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May 12, 2010 07:47 AM

Am I the only one who thinks Sam Sifton sounds an awful lot like Ruth Reichl? (moved from Manhattan board)

I wonder if I'm the only person noticing the similarities in their writing styles. Every time I read one of Sifton's reviews I have to stop a moment and remember it wasn't written by Reichl. This week's review in particular (Fatty 'Cue) drove the sentiment home, especially the ending graf.

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  1. I think that's being generous with Sifton. His bizarre dependency on unintelligible allusions is getting grating. From the Fatty 'Cue dinerjournal blog post : "The city’s newest barbecue restaurant, Fatty ’Cue, or a set for the film version of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge,” with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson?" From the review itself "Yeah, well. It is the OxyContin of ramen." Sorry, Sammy, I've never used that drug so I have no idea whether or not that's a good thing.

    My final bit of Sifton-bashing : Why on earth is he even reviewing Fatty 'Cue at all yet? The paint on the walls is barely dry! He went to Pulino's only 7 weeks after its opening too. It's really unfair to review a restaurant before it has settled into itself. Menus change, front of house staff undergoes its first shedding, and both the kitchen and foh learn the rhythm of service. Sifton should stop worrying about whether his readers think he's hip (we don't, he's not) and worry about fairly wielding the power he now has as the main NY Times food critic.

    282 Bowery, New York, NY 10012

    3 Replies
    1. re: UnderemployedInNYC

      Of course you're right that it's ridiculous to review a restaurant shortly after it's opened, but this isn't a Sifton failing or even a NYT failing. Most of the city's reviewers seem to feel it part of their job description to right up ballyhooed places before they've had a chance to settle in. More often than note, this leads to a review that will not reflect (for better or worse) most readers' experience when they actually get there.

      1. re: UnderemployedInNYC

        Actually Fatty 'Cue pitmaster Robby Richter has been doing trial runs at the place for almost a year- so a review now is not out of order.
        But I do agree about Sifton.

      2. Sifton's sin is mediocre writing. I don't know his background. The guy is just boring.

        1. Oh god, no. Reichl's writing was gorgeous and effortless. When she wrote about food, I could taste it it in my mind's palate. Her writing was clean and accurate, no pretentious flourishes. She rarely snarked, but when she did, it was incredible - I still have a copy of her zero star review of The Box Tree.

          I find Sifton's writing desperate and strained, like skinny jeans on a fat hipster. I always felt that Reichl's primary goal was to help people find good food, while Sifton's primary goal seems to be to impress people with his pop-culture knowledge and clever writing.

          15 Replies
          1. re: daveena

            Respectfully disagree. Ruth Reichl always struck me as pedantic. It probably cost Ruth her job.

            1. re: steve h.

              Huh. Are you suggesting that was fired from the Times? Or that Gourmet's closing was done to get rid of her?

              1. re: floretbroccoli

                No one has ever been fired from the Times for being pedantic.

              2. re: steve h.

                I thought it was because she ran out of wigs :)

                1. re: daveena

                  I'm sure she'll have no problem finding gainful employment. :-)

              3. re: daveena

                Ok, damn, I saw the subject heading and was about to defend Sifton. I think he's become far, far more readable than he was when he started. But then I read daveena's "skinny jeans on a fat hipster" line and started laughing so hard that I forgot what I had set out to do. Then I realized daveena's sort of right. His writing is still a bit uncomfortable.

                1. re: daveena

                  Do you happen to have a copy of the zero star review for The Box Tree?

                  1. re: daveena

                    Agree completely - I also could "taste" the food she described, perhaps event more in her
                    books than her reviews. As a food writer myself, I had several opportunities to meet and
                    and told her I aspired to write that well.

                    In addition, she won me over early with the "comparative" review of Le Cirque. I've had
                    similar experiences, mostly in "high-end" restaurants and was impressed she had the
                    nerve to "expose" the situation so early in her tenure at The Times - although that was probably the only time she would have been able to do it.

                    1. re: ferventfoodie

                      Umm, like did we read the same review about Le Cirque? Exposed what? That her reviews can be bought? That review instantly told me that a Ruth Reichl review could not be relied upon. The first part of the review tells you that you get treated like an effin peasant (Unknown Diner in her words which almost everyone here would be) if you aren't a celebrity and that the food was ok. Once you’re outed as the NYT’s food critic, how the experience changes. Sirio escorts you to your table. Champagne is flowing and special dishes come out. As Reichl writes

                      “But nobody goes to Le Cirque just to eat. People go for the experience of being in a great restaurant. Sometimes they get it; sometimes they don't. It all depends on who they are.”

                      That’s what I want from a restaurant that I’m paying top dollar at.

             cirque ruth&st=cse&pagewanted=2

                      She gives the place 3 stars based on her star treatment. The take away for me is that it’s a 3 star restaurant if you are yourself a star (may be a dim one as the NYT food critic) but it’s 0 stars if you’re one of those little people they deign to let in.

                      Great literary device by comparing the two experiences? I don’t think so. I prefer Sifton.

                      I will say that the old Le Cirque was still quite a place. Did some client dinners there. Service was definitely better if you were a bold face name.

                      Maybe the problem with Box Tree was they didn’t figure out she was a food critic.

                      1. re: Bkeats

                        I still have never been to LeCirqure, I think it was called LeCirque 2000 when she reviewed it in that comparative review of hers. And yes the comparative review just goes to show you it is not worth visiting most likely if you are a mere rube or schlub.

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          <The take away for me is that it’s a 3 star restaurant if you are yourself a star (may be a dim one as the NYT food critic) but it’s 0 stars if you’re one of those little people they deign to let in.>

                          But that's exactly what your takeaway should be. Reichl very clearly laid out the difference between her two experiences, so as to expose the practices of the restaurant. Had she been "bought," you'd never have read about what happened to her before she was recognized. That review is one of my all time favorites.

                          1. re: small h

                            Thank you, small h - that was exactly my point. I know that it's unrealistic but I believe if you pay the same price, you should get the same experience - maybe not all the comps" provided for "celebs" but certainly the same level of service.

                            Bkeats seems to be saying that what he wants is to be treated in accordance
                            with who he is. I hope, for his sake, that he's somebody!

                            1. re: ferventfoodie

                              I don't follow your point. I'm not a somebody, but in my profession, I'm not a nobody either. My expectation from a review is that I get a sense of what to expect as a typical diner. What the review says is that while everyone pays the same price, celebs get better treatment. Exactly the opposite of what you say you expect too. Reich says that after the dinner as the unknown diner, she had wished she had said no when asked if she had a reservation. Then she gives the place 3 stars which is not the treatment that you (I'm assuming that you're also not a somebody but I could be wrong) or I will get. The review is clear on what to expect but the final grade does reflect that.

                              1. re: Bkeats

                                She explains in her book that she actually assigned two separate ratings, one for each experience. Her editor forced her to give the restaurant a single rating. I imagine it didn't match either of the original ratings.

                    2. I totally agree...this particular review prompted me to comment on it. I'm a little confused on if he just finished reading Garlic and Sapphires and is RR in SS clothes...or is just confused on his NY audience? Don't get me wrong, I love dive joints, especially Mexicain, but that's me!