The stars have gone out over Los Angeles: yesterday the Los Angeles Times announced that the paper's restaurant reviews will no longer have stars. Dining editor Russ Parsons, who spent one paragraph (a scant 113 words) explaining the change, wrote: "star ratings are increasingly difficult to align with the reality of dining in Southern California" where, as he puts it, "your dinner choices might include a food truck, a neighborhood ethnic restaurant, a one-time-only pop-up run by a famous chef, and a palace of fine dining."
Oh, and their first non-starred review is out: S. Irene Virbila takes on Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, the type of restaurant that normally would totally lends itself to a starred review.
So is this all food writer Jonathan Gold's doing? Possibly, maybe. Gold recently transferred to the LA Times from LA Weekly, which did not have a star system. (Gold's first LA Times article is out today as well, a brief portrait of Los Angeles' diverse dining scene using Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's 1980s restaurant City Restaurant as a focal point; it's behind a paywall.) Gold has famously covered the hole in the wall, mom-and-pop restaurants of Los Angeles for years now, and these don't fit quite so neatly into the star system as, say, splashy hotel restaurants from the most famous of Los Angeles' celebrity chefs. Could this move be a nod to his work?
But it seems many restaurant owners actually like the star system. It's nice to be able to advertise yourself as a three- or four-star restaurant. Back in 2009, the Michelin Guide ditched Southern California, so stars are pretty much out for restaurants in Los Angeles now.
Stars are a contentious issue. In 2005, the New York Post dumped its restaurant star ratings only to bring them back four years later. Read a sidebar explaining the stars' return: "Readers said they missed the stars. So did some owners of restaurants — even ones that we clobbered."
In place of stars, the LA Times will provide a short summary of the review.