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

  • m

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 ( http://www.villagevoice.com/nycguide/... ), 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.

              1. ya that is a really pathetic article. I read it yesterday and since timeout's eatout section is run by PR agencies and their minions, who really cares? I guess they are imitating the ZAGAT format? hence the annoying snippets. and how could they rate steve cuozzo so high? Thay guy is such an idiot, only writes about "fancy" restaurants and how can he also write the new york post's real estate coverage as well? I truly respect Robert's work, although he does write some really corny puns and reviews sometimes (enough with the borat references in the arzu review, please). and how come they didn't review Newsday's food critics, Sylvia Carter and I forget the other lady? they are really sweet, even if every single one of their reviews reads the same.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bigjeff

                  Yup, their methods are seriously dubious. Look at where TONY's own reviewers rate. They gamely submit some of their own critics to review, but then look at the results. In every category, the TONY critic comes out in the top 5 critics in NY, sometimes number 2 or 3. Then there's the quotes they pick, which are charitable to a fault, the one exception being so egregious that I have to think the critic under review had a say in printing it.

                  About Sietsema, I agree. He's a civic treasure and a true chowhound, no matter what you might think about his style. But hey, can't say I'm too surprised, coming from TONY- Taste Only New Yuppiefood.

                2. What on earth does "accessibility" mean with regard to a restaurant reviewer? If the article explains, I can't find it. And why should a reviewer get points for "influence"?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I'm assuming "accessibility" refers to a readable style that appeals to a wide audience. I don't think that's a bad thing as long as the reviews are sound.

                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                      The whole effort - and Im not just talking about the uninformed swipe at Sietsema - is really lame and embarrassing.

                      There is a whole upscale restauarant industry and eating community out there that is infinitely in the debt of Sietsema, Sylvia Carter, Irene Sax, Jim Leff and online communities such as this one to create a more informed and cosmopolitan eating public. They should just be ashamed of themselves for their snotty jabs.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Oh I agree. The thing about any rating system that produces a rank and a score is that, however dubious its methology, it takes on a life of its own. Given the panelists, it would be like asking the top Hollywood mogul just what he thought of low-budget indie films. (They are all about a quirky obnoxious guy who finally finds a woman who puts up with him, would be his reply.) The interesting thing is that when it first began, Time Out would have been on your list of pioneering food reporters. You'd find a short review of an obscure hamburger stand in the South Bronx. I used to read every issue just for that. I just with that Sietsema would post on Chowhound. He used to. See e.g.


                        1. re: Brian S

                          Its amazing the stuff he susses out - I am always surprised that given how many more "chowhounds" there are, a very large number of the places he writes about are ones weve never talked about here.

                          Unfortunately, I dont find that his taste accords with mine, but just in terms of sheer scope, he is amazing.

                          I like what TimeOut produces in Europe - some of their eating guides and coverage are very good. I really think their editorial staff should have exercised some judgment and not published this snarky, unbalanced rot.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            I also found the timeout guides in europe (london, amsterdam, paris) to be useful but it might also be the case that in london, etc., TimeOut is as much of a joke as it is in New York, and there might be more "underground" guides, such as chowhound, in those countries.

                            1. re: bigjeff

                              as for what looks cool from the outside . . . even 20something years ago when I lived in London, Time Out was the very conventional mainstream rag and City (Citysomething, I've forgotten now) was the cool and cutting edge weekly publisher of information.

                              1. re: pitu

                                Yet that comprehensive magazine -sized London guide they published was actually very useful. Are they still putting it out?
                                I thought they had quite good and up to date reccs for italy but at some point they stopped putting that info on their website (wonder why!!)