The Un-Critic

16 May

In the midst of a week of much exuberance, I experienced three of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had.  Strange that they were bunched together in this way, after decades of mostly wonderful meals, but an unwished-for prophesy is beginning to bear fruit.  As I began this blog over six months ago, I vowed never to be “critical” of people, places or things –restaurants and food, included.  It is simply not my wont; I am not a critic.  Rather, I want to celebrate the creativity of others and share as many positive experiences as I can.

But my premonition — that the nexus of young bloggers (passionate but not informed), vaunted celebrity chefs (whose glory can blind even the most fastidious reviewer), and food as “performance art” — would all lead to the culinary equivalent of the “Emperor’s new clothes,” leaving us scratching our heads to what we were seeing, or, in this case, eating.  But it is difficult not to feel defeated at a new-ish restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn where the food is so over-hyped and inferior as to make you quit after the first course. Or the 4-star French chef’s bistro in midtown where we were kept waiting for our lunch for 1-1/2 hours and could not get anyone’s attention for most of that time.  When the food finally did arrive, it was placed in front of the wrong people, and we never saw our waiter again.  Or, the newly opened three-star restaurant of one of city’s celebrated chefs who rarely puts a foot in his kitchen and whose food is so expensive and overwrought as to make us depressed.  I don’t remember a single thing I ate that night we entertained our friends — none of the food was recognizable — and I felt compelled to apologize for that particular restaurant choice.   As a restaurant consultant (not critic) for more than three decades, I am generally the cheerleader at the head of the table, waving a pom-pom for each creative act or thoughtful morsel.  I love culinary intelligence and whimsy, I love when chefs riff on history, but most of all, I value authenticity and simplicity.

The good news is that I had some wonderful food experiences this week, too:  A rare-for-me press dinner at A Voce (intelligently prepared by chef Missy Robbins) and, a lovely picnic my daughter made for us to eat at intermission of the 5-1/2 hour simulcast of  Wagner’s Die Walkure at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.   I’m smiling.  It wasn’t that long ago that the legendary Joe Baum, restaurateur extraordinaire, would say, “No one knows what a danish tastes like anymore.”   I fear “the death of gastronomy,” for it is one of the greatest cultural institutions ever bestowed upon us — and certainly the most pleasurable.

4 Responses to “The Un-Critic”

  1. Carol May 16, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    So very well expressed! Perhaps it is because of the years that I worked in restaurants, or perhaps even more so because of having the pleasure of dining with some of the most consummate lovers of food, that I have very little tolerance when it comes to poor quality and service in restaurants. My non-foodie dining friends think that I am a snob. Nope, just someone who feels like getting it right should not be such a big deal.

  2. Philip Ruskin May 16, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Very graciously put. I appreciate your comment about individuals who write about food who are “passionate but not informed.” Brings to mind an op-ed piece by Christopher Kimbal in the Times written the week Gourmet Magazine folded. He speaks of a food landscape “ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience,” Experience, now there is something there isn’t an “app” for.

  3. sarah May 16, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    I wish you’d “dish” on the names of the bad places so we’d know to avoid them!

    I looked for you at the opera – what an experience!!

  4. ellen sandler November 28, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    I’ve been an admirer of yours since your days at Gracie Mansion with hizzoner Koch and I love reading your food blog–such a generous gesture to share your thoughts with us. I agree with Sarah above — it’s hard to know what restaurants to avoid if you don’t name them. It sounds like they deserve to have at least a bit of counter programing with all the hype around them

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