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How Much Stock Do You Put in a Restaurant Review?

By Zachary Minot on February 16, 2012


Photo Credit: Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Yesterday, the New York Times ruffled some foodie feathers with the Pete Wells 3 Star review of Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. There's not much argument about whether the place is great or not-everyone seems to love it. It's Pete's 'new' approach to the rating system that's really stirred the pot.

Over at Eater NY they've compiled some excellent responses to the review:
1) @lwyrip: "@pete_wells may have to create a fifth star if he ever gives Shake Shack a proper review."

2) Gael Greene: "GroceryStore w/trattoria,4 months old,3 stars.I think that matches or beats the Times rush to crown Le Bernardin in '86."

3) guest: "you know - i haven't been, so i cant really speak about the stars. but when you read stuff like "the overworked servers are always rushing" - and pete wells seems to not give a shit - or that he thought for a second that ordoardi makes great wine....it seems like he would be better off reviewing chinese restaurants in astoria or being chummy with jonathan gold talking about where to get the best authentic mexican flauta."

4) Josh Ozersky: "By the way -- this proves that Pete is assigning stars directly equal to his enthusiasm. That's the new system, finally, and it makes sense."

5) seyo: "I don't see what the big deal is re: the stars. Star ratings have different contexts. For example, there is no reason why a pizza by the slice joint couldn't earn four stars, by being the very best pizza by the slice joint conceivable. Stars aren't a way to compare restaurants. They are a way to measure how a restaurant performs compared to its own potential. In that sense, I can very well see how a place like this which is half deli half restaurant can earn three stars by being the best half deli half restaurant it can be. That includes the entire experience: the food, the decor, the service, and the value it represents: the price asked in exchange for said food, service, etc..."

6) kat kinsman: "For those agog at the @pete_wells Il Buco supernova: Claiborne gave 1 star each to Lutece & Chock Full O’ Nuts in 1961"

7) oakapple: "Well, I suppose if a chicken parm sandwich gets two stars, a side order of chickpeas gets three. Clear as day."

8) Sneakeater: Just to say it out loud: THERE IS NO CONCEIVABLE JUSTIFICATION FOR IL BUCO ALIMENTARIA TO HAVE MORE STARS THAN LINCOLN."

9) MarcShepherdNYC: "In which case Hearth deserves four. RT @MarcoCanora: Wow alimentari gets the 3 star love letter. Good for them my meal there was fantastic."

and finally:

10) petewells: "OMG I JUST LIKED THE BREAD AND MEAT SO MUCH U GUYS. STOP HATING."
Personally, I can understand the mixed feelings. When I first moved to NYC, I worked at Gramercy Tavern the night the Frank Bruni had his last meal before publishing his NYT review. When we got 3 stars everyone was ecstatic-for a restaurant with a bar in the dining room, 3 stars was considered perfection. Earning a 4th star was simply not possible without repositioning the entire dining concept into something even more formal. And because of that, it really was a perfect rating.

I haven't been to Il Buco yet, and can't wait to try it, though my guess is that 2 stars (maybe even 1) could be considered perfection for a food business of this type. What do you think? Could this be an evolution of the ratings system where restaurant formality should no longer play a role? Is the quality of the food, no matter how elevated, the only real distinction that reviews should account for?
Source: NYT and Eater NY

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