Recently, A.A. Gill (notorious baboon slayer and the restaurant critic at the Times of London) visited three New York eateries (Momofuku Bakery and Milk Bar, the Breslin, and DBGB) and came away with the impression that “right now in New York, there is an infantile-regression recession. Not quite comfort-club grub, but there is an anti-sophisticate meatiness to everything.” Gill’s take on local restaurants has been questioned before (the Feedbag, in a post that’s now offline, called his five-star review of the John Dory “the worst restaurant review ever written”), but this one has whipped Voice critic Robert Sietsema into a foaming fury.
In a post with the headline “Kill Gill,” Sietsema calls his British counterpart “a dimwit, a standup comedian given to improvisational riffing on restaurants he's barely visited,” and says his assessment of Boulud’s restaurant (Gill mentions “a Vermont sausage with cheese that was like eating an infected toe”) can be attributed to his “age-old hatred of the English for the French.” Meanwhile, Gill likes April Bloomfield’s cooking: “Of course he does. She's English.”
Sietsema’s reaction seems a little harsh. One of his complaints is that Gill only visited three restaurants before coming to the conclusion that we’re awash in an upscale, meat-heavy comfort-food trend. Fair enough, but they were three very popular restaurants, and even if he could’ve visited Ko instead of Milk Bar and Daniel instead of DBGB, his sketch of the zeitgeist isn’t exactly inaccurate.
Besides which, Gill wasn’t entirely unflattering in his assessments: Was he really issuing a “backhanded compliment” when he called the DBGB hot dog “pretty much what you'd expect to get at Coney Island” (“I’m sure he’s never eaten a hot dog in Coney Island,” fumes Sietsema, “so he has no idea that comparing Boulud’s to Nathan's is a real compliment.”) Actually, the line may well have been intended as a real compliment — Gill calls the hot dog the best thing on the menu and gives DBGB three out of five stars (that’s two stars more than Platt gave it). For that matter, he gives Momofuku Milk Bar four out of five stars and the same to the Breslin.
Sietsema calls Gill “about as xenophobic as he can get,” and yes he’s way off base when he describes Momofuku as “a small chain of related restaurants run by a Korean chef. Korean is this year’s must-have oriental.” But if an American critic had penned this piece (a piece that essentially shows a city making the best of hard times instead of resorting to Twinkies and Jell-O), would Sietsema have been so outraged? Then again, Sietsema admits we’re not above xenophobia, either. Imagining that Gill might be peeved because he didn’t get the “royal treatment” he expected at these restaurants, he writes: “New York has always been wary of such international scoundrels.”