It took Jay Rayner around 700 words to lay waste to a Russian empire. In a blistering review of famed Moscow restaurateur Arkady Novikov's eponymous London outpost this past February, the Observer critic pronounced the establishment so "astoundingly grim you want to congratulate the kitchen on its incompetence" and compared its cuisine to cheap Chinese food. He was just getting warmed up.
“And so my advice to you. Don't go to Novikov. Keep not going. Keep not going a lot," Rayner wrote. "In a city with a talent for opening hateful and tasteless restaurants, Novikov marks a special new low. That's its real achievement.”
Harsh words, but for a professional restaurant critic, this was par for the course. As with any creative medium, the culinary arts are subjected to critical judgments. With the good, comes the bad. Or in the case of Novikov, the “very, very bad.”
You may recognize Alan Richman's name from his 25 years as GQ Magazine's restaurant critic, his numerous James Beard Journalism Awards (including the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award he won just last week) or his highly publicized "Best New Restaurants in America" and "10 Best Restaurants in New York" lists. You may be acquainted with his 2004 anthology of food essays "Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater" or his classes at the French Culinary Institute, where he serves as Dean of Food Journalism and New Media.
But, if you're not an obsessive follower of food literature, you probably know Alan Richman as the guy who got a Sazerac thrown in his face on an episode of Treme. The casting was hardly an accident.
A recent New York Times review of North End Grill restaurant includes mentions of pumpkin-crab soup, hashed Brussels sprouts and lentils, halibut with pine nuts, green raisins and clams and a bacon-shrimp burger with spice-dusted fries - and that’s all before the mile-high lemon meringue pie with candied almonds.
But when former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni publicly announced his own gout diagnosis last week, he and his fellow professional eaters had a bitter truth to swallow about their career’s potential health implications.
Bruni is currently an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, but served as chief restaurant critic from June 2004 through August 2009. In his March 22 column titled “Red Meat Blues,” Bruni revealed he learned of his condition in November of last year.
On a midsummer Thursday night, there’s a reservation in a New York City restaurant’s book for an Enrico Pallazzo.
Only a pop culture junkie might suspect that something was afoot. Enrico Pallazzo is the opera singer in the Leslie Nielsen cult classic “Naked Gun” – and the man posing as Enrico Pallazzo is actually a restaurant critic.
Many people would consider it a dream job to eat at restaurants night after night on someone else’s tab, in search of the perfect culinary experience. But not all that glitters is (edible) gold. The profession of critiquing restaurants comes with its own set of nitpicks from chefs, readers and even the critics themselves.
Sheraton told Capital's Zachary Woolfe, "It’s food writing for an audience less interested in food and more interested in the experience and the theater of it ... I don’t like it at all. I always told people what the place was like, but these long, long introductions about the scene—I usually skip the first column and a half and get to the food, because that’s what I think it’s about."
The New York Observer then served up a course-by-course sampling of both Sheraton's (1977) and Sifton's (2009) reviews of New York City's longstanding Francophile flagship La Grenouille for stylistic comparison. Topics included decor, patrons and the restaurant's signature souffle and it was entertaining, without a doubt, but we're gonna stick a Britchky in the mix.
It's a rough gig, being a restaurant critic. Sure, you're dining on the paper's dime, but plenty of the food is lousy, disgruntled restaurateurs and fleet-footed bloggers are constantly trying to unmask you and a lot of people think you could just as easily be replaced by Yelp posters.
In a town obsessed with celebrity and publicity, there are a few well-known residents in Los Angeles who prefer their picture is never taken - Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila is one. That professional anonymity ended Tuesday night when she and three others arrived at Red Medicine, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Beverly Hills. Virbila had her photo snapped and her party was turned away and refused service; a bitter pill to swallow for a restaurant critic.
Red Medicine is the latest project from Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman, Noah Ellis, previously of Michael Mina's restaurant group, and Chef Jordan Kahn, who counts stints with chefs Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and Michael Mina on his résumé. So why would a brand new restaurant, with three high-profile partners, risk outing and angering the LA Times food critic, a fixture on the scene for the last 16 years?
Remember way back to the early to mid '90s, when if you wanted to find out about a restaurant, you had to flip through newspapers, ask friends, shell out for a Zagat Guide or - heaven forfend - just go and see for yourself?
No longer must restaurant patrons fly blindly into the abyss, for sites like Yelp, Open Table, Dine, Citysearch and others exist to allow delighted and disgruntled diners dish about their every opinion from wine service to restroom cleanliness.
Are these sites on the menu for you?