The bad review is an endangered species. Restaurant critics are often the victims of newspaper budget cuts, and food criticism is beginning to look a lot like restaurant cheerleading in many parts of the country. Luckily for diners, the critics below take their roles as consumer advocates very seriously: they're willing to tell their readers when restaurants are worth their hard-earned money, but also when they aren't. These critics also happen to have provided some of the most entertaining reads of 2012.
There is, of course, Pete Wells' now-infamous New York Times review of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant. But there's also Katharine Shilcutt infuriated by bad Tex-Mex in Houston; Besha Rodell railing against Gordon Ramsay for "hoodwinking" LA diners; Julia Kramer staging an intervention for Chicago's City Winery; and Craig LaBan's epic downgrading of Philly institution Le Bec Fin. Here now, some of the biggest restaurant takedowns of 2012:
Guy's American Kitchen + Bar in New York City, Reviewed by Pete Wells
Nicoletta in New York City, Reviewed by Ryan Sutton
New York chef Michael White's "Wiscopolitan"-style pizzeria got a lot of flack for its dense dough and tons of toppings. Ryan Sutton's review in Bloomberg revealed "zesty red sauces, dense crusts and enough cheese, toppings and mashed potatoes to make your biceps sore." For a kinder, gentler take on all of Nicoletta's bad reviews, why not check out Eater NY's Critical Cats on the subject.
Olives in Boston, Reviewed by Devra First
[Photo: Todd English]
While Boston Globe critic Devra First wouldn't call it a bad review (she did give Olives two stars out of four), she did manage to get a few major zingers into her review of Todd English's restaurant. For example: "A $13 appetizer of mussels with curry glaze and potato espuma includes just four mussels, and the dish is cold. A $52 version of steak frites features soggy fries and an immense tomahawk steak that fails to deliver immense beef flavor. Salmon with artichoke barigoule is barely edible."
Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, Reviewed by Craig LaBan
[Photo: 5N4K3 / Flickr]
Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig LaBan downgraded Philly's landmark fine dining establishment, Le Bec Fin, to two bells from four. (In Philadelphia they give out bells, not stars. Same idea.) LaBan's review made major waves: Le Bec Fin was sold to a new owner and the reboot opened in June.
Bandolero in Washington, DC, Reviewed by Tom Sietsema
[Photo: R. Lopez / Eater DC]
Although he enjoyed some of the food and gave the restaurant two stars, Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema called Mike Isabella's Bandolero "one of the grimmest restaurants to open in years." He was also pretty disappointed the guacamole wasn't made tableside, "which takes away part of the fun of ordering guacamole."
Vida Sexy Tex-Mex in Houston, Reviewed by Katharine Shilcutt
[Photo: Vida / Facebook]
Houston Press critic Katharine Shilcutt was so angry about her fish tacos at Vida that "I sat and stared at them, head down, anger building in my chest. It was all I could do not to simply get up and leave." Vida has shuttered since then.
Kinado in Richardson, Texas, Reviewed by Leslie Brenner
According to Dallas Morning News Critic Leslie Brenner, "What gave me hope [for Kinado] was the mention on the restaurant's website that it serves bluefin toro. Not that I'm in favor of restaurants serving endangered bluefin tuna; I'm completely against it. But I thought perhaps Kinado was catering to demanding Japanese sushi aficionados." It wasn't, though; she gave it zero stars.
City Winery in Chicago, Reviewed by Julia Kramer
Time Out Chicago's Julia Kramer really wanted to like Chicago's City Winery. In fact, "If only the review could stop here, and I could save us all (including you, City Winery—I was rooting for you!) from this painstaking retelling." Alas, a cooked-through molten chocolate cake was the last straw: "If I can make a better molten chocolate cake from a Trader Joe's box in my microwave, you're out of excuses."
Fat Cow, Los Angeles, Reviewed by Besha Rodell
LA Weekly's Besha Rodell takes issue with Gordon Ramsay's Fat Cow in Los Angeles: "What galls is the act of misleading those folks, the people who are curious about all the hype given to food these days, who might decide to put themselves into Ramsay's hands to help them figure it out. The hoodwinking of those customers is the real reason this restaurant is more offensive than the sum of its not-very-good parts."
Haven in Oakland, California, Reviewed by Jesse Hirsch
Critic Jesse Hirsch of the East Bay Express surprised diners by taking down Bay Area chef Daniel Patterson's much-anticipated new Oakland project, Haven, for its "sub-par service, sloppy mistakes, and fussy dishes."
Novikov in London, Reviewed by Jay Rayner
[Photo: Novikov / Facebook]
Most of the reviews here are from the States, but a special exception must be made for British critic Jay Rayner. Novikov, he wrote, "is generally very, very bad: prices that knock the wind out of you and moments of cooking so cack-handed, so foul, so astoundingly grim you want to congratulate the kitchen on its incompetence." Yet, "The most depressing thing? It's full; packed to the fake ironwork with the hooting and the depilated, the bronzed and Botoxed." As Rayner has said of bad reviews, "The human ability to find different ways to screw things up never ceases to amaze."