Ruth Reichl's 1/14 review of Provence
- KJ Dell'Antonia Jan 14, 1998 09:18 PM
Am I the only one that it bothers when she completely pans a restaraunt...yet it still gets a star? I haven't eaten there, don't know the place, don't want to defend or comdemn it--but the review wasn't good! At best she damned the place with faint praise. So why a star? I thought stars were supposed to be hard to get. It doesn't seem right.
You are not alone! The Times has a perfectly good way of rating this restaurant: "satisfactory."
I understand the notion of not bothering to review a merely adequate restaurant. But why print an almost uniformly negative review and then give it a rating of "good."
My only guess is that she likes the feel of the place so much that it led to an upgrade of one slot in the overall rating.
While I do not always understand how Ruth bestows stars to the various restaurants she reviews, it is not true that she favors only French restaurants. Actually, Ruth created quite a stir when she arrived at the Times, because unlike her predecessors, she seemed to appreciate all good restaurants, whether smaller Chinese places, lavish French restaurants or Italian trattorias.
But I do agree that her use of the star system is illogical. She once raved about a restaurant (it may have been Chantarelle) - the food, service and decor - and said that it deserved 4 stars, but in her view, if the restaurant could express itself, it would not "feel comfortable with 4 stars", it is more of a 3 star kind of place. Well, I think if she would have asked the owners, the only people who can respond on a restaurant's behalf, they sure as hell would have wanted the 4 stars.
And as for the Provence review, even if she liked the atmosphere, she is a food critic first and foremost, and therefore her obvious disgust with a large number of the dishes should have led to a satisfactory (no star) at best.
I think I'm staying out of this one. I don't know whether any of you saw the mention of Chowhound.com in the Daily News yesterday, but my straight shooting about food writers is starting to invite some return grenades...actually, it was a pretty nice mention considering what I've said about the writer, but...
ps--ok, ok...I'll say this much: Reichl's star assignments are absolutely unfathomable, and I've had other bones to pick with her. But when she gets down to actually describing the food itself, she's extremely evocative--and that's more than I can say for most other food writers (and that counts for a lot).
Andy--Although I criticized Reichl's review [above], I couldn't disagree more with several of your points.
1. Reichl has done more to demystify the deification of French food than any other Times critic in memory. She obviously has a particular affinity for Japanese food. Her beat is "fancy" restaurants, and for reasons beyond her control, a disproportionate percentage of fancy restaurants are French.
2. Although I disagree with her often about specific restaurants, I always enjoy reading her. She's the finest WRITER the Times has ever had in this slot. What more can you ask of the Times than to hire someone who truly knows food and can write glowingly about it?
Reichl's reviews mystify me, too. Sometimes she seems
to decide ahead of time how many stars to give,
regardless of the quality of her experience. This
works both ways: Sometimes she pans the restaurant
but still bestows stars generously. Other times
she raves about the place but skimps on the stars.
I ignore the stars and read the review. But, on
the other hand, I rare choose a restaurant based on
her review. Eric Asimov and Jim Leff, on the other
hand, I have found very reliable.
Hard to imagine that Ms. Reichl has eaten at said
French place for nearly 11 years and finds the
food so substandard. Was it the decor and
rudimentary French mutterings of the staff that
lured her for so long? Was the food once better,
but is now in a state of disgrace? She could have
compared or mentioned such changes. It is quite
hard to find good French food in Paris -
Manhattan is even more Gallic-challenged.