The New York Times restaurant review has gone soft.
The Times restaurant review was once the great arbiter of dining taste in America, the final line in ranking New York City's eateries, and a pace-setter for the rest of the nation's food scenes. And we like Pete Wells. We really do. But a combination of factors has made the Times reviews less influential and less discerning in recent years than it's ever been before. The beginning of the end? Peter Meehan leaving the $25 and Under column in 2008 and Frank Bruni leaving the critic's post in 2009. Meehan, who left to work full time with David Chang on his writing projects, was the last special eye for cheap dining spots the Times had (the $25 and Under column is now gone, replaced by a slightly less adventurous column, Hungry City). Bruni was the last one to tend to the star system as it was meant to be tended to: A one-star restaurant was a solid neighborhood restaurant, and a four-star restaurant was Event Dining.
Once Bruni left, former NYT Culture editor-turned-food critic Sam Sifton started handing out twos and threes like they were going out of style, which was ultimately the effect. What should be the most critical column in the country stopped being critical, and started acting as an advocate, putting its drill bits to the easy targets (Big Box Restaurants, Guy Fieri) and taking a soft touch to anyone who matters. Even Batali and Co. were shocked when Del Posto nabbed four stars from Sifton. Ultimately, those at the Times are of far less importance than theirs predecessors, which may be great for restauranteurs and other food critics, but not for restaurants, diners, and especially the Times.