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kottke.org posts about Pete Wells

The reviewer reviewed

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2016

Ian Parker wrote about the NY Times’ restaurant critic Pete Wells for the New Yorker this week.

Wells is generally a well-mannered critic, if not an overly respectful one. In his first years on the job, he was sometimes faulted in the food press for being too generous in his appraisals; he had made a point of publishing fewer one-star reviews than his immediate predecessors. “No one likes one-star reviews,” Wells told me, in a conversation at his apartment, which is in a Clinton Hill brownstone. “The restaurants don’t like them, and the readers don’t like them. It’s very tricky to explain why this place is good enough to deserve a review but not quite good enough to get up to the next level.” He added, “I’m looking for places that I can be enthusiastic about. Like a golden retriever, I would like to drop a ball at the feet of the reader every week and say, ‘Here!’”

Parker covers Wells’ most notable reviews — Per Se, Fieri, Senor Frog’s, Momofuku Nishi — as well as the reactions of the restaurants to the reviews.

“I can’t ever read that review again — I’ll get so fucking angry I’ll die,” Chang said. “I made a lot of that food! I tasted it! It was delicious. And… fuck! I believe in the fucking food we make in that restaurant, I believe it to be really delicious, I believe it to be innovative, in a non-masturbatory way.”

I love David Chang. Never change. But back to Wells, I had a conversation last night with a friend who worked in a restaurant that Wells reviewed and he said that Wells is perhaps not physically suited for undercover restaurant dining — “he’s an odd looking dude” was the quote. And I have another friend in the restaurant industry who, after living in Clinton Hill for a few months, told me, “I think Pete Wells is my backyard neighbor.” Several months later: “Yeah, Pete Wells definitely lives behind me.” We joked about Wells talking over the fence in the style of Wilson, the neighbor in Home Improvement whose face is always partially hidden.

We Work Remotely

Shake Shack gets the NY Times treatment

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2012

The Shake Shack gets a lukewarm one-star review from Pete Wells at the NY Times…the main problem was consistency.

How the burger could change lives I never divined, but on occasion it was magnificent, as beefy and flavorful as the outer quarter-inch of a Peter Luger porterhouse.

More often, though, the meat was cooked to the color of wet newsprint, inside and out, and salted so meekly that eating it was as satisfying as hearing a friend talk about a burger his cousin ate.

Even when the burgers were great, they could be great in one of two distinct ways. In the classic Shake Shack patty, a tower of ground beef is flattened against a searing griddle with a metal press and made to stay there, spitting and hissing, until one surface turns all brown and crunchy. A patty handled this way takes command of a Shackburger, standing up to its tangy sauce, its crisp lettuce, its wheels of plum tomato.

Sometimes, though, the grill cook hadn’t had the energy needed for smashing and searing. Instead the patty was tall, soft and melting, so pink inside that its juices began to soak the bun at the first bite. Good as this version was, it was anomalous.

The Shack Burger is still my favorite hamburger and sitting in Madison Square Park eating one on a warm night with friends — hell, even waiting in line for 45 minutes catching up — is one of my favorite NYC activities.