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The New York Times Names Pete Wells New Restaurant Critic

The New York Times Names Pete Wells New Restaurant Critic


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The former Dining editor takes over Sam Sifton's old spot

Wells was the Times' dining editor for the past five years.

After months of speculation from the public, The New York Times has named Pete Wells as their new chief restaurant critic.

Wells was the paper's Dining editor for the last five years, and his position will be filled by Susan Edgerley, "the former Metropolitan editor who was most recently the paper’s top editor for career development," The New York Times says.

Wells is a James Beard Award-winning writer; he wrote a column called "Always Hungry" for Food & Wine and was the articles editor at Details before moving to the Times.

At the Times, he also wrote a column called "Cooking with Dexter," which was discontinued after 16 months.

"We knew we were on the right track when more than one of the dozens of applicants around the country opened their queries by saying, 'Pete should be the critic, but I’m available if you don’t pick him,'" the internal staff memo said.

The Daily Byte is a regular column dedicated to covering interesting food news and trends across the country. Click here for previous columns.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.


Pete Wells AnswersYour Questions

The current restaurant critic for The New York Times responded to selected questions from readers.

Video Feature

At the Critics’ Table

Restaurant critics for The Times discuss food, star ratings and tricks of the trade.

How would you describe the behavior of your ideal server? –  RG DC

I don&apost know if I have an ideal it&aposs often a question of whether the service style is right for the restaurant. But when I&aposm praising service I often use the same words: accommodating, knowledgeable, kind.

How do you choose which restaurants get reviewed? Do they lobby you for your attention? It seems that it would be impossible to choose in any way that could be considered "fair," given the numbers involved. –  Jessica Charlotte, NC

A lot of factors come into play in these choices. Some of it is reader interest: is this a place everybody is talking about? Is the chef well known? Part of it is my own judgment: here&aposs a place that people should be talking about, but aren&apost yet. Part of it is my own preference for writing about places I can recommend over places I can&apost. Part of it is an attempt to choose restaurants week by week that illustrate a different piece of what makes New York such an exciting place to eat, and with luck and time you&aposll eventually find that you&aposve painted a picture of the city&aposs dining scene. Sometimes I&aposll take on a review because it seems like a good opportunity to write about some larger issue. Since the process is subjective and up to the discretion of the critic I don&apost think anybody will or should consider it "fair."

How does one get the privilege of being a dinner guest? I think you should run a contest for readers to become the guest of a critic. –  WB Brooklyn

I&aposve toyed with this idea for a while, and may try it if I ever figure out a way to do it.

Do you have a list of hip new terms ("YOLO") that you have secretly pledged to work into your reviews? –  Lois Berkeley, CA

What value do you place around a restaurant that can make a good cocktail, either a classic or their own creation? I hear some people say that alcohol throws off one&aposs taste buds but if you&aposre reviewing for the consumer, many are going to be dining with a drink or glass of wine.

Similarly, how important is a solid wine list and how knowledgeable are you/do you have to be with wine? –  MZ New York

If a place serves cocktails, whether they&aposre classic or brand new, they ought to be good ones. The same goes for wine, I think. A certain kind of restaurant can get by with a very short wine list, as long as every one of them is good, and they show some range. I do try to sample the cocktails especially, since they often contribute to a restaurant&aposs overall point of view. But they have to be handled with care if you&aposre supposed to remember what you&aposre eating. Concentration and memory, to me, are more likely to be harmed by drinking than my taste buds.

What do you think is the most overrated food trend happening at the moment? –  Larissa Syracuse

The most overrated food trend is the idea that trends are important. It&aposs not automatically interesting every time two restaurants decide to copy a third&aposs good idea.

Why aren&apost more of the places people eat at daily reviewed? –  peter c Central Texas

In my civilian life, when I used to talk about a lunch place near the office or a place in my neighborhood, I&aposd often say, "It&aposs nothing special, but I like it." As the critic for The Times, I have the luxury of looking for restaurants that ARE special in some way.

In your experience what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in terms of the overall dining experience over the last decade or so? Technique, originality, service, ingredients, restaurant decor, self-proclaimed foodie-ness, etc. –  AWJ San Diego, CA

You come across restaurants that use excellent, fresh ingredients much more often than you used to. That&aposs great news. And I think the number of skilled cooks has grown quite a bit, so you find technically proficient cooking all over the place. There are also a lot of new techniques that have been integrated into cooking at all kinds of places, like sous vide and other forms of low-temperature cooking, and vacuum compression, which I notice at least once or twice a week now. There&aposs more attempt at appearing original whether it&aposs true originality or an homage to somebody else&aposs originality isn&apost always clear.

The worst change has been all the noise! noise! noise! noise! as the Grinch liked to say. It used to be easy to avoid loud restaurants, because you knew that if a place had 500 seats and was located in the meatpacking district, it was going to be like going to a nightclub. But now even places that look homespun and a little rustic, like Alder in the East Village, can be ferociously loud.

Last month I had a terrible meal at a restaurant I chose based on one of your recent two-star reviews. This was bound to happen sooner or later: your batting average is still high. But I wonder in general what upsets you more: this, or if I were to have an outstanding meal at a restaurant you rated poorly? –  Dmitry Portnoy Los Angeles

I am really sorry to hear that. You&aposre right, it&aposs inevitable. Any restaurant can have an off night (though the best restaurants should never be terrible), and some places do go downhill after the review period, no doubt. But I wouldn&apost be upset to hear that you&aposd had an outstanding meal at a restaurant I hadn&apost liked. That would be good news, because it could mean that the place deserves a second look. I keep hoping somebody will tell me that they&aposve had an outstanding meal at Guy&aposs American Kitchen & Bar.

It always seemed a bit strange to me that clearly most restaurants (especially the high end ones) must recognize you. Doesn&apost that clearly skew the service/quality of the food you receive, and thus the review? Aside from the inconsistency of not having a single critic, why not have more of a "mystery diner" type reviewing? As a minority diner with a minority partner, I noticed that I have definitely received terrible service (bad seats, waiter neglect, etc.) at certain NYC 4-star restaurants to which I&aposm pretty sure you would not be subject. –  Serena New York, NY

Yes I am recognized sometimes, and it happens more often at high-end restaurants, as you guessed. And yes it can skew the service. I&aposve written about this, for example in my review of Daniel, where I ate on the same night as a "mystery diner" who was unknown to the restaurant. As for the treatment of minority diners, I&aposm very aware of this, and while I don&apost have the budget to send a "mystery diner" to every restaurant I review, it is a technique that I might want to use again in the future. But the view of The Times, and it&aposs my view, too, is that we need to have a single critic who signs his or her name to the reviews, and stands by them, and whose style and tastes readers can get to know over time.

Clearly, a great or bad review from the NYT can help or hurt a restaurant. What&aposs your thoughts on sites like Yelp that crowdsource places? A good thing? Or irrelevant if good/bad because it&aposs here to stay? Or something else entirely? –  Dan S. Hartford

Crowdsourced review sites are a good thing in general. The more information out there, the better off we are. But their flaws can be very, very glaring. I&aposve seen some vicious, bitter, angry and clearly hyperbolic reviews on some of those sites that are so over-the-top they don&apost do anybody any good. But if there are enough users weighing in, you can start to get a general picture of what might be right or wrong. If every single Yelp review of a place complains about bad service, there may well be a legitimate issue there.

In the video, it seemed like the criteria for assigning stars has changed over the last couple of decades. This might be a good thing, seeings that diner&aposs preferences, NYTimes&apos audience and restaurants have changed quite a lot in that time. Do you think assigning NYTimes stars has changed over time, and do you think readers&apos responses to the star ratings have changed? If so, how? –  Gerard Hell&aposs Kitchen, New York City

Styles of dining have certainly changed. Twenty years ago, I don&apost know if anybody would have imagined that one of the best restaurants in New York would be a counter facing the kitchen in downtown Brooklyn. But the Chef&aposs Table at Brooklyn Fare deserves every one of the three stars Sam Sifton gave it. Restaurant critics need to keep an open mind about the stars, and be ready to give three or even four stars to a place that doesn&apost look like any other three- or four-star restaurant that&aposs ever existed before.

How different would your reviews be if you had to pay for the meals yourself rather than having a huge expense account? I recall previous reviewers waxing rhapsodic over the genius of the chef who made foie gras soup -- and yes, a $32 bowl of soup may taste very good, but the chef who can make an outstanding bowl of soup for $6 - $10 is far more talented. –  Scott NY

The reviews would be very different if I didn&apost have an expense account. I would review cheap restaurants every week, I&aposd only go once, and I&aposd eat alone. After a few months of this, I&aposd go to work for an employer who gave me the resources to do the job properly, or I&aposd find another job. The expense account permits a critic to investigate restaurants in ways that somebody living on a newspaper reporter&aposs salary probably couldn&apost afford. Maybe after many years on the job a critic might start to take the expense account for granted, but most of us have very vivid memories of what it&aposs like to live without one, and we know when we&aposre being ripped off. I try hard to review more affordable restaurants along with the expensive joints, and that helps me keep my perspective, too.

Why is it that only certain types of cuisine seem to qualify for three or four-star ratings: mostly French, Italian and Japanese? I&aposm a devotee of Indian cuisine and don&apost believe that an Indian restaurant has received more than two stars from the NYT in years and years. Are you under the impression that provenance of cuisine somehow dictates quality? –  Stu Freeman Brooklyn, NY

Tabla had three stars from The Times until it closed in 2010. There&aposs no reason New York can&apost have another three-star restaurant serving Indian cuisine, or for that matter, Thai, Sichuan, Cantonese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Portuguese or Georgian food. Maybe there&aposs one out there right now I&aposll keep looking.

I recently read and enjoyed your wife&aposs latest novel, "My Education." Just wondering how much credence you grant the opinions of your dining companions in forming your overall review.

As representatives of normal diners (with presumably varied preferences/tastes), do they hold sway, or do you consult with them only if something has gone awry for one of the party? –  Laura NY

I&aposm so glad you liked the book! Thank you for saying that. I don&apost pay much attention if one of my dining companions says, "I didn&apost like that dish" or "That chef uses too much salt." Those subjective judgments have to be left to the critic. But sometimes companions notice things before I do, and that can be helpful. They might see something on the plate, or in the dining room, or pick up on something the service staff is doing, and that kind of information can be really helpful.

So many of your readers live on the West Coast or places other than New York. Do you plan to focus primarily on restaurants in the 5 boroughs? –  elizabeth boulder

The five boroughs are the subject of the column I write, but I have been writing casual reviews of restaurants outside New York City, in part because the readership is so much more far-flung than it used to be.

What&aposs your opinion on servers clearing dishes before all guest meals are completed? Faux Pas or acceptable? –  Glamcat NYC

It&aposs rude, and can make everyone at the table uncomfortable, unless a guest specifically asks to have something taken away before everyone else is finished with their dishes.

The health code rating system grades are all over NYC restaurants, does that impact your reviews in any way? –  Gigi NYC

It hasn&apost so far, although once or twice I&aposve seen a "grade pending" sign and I&aposve investigated the explanations. I haven&apost found anything interesting enough to include in a review yet.

What do you think about the current trend of popular restaurants not taking reservations? Does that have an impact on your review and/or stars? Similarly, what do you think of pricey restaurants that are cash only (as The Pines was until recently)? –  Jen Brooklyn

It&aposs nicer when you can make a reservation, obviously. The bigger a restaurant is, and the more it charges, the more likely I am to get annoyed by a no-reservations policy. The same goes for cash-only policies. The Pines was egregious because of their prices if you could have eaten there for $20 a person, their not taking credit cards wouldn&apost have been such a big deal.

What do you think of the idea that were the Times to truly be the paper of record, a restaurant would not be reviewed by them until after its first year of being open. The final word. As opposed to the culture of "scoop" and being first to review the newest and hottest? –  Sparkitus Brooklyn

There are a lot of restaurants that wouldn&apost survive that year without a review. I&aposve eaten in in some very good new restaurants that were almost completely empty, and in a case like that I just don&apost want to keep it to myself for very long.

When you are reviewing restaurants have you thought about a employing a more holistic review that takes into account the how management treats its staff? Although the treatment of servers may not seem relevant, it is an integral part of the restaurant experience. I once witnessed the host who seated us with a gracious smile and easy manner berate a server, which ruined my dining experience at the high-end restaurant. Since then I have been hyper-vigilant of the restaurants that hold two standards of hospitality--one for the guests and another for employees. Is this something you notice in your dining experience? –  lara New York, NY

I think anybody would be turned off by a manager (or chef) who berated staff in public. I&aposd certainly mention that. But so many of the management issues in restaurants are invisible to diners — for example, pay and benefits and harassment. I would try to address those in separate articles, like the one this week about tipping.



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