Attention, chefs across America: It’s time to post that photocopied mug shot of The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells in locker rooms, at host stands, and on the back of swinging doors in kitchens everywhere across the country. Unless you want to end up like Guy Fieri, that is. That’s right, Pete Wells is now reviewing restaurants nationwide. Wells noted on Tuesday, along with his review of Saison in San Francisco (coming just weeks after his double review of two notable Houston restaurants), that he intends to set a precedent as Times restaurant critic and "cast a wider net."
Does Wells, or any New York restaurant critic, have any business reviewing restaurants in other cities? There’s a certain amount of New York know-it-all-ness that other cities might object to, depending on how the critic reviews the treasured restaurants that draw him and The Times expense account to seek them out. When Wells reviewed Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, some observers (most notably Fieri himself) criticized the review's "agenda factor." Consider what some might say if Wells were to pan some other city’s treasure — say Benu in San Francisco, or god forbid, one of José Andrés' rabidly loved restaurants in Washington, D.C. (a city with a perpetual chip on its collective shoulder about its dining scene and how New Yorkers view it). "New Yorkers blah, blah, blah, we have great restaurants, why don’t you go back to your own city and blah, blah, blah, review Shake Shack again or something."
Not that anyone should be completely shocked by Wells' move. He does, after all, have a background that includes time at two national magazines, as articles editor at Details for five years and "Always Hungry" columnist for Food & Wine for three. And good for him for having previously expanded the scope of The Times critic's role with his forays into Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and even New Jersey, representing a welcome and laudable look beyond the provincial boundaries of the narrow strip of Manhattan that The Times’ previous restaurant critics have largely held themselves to. How amazing is it that he will now have the leeway to expand provincial Gothamites' horizons still farther, maybe heading out to Chicago to try an Achatz meal, taking a turn at Meadowood in Napa, Calif., stopping by The Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tenn., or heck, who knows?, maybe eventually even taking a tour of Osaka’s best sushi spots, Lyon's best bouchons, or Manchester's best pubs? It’s all potentially going to make for a much more informed critic, and by extension a much more informed dining public.
Reached for comment, several of America's premier restaurant critics agreed.
"Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for The New York Times reviewer(s) to eat away from home on a more regular basis," said the Washington Post's restaurant critic Tom Sietsema. "Since I became the food critic for the Washington Post in 2000, I’ve been filing regular dining dispatches (Postcard from Tom) from around the world for our Travel section. In that time, I’ve filed from more than 40 cities."