For some reason, I decided to torture myself the other day by reading Pete Wells' four-star review of Le Bernardin in the New York Times. The Times sent Wells there to reaffirm that Le Bernardin is a really good place to eat and — SURPRISE! — it still is. Not that you'll ever be able to afford to eat there. There are only three people who can afford to eat at a place like Le Bernardin: Rich assholes, food critics, and other chefs who run other restaurants that only serve rich assholes, food critics, and other chefs. Here is a glimpse of Wells eating like a goddamn king:
A few (dishes) are flat-out luxurious, like a small boulder of caviar nested inside a heap of sea urchin on a carpet of little gnocchi. I blinked my eyes a few times at the $70 supplement on top of the $125 set price for four courses at dinner. Then I decided not to worry...
Of course you didn't worry, Pete. Your fucking job pays for that $195 tally (including taxes and whatever bottle of 1903 Chateau de Boof you ordered).
This is getting annoying. Does this review really need to exist? Does it provide any public service? Food critics exist on a never-ending gravy train that, at its core, offers NOTHING to the reader at large. Wells got to feast at one of the best restaurants in the world multiple times just so he could reaffirm information you probably already knew, information that you probably can't do anything with. Half the time, you get the sense that food critics are writing simply for OTHER food critics, people who have been to the same high-end places MANY times, and have a palate so thoroughly evolved that earthly donuts are as sour as poison (You'd spit them out, you would!). I get the sense when I read a lot of food critic shit that it's just them telling their peers that they would be wise to revisit one particular destination or another. Oh, you should really go back to Le Bernardin. BUT DON'T GET THE SOLE! It's not right for OUR palate.
We live in a world of restaurant review oversaturation. The second some cool new place like Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco is discovered, its swarming with writers at the Times, Bon Appetit, GQ, and any other place that pays a food critic ungodly sums of money to live like a God. The end result is that such restaurants become overrun with critics and cameramen from Bourdain and the Food Network and you, the common man, will probably have to wait in line for six hours just to get in the fucking place. Food critics don't help readers find restaurants anymore. They RUIN them.
I say all this with the full understanding that most Yelp reviewers are fucking idiots. There's obviously a place in this world for professional food writing. But at this point, it feels as if the entire food critic culture has dissolved into one giant circle jerk, with writers hanging out with chefs and chefs hanging out with writers and chefs and writers judging reality shows together and living inside this bubble of obscene decadence that's completely disconnected from the everyday dining experiences of regular people.
You can get great restaurant recommendations now from friends, from social networks, even from a simple Google search. In fact, those recommendations could end up proving far more reliable than banking on a food critic who leaves an overcrowded tourist trap in his wake, or a food critic who takes a week to explore the fanciest restaurants in Paris, or some other place you don't live and can't afford to go. No one these days is going to rely on ONE restaurant review to decide where to eat. That's too small of a sample size, and there's no guarantee that the reviewer wasn't recognized and summarily treated to a 47-course meal that included half a dozen off-menu items and three free magnums of wine, and there's no guarantee that the reviewer wasn't angling for such treatment anyway.
One day, some editor at some magazine is gonna look at his balance sheet and ask himself, "Hey, why the hell are we paying our food critic $400,000 to spend his life on vacation?" And that will be the day that the great food critic bubble bursts. And I, for one, will be glad when that day arrives. Because it'll mean that Pete Wells will finally have to worry about the price of caviar boulders.