Big-time international restaurant owner Jeffrey Chodorow -- who owns a couple dozen name joints in New York, Vegas and elsewhere, but who you may remember as Rocco DiSpirito's money guy from that unconscionably awful reality show The Restaurant -- got his name in the papers again last week. This time, though, he had to pay his way in.
Following a zero-star review of his new(ish) New York steakhouse Kobe Club by New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, Chodorow took out a full-page ad in the Times (at $115,000) blasting the paper, the section and, in particular, Bruni himself -- saying, among other things, that the former Rome bureau chief and political writer who came to the Times critic's job with no serious food-world experience was not qualified for the gig and was in over his head.
"You should have critics on your staff that celebrate and support the efforts of people who work in New York in one of the most difficult and demanding industries there is," Chodorow declared in the ad, which ran February 21. "Your readers would not expect your drama critic to have no background in drama or your architecture critic to not be an architect. For a publication that prides itself on integrity, I feel your readers should be better informed as to this very important fact so that they can give your reviews the weight, or lack thereof, they deserve."
Okay, a couple of things. First, man up, Chodorow. You took a bad hit, granted. But the proper response would've been to smile through the blood, keep your mouth shut and, in the time-honored tradition of critic-restaurateur relations everywhere, wait until the issue was off the stands and then talk about Bruni behind his back. What you did was spend better than a hundred grand to tell a two-year-old story that everyone else already knows: that Bruni was brought in from Italy, that he had no formal food or critical experience (beyond a stint as a movie critic back in the day), and that this made restaurateurs nervous.
Second, there are plenty of food critics out there who come to the job from somewhere other than the trenches. Most notably, Gael Greene (who Chodorow called one of "New York's and the country's most important and respected critics" in his ad and who, unsurprisingly, gave Kobe Club a positive write-up in New York Magazine). Greene never did a day of professional time, came to food writing as a home cook and a voracious eater (among other things), and has, in her time, given out more than her fair share of smack-downs. I'm not going to fight the battle of critical genetics here; it's unwinnable. But suffice it to say, we come from all over. Some of us are good. Some of us suck. Just like chefs and restaurateurs. And as for critics needing to "celebrate and support" the home team? Fuck off. The job title reads "critic," not "cheerleader." Someone buy Chodorow a dictionary, please.
Third, there are architecture critics? If that's the case, I want my next job to be critiquing donuts, porno and all-inclusive beach resorts. There's got to be a gig like that out there somewhere.
Fourth, according to the Times, a zero-star review (out of a possible four) means "satisfactory" -- which is some serious, waffling, pussy bullshit. A zero-star review ought to mean "not on a bet," "fucking awful" or "sucks balls" in any rational, reasonable world. Zero stars should be the nuclear option for any critic forced to labor under the ridiculous and stilted star (or thumb or fork or whatever) system. When I got an F on my report card, it didn't mean I was "satisfactory." It meant I was a dumb-ass who couldn't do a quadratic equation or remember the date of the Battle of Waterloo. Bruni found rubbery chops, limp lettuce, "gluey" mashed potatoes and a bad clam at Kobe Club -- none of which, by the way, would require Escoffier or Bocuse to suss out. To me, that doesn't sound satisfactory. That sounds like crap.
Finally, in case any of you restaurateurs out there have it in mind that what Chodorow did was the perfect response to a bad review by a critic in over his head, I've spoken with the ad folks here at Westword, and know they're ready to offer a deal on a full-page ad in the food section wherein you may spout off about whatever damn fool thing comes to mind. Hate my guts? Think I'm unqualified? Believe that I've been unfair to you or your staff? Here's your chance to put it in writing and tell the world. And unlike at the Times, where they won't let you use foul language or make dick jokes, we love that shit here at the 'word. So let fly, my friends, and when you call our ad department, remember to ask for the "Sheehan Special." Someone will be more than happy to set you up. -- Jason Sheehan
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