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Dec 7, 2006 01:15 PM

Critiquing the Critics -- Time Out New York's obnoxious Sietsema review

Just gotta say that TONY's "review" of Robert Sietsema's work as restaurant critic (12/7-13) was so off-base and unfair I'm rethinking my deep-discounted TONY subscription. TONY's panel of "industry insiders who know [the critics] best" dismissed Sietsema as "[holding] little sway except for college kids trying to find the best burrito."

Having boldly gone where no other critic had bothered to go for years(Washington Heights and Inwood, outer boroughs), Sietsema and his knowledge of the most exotic cuisines and the tiniest restaurant gems has made us appreciate the "real" New York, not merely the hyped. His recs are also perfect for readers who don't want or need to drop $50+/person on a meal.

Sietsema is also one of the few critics who doesn't restaurant-bash in order to aggrandize himself. When he finds a "new" place, he shares his excitement with everyone. Though his appreciation of organ meats makes me squirm, he's the critic whose tips have been the most valuable to us for the past 15 years.

If there's an article on "critiquing the critics of the critics" please count me in.

Happy holidays!

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  1. I too am a Sietsema fan, precisely because he has a wide geographical breadth. He covers scruffy ethnic places, and gets to uptown Manhattan and the Bronx, which I appreciate. Until recently, there was rare, even here (though I think that's changing).

    Saying that he is relevant only to college burrito seekers is completely inaccurate. What else did the Time Out review say?

    Despite my respect for his work, some things make me crazy about Siestema. In his review of Pars ( ), he claims that it's the only non-kosher "Persian" restaurant in NYC--not true (Persepolis +/- Ravagh), and makes fun of a dish named "kuku sabzi," which felt juvenile and ethnocentric, and got under my (Iranian) skin.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rose water

      Yow. And how is panir sabzi an unusual dish? What Persian restaurant doesn't have that? Dude needs to do his homework.

      On the other hand, the VV's online guide includes capsule reviews by Sietsema of three Persian restaurants. TONY's includes only one, and it's anonymous, which as far as I'm concerned means it's useless.

      1. re: rose water

        >What else did the Time Out review say?

        Hi Rose Water. Here's the link:

      2. some local context . . .
        TONY doesn't do any serious reviewing of places to eat, just fawning advert-linked listings/reprinting press releases for them. They should be ashamed of themselves for going after Sietsema.

        1 Reply
        1. The review was way, way misguided. If you're eating at an Uzbek restaurant in Rego Park, it's not because Meehan sent you there. The day Sietsema stops doing his job is the day 3/4 of NYC drops off the critical map, and his column would be worth reading for its dry wit alone.

          1. I'm curious if anyone has actually read the TONY article in question. I agree that Sietsema is well beyond the burrito-seeking college kid stereotype (I've been very pleased to see Africa and African food getting serious coverage in "Gourmet," thanks to him) and that struck me as off base, but it wasn’t TONY that posited that opinion. The point of the article was critics critiquing the critics in an anonymous fashion. A full jumbled up list of critics from all genres can be seen here:

            Quickly skimming through, food names (though not all critics) that pop out include: Tony Bourdain, Wylie Dufresne, Ben Leventhal, Anita Lo, John Mariani, Jacques Pepin, Regina Schrambling, Arthur Schwartz, Sue Torres, Didier Virot and probably others I missed.

            One could assume that an above name was responsible for the Sietsema jab. The snippet came from one Sietsema's own, so to speak, not TONY.


            2 Replies
            1. re: Krista G

              Of that list (Tony Bourdain, Wylie Dufresne, Ben Leventhal, Anita Lo, John Mariani, Jacques Pepin ...) the only one who'd be caught dead in the type of restaurant Sietsema frequents would be Bourdain. I doubt he'd stoop so low. No doubt it was somebody with a long memory settling an old score. It was a cheap shot, pure and simple.

              1. re: Bob Martinez

                cheap shot - I think you nailed it Bob.
                TONY picked the snippets, and didn't bother to solicit or print any other remarks on Sietsema. I'm pretty bored with TONY as a listings mag - time to *not* renew.

            2. Here, here, mooms.
              Well put. Time Out New York's critics wish they could match Sietsema's all-around wit, enthusiasm, intelligence and love. His reviews are an out-and-out pleasure to read, and
              he should see this recent pan as confirmation that he's getting it right.