A review gets a headline, "The Joys of Cooking," opens with a note about tasting menus, begins with enticing descriptions of five dishes in the first paragraph, and reads for the first 827 words like a two-star review, but uses the last 247 words knock off a star, including a warning to chefs about tasting menus, that they "may be starting to forget how to sustain interest beyond the first few bites." Mixed messages? Maybe, maybe not. But interesting coming from a critic who just five months ago lamented the tasting menu trend going overboard.
Do restaurants suffer unduly from critics’ personal preferences? Does it make sense that a review’s first sharp criticisms appear so late in a piece? So goes the tea-leaf reading that is trying to interpret restaurant reviewing in general, and the machinations of any one critic’s review. In an attempt to get a different perspective of restaurant reviews, it makes sense from time to time, to reach out to the chefs behind the restaurants being reviewed. What’s their take on how things went down?
Last week’s restaurant review in The New York Times was of Louro, a two-month-old restaurant in the Greenwich Village helmed by chef David Santos. He was most well-known recently for hosting his Um Segredo supper clubs at his home on Roosevelt Island, and before that running the kitchen at Hotel Griffou in the West Village, and Five and Diamond in Harlem.
Was the review fair? Were there any things the chef would take issue with? How do you spot a critic? And was the review helpful to the kitchen? Reached for comment, these are some of the questions Chef Santos considered and weighed in on.
The Daily Meal: Do you think the review of Louro was fair?
David Santos: Except for one paragraph, Pete Wells really seemed to like the restaurant. So as I read it, I thought we were going to get two stars. That’s what we hoped for anyway. It's his review and his opinion, which is fair for what it is, but I do have to admit that it was a disappointment to me and my staff who have been working 90 hours a week since we opened two months ago. I really wanted a better review for them more then than anything. A two-star rating would have been a great reward and validation for all of their hard work and dedication. They deserved it.
TDM: Is there anything you would take issue with?
DS: He focused too much on the supper club and not enough on the main menu that we offer six nights a week. Our Nossa Mesa Supper Club is a great thing that no one else in New York is doing on a regular basis and it's something we do for fun on Monday nights. He clearly tried quite a bit of our regular menu, and I think the review could have concentrated more on what we are doing with the vast majority of our time and efforts the other six days of the week.
TDM: What tactics have you used to identify critics, if any?
DS: There are different tactics and it's never fail-proof. Everyone has pictures and spotters, but the way that a table orders is always an indicator that we could have a reviewer in the house. When a four-top table orders 14 different things on the menu and starts asking a lot of questions, our staff notices.
TDM: Was this review useful to you? Did he point out anything you haven’t noticed/hasn’t been commented on before? Any dishes you would change or ideas you've gotten that you'd implement from the review?
DS: The menu is constantly evolving at Louro and most of the dishes Pete Wells criticized are not even on the menu anymore. That being said, we take all feedback seriously, whether it is from a food critic or more importantly, our guests. As a new restaurant, we are constantly self-critiquing, listening to our diners, and trying to improve our performance every day.
TDM: Where do you think Wells stacks up so far against his most immediate predecessors Frank Bruni and Sam Sifton?
DS: To be honest I don’t really know. I find the entire review process flawed at this point. I mean it’s been discussed by readers, chefs, and critics alike. I believe the assignment of stars open a Pandora’s Box of sorts for everyone. It leaves the critic and the restaurant open for criticism. I would love to see just great informational reviews — more about the food, both good and bad, and about the space and beverage programs. I think everyone would be able to get more out of it that way. But that’s just my opinion.