Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No Check, Please! N.Y. Post Bids Farewell To Restaurant Reviews

It might be a good idea, although it might just be a good way to trim the editorial budget
N.Y. Post restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo is out of a job, sort of. He says what he does makes no sense nowadays, given the blink-and-you'll-miss-it changes that occur in the kitchen. Chefs often have one foot out the door as soon as they arrive, while menus become the kind of ersatz experiments that you'd steer clear of in chemistry class.
So, Cuozzo says rather than try to keep track of it all, he'll keep track of none of it.
"Back when restaurants were smaller and more stable, a review might hold water for years, he writes in today's paper. "Today, once critics have moved on, the house mutates without any press attention."
Cuozzo is a tad vague about what he'll write instead, but maybe because that's still a work in progress, much like many of the restaurants he reviewed. But he promises that "we'll tell you what's happening at more than one place, in the kitchen or on the floor. We'll aim to give you more useful - and interesting - information than you'll glean from reviews that read like cooking courses and turn stale overnight."
Was that a shot across the bow at Frank Bruni? Not that the Post needs any encouragement to hurl brickbats at the Times, which you can rest assured will keep churning out reviews of places, many of which you won't be able to get a reservation or afford, or both.
Which is not to say that what Bruni and others like him do isn't useful. Often he's entertaining, well-informed and not afraid to slam star chefs for their excesses and shortcomings.
Still, Cuozzo may be onto something. Restaurants are often victim of their own hype, raising expectations that are part and parcel of the high prices many eateries vainly attempt to justify. As Cuozzo notes, in restaurants with large kitchen staffs, you don't know who's manning the flame the night you're there. It could be a transcendant experience, or it could leave you with the same kind of feeling after you watched your Enron stock tank.
However, I suspect restaurant reviews still serve a purpose, and not just as grand theatre when a critic is gleefully vicious. They capture a moment in time, one that may not be recaptured, but one we as diners aspire to latch onto nonetheless if it is particularly memorable.
Reviews can put restaurants on notice about where they're clicking on all cylinders and where they've stalled. You'd think that'd be painfully apparent to many restaurant owners, but many a disappointing dinner proves otherwise. They need to be called to account and if Steve Cuozzo won't do it, then we need others who will.

No comments: