This Is What 2 Stars From The New York Times Looks Like

For every new restaurant critic, there's a period of adjustment, a settling into the job. You can only imagine some of the questions that would be swirling around the mind:

"How many stars did my predecessors give these kinds of restaurants?" "Who most needs reviewing immediately?" "When can I re-review X, Y, or Z restaurant?" "By reviewing which restaurant can I do the city's diners and chefs the greatest service?" "How do I make my entrance onto the city's restaurant scene?"

So, as new critic Pete Wells is only 10 reviews in (not counting briefs), some bumpiness (along with the bump in Twitter followers) is to be expected. There was the interesting choice of Wong for a first review, the necessary visit to the splashy and precious Romera, the review of the food media darling Parm, the requisite visit to Kutsher's (a contemporary spin on Jewish food by one of the city's most well-known and vilified restaurateurs), and the playful take on Shake Shack. Sure, the three-star review of Il Buco Alimentari was somewhat curious ("Three stars?" the city asked), and you could agree to disagree about Jungsik, a perfectly well-meaning restaurant that essentially offers unadventurous high-end versions of tamed down Korean flavors.

The first nine reviews included four two-star restaurants, four one-star restaurants and one three-star restaurant. Perhaps still not enough to draw a sample set.

Pete Wells' Freshman 10

Wong (2 stars)
Asian Fusion, the Latest Chapter

La Promenade des Anglais (2 stars)
A Stroll This Side of the Mediterranean

Romera, 1/18/2012 (1 star)
A Feast for the Eyes, at Least

Parm, 1/25/2012 (2 stars)
No Disrespect for the Meatball Hero

Crown, 2/1/2012 (1 star)
The Comforts of Millionaires

Kutsher's Tribeca 2/8/2012 (1 star)
Borscht Belt South

Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, 2/15/2012 (3 stars)
A Map of Your Taste Buds Shaped Like Italy

Shake Shack, 2/22/2012 (1 star)
The Burger Remains a Work in Progress

Jungsik, 2/29/2012 (2 stars)
Korean for the New World

RedFarm, 3/7/2012 (2 stars)
Keep an Eye Out for Dumplings

Then, this week's review turned to RedFarm, the much buzzed about new Chinese restaurant darling, "a collaboration between one of New York's greatest Chinese chefs, Joe Ng, and one of its greatest Chinese restaurateurs, Ed Schoenfeld."

Forget that on a recent visit, the soup dumplings were gummy, the shrimp dumplings were pedestrian, and that the spicy crispy beef should make anyone wonder whose grandmother named the dish on the menu. (Flavor that "goes to 11"? You need to ask for a cup of the house hot sauce to call that spicy.) After all, the pork ribs special was a pretty tasty rendition of the clichéd takeout Chinese we all grew up on, right?

What's most interesting is the shout-out to Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde, "spectral shrimp dumplings in blue, pink, yellow, and white," served with a sweet potato tempura Pac-Man with a blueberry eye.

"It's playful," some might note. "Don't be so serious," others might argue. "It's just garnish!" ardent defenders might say. Playfulness is all well and fine. Clever presentation should be encouraged. Sure, there's some joking and cross-cultural references going on here — pastrami spring rolls and all. But really, sweet potato tempura with a blueberry eye sitting in a bed of unseasoned guacamole with corn in it, at a Chinese restaurant? Corn? This is creativity?

On a recent Sunday, the place was packed as always, and there were no Asian people in the restaurant (take away from that what you will). As the critic noted, the restaurant, "has been tailored to a Western palate," and whether or not you agree with the merits of RedFarm's cuisine, it seems New Yorkers (now with the help of the city's new critic) can look forward to takeout-friendly RedFarms around the city.

"Hey, he's the critic! If he thinks it's a two-star restaurant, that's his call," sings the culinary chorus. Indeed.

New Yorkers, this is how your new two-star restaurants look:

'Pac-Man' Shrimp Dumplings at RedFarm.

It's interesting to compare reviews, number of stars, and restaurant review choices across the tenures of the last three critics. If not a conclusive analysis, it does reveal a few things.

Ten-deep into Bruni's first reviews (if this virtual finger-filing through the archives is correct), New York City netted three three-star restaurants, three two-star restaurants, and four one-star restaurants, and that included three-star reviews for Blue Hill, Babbo, and Bouley. How's that for an entrance? Not bad.

Frank Bruni's Freshman 10

Frank Bruni's complete reviews, oldest first

Babbo, 6/9/2004 (3 stars)
Arias From the Kitchen As the Dining Room Rocks

Megu, 6/16/2004 (2 stars)
A Menu As Prodigious As the Prices

Bouley, 6/23/2004 (3 stars)
For a Classic, Another Shade Of Elegance

Wolfgang's Steakhouse, 6/30/2004 (2 stars)
Eat Up, but Don't Tell Your Cardiologist

Mas, 7/7/2004 (1 star)
A Hidden Farmhouse in Manhattan

V Steakhouse, 7/14/2004 (1 star, now closed)
Elaborate Dishes, Assembly Required

Ici, 7/21/2004 (1 star)
A French Soul, Wrapped in a Picket Fence

Blue Hill, 7/28/2004 (3 stars)
Fresh and Local, But There's More

Ixta, 8/4/2004 (1 star, now closed)
Mexico, Embellished

Kittichai, 8/11/2004 (2 stars)
Thai as Theater, Restaurant as Stage

Bruni's successor, Sam Sifton, gave his first 11 New York City restaurants one three-star review, three two-star reviews, five one-star reviews, and two no-star reviews. Like Wells, Sifton also got to a Chodorow restaurant in his first 10 reviews, though he did one better, squeezing two reviews in one. The rest of the restaurants in his first grouping included places like DBGB, Marea, and A Voce Columbus.

Sam Sifton's Freshman 10

DBGB Kitchen and Bar, 10/14/2009 (2 stars)
Now I Wanna Serve Some Sausage

Marea, 10/21/2009, (3 stars)
Culture, Staged on a Plate

Imperial Palace, 10/28/2009 (1 star)
In the House of the Claw

Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte, 11/4/2009 (no stars)
Hop Off the Wheel and Taste Paris

Aureole, 11/11/2009 (1 star)
A Kiss to the United States of Burgers, Fries and Sugar

Oceana, 11/18/2009 (2 stars)
Come on in, the Water's Fine

A Voce Columbus, 11/25/2009 (2 stars)
A Voce Columbus

SD26, 12/2/2009 (1 star)
Following a Class Act

Madangsui, 12/9/2009 (1 star)
Wait, There's More?

Tanuki Tavern & Ed's Chowder House, 12/16/2009 (1 star, no stars)
In the Name of Fun, Two for the Show

What does it all mean? Well, the restaurants in the freshman 10 for both Bruni and Sifton arguably featured several more ambitious restaurants by bigger name chefs. Did Sifton grab all the good ones before he departed his post, not leaving the following critic any similar spots to hit up? Well, you be the judge. But right now, Il Buco Alimentari is on the same footing as Marea, Babbo, and Blue Hill. And RedFarm's Pac-Man guacamole with corn? Well, it's just a step below.

Arthur Bovino is the senior editor for The Daily Meal. Click here to follow Arthur on Twitter.