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What do you think of Sam Sifton as a reviewer?

What do you think of Sam Sifton as a reviewer?

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  1. makes me miss bruni even more. sifton isnt bad by any means and im sure he'll come into his own but the restaurant choices that he's started with (mostly new incarnations of mediocre older restaurants) sort of bored me. his reviews seem pretty formulaic and his description of the food seems like it has to fit into a category...he leaves very little room for expression.

    1. I can't believe that he's been reviewing all these out of the way Asian places. That place in Brooklyn today looks awesome. And just the fact that he's reviewing a Korean place in the main review, and giving it a star, is pretty great. It's about time that these excellent places got some respect. I know he trolls around here looking for tips, so, if you're reading this, Sam, you're doing a great job.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Georgesimian

        Madangsui, the Korean restaurant reviewed today, is in Manhattan.

        I do appreciate the fact that Sifton is reviewing ethnic restaurants and obviously likes them. This isn't something new - Bruni reviewed Sripraphai, Spicy & Tasty, and Szechuan Gourmet and awarded them 2 stars each.

        Sifton's star scale for ethnic restaurants could be a problem. His review of Imperial Palace was really enthusiastic but he only awarded a single star. It's an open question as to whether he thinks an informal ethnic place serving great food is worth 2 stars.

      2. "But strip steak ($30) is leathery and dry, reminiscent of shoe. " Love. I am ALL about that Korean place the next time I'm in the city.

        1. Sam1, I sort of agree with you. Most people resist change simply because it's different. I think Sam will fill out his voice with time. He seems to try to capture the ambience of a place without describing it literally... which is interesting but seems to bother some people.

          I also think some of his review choices are strange, but you know... that may be part of his voice. I think they're doing fewer $25 and under choices, so we may end up seeing more of these outer borough and/or under the radar ethnic restaurants in the future.

          Has anyone else noticed the strange preponderance of Kissing in his reviews? This and his DBGB review (i think) likened eating a particular dish with kissing a stranger. And I have to say, kissing a stranger after eating kimchee usually doesn't end well!

          1. I really like his work so far. The problem I had with Bruni was that I couldn't always tell after reading one of his pieces, whether or not i wanted to eat at the restaurant. He would sometimes devote 3 paragraphs to something trivial (in my mind) like how dark the hallway was leading to the bathroom. I also started to feel like I didn't trust his palate when it came to Asian foods.

            Lastly, I think Bruni focused far too much on Western cuisines. I don't think that the Times food reviews represented true NYC food culture completely. I do think John Gold's work in LA is far more complete mostly because he seems to find great places at al price points and in all neighborhoods. I don't think any of us here would search Bruni reviews to find spectacular Korean food or Chinese. We might use his reviews to help us decide between EMP or Daniel, but as great as those places are, they do not represent anywhere near the breadth of culinary offerings here. (That's why so many of us use Chowhound!)

            Good to know he pokes around Chowhound.com!

            1 Reply
            1. re: JeremyEG

              I thought his first review, DBGB right?, was an embaressment. I'm really pleased that since then he's already starting to show some real improvement. I miss Bruni just as much as most people do, but I think this guy may work out pretty well with some time.

            2. Good question.

              I think that it's still too early to tell. I would think he, or anyone in that role, would need time to evolve into an experienced and confident reviewer, even with his background and skills. The indications are, though, that the Times picked the right person. He is witty, knowledgeable and erudte, and he will be a meaningful and major player in the nation's dining scene. I enjoy reading his reviews, at least so far.

              I was a little confused by today's review, though, in the same way that Bob Martinez was. Coincidentally, I had dinner at Madangsui with a friend some weeks ago, and we really enjoyed ourselves, so I was pleased to read his positive comments. But I was puzzled by the one star.

              The teaser for the review on the Dining and Wine page on the web edition of the Times states, "The real purpose of Midtown’s Madangsui is Korean barbecue, and it is the best in Manhattan." Does that mean that Sifton thinks the rest of the Korean restaurants are not worth even one star?

              Time will tell, and it will be enjoyable to watch him evolve over time and to see the reaction to his reviews.

              1. Sad to say, I don't read Sifton's reviews any more. The first few really turned me off. His tone really bothers me and usually enjoy writing with a strong voice. It's the same snarky faux-hipster preciousness that has metastisized into alternative weeklies in the past few years. I enjoy the rest of the (sadly tiny, today) section but I'll be skippin' Sifton.

                3 Replies
                1. re: newhavener07

                  I'm in total agreement with newhavener07. I had to put down the last review in the middle because the faux-poetry attempts annoyed me so much ("kiss in a rock club"...yecch). And as strange as this sounds, I also find Sifton's reviews a little sexist. Each of them seems to suggest that the eater is a man, and while we know that this reviewer is, many of his readers are not. That said, I found Frank Bruni no more appealing, with his reviews that lingered on decor and noise and seemed to mention food only as an afterthought. Sheesh, I still miss William Grimes, despite his overuse of the word unctious.

                  1. re: guspup

                    So far his reviews are pretty much unreadable. For my own selfish reasons, I hope he sticks to the big money Manhattan restaurants and doesn't venture to the hinterlands to find restaurants. Once the NY Times uncovers the hidden gems, they pretty much go downhill from there. Let's keep them as our little (Chowhound) secret.

                    1. re: guspup

                      I've been missing Grimes, too. He always cracked me up, and his writing was more at a New Yorker level.

                  2. I enjoyed his reviews in the Press much more than I do his reviews in the Times. The prose is deadly. And I find myself so bored by it that I have yet to read a Times review to the end.

                    But I also think it's only fair to give him some time to come into his own (or not), like any new job. Time will tell.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: gloriousfood

                      I don't regularly read the restaurant reviews in the times, since I don't dine in NYC, but I happened to read the one today and didn't think much of it. Too much "inside phraseology" for my taste. Ok, I'm not incredibly literate, but what does "As young Mr. Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf discovered in San Remo, it can be tough to share" mean?
                      And I'm sorry but I have no idea who Dana Vachon is.

                        1. re: Bob Martinez

                          I don't in the least think of food when I think of the Ripley novels.

                          1. re: buttertart

                            It just seemed like kind of a "throwaway" line, without much real relevance.

                            1. re: DGresh

                              Just scanned the review, the reference was definitely dragged in by the short hairs. They are good if unsettling novels - maybe he was reminded of them by the recent bio of Highsmith that came out. And the Italian setting of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                I didn't so much mind the literary name-dropping as the substance of the review itself this time: he dismisses several dishes as "not good," but offers no explanation. Um, why exactly did the dish fall short? Isn't explaining stuff like that a reviewer's job?

                                1. re: newhavener07

                                  One would hope so. Bring back Grimes!

                      1. re: gloriousfood

                        Well, I have to say that I am enjoying his reviews more, though I am totally puzzled by his rating system. At times, the amount of stars he doles out seems stingy compared to his actual review.

                        I liked today's Mia Dona review though it was kind of sad to read. I used to really like this place, when Psilikas (spelling?) was involved. Sounds like a downward trend.

                      2. I definitely appreciate that he is giving ethnic, outer borough places well deserved attention. My gripe (surprising even to myself) is how heavy-handedly negative he is about the big money Manhattan places he eats at, specifically it seems because they are big money and in Manhattan. I don't have the moolah to frequent those places myself, but in his reviews, I get less of a sense of the food being served than I do of how irritated he is about the owners riches. Because it's happened with several reviews now, I feel like it makes him quite predictable and less exciting to read.

                        1. I'm unclear what he brings to the table. I'll just sit back and wait for some of you good people to tell me when he hits his stride.

                            1. key-dokey, Sammy Sifton! Enough’s, enough with your tiresome words! You are literally (literally) wearing me out! I can’t help but notice that your tie-ins, references, Sherlock-Holms-ism word tact’s are just annoying! They are going nowhere!!!! Give the restaurants a review; an intelligent, reader-worthy review. When I open the paper I want to be blown away, not predictably bored, by what seems to written by your worst bipolar pen! I mean come on, one day you’re inspector Clouse and the next day you’re Daisy May! Get with it, Sam Sifton! Clearly, you are not expected to twirl in the same baton as Bruni; however, you are no Ruthie, either! If Sam Sifton is as annoying and predictable as he is coming off to be, ‘Check, please”!

                              1. He's like Mikey. He hates everything.

                                1. This is what the Obit Writer thinks:

                                  When Sam Sifton resigned as the New York Times restaurant critic he admitted the job had been difficult, “It often felt like people didn’t understand what I was saying. I was like a puffer fish trying to express itself in cold water.” He also confessed that when he interviewed for the position and was asked to explain his theory on the stars, he thought the question was about astrology. He gave a random answer, inadvertently creating the random ratings system that would eventually become his signature.


                                  1. Bruni is writing a new column for the Times called, "The Tipsy Diaries". It's about booze and bars (no lack of material in NYC). His first piece focuses on the original P.J. Clarke's and its amazing bartender.
                                    It's a good read. Here's a link:
                                    The piece makes Sifton's writing pale in comparison.
                                    Welcome back, Frank!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: steve h.

                                      great to have him back where he belongs! i was a little *too* happy to catch him in a recent episode of "Best Thing I Ever Ate" on the Food Network.

                                    2. I get a kick out of his reviews. I love the literary style that suggests if you are reading the dining section in the New York Times, then you should be well read. Loved the reference to Joseph Mitchell today. Very evocative.

                                      Coming from someone who never eats in those restaurants anyway and is just going along for the vicarious thrill.

                                      1. May I also add that the "Sifty Fifty," his "insider" guide to 50 New York restaurants is wholly uninspired? http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/...
                                        It's neither interesting, nor insider, but rather a list of restaurants I'd expect to see in the Frommer's guide to New York. Pffft.

                                        1. I'd like to know why it's necessary for anyone, especially Sifton, it seems, to take sometimes ten paragraphs to get to the actual review of the restaurant's food. Which is, I think, the point. I agree that his snarky tone and boring imagery of the "surroundings" and his "vision within the space itself" (my quotes) are just, well, irrelevant. Sure, we'd like to know what the "scene" is like; but ten or (sometimes more) paragraphs about it? No. And his "I'm trying to be hip-young-with-it" "in the know" language is truly awful. I think as another user posted on this site and to which I've referenced, snarky, is a good word to use for his reviews. Just get to the point Sifton. The food. The space and such is only a paragraph or two at most. The food. That's the review. I say: fire him. Or relegate him to where he actually was a good choice: Small Bites and such. He was actually good in the Small Bites column. But major establishments? No. He's a small bite. Not a big one.