In the staid, reputation-conscious world of New York fine dining, it is incredibly rare for a restaurant to take a swing at the New York Times over a review.
But that’s exactly what happened on Monday when the CEO of Altamarea Group posted a vicious open letter to restaurant critic Pete Wells on the company’s website. Altamarea is the group behind impossible-to-enter spots like Marea, on New York’s Central Park South.
Earlier this month Wells wrote a scathing review of its new Upper East Side restaurant, Vaucluse. The group keeps “coming up with new ways to disappoint,” he wrote of Altamarea.
“I am writing you because over the course of time you need to know you are losing credibility and, in a sense, degrading the very institution that gave you the privilege and mandate to be a food critic,” Altamarea CEO Ahmass Fakahany wrote in response.
Wells gave Vaucluse a one star rating, noting that: “It’s far from a bad restaurant. It’s just not, as my teachers used to say, using its full potential.”
That kind of burn isn’t uncommon in the world of restaurant reviews, and, in fact, this specific review was met with a shoulder shrug from industry folk used to Wells’ sharp tongue.
Altamarea, which is also helmed by celebrity chef Michael White, didn’t take it so non-chalantly, obviously.
“The New York Times Dining review section is at its lowest point, and the subject of much industry chatter in this regard. Congratulations. You have managed to do a fantastic job of getting it there,” Fakahany, a former Merrill Lynch executive, wrote in his response.
Altamarea Group counts the most elite of the world’s elites amongst its customers. On any given evening you may see Michael Bloomberg chatting in the corner at Vaucluse, or David Geffen hanging at his table at Marea. Service is paramount and reservations are not easy to come by.
Which means reputation is everything, of course.
Wells’ trade isn’t that different. The New York Times dining section is expected to be the pinnacle of knowledge and professionalism — which is likely why Fakahany took a swipe at that too.
“Please take the time to do the proper job for the reader and the New York Times. Your fact checking questions reveal consistently an embarrassing lack of knowledge and show an absence of a natural food interest of any New York Times food critic to date,” Fakahany wrote.
“It is equally embarrassing for us to write most of the core food section text for you, in response to your emails, to give the reader a false perception of your knowledge. “
And then there’s this line. You definitely don’t hear this coming out of a dining executive’s mouth every day.
“You seem so desperately anxious to be relevant in your time in this post. Is it because you want to develop a personal profile knowing you will never be a Craig Claiborne, Mimi Sheraton, Ruth Reichl, Frank Bruni, or a Florence Fabricant?”
Fakahany closed the letter with a ratings system of his own for Wells:
Effort/Credibility: zero stars
Food Knowledge: one star
Creating Confusion: 4 stars
The New York Times had yet to respond to Business Insider’s request for comment at the time of publishing.
Read the full letter below:
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