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The 12 Best Lines from the NYT's Restaurant Critics' Table

Ruth Reichl in disguise.
Ruth Reichl in disguise.
Photo: Going Incognito/NYT

The New York Times's five restaurant critics of the past 20 years talk shop in this fun series of videos that touches on everything from trade secrets to annoying food words to the lengths they went to remain anonymous. The panel of alums — Ruth Reichl, William Grimes, Frank Bruni, Sam Sifton, and current critic Pete Wells (who literally hides behind a newspaper) — fire off their share of one-liners. Wells is the most invasive — his disguises and note-taking techniques are still in play, after all — but watch the former critics reminisce about their fake-reservation systems and what happened when they were recognized. The best lines (and links to all the videos), right this way:

Assigning the stars:

1) Says Sam Sifton of the difference between a star and half-star: "You spend a depressing amount of time thinking about these things."

2) William Grimes, on rating as a date of sorts: "If you went to see a movie with a friend or your partner, and went to a meal afterwards at a restaurant, if you're eating at a one-star restaurant, you're mostly talking about the movie you just saw. At a two-star restaurant, it's 50/50? three star restaurant, you don't even remember the movie, you're just talking about the food. And a four-star restaurant, you're almost in tears, you're ready to go on your knees and thank god."

3) Ruth Reichl, on different star systems: "A very expensive restaurant that gets two stars is pretty pejorative; an inexpensive restaurant that gets two stars is kind of a rave."

Going incognito:

4) Reichl's top disguise: "Without question, my most effective disguise was 'Betty the Bag Lady.' Nobody thinks that you're going to dress up like a fat old lady."

5) Says Frank Bruni of restaurant feuds: "I deployed a disguise for every visit to one restaurant, because the restaurateur had publicly stated that if he caught me in his restaurant, he would throw me out. And in fact the employee who spotted me would get a free trip to the Caribbean."

Sharing "Trade Secrets":

6) Bruni, on not being crazy: "I'm sure many a restaurateur grew accustomed to hearing me talk to myself in their bathroom. And I bet they figured out what was going on — either that, or they thought I had a mental disorder."

7) Reichl says that certain types of diners would sometimes receive different treatment: "A woman alone gets treated very differently; I almost always went once alone. I think it's not so prevalent anymore, but in those days, a woman alone was often treated very badly."

8) Grimes, on his dining companions: "My guests are going to be insulted retrospectively, retroactively, because I attached no importance to their opinions whatsoever."

Annoying food words and overused adjectives:

9) Says Reichl: "'Yummy' is not a word that's respectful to food. It's like baby talk."

10) Sam Sifton's most-avoided word: "I never used 'crispy.' 'Crisp,' that's a word. 'Crispy?'"

Foods they won't eat:

11) Says Grimes: "Canned asparagus is just an awful, awful thing."

12) Pete Wells, on willingness to eat grasshoppers: "They're crunchy, if they're cooked right. Crunchy and salted is pretty hard to beat."

· At the Critics' Table [NYT]
· All Critics Coverage on Eater [-E-]