or Other?", March 2, 2005 — I spend an unhealthy amount of
time thinking about how to evaluate food. Mostly restaurants in
fact. I also spend quite a bit of time lamenting why I can't find
more restaurants that I really like. These are essentially the same
topic in my mind. The truth is that I feel a natural affinity for
people who dislike critics. After all, where's the art in
criticizing others? And where's the humanity in it? These people put
their hearts on the line every day. And critics come along and
render their "expert" opinions, shooting arrows from a distance.
From the comfort of their keyboard. For over two years I have made
it clear that I love two things. I love finding wonderful food
experiences, and I love sharing them with others. That's not
criticism. Is it? That's just passion for food. But really that's
not entirely true. This site already contains what are essentially
hundreds of restaurant and food reviews. And now we're on our way
down the slippery slope.
The next step is coming up with shorthand. Three
stars from Michelin (now
surveying New York for the first time), four from the New York
Times... we have Love, Like, and Other. The definitions are
here. But the truth
is that they are difficult to define for us. Remember something...
writing about food is completely subjective. Yes, there is a general
framework for how to evaluate a food experience, but it is simply
impossible to be objective. And because so much of one's own
expectations color their opinions of a food experience, eating (and
deciding what food you enjoy most), it's ultimately very very
personal. And so this site is really a personal expression.
But that said, we still have the shorthand. What
does it really mean? Well, we never talk about the shorthand as we
write about a restaurant as there's always texture. But when you
review a list of restaurants in a city, we put them in categories
for you. Categories that give you a sense of which we think are
better than the others. Every meal we eat together ends with a
simple question: "love, like, or other?"
Sometimes we've even considered creating a fourth
category, for the highest echelon of eating experiences. But it's
not clear what the point would be given how few there are.
Ultimately here is the key: Making good food is easy
(even I can do it if I really try). Making great food is hard.
Making great food consistently is really really hard. Making great
food consistently for a lot of people is nearly impossible. Great
food can be from a street vendor, or a 20 course tasting menu at an
expensive restaurant. Great food doesn't discriminate. But the
physics of making great food is consistent - like gravity.
Standards, focus, and lack of compromise are what make great food.
And just as with figure skating at the Winter Olympics, there are
degrees of difficulty. But unlike the Olympics, we don't
discriminate. If you do a simple jump and it's a ten, it's a ten. If
you do a triple lutz, they give you extra points. We don't. Is that
the right thing? I don't know. On the one hand I think that people
should get credit for trying something with a greater difficulty. On
the other hand, I also feel like if you try to do something more
complicated, you made your bed. And if we only gave our highest
recognition to restaurants trying to make the most difficult food,
then our "Loves" would look like the list of four star restaurants
from the New York Times: Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernadin, Masa,
Per Se (Ducasse lost his fourth star recently). They're all very
expensive, and until Per Se and Masa were added they were all very
French. (I think this list is complete, but for some unknown reason
the New York Times website has eliminated the ability to search
based on star rating).
It's nice to know that even the very chefs who've
earned these stars know that
not all good food is expensive: "Mr. Keller says he used to have
a weakness for Burger King's Whopper with extra cheese and French
fries, but now that he lives in California, he has switched his
allegiance to the cheeseburgers at In-N-Out Burger, with French
fries and a milkshake." It's also nice to know that these same chefs
follow the same protocol as we do when going out to eat: "How often
to eat can also be an issue. Mr. Trotter, for one, limits the number
of evening meals on his travels to one, but 15 years ago, he said,
he would pack away "three full dinners - I don't mean grazing - just
to see what's going on." When you're young, you can do it, " Mr.
Trotter, now 45, says. "I would eat for two hours at 5:30, for an
hour and a half at 8 p.m., and then I'd eat again. I'd be with two
or three other people, and we'd order six appetizers and eight
entrees. I was like an eating machine."
So we're back to standards, focus, and lack of
compromise. And art and commerce don't mix. Not compromising doesn't
seem so admirable when nobody's coming to eat in your restaurant.
Not compromising, and making a successful business is nearly
impossible. Nearly. And so there are restaurants that stay focused.
That have maniacal attention to detail. And ultimately believe that
quality and consistency are one in the same. Those are the ones I'm
looking for. Those are the ones we try to talk about on this site.
And while you might expect that someone who spends all this time
criticizing might enjoy being negative, I swear it's not true. I get
the most personal enjoyment from finding something great and sharing
it with others. I wish I could do it more often.