The latest issue of Time Out New York rates each of the city’s prominent reviewers (subscription required for all links here) on a scale of 1 to 6, turning the tables on the arbiters of taste. The judges—a pretty impressive group—use criteria like taste, writing style, and knowledge of the given discipline (art, music, film, etc.). For nearly every discipline, the top three critics have average scores in the 4.5–5.0 range. And then there’s food, where only one reviewer even breaks the 4.0 mark (Peter Meehan of The New York Times’s ”$25 and Under” column, who comes in at 4.08, outscoring the paper’s chief critic, Frank Bruni, by an embarrassingly wide margin).
Do New York’s restaurant reviewers really suck that much more than its other arts-and-culture watchers? Maybe, but that just seems so counterintuitive at a time like this, when food is being treated with ever-increasing seriousness in major newspapers all over the country. Are critics better in other cities? Is the ranking just a bunch of unscientific bunk in the first place?
Or perhaps part of the issue is that food criticism is inherently more difficult than other forms of criticism in certain ways. For one thing, I know that if I hate a film or piece of music and then read a super-smart review explaining the merits of the piece—putting it into a context I hadn’t understood before—I may well be inclined to soften my view; it would be a lot harder for a critic to persuade me to reconsider a dish or meal after the fact. There’s just no talking someone out of a gag reflex.