For the last five years, the New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells has been the ultimate arbiter of fine dining in the city. His is a mighty pen, making — and breaking — the reputations of restaurants whenever one of his searing reviews goes to print.
Given his access to the finest foods every night of the week, we know Wells has a refined palate and discerning taste. He also has a sharp wit, calling out dishes as unmitigated disasters or serious pleasures in a poetic manner.
But as it turns out, Wells isn’t just some high-brow critic of fancy food. In fact, he’s just like us.
He loves Oreos.
In a recent interview with Slate, Wells admitted his admiration for the classic treat.
“I find the Oreo and all of its imitators pretty hard to stay away from. I just think it’s an amazing cookie,” he said, going on to note that there’s something about “the quality of the chocolate” that makes it so appealing.
This isn’t the first time Wells has shown some unexpected tastes.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met nachos that I didn’t like before,” he told NPR, although he wrote a scathing takedown of the version of cheese-and-chips presented by Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar a few years ago, calling them “deeply unlovable”.
Wells has said before that for him, much of the experience of dining is all about the environment and the mood of the place. The food can be secondary.
“I’m particularly interested in when other people are just having a good time,” he told Contexts magazine last fall. Case in point: his glowing review of the brand-new Times Square outpost of Señor Frog’s.
Señor Frog’s, for the uninitiated, is the physical manifestation of the “spring break forever” ethos. Its locations in warm-weather hotspots for young people around the world (think Cancun, Miami, and Myrtle Beach) make it synonymous with boozy, neon-lit, unrepentant debauchery. When Business Insider visited the establishment, it was quite a party.
“Señor Frog’s, where have you been all my life?” Wells asked in his review. “
Because I had more fun at Señor Frog’s than at almost any other restaurant that has opened in the last few years.”
Or we can look to his review of the mecca of New York City’s fine dining scene, Per Se.
Sometimes, the fanciest of restaurants can feel sterile or underwhelming, what with the hushed spaces and crisp choreography of the wait staff. We’d expect Wells to be used to this kind of experience, but no: he had no qualms about calling out Per Se, describing it as “grand, hermetic, self-regarding, ungenerous”. As for the food? A mushroom soup, in his words, was “as murky and appealing as bong water”.
Restaurant critics have often been villainized; just look at the sneering character of Anton Ego from Disney’s “Ratatouille”, who strikes fear into the heart of many. But maybe it’s time to rethink the stereotype of the snooty, out-of-touch critic.
“I just think that we show an awful lot of deference to chefs in our culture and maybe not enough deference to customers,” Wells recently said to NPR. If Pete Wells likes Oreos, nachos, and a good time, then we probably have a lot more in common than we think. We’ll trust his next recommendation.