviewed.) We will never send back a plate of food, but we are quick to point out a corked bottle of wine. If you address us by the name we have reserved under, it will take us a moment to realize you are talking to us. We know how to pronounce mille-feuille. We ask about the provenance of the sea urchin. Our habits are as predictable as those of mating owls.”
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Will 2014 be the year restaurant critics come out of the shadows? The editors of New York magazine kicked off that conversation in a big way last week, splashing critic Adam Platt’s photograph on the cover of their January issue. Whether professional food critics actually matter may be much doubted in the InstaYelp Era, but apparently there’s still a lot of faith in their ability to drive city-magazine sales.
Platt, who has reviewed restaurants for New York for many years (and just named the new Han Dynasty in New York as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the city), explains his decision—and acknowledges his editors’ prodding—in a thoughtful essay that had me nodding amen from the first sentence.
My own seven-year stint as a “professional glutton” has likewise been an “accidental career.” (These days you can meet any number of college kids who’ll tell you they want to grow up to be food critics, but I hardly knew the job existed until I found myself doing it.) Now that I’ve been at it for a while, I too have grown a little tired of putting my dinner guests through the rigamarole of a review meal. It’s a pain to make people nervous about simply saying your name out loud. It’s a bigger pain to know that many of them are straining to defer to your perceived preferences around what to order—especially when you don’t have any, which in my case is actually most of the time. No grown person should have to spend the first 10 minutes of a meal divining the potentially nonexistent whims of his host.
Then again, no one’s complaining when the check goes on an expense account at the end of the meal. Least of all me. There aren’t many sweeter gigs than taking people out to eat.
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