This past weekend, Pete Wells of The New York Times published his roundup of his favorite new restaurants that opened this year in New York City. While many were the ones that had received multi-starred reviews from the restaurant critic, not all were his top rated. Wells addressed his self-described “nonlinear thinking” as a deviant reaction to the star system the paper employs, explaining, “while I stand by the weekly star ratings, this annual list gives more weight to other things, like value and a strong, clear point of view. Of the new restaurants I reviewed in 2014, these are the ones I remember most vividly and fondly.”
His compilation encompasses a wide variety of star ratings, with only two of the 10 being restaurants he had awarded three stars. Seven had been ranked as two-star establishments, and he even gave a spot to a one-star rated restaurant: Patti Jackson’s Delaware and Hudson snagged the #6 slot, outranking #7 Contra, #8 Dirty French, #9 Gato, and #10 Bar Bolonat, all of whom received two stars. Bâtard, one of the two that scored three stars, came out on the very top because, according to Wells, “Bâtard brings back the fun. You hear it in the voices and see it in the smiles of customers as they realize that this place revolves around them, not the artistry on the plate.”
The list also lends readers some insight into Wells’ personal gastronomic preferences; he tends to enjoy French cuisine (#1 Bâtard, #3 The Simone, #4 Cherche Midi, and #7 Dirty French), along with well-executed comfort foods such as ramen (#5 Ivan Ramen) and Jewish deli specialties like knishes and latkes (#2 Russ & Daughters Café). He also respects restaurants that employ old-school methods — both in cooking their food and to their business practices. The former is demonstrated by chef Jackson’s emphasis on “homey mid-Atlantic recipes and the pasta skills she learned in Italian kitchens” at Delaware and Hudson, while the latter is upheld by co-owner of The Simone, Tina Vaughn, who, when you call for a reservation, will “write your name in something called a ‘book,’ holding an implement known as a ‘pen.’ She applies the same antique tool to the menu, which she writes out in cursive and photocopies each time Mr. Smith changes it,” Wells writes with great approval and respect.
Perhaps most of all, his year-end roundup shows off Wells’ self-deprecating humor. He opens the piece by alluding to “the foxhole [from] where I attempt to pin stars on restaurants” and he ends his explanation of his selections with the signoff, “All 10 strike me as standing out from a pack of other new places where you can also get a good meal. Now if you need me, look for me in my foxhole.” Luckily, it seems, the critic doesn’t take himself as seriously as he does the food served in New York’s restaurants.