Chopped: What's a Critic's Responsibilty?
Michael Bauer pretty much took Acme Chophouse to the killing floor today. The last time he reviewed Acme was in 2002, seven years ago. And in one fell swoop he's lowered it's star rating from 2 1/2 to one (giving the food half a star) with a blunt headline for those readers that do nothing more than skim boldface: "Acme Chophouse Strikes Out at the Ballpark."
Bauer's standard practice is that the restaurants that he re-reviews get one visit, while the new restaurants that he reviews get three. For this particular drive-by, Bauer first balks at the price of the pound-and-almost-a-half Painted Hills natural steak he orders ($48 for a 22 ounce rib-eye): Yes, this is expensive but last I checked a natural rib-eye runs about $19 a pound retail and this doesn't include labor, rent and all the fixings. Then he takes a glance at his starters and says all he had to do was look at them to know they were too terrible to have left the kitchen. As for the tartare? "The muddy brown color probably came from an overabundance of Dijon." He doesn't mention actually eating it. The chicken is too salty, his cocktail is too sweet.
Judgments passed. Of course, I can't say he's wrong because I wasn't there.
But what I can say is why on earth in an economy that has even the most popular restaurants struggling (and Bauer even mentions that Acme, on a non-game day is "as quiet as a church on a Monday morning") would Bauer not come back for another try—or even just leave well enough alone and not review it all—before he sold a locally-owned restaurant run by very farmer supportive, community-driven chefs such as Traci Des Jardins and Thom Fox up the river? (In fact just tonight, Acme is hosting Taste of the Nation, which surely Bauer knows.)
I think in fragile times like these, it's a critic's responsibility to think not once, but twice.