The Other Critics

A Review of Sam Sifton’s First ‘Times’ Review, in the Style of Said Review

Hey, ho, let’s go! Sam Sifton, former dining section editor and culture editor, and a onetime critic for New York Press, has penned his first review as restaurant critic for the New York Times. He’s called it “Now I Wanna Serve Some Sausage,” a play on “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog.” or more likely “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” Once, this kind of nerve might have gotten his moleskin notebook ripped up. (We ain’t got time for that now.) These days it gets thirtysomething bloggers using iPhones to tweet gaily of his references to the Galliano show in Paris, the Astor verdict, Letterman.

A cynic would call this bloggy and wonder if he is about to scoff a lot like Pete Wells did. But one glance at his description of the crispy lamb ribs — “sweetly glazed, grassy meat, with a dab of creamy mint-flecked yogurt sauce” — ended all worries about snark: Mr. Sifton has penned a completely laudatory review. His line about the lamb being “sublime, earthy and spicy and rich,” was the sort of praise that separates his review from those whom Boulud thinks are miserable.

Mr. Sifton’s review suggests that Mr. Boulud’s kitchen puts out perfectly cooked food. Past reviewers have quibbled with this here and there (Steve Cuozzo said the fries were limp; Ryan Sutton agreed, and added that the beef stew was underwhelming and the flatiron cut needed balancing), but rare is the person (other than Mr. Platt and Ryan Sutton) who has failed to give the place more than one star. Mr. Sifton is no exception. His Boulud worship, as they say in rap precincts, is tight.

Mr. Sifton says DBGB is “not precisely a beautiful restaurant,” though he points to its “masculine charms” just like Alan Richman approved of its “deeply masculine downtown look.” There is mention of the wide and open bar area, where he says the unreserved may sit and eat a slimmed-down version of the main room’s menu (actually, the full menu is now available). But he doesn’t mention that, more often that not, the unreserved may sit after an hour and a half of waiting in what Cuozzo called an “ear-busting, hard-edged” environment (Mr. Sifton disagrees: The sound level is “lower than you’d think”).

Mr. Sifton calls the DBGB hot dog “rich and beefy” despite the fact that it has been dismissed by Gael Green as “boringly sedate,” and Ryan Sutton thinks it “lacks the spice, snap or zing of a good Hebrew National.” And though he mentions beers, he doesn’t go into any detail about the beer list that was supposed to be half the point of this place (of the wine list he says merely that it’s “totally acceptable”). He admits that date-night couples and Wall Street irregulars abound, but what about all those Midwestern tourists?

Beyond Sifton’s description of the bar is his description of the dining room. You can see it in the photo above, so we’ll skip his lengthy comparison of the chefs’ pots to the gloves of great infielders, and his observation that private diners are meant to observe the kitchen’s choreography as if they were dining backstage at New York City Ballet.

Mr. Sifton isn’t exactly working as hard as a dancer in this review. He spends the next paragraph describing the menu you’ve probably already seen and says it’s “all pretty good.”

Mr. Sifton says you might start with some of the items “your men with the BlackBerrys order”: an iceberg salad with heady blue-cheese dressing, bacon, and walnuts; or tuna tartare dressed in harissa-sesame sauce. (Wait, men with BlackBerrys like tuna tartare?) In any case, he elegantly suggests you might finish with a modestly sized burger. His favorite is the Frenchie, which he says “arrives as if a passenger on an old Cunard ship.” We’re having trouble visualizing that, but Mr. Sifton clearly doesn’t agree with Platt that the burger is dreary and the pork-belly confit greasy. He also doesn’t weigh in on the Piggie, which Jay Cheshes thought was “misguided,” Restaurant Girl thought was “overworked” (just like the other burgers), Mr. Platt thought was “muffled in jalapeño and too much pulled pork,” and Mr. Sutton also disliked, along with the Frenchie.

More blog-obsessed readers, however, will want to know what Mr. Sifton had to say about the sausages: He joins Platt in calling them excellent. His description of the Vermont (a smoked pork link studded with Cheddar and served with hash browns and a red-onion crème fraîche) instantly legitimizes almost any combination of cheese and cased meat, though Mr. Cheshes called it “dull and anemic.”

Mr. Sifton describes the ingredients in a few more sausages, and really, you don’t need more than this. His description of the serious, Bouludish entrées as “almost too grown-up for the setting” is pretty much the only quibble in the review. He doesn’t seem to agree with Mr. Cuozzo that the “roast leg of lamb urgently needed sauce, jus or seasoning” — in fact, he recommends the dish. He doesn’t voice any of Mr. Sutton’s reservations about other entrées, either. And while Mr. Sifton suggests you might order two sausages as an entrée, he fails to concede, like Gael Greene does, that “the neighbors camped out below Houston will find prices a bit high, especially for such tiny rations of sausage.” In fact, given that Boulud originally pitched this as a value-minded restaurant, he strangely doesn’t say anything about value at all.

While Adam Platt thought the desserts were “a mishmash of tortured, ice-cream-sundae-style items and several familiar facsimiles of old French classics,” Mr. Sifton thought they were “smart takes on old favorites.” And where Ryan Sutton thought the baked Alaska was “forgettable” and “needlessly set ablaze,” Mr. Sifton approved that it “tastes of France and America twinned.”

Back in 2002, with just (just!) three restaurants to his name, Mr. Boulud published a cookbook, written with Peter Kaminsky, titled “Cooking in New York City.” On the cover, Mr. Boulud stands in the middle of Park Avenue in his chef’s uniform, holding a loaded hot dog before him with what appears to be genuine pleasure. Chances are, if Mr. Sifton had eaten it, he probably would have found it rich and beefy.

* One Star (Good)

Now I Wanna Serve Some Sausage [NYT]

A Review of Sam Sifton’s First ‘Times’ Review, in the Style of Said Review