I know the New York Times has had a new restaurant reviewer for a while now, Frank Bruni having taken his leave with an interesting memoir about his journey from eating disorder to dining critic. I admit I didn’t pay much attention to Bruni’s reviews, because, well, I don’t live in New York, so what would the relevance be?
This new guy, Sam Sifton, though, is really something. I don’t live in New York, but I read his reviews anyway, because he writes things like this:
Local burghers sit in the dining rooms alongside tight-faced matrons in vintage Halston, younger ones in diamonds and black pencil skirts. There are senior partners from white-shoe firms; publishing tycoons; one of the city’s premier public relations men, fiddling with an immense gold ring.
One table the other night held a foursome openly gawking at Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, who were settling into a table. A few evenings later, Paul McCartney and friends would be in their place, his knightship in sneakers.
The reviews I’ve read recently have been part gossip, part mocking, gloriously self-aware of the ridiculousness of these upper-crust $30 bowls of pasta and the people who snack upon them. He comments on the crowds sometimes nearly as much as the food — which is vital information, if you’re considering whether to get a table or not. From his recent review of NELLO:
One night at dinner, there was a very tall woman in elegant clothes, with skin stretched tight over her face in unnatural ways and glasses the size of salad plates to magnify that. She was eating with a small red-faced fellow with dark hair in a center part, who was wearing an ascot and green Tyrolean coat. A cartoonist might render them as an awkward French giraffe and a mischievous Austrian chimp.
The woman drank wine as the man devoured a plate of pasta in tomato sauce. (Decent, and, at $29, maybe a bargain.) They were a good couple. When he finished, she wiped at the corner of his mouth with a napkin.
The man signaled to a waiter. He laughed and slapped the table with his open palm. “AAAH-gain!” he cried, happily. “Once AAAH-gain!” The waiter smiled and withdrew with the empty plate. Within 10 minutes the man was eating again.
Today’s review of The Mark Restaurant, quoted at the top, had the kind of worship of food that I’d expect, laced with little observations about those who were eating it and making it. The guy sounds hungry in the review — and not just for food:
Also recycled, pleasantly, is the pea soup, a purée of sweet green peas that taste of springtime and have the smooth texture of high-thread-count sheets; a version of it exists on the tasting menu at Jean Georges, Mr. Vongerichten’s four-star flagship near Columbus Circle. Blend in the accompanying cloud of Parmesan foam, and it’s like a lover sliding into bed: nice.
And there is much to enjoy in the barely steamed shrimp salad with avocado and enoki mushrooms, dressed in a filmy Champagne dressing. The shrimp is slack and velvety against the firm, slick flesh of the avocado, as the nutty enoki bridges the two; it’s a magic trick of a dish. As is a fat cake of sweet peekytoe crab enlivened by ginger, with more avocado and lobes of pink grapefruit. It is as unmistakably Vongerichten’s as his fingerprint. A grilled veal chop served over rhubarb, peas and a spring onion fondue, meanwhile, is a pleasure worth gnawing, though doing so can draw stares in this room.
Like a lover sliding into bed? “Slack and velvety against the firm, slick flesh?” Gnawing? This is much more fun than the usual restaurant review.