The Other Critics

Columbia Critic Defends Colicchio & Sons Review

One final entry in the tale of the Columbia Daily Spectator critic who trashed Colicchio & Sons and sparked ire among our readers and the Don himself. In an interview with IvyGate today, Bell explains that he wanted to “take part in the dialogue among food writers in the city” and that the tone of his review reflected his role in the city as a student. “Students are participating in an academic environment constantly, so in a way my student perspective, more than other critics, mimics or parodies an academic voice. Which I don’t think a lot of people got — they though [sic] I was just being over the top or verbose,” says Bell. “That may be the way I write when I write about Derrida, but I think it’s amusing to apply that academic voice to food criticism.” Bell adds that slamming his review simply because he’s a college student “is an ad hominem attack with no real merit.” Separately, Bell submitted a response to Grub Street’s coverage of the review and its aftermath. Read it below, in full.

Dear Grub Street,

After reading Grub Street’s coverage of my Colicchio & Sons review and watching the aftermath unfold, I feel compelled to respond. I intended the review to strike a humorous chord, but I believe many aspects of the piece contain serious criticism that merits consideration. In particular, while I appreciate Grub Street’s commentary, I do take issue with that commentary’s sarcastic attitude.

For example, when describing flaws in the veal breast and pain perdu courses, I purposely employ rhetorical strategies that appear, in Grub Street’s terms, “over-the-top.” References to “trash talk” and a piling-on of adjectives establish a snarky tone that I intended to function in a self-referential manner. I wanted my review to not only darkly chuckle at Colicchio & Sons, but also at the various absurdities of the review’s very existence itself (which Grub Street accurately discusses). But why then must these rhetorical strategies diminish the veracity of my arguments? The fact remains that the food at Colicchio & Sons, to my palate, tastes poor. Moreover, the entire dining service feels suspended in a play-act world where haute cuisine clashes with oftentimes amateurish service and milieu. Other critics may disagree with me, however, Grub Street’s attempts to belittle my analysis with a backhanded slap of snark fail to actually undermine my criticism on any meaningful level.

Tom Colicchio’s own response to my humorous review seems even more absurd. Insinuating that my review is “nonsense” and not worth reprinting emphasizes Colicchio’s own elitist sentiments. In his mind, I am nothing more than a meaningless college student, devoid of any food knowledge, a voicebox for virtual gibberish that simply adds another annoyance to his day. Yet, I smile at Tom Colicchio’s tweets, at his immature ravings, because they help me understand why Colicchio & Sons is such a horrendous restaurant. In effect, the bitter taste of Colicchio’s entitled, elitist attitude spills over into his food and infects the ethos of his restaurant. When I went to Colicchio & Sons, I felt like an outsider, isolated and denied access to the true possibilities of Colicchio’s skill. And when I read Sam Sifton’s review, a glowing assessment of a restaurant I never enjoyed, this seemed all the more apparent. Disguising snobbery and exclusivity in a few rustic dishes or casual restaurants only makes that rottenness all the more revolting when encountered unmasked.

Oh, and Grub Street, I know that the chef-owner personally doesn’t make the dessert. Yet, when the media so highlights Colicchio’s daily involvement in the back of the house, it seems safe to assume that on the average night Colicchio takes a decent look at the plates leaving the pass. Even if his pastry chef, Stephen Collucci, designed the dish and his line cooks or pastry sous (if he has one) execute it, Colicchio should have been the ultimate quality control mechanism.

I too see the humor in my post. I injected it in to every line. Nonetheless, I hope that Tom Colicchio sees the essence of my criticism peeking through: every diner deserves an excellent meal, whether a college student paying $19,648 in tuition or the New York Times restaurant critic.

Jason Bell
Food and Drink Editor
Columbia Daily Spectator

Interview With the Columbia Freshman Tom Colicchio Loathes [IvyGate]

Columbia Critic Defends Colicchio & Sons Review