Sexton on Restaurant Critic Anonymity

Plus: Restaurant Maize pops up, X2O’S killer Super Bowl party with Chef Peter Kelly, and Piccolo Trattoria reopens in Dobbs Ferry



Last week, the naked face of Adam Platt, the previously anonymous restaurant critic for New York Magazine, appeared on that magazine’s cover. And while Ruth Reichl and Frank Bruni, restaurant critics for the New York Times, both went to extreme lengths to protect their anonymity during their reigns, two successors to that position—Sam Sifton and Pete Wells—didn’t even bother to hide. Jay Rayner, the lusty restaurant critic for The Guardian is pretty much out and proud and splashes his Oscar Wildean face all over his wonderful columns, books, and TV appearances. All of this is just begging the question: Why do I even bother trying to sneak into restaurants as an anonymous critic? Isn’t all the cloak and dagger business just as passé in restaurants as duck quesadillas?

Actually, I don’t bother too much. Unlike Reichl, I don’t have alternate personae and wigs and wardrobes, but I do have multiple OpenTable accounts and I pay with special credits cards—it’s Anonymity Lite. Like Bruni, I don’t allow photos of myself to appear in print or on the web. Go ahead and Google me, scan my Facebook page and Twitter accounts, there’s nothing there. Also, I’ve managed to avoid submitting author photos for articles that I’ve written for other magazines, a heroic feat in this hyper-visual age. Sadly, I’m a full-time writer and not a dilettante. I’ve had to make a living with my pen (or my laptop). To do this, I’ve been writing columns, features, blogs—and now a book—about restaurants for years. Inevitably, I’ve met some of my restaurant world subjects and a few have even become friends. C’est la vie. I have not been blessed with sufficient independent wealth to exist by writing solely reviews.

Anonymity can be a drag. Recently, I’ve declined writing two restaurant reviews that I knew would be fun to write because I suspected that I might be recognized in the respective dining rooms. Since Adam Platt’s Coming Out, this little qualm of mine is getting harder and harder to excuse. Plus, clinging to my anonymity leaves my name open to galling exploitations. Apparently, there is a person in Westchester who claims to be me while bilking local businesses of free food and special services. Reader, just to keep you in the loop, I’ve issued a restaurant world BOLO for The Impostor. If you see someone being loud about being me, Tweet me ASAP @JuliaSexton. There’s a bottle of Widow Jane whiskey in it for you—and probably some entertainment—if The Impostor and I are placed in the same room. Holla.

Happily, my reviews are not as high profile as those of S. Irene Verbila’s for the L.A. Times. That critic was famously photographed by restaurant staffers before being thrown out of the restaurant that she was reviewing. The photos were instantly leaked to the public through a variety of dining blogs—because, let’s face it, it was a great story. Adam Platt, pre-last week’s Coming Out, was also recognized and ousted from a restaurant that he was reviewing. Folks, I’m starting to fear getting pounced on and photographed with cellphones. I keep praying, Please don’t let me go down like Verbila. I’ve taken to wearing camera-ready makeup whenever I’m reviewing—seriously, don’t make me laugh or it will crack. By the way, it’s hard to eat while sucking in your cheeks.

There are rewards to my anonymity, but those are mostly in bad meals. I know that when I am dining anonymously, my experience is closest to that of my readers. In my previous career, I actually worked in kitchens. When VIP tickets came in, everyone immediately dropped what they were doing to make that dish as perfect as it could be. There are distinct and sometimes profound qualitative differences between the meals that I eat as a known entity and those that I eat anonymously. Any critic who doesn’t admit this is completely full of crap. And, more selfishly, when I am dining anonymously, I don’t have to be “on” in the dining room and potentially endure a squirmy conversation with the chef about a meal that I may or may not have just enjoyed. Gael Greene, the former New York Magazine critic, recently suggested that, even if recognized, I should just do the review and put my criticisms in a “less bitchy way.” I still might find it tough to be honest, and I think the reader is paying me for my honesty. This can sometimes read as bitchy. I can’t help my gender.

So, where does this leave me?  I’m not sure. Personally, I think anonymity is an important tool in restaurant criticism, but it’s not the only one—after all, any clown can buy a wig. Anonymity is not even the best tool in a critic’s armament. The element of surprise is far better, as is travel, dining experience, good taste, and the ability to write a well-argued and entertaining essay. Finally, as Jay Rayner recently noted on Twitter, “I’ve yet to find a bad restaurant that becomes a good one when I arrive.” There are only a few things that can be tweaked at the last moment—and basic restaurant concepts cannot be. Do some people know me?  Sure, some do—but you won’t find my face plastered all over my column like Jay Rayner’s, but mostly that’s because he has far better hair than I could ever manage. PS: how’s my makeup?

HotDate

The Big Super Bowl Bashes at X2O (Yonkers) and Restaurant X (Congers, NY)

Readers, I find all this football stuff completely inscrutable and sooo serious and boring. I might as well be watching a torrid Latin debate but with way more Lycra. That said, this party is the bomb diggity of Super Bowl parties–we’re talking virtually endless food and drink and no chips to find later, stuffed way down in your sofa cushions. Here are the details:

“Peter X. Kelly invites you to celebrate Super Bowl XLVIII at X2O and Restaurant X. We will see which two conference champs march into MetLife Stadium for the first-ever cold weather Super Bowl played in an open-air stadium on February 2, 2014. But you can watch from the warmth and comfort of our dining rooms. There is still a chance to book now for our annual, wildly-popular Super Bowl Bashes!

In the dining rooms of Restaurant X and X2O there will HiDef giant screen TVs always in view. It’s a casual Super Bowl gathering where you'll feel comfortable in your favorite NFL jersey [all fans of any team are welcome!] with hors d'oeuvres, delicious stadium snacks, a fabulous open bar, and Cowboy rib-eye at halftime, along with a full menu passed buffet-style to your table, and more…

Super Bowl XLVII  Menu

-Pre-Game Warm-Up-
Sushi Bar nigiri, sashimi, maki Rolls & sushi - at X2O in Yonkers
Raw Bar oyster, clams, shrimp - at Restaurant X in Congers
Jumbo chicken wings  Roquefort dip
Parsley & cheese sausage in a blanket
Prosciutto & fontina panini
BBQ pork & jalapeño jack quesadilla
Sabrett & Niman Ranch hot dogs on brioche buns with red onion marmalade
Beer batter shrimp ginger & horseradish

-The Line of Scrimmage-
Truffled popcorn, garlic chips, honey-roasted nuts, crisp tortillas

-The Red Zone-
Cowboy rib-eye sauce Béarnaise, gratin of Gruyère baked potatoes, creamed spinach
Roast rack of lamb rosemary jus
Honey-glazed ham Dijon mustard sauce
Tortellini with pecans and prosciutto
Sautéed breast of capon wild mushroom risotto and Madeira
King salmon ragout of orzo & broccoli rabe
Cold antipasto sopressata, copa, salami, mozzarella & grilled vegetables
Classic Caesar salad

-The End Zone-
An array of passed desserts


Sunday, February 2nd—5 pm start

$125 per guest [exclusive of tax & gratuity]

  • Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar, Congers, NY
    Call for reservations & information (845) 268-6555
  • X2O Xaviars on the Hudson, Yonkers, NY
    Call for reservations & information (914) 965-1111

Hot Flash!

Chef Eric Korn of Good Life Gourmet Pops Up with Restaurant Maize

How dastardly is this guy? Not only has this talented young chef figured out how to have a day job (and a family life) by running the Good-Life Gourmet in Irvington all day, but, with his Golden Knives Competition and the occasional pop up restaurants, he’s still keeping his hand in the world of restaurants by night. On January 16th-18th, look for Restaurant Maize—a pop-up restaurant held in the space that, by day, is Irvington’s Cupcake Café—to feature Korn’s urbane take on Mexican cuisine. Act quickly, there are only a few seats left—check out Good-Life Gourmet’s site for more details. Here’s the menu. To reserve, email Katie@Good-LifeGourmet.com.

Hot Plate
Piccola Trattoria Re-Opens in Dobbs Ferry

This 30-year veteran recently re-opened its doors in Dobbs Ferry to offer modern Italian standards in a sleek room overlooking Cedar Street. We snuck in recently (during a blizzard!) and it couldn’t have been cozier, plus, we were able to slurp up this bowl of house-made linguini with sweet, briny clams. Yum.


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