Omnivore - New York: dirty restaurants, meaningless starred reviews, trashy food carts

Restaurant controversies in the Big Apple


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Are you sick of getting sick in restaurants? Are you tired of the apparent game of hide-and-seek that some restaurant owners play with their health department ratings?

Or do you think the health department ratings are often not worth rat shit in a kitchen corner?

New York City is struggling with the issue this week. For the last 18 months, the city has been issuing conspicuously displayed letter grades following health department ratings. Recently, though, restaurant owners have become increasingly vocal about the apparent inconsistency of the rating process. That has been confirmed by at least one study.

New York's city council was due to conduct a hearing on the matter today....

Meanwhile, dining critics have (once again) come under fire for their own system of rating restaurants with stars. Andrew Friedman of Huffington Post recently wrote about the system after Pete Wells of the New York Times awarded Shake Shack one star.

Friedman notes that the system has never been consistent:

In New York City, shortly after she became the Times critic in the early 1990s, Ruth Reichl awarded three stars to the noodle parlor Honmura An, and went on to more than double the number of three-star restaurants in town. On the other hand, her successor, William Grimes, made an art of the one-star rave; neighborhood joint Red Cat and themey Calle Ocho both received rapturous praise, only to find a single star at the end of the rainbow. At the time, many felt that these restaurants had been under-valued. (Red Cat was subsequently elevated to two stars by Frank Bruni in the Times.)

Friedman writes that the increase in casual dining, with its attendant appropriation of formerly "high end" cooking, renders the star system dysfunctional. He poses some possible alternatives to the purely subjective rating system...

Meanwhile, too, some New York business owners have formed a coalition to convince the city to stop granting licenses to unsightly food carts. You know — the kind of carts that don't screech, "trendy, high-fashion fusion food."