Many readers will already recognize Matthew Schneier’s name: He has written for New York since 2019 — and this week marks his debut as our new restaurant critic. You can read his first review, of Libertine, here. And, to mark his official arrival, we sat down to ask we can expect from his forthcoming tenure.
Why is your photo still so easy to find?
In interviews for this job, I volunteered my willingness to wear a Ruth Reichl–esque wig and dark glasses, and for some reason that was politely ignored. No, but really: Everyone’s photo is only ever two clicks away. My excellent predecessor, Adam Platt, dropped the veneer of critical anonymity in 2013, and I’m happy to follow his lead. I won’t give restaurants advance notice that I’m coming, but other than that, if they happen to recognize me, so be it. I just hope no one crosses the street to avoid me.
You aren’t giving out stars — why not?
In short, I’m not convinced stars serve anyone but restaurant publicists. There are too many variables and intangibles to be adequately sorted, and a star system encourages restaurants and restaurateurs to throw themselves headlong into the pursuit of them (and to slack off once they’ve got them). I’d rather make special note of restaurants I think diners shouldn’t miss, which is what I’ll do with a “Critic’s Pick” designation whenever a restaurant warrants one.
What is the role of the critic today?
A glutton in our midst. A strongly opinionated guide to the city’s biggest restaurants. The best critics give readers not only the “what” and “where” of their subjects but the “how” and “why.” You don’t necessarily need me to tell you to try the omakase at Yoshino or that Torrisi is very, very popular — those things are obvious. Instead, the restaurant beat is above all else a microscope to look deep into the heart of the city.
Which aspect of the job most excites you?
Being surprised. Being delighted. And tipping 20 percent.
What are you dreading?
My next physical.
What’s the best restaurant in New York?
How are you navigating this city’s Resy era? Is every new restaurant really booked solid?
Yes and no. While I don’t disbelieve Resy outright, I do believe that simply turning up is often the best strategy. A friend of mine was railing recently about the endless Resy scroll for open tables and how it’s dissuading anyone from trying to go anywhere when in reality there are often tables available. Ultimately, I favor a mix: Resy when you can, the “Notify” feature when you can’t, show up when you must. And always, always be nice to this city’s beleaguered hot-spot hosts.
You joke that you’ve been doing this job “unofficially” for years. Explain.
I grew up in the most wonderful New York City family in the world and also the only one whose level of culinary prowess hovered at the position of “managed to set fire to a bagel while toasting it.” That’s a true story. So it’s no exaggeration to say I was raised at New York restaurants. The way I imagine some people feel about their mom’s chocolate-chip cookies is the way I feel about a Veselka pierogi, the hot dogs of Hamburger Harry’s on Chambers Street, or the noodles at the long-gone original 456 in Chinatown, where I felt so strongly about the cuisine that I apparently shoved fistfuls of it into the pocket of my OshKosh B’gosh overalls for later. As I’ve gotten older, my tastes have become more sophisticated (a bit), but I was, and am, astounded and delighted by the variety of the city’s restaurants, the theatrical and visceral pleasure of them.
Do you cook now?
With more gusto than finesse, and usually with plenty of cursing.
Any strange moments from your first few weeks on the job?
Did you know a stripling of 30-something can get heartburn?