Iconic Upper East Side restaurant Daniel has consistently received four-star reviews from The New York Times.
But this week, critic Sam Sifton knocked it down a star after seeing a discrepancy in how chef Daniel Boulud’s famed dining room (which turned 20 this year) treats its famous and lesser known customers.
Sifton, who is flagged as a critic the moment he walks in the door, described how he was treated completely differently than a colleague who dined at Daniel on the same night and paid the same $195 for the tasting menu:
The kitchen sent two amuse courses to my table. His got one. A few remaining sips of my wine, ordered by the glass, were topped off. His glass sat empty at times while he waited to be offered another.
We both ate extraordinary fried lollipops of filleted frogs’ legs on a long stick of bone, but only I was then brought a napkin-covered bowl of rosemary- and lemon-scented water for rinsing my fingers.
Sifton was pampered; his colleague, who was unknown to the wait staff, was not. Not that his friend complained about the experience — he had a perfectly nice time. But maybe the unknowns are exactly the people a top-notch restaurant like Daniel should be trying to impress, Sifton says. As he puts it:
… a restaurant can’t be blamed for trying to impress a critic.
It can be faulted, though, for turning its best face away from the unknowns, the first-timers, the birthday splurgers, the tourists. They are precisely the people who would remember a little coddling at a place like Daniel for years.
As Slate’s L.V. Anderson notes, in the days of social media, it’s nearly impossible for a restaurant critic to maintain anonymity. He calls for Sifton to drop the charade and own up to the fact that he’ll never be treated like an ordinary diner in the city’s top restaurants:
It’s great for Wells to acknowledge the truth about 21st-century restaurant criticism, but it would be better for him to go one step further, do away with the whole pretense of being an everyman, and go public with his real face. Wells should by all means continue to enlist nonfamous to get a sense of how restaurants treat the masses, but it’s time for him to stop pretending he blends in with the masses. As far as elite restaurateurs are concerned, he doesn’t.
With Daniel off the list, there are now five restaurants in New York City with four-star reviews from The New York Times: Per Se, Del Posto, Eleven Madison Mark, Jean Georges, and Le Bernardin.
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