the other critics

New Mobil Ratings: Quixotic Attempt at Scientific Objectivity

Given how much hubbub there was over the Michelin ratings, and how bad the guide actually was (as we recently noted here), we're surprised we haven't heard more reactions to Mobil's quasi-scientific restaurant guide, the latest edition of which was just released. "We have created a very objective process of evaluating restaurants," Shane O'Flaherty, Mobil's vice-president of quality assurance and the man in charge of the restaurant ratings, tells us. "From that standpoint, we believe that it's as accurate as you can get, anywhere you go."

Only four New York restaurants received the top rank of five stars in the ratings released last week: Alain Ducasse, Per Se, Masa, and Jean Georges. (Le Bernardin, which won three Michelin stars, is conspicuously absent.) What separates a five-star restaurant from a four? O'Flaherty cited some startlingly specific examples from Mobil's checklist.

Five-star service means:

"All beverages are readily refilled within 35 seconds. Guests never have to pour their own bottles."

"Staff can describe with considerable detail the preparation and ingredients of each menu item."

"It is never necessary to signal staff. They anticipate all requirements."

But can food really be so easily quantified? "Our eight inspectors all come from a fine-dining background," O'Flaherty said. "But we have specific items for food quality as well."

Five-star food means:

"All dishes are served precisely as ordered."

"Food presentations are colorful, interesting, and include varied heights and contrasts."

"Cooking is perfectly executed: ideally moist, flaky, crispy, or what have you."

"Food flavor is exceptional and indicates a complete balance with no thought of a missing taste."

It seems to us that the attempt to utterly rationalize taste is something of a folly, like trying to seduce a lover with a series of mathematical proofs. But we'll say this for mathematical proofs: They're pretty reliable, as far as they go. And if Domino's can cook and deliver us a pizza in half an hour, a waiter at Masa sure as heck can refill our sake given half a minute.

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