Restaurant Critic Adam Platt Reveals His True Identity (For Those Few Restauranteurs Who Didn’t Already Know What He Looked Like)

Is it still possible—or necessary—for restaurant critics to be anonymous?

Photo:

Photo: Twitter/NYMag, Bobby Doherty)

In this postmodern, zero-privacy era we live in, is it still possible—or necessary—for restaurant critics to be anonymous?

New York Magazine restaurant critic Adam Platt is ending 2013 with a bang—and a wave-making statement—by placing his mug on the latest cover of NY Mag. Platt has also written an accompanying essay in which he calls critic anonymity a “strange, time-honored Kabuki dance that takes place between chefs and restaurateurs and the people whose job it is to cover them.”

The critic goes onto say that “a healthy expense account” is far more important than anonymity as a critic. His reasoning? He argues that if a critic’s employer allows for repeat visits to a restaurant, “even the most elaborately simpering treatment won’t change [his] point of view.”

He acknowledges that “this myth of anonymity” is useful for Michelin inspectors and local critics—but, at the end of the day, it is most powerful as a marketing tool. Platt says that “it’s lent a sense of impartiality and Oz-like mystery to the dark art of restaurant criticism.” But you, I, and Mr. Platt all know that most of this mystery and mystique is now gone, since bloggers can get up reviews of restaurants mere seconds after the spot has (soft) opened.

Maybe Platt is just tired of being spotted by people whose job it is to cover restaurateurs’ asses by identifying critics. Earlier this year, he was infamously booted from ZZ’s Clam Bar by “a very large bouncer” after being recognized—allegedly because the restaurateurs weren’t too happy with one of his previous revies.

London-based critic Jay Rayner, who is happy to plaster his face all over TV and books in the U.K., voiced his approval of Platt’s decision on Twitter this morning.

Rayner has long voiced his opinion that anonymity is unnecessary, a viewpoint that seems to be shared by many of his colleagues across the pond, who tend to subscribe to the philosophy that food writing is entertainment, not some elaborate game of truth-seeking.

So what does New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells think about the topic? “Many of the restaurants I review put more time and energy into spotting me than I could ever put into going unspotted,” he says in a 2012 interview.

Yet, in the stunt that launched a thousand Ruth Reichl comparisons, Wells enlisted a decoy—“a colleague who wasn’t likely to be recognized”—when he reviewed Daniel in July of this year. Wells used said colleague as a control group to test just how much of the excellent service Wells received at Daniel on a previous visit was special treatment for the VIP critic, and how much was par for the course. The answer was more of the former than Wells would have liked, leading to the damning charge of elitism and a warning that the restaurant could be “turning its best face away from…precisely the people who would remember a little coddling at a place like Daniel for years.”

And this brings up the argument for restaurant critic anonymity, as hard as it is to achieve in this day and age. The critic’s job is to write for the average diner, even when the critic is anything but. So, we can only hope that Platt’s tactic of securing a large expense account to repeatedly visit a restaurant—and therefore experience it at its best and worst hours—works out for him.

Only problem? As the awe and mystique behind the dark art of restaurant criticism dissipates (and Yelp continues to be a go-to resource for those going out to dinner), those critic expense accounts will continue to dwindle.

Regardless, the Twitter comments supporting Platt’s unveiling continue to roll in:

What do you think? Should restaurant critics continue to book under false names, wear disguises, and keep their mugs off the Internet? Or is it all a useless charade in an era where hiding anything is all but impossible?

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