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Jul 28, 1999 09:04 PM

Only 1 star for Calle Ocho?

  • g

I'm sure Dave Feldman must be as disappointed as I am
at Calle Ocho's one star review in the NY Times.
Seems like from reading the review, it should merit 2
stars. Unless Grimes had tried and didn't like them,
he missed the wonderful Puerto Rican rum glazed
shrimps, the sweet corn arepa with bacalao, and the
sweet corn and goat cheese tamal.

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  1. j
    Josh Mittleman

    Who knows what standards Grimes uses for assigning
    stars? All too many reviewers believe that multiple
    stars have to be reserved for Major Cuisines (French,
    Italian, and maybe Chinese and Japanese these days). I
    don't know if Grimes is hung up on that, but it's

    6 Replies
    1. re: Josh Mittleman

      I agree - one star does not fairly represent the place.
      It has occurred to me after reading Mr. Grimes'
      reviews in the past few weeks - he's new on the job and
      he follows in the footsteps of The Ruth, she of endless
      controversy. May be he's setting the bar high now to
      allow himself some wiggle room later. Got to impress
      those impressionable readers, y'know. Or maybe it's
      gone to his head. What a power rush to humble the
      mighty Daniel! Revenge for all those times he couldn't
      get a table.

      1. re: Barbara S
        Josh Mittleman

        Please note that I didn't say that I think one star is
        an inappropriate rating for Calle Ocho. I haven't
        tried it yet, so I can't express an opinion. I did
        point out that different reviewers assign wildly
        different meanings to stars. I would be very
        surprised, for example, if Calle Ocho would rate a star
        under the system used by Guide Michelin.

        Ruth Reichl's use of stars never seemed to me to bear
        any useful relation to reality, except perhaps when she
        was reviewing expensive French or Northern Italian
        restaurants. Grimes is so new on the job that we
        simply don't have enough data to interpret his ratings
        -- and I doubt Grimes himself really has a clear idea
        of what they mean. Give him a couple years to settle
        into the job.

        In the mean time, I agree with PastryChef: Read the
        review and judge for yourself. I read this one and
        immediately made a reservation for dinner.

        1. re: Josh Mittleman

          Calle Ocho, like Red Cat a few weeks ago, deserved
          more than one star. But Mr. Grimes, unlike Ms.
          Reichel, is determined to upset the star system. Now,
          Ms. Reichel swore she would change the star system
          when she took over 5 years ago, but all she really did
          was give 3 star reviews to restaurants that didn't
          deserve them. Union Pacific, please, has anyone been
          there lately? Cena? 3 stars last summer, now gone.
          Four stars to Le Cirque 2000? What did that cost? Now,
          here comes Grimes, who's finding his way and Daniel?
          Three stars? So what's his idea of a 4 star joint?
          Maybe he should re-review Jean-Georges. Would that
          rate 4 stars? Doubtful. My new favorite restaurant is
          Vice-Versa, and I can't wait for the star-according-to-
          Grimes on that one. When Ruth was in charge, Calle
          Ocho would have gotten 3 stars. And in the six times
          I've been, it deserved 3 stars. Red Cat is also a
          great place. But one star? No way. It's better than
          that. And so is Calle Ocho. Mr. Grimes will get his
          stuff together, I'm certain. But in the meantime
          think of his reviews as the restaurant equivalent of a
          Ben Brantley theatre review. It all sounds pretty and
          knowing, but it's all about the delicious texture of a
          man in love with the sound of his own voice.

          1. re: Aislestorm

            I think it's pretty comical how worked up so many
            otherwise sensible chowhounds can get about some
            stupid stars. Did anybody disagree with anything Mr.
            Grimes said in his review? Does anybody think his star
            ratings have had any internal inconsistencies? This
            obsession with stars is somewhat pathetic, I think.
            And to say that Calle Ocho deserves three stars, even
            on the Reichl scale, is absurd, unless you want to
            redline the Upper West Side and hold the neighborhood
            to a lower star standard than the rest of the city. As
            for the four-star ratings, it may very well be that
            Mr. Grimes doesn't believe there are any four-star
            restaurants in the city at all right now. I sort of
            agree, what with David Bouley and Gray Kunz, our two
            most gifted chefs, marginalized for now. I bet Mr.
            Grimes will give Daniel four stars in a year or two,
            when the restaurant works out its kinks, but four
            stars to an underperforming restaurant would have been
            wrong. I'm going on break for most of August, so I'll
            see you all in September.

            1. re: PastryChef

              STYLE AS MILLER DID.

          2. re: Josh Mittleman
            Josh Mittleman

            Riva & I tried Calle Ocho last night, and it lived up
            to the review: loud and cheerful with excellent food
            and great service.

            The space is interesting, too. The bar is comfortable
            and airy, if a bit underlit. They have an interesting
            selection of Latin American beers and tropical drinks.
            They make a good caipirinha.

            When you walk into the dining room, it's like a
            different restaurant. Grimes called it "cavernous",
            and he wasn't joking. Get a table in a corner or under
            one of the arches if you don't like eating in a middle
            of a vast space with people snuggled up against both
            elbows. The noise was pretty bad, too, until the crowd
            began to clear out around 10:00.

            But the food is splendid. It starts with an excellent
            basket of breads. As appetizers, we had octopus &
            squid salad with grilled hearts of palm, and the day's
            special empanada, filled with Spanish blue cheese.
            For entrees, I had the pork loin that Grimes praised,
            which is flavored with adobo and served with chipotle
            mashed potatos and an excellent salsa. Riva had baby
            rack of lamb, which she requested with the same side

            They have a nice wine list, with a good assortment by
            the glass. If you're not familiar with South American
            wines (and I'm not), ask the waiter for help. Mine
            knew the wines well. He recommended a Chilean pinot
            noir that was remarkably good.

            Dinner for two with drinks came to about $90.

      2. You are correct, Gary. I was disappointed in the
        review and particularly about the point you
        mentioned: given the text, one would assume that two
        stars would be assigned. Given a choice among, say,
        Picholine, 222, Cafe Luxembourg, or whatever the UWS
        competition in upscale restaurants is supposed to be,
        I'd be at Calle Ocho in a shot.

        It's true that it can get noisy (although I've never
        had a problem carrying on a conversation) and that
        occasionally food is slow. But from the review, the
        impression could be received that the place is so
        "hot" that there is an attitude problem or trouble
        getting a table. Nothing could be further from the
        truth. I've encountered nothing but friendliness.
        Yes, it can have a party atmosphere, but everybody is

        I'm sure Calle Ocho will survive the review, but I
        really feel for the entire staff of the restaurant,
        which has coped with their early success with grace
        and panache.

        1. As most of you have noticed, Senor Biff, yet another academic in the wacky world of food writing, grades on a rather steep curve, and his star ratings are consistently one or two below his predecessors. So with this in mind, a Sr. Biff one-star roughly equalling a RR two-star, the rating seems just about right on Dr. Grimes' Planet. Beacon seemed to be his favorite restaurant in the world, and it only got two.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Al Pastor

            Two points in addition to Mr. Pastor's (with which I

            First, we should all be reading the reviews and not
            getting all hot and bothered about the stars. It was a
            very positive and fair review. Only a star-struck
            reader could think it was anything but a strongly
            favorable piece.

            Second, I support Mr. Grimes's use of the stars. Ms.
            Reichl was giving three stars to any restaurant that
            could put together a decent plate of food, which made
            the rating meaningless. One star should be considered
            high praise for a fledgling Upper West Side casual
            neighborhood joint. Grimes is just bringing the stars
            back in line with common sense.

          2. I agree with both Dave and Gary. I was surprised to
            see the one star myself and had I not been there,
            might have been dissuaded from going. Readers of this
            thread should also refer to the Bolivar thread dated
            6/21 where we discussed Calle Ocho as well.