Over the years, this magazine has routinely written about how to deal with restaurant critics who have the power to help or hurt your restaurant and, in some cases, flat out bury you. But in recent years, it appears critics don't have quite the muscle they once did. For that you can thank this bold new age of communication. Not so many years ago, if consumers wanted the skinny on a restaurant, they had to either hope the local critic would write about the place or, more often, they'd have to make a chance visit themselves. Today, restaurants are the talk of the town. They have become such an ingrained part of our lives that a cottage industry of media has evolved to write about them.
Who would have guessed years ago that there would be a whole television network devoted to featuring food and celebrity chefs? Add to that a slew of consumer food magazines, dozens of food and restaurant-related websites and the latest incarnation, blogs and chat forums. It's all good for you.
With so many voices expressing an interest in food and restaurants, plus a public that is far more savvy about the subjects, the restaurant critic simply doesn't have the clout he or she once had. To reinforce this point, take a look at a blog called The Bruni Digest. It's written by a sassy 24-year-old woman named Julia Langbein, who routinely makes sport of New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni.
As Bruni critiques restaurants, Langbein mockingly critiques him. "This blog," she writes, "is predicated on the suggestion that every Wednesday, in the Times "Dining Out" section, Frank lays a huge Faberge egg of hilarity." She describes Bruni—arguably the most powerful critic in the land—as a "Venetian count in a huge ruffled collar."
Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine and a former New York Times reviewer, says she's glad there were no blogs at the time she was reviewing. "There's some incredibly smart young woman (Langbein) who makes fun of him (Bruni) on a weekly basis. They would have done that to me."
I bring this subject up because of the fanfare surrounding the recent debut of a U.S. edition of the Michelin Guide. As you might expect, New York was the first city the French-based guide reviewed, and it did kick up a bit of dust. But as senior editor Bob Krummert writes in this month's Observer (page 11), the Michelin Guide New York City 2006 guide likely will not have the impact its backers hoped it would.
Despite its claim that Michelin reviewers are professional inspectors, the results of its first-ever New York review are questionable. Only four restaurants were awarded its coveted three-star rating, and all four of those are French restaurants. And the French wonder why they are our least favorite ally.
Well before Michelin arrived on the scene, New Yorkers had already cast their votes, and some of the most influential French restaurants in New York bit the dust, including Lutece, La Cote Basque and La Caravelle. The truth is, we love reading reviews, but now they are just mere suggestions, not gospel.
If you have any favorite reviewer stories or comments you'd like to pass along, drop me an email.