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Oct 14, 2009 06:36 AM

Sifton in da house

Anyone read Sifton's first review in the NYT today? He also did a mini review inside the section. First impressions: Trying too hard, buddy. We don't care you're like an old-school gangsta gothamite--how was the food? Nothing is more tired than the "I remember NYC in the crack days" reverie.
Bruni, I miss you!

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  1. Checked Sifton's bio on Wikipedia: Turns out was at Harvard during the peak crack years, sipping espresso in Cambridge instead of throwing down with the b-boys. Get real, Sam, and embrace your inner bourgeois. Heck, we bourgeois are your readers, remember?

    1. I've been a reader and admirer of Sam Sifton's since his NYPress days, so I was predisposed to like his first review. But I didn't. I think he's trying hard - as he should - to differentiate himself from Frank Bruni. In this he succeeds. But the punny references to old punk songs, and the Bowery-for-Dummies history lesson, annoyed me. Because it's not exactly news that that neighborhood has gentrified in recent years; CBGB closed three years ago, not the day before yesterday. And I don't need to congratulate myself because I recognize a Talking Heads lyric, especially such an unobscure one.

      That said, I'm pretty confident he'll improve, or I'll just get used to him the way I did Bruni (who was also often too cute by half).

      3 Replies
      1. re: small h

        I enjoyed Sifton's recent articles in the NYT Mag section. Thought he had a good sense of humor. Hopefully he'll settle into his own style for the reviews, but I didn't hate it, just thought he was trying to hard as you said...

        1. re: small h

          yeah and the reference to shaved headed teens as the BEGINNING of CB's triggers the poser alert button. Really, so historically WRONG. SIgh. The NYPressing of the Times is such a sad sign. Here come personal diary entries....

          1. re: Up With Olives

            I can just see the week-by-week struggle to top the hipness of the week before--he's going to end up getting the reviews tattooed on his buttocks and getting scrotal piercings to represent stars. Ugh. Bruni was a much more mature writer with a distinct but personal voice. I didn't agree with him all the time and I'm not sure I'd want to have a microbrew with him, but at least his reviews never made me want to tweak his piercings.

        2. The problem, really, is the New York Times. They encourage this "Harvard Hip" attitude. It smells of privilege. The reality is that they are afraid of offering a real edge to anything. So they come up with this bogus edgy style and sadly, the writers have to adapt to it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: salvati

            The problem is in the stultifying insularity of the place and their addiction to nepotism--they certainly don't hire writers based on merit, more pedigree and malleability to the corporate culture. When they do venture to pluck from what they perceive as the underclass (Jason Blair and Rick Bragg, anyone?), they tend to get burned because they wouldn't know authenticity if it burned down the master's house. Much better to play it safe with an Ivy league wanksta. Heck, but it's the only game in town and I'm still a seven-day-a-week subscriber!

          2. Check out today's nugget of wisdom: The recession is over because fatcats are still drinking Prosecco on Central Park South! Ok, I guess the fatcats forgot to tell the rest of us struggling to survive out here. Review is tough sledding. Sifton, pack up your tired reminsces and go.

            3 Replies
            1. re: newhavener07

              i just read today's review, and immediately jumped on CH and did a search for Sifton specifically to see if anyone else was talking about it.

              man, i miss Bruni. it took me three attempts to get through that piece! this guy is in way over his head. his writing is choppy and lacks any sense of fluidity or ease...and his attempts to be witty & clever are neither witty nor clever. he's the NY Times' answer to Toby Young, and the last thing anyone on either side of the pond needs is another Toby Young.

              some of it was just plain idiotic. "Monkfish cheeks orbit a slow-poached egg with a loamy mushroom ragu." seriously? if i didn't know better i'd think Restaurant Girl was ghostwriting for him.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                He's like the bastard child of Restaurant Girl, James Frey and Pete Hamill. If I were the NYT, I'd give Ruth Reichl a calll--she's got some free time these days!

                1. re: newhavener07

                  i had the same thought - bring back Ruthie!!!

            2. ya that was a pointless review of the joint, and late to the game. do people really wait for the hallowed wednesday dining review once a week at this point? democratic economics of the Internet indeed.

              12 Replies
              1. re: bigjeff

                <do people really wait for the hallowed wednesday dining review once a week at this point?>

                Yes. They do. See?


                Like it or not, the Times is still the paper of record with regard to restaurant (or theater) reviews in New York. We have not yet gotten to the point when any idiot with a keyboard has the same influence as a trained journalist vetted by a major publication. And for what it's worth, I hope we never do. I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through the vast sea of blather and ignorance that comprises most of the internet. I'm grateful that there are organizations around that I (mostly) trust to present me with wheat and save me from (some of the) chaff.

                I thought this week's review was much better than last week's, possibly because I find Marea's food a lot more appealing than DBGB's. But also possibly because it was better.

                1. re: small h

                  I finally made it through the whole piece and there was a late bombshell: Sifton was recognized at the door! That negates the credibility of the entire review because the chef knew he had the NYT critic at table 7. I know Reichl and Bruni have addressed this in the past but they generally put off a review if they're recognized and go back in disguise to judge what an average diner's experience would be. But for Sifton to go ahead with a review where he was busted at the door in his second week--who is helming the desk? Wow, whatever power the NYT head reviewer had is ebbing fast in this diner's view.

                  1. re: newhavener07

                    I think anonymity is so over rated in restaurant reviews. Service can be improved but the food? Not so much.

                    Any way, with the advent of the internet there aren't many anonymous reviewers any more. I know that my friend who is a server at one of the Momofuku's and they tell me that there is a book of VIP's and reviews with photos that they are all required to memorize. So do reviewers still go unnoticed at times? Certainly, but less and less frequently.

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      I agree that it might be more difficult to get away with not being recognized these days, but I think there's real value in getting the experience of an average diner. A dish could be completely different if you get the full attention of the entire kitchen focused on its preparation. And in New York, VIP service is another world compared to typical service. What Sifton describes as informative and attentive service could be a chilly, dismissive nightmare for a non-VIP. From what I've seen of Sifton he's a pretty generic-looking guy and could easily disguise himself with some rudimentary makeup tricks and props. If Ruth Reichl can do it, he can.

                      1. re: newhavener07

                        Reichel hasn't written restaurant reviews anonymously in a decade. A lot has changed since then. She wouldn't be able to get away with the silly disguises today.

                  2. re: small h

                    when i say people, I'm not talking about other websites which are just trying to keep atop other media and remain relevant; readers now have so much choice on a daily (even hourly basis) for good content/reviews/writing about food, and it certainly doesn't require a newspaper with a food review budget to produce. it's old thinking to assume that the internet continues to be a wasteland when it comes to food-related writing.

                    1. re: bigjeff

                      I did not and would not refer to the internet as "a wasteland." Why, I'm on the internet right now. So are you! is Sam Sifton and the rest of the NYT. And I accept that it isn't necessary to be employed by a newspaper to be a good food reviewer - there are four or five people on Chowhound I think are good food reviewers (although for all I know they are employed by newspapers). But conflict of interest is much, much more prevalent in the blogosphere than it is in more traditional journalism. Consider the Amateur Gourmet, who proudly takes freebies, and Restaurant Girl, who has never even attempted to avoid being recognized. I'm happy to have more choices - who wouldn't be? But I am a suspicious person by nature, and the dead tree media has been around long enough to have earned a bit of my trust. That isn't true for the overwhelming majority of online food bloggers.

                      1. re: small h

                        <the vast sea of blather and ignorance that comprises most of the internet>

                        the lines between the different outlets (newspaper v magazine v blog v whatever) are rapidly dissolving; in the same way that any major market newspaper used to dominate the dining reviews of that city, e.g. NYT versus Queens Tribune, you have the same natural selection with food writing; the two that you mention are very well-known but by no means are they the most well-respected or highest-quality.

                        whether it is sad or inevitable or unequal, media is shifting to the electronic form which certainly excludes those people without internet access but also providing an outlet for anyone who wants to write, or take pictures, or produce content about food, to be able to do so easily and even find an audience! and, those people will eventually find where they end up on the food-writing-stratification-chart; the power is within their own writing, creativity and dedication.

                        very good point about the co-opting; the most well-known or popular are by no means the most "true" but, I think that will be sorted out by the readers. if you see through it (and its fairly obvious), then becomes part of the lens that you view a particular site/writer/review, the same that you change your lens when reading a nyt/wsj review vs a zagat review vs a citysearch review vs a menupages review, etc.

                        funny post here:

                        1. re: bigjeff

                          We're not really in total disagreement here. I know that most of our media have moved online; I celebrate that fact, because it means I don't have to leave my house as much, or spend money on newspapers. I also believe - actually, I don't, I just HOPE - that cream rises to the top, so the best food writers will thrive whereas the sucky ones will languish in some dusty forgotten corner of typepad.

                          But I don't for a minute trust "the readers" to decide what's good and what's bad. "The readers," by and large, are stupid (present company excepted). People, by and large, are stupid, and if you doubt this, choose one random thread from the AOL comments section, start reading, and see how quickly you lose your faith in humanity.

                          So we need arbiters, and we always will. True democracy, online or otherwise, would be an unholy mess, which is why we have elected representatives rather than personally voting on every bill, and why we "elect," with our eyeballs and our wallets, professional critics to guide us in our dining choices. That doesn't mean that what bigjeff and small h have to say about restaurants is worthless. But it is worth less.

                          1. re: small h

                            not only are we not in disagreement but I remember that we both agree mung bean noodles are delicious, especially made at home!

                            1. re: bigjeff

                              I have not forgotten how helpful you were with that. And I make them all the time now!

                      2. re: bigjeff

                        I don't know where you live, bigjeff, but it is a wasteland outside of big cities. There's very little food writing done in any forum, internet or otherwise, in my town. The reviews on this site and other help somewhat but you'd be amazed how many "reviews" out there sound like they're written either by a buddy of the owner, a jealous competitor or someone with a clear agenda. I really miss the days of regular, non-biased restaurant reviewers in smaller cities.