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June 8, 2011

I love a good critical drubbing. My anonymous friend won’t give a shit about this, but there was this guy on one of the old seasons of Top Chef named Sam Talbot who seemed — on TV — like a pretty good cook. Now I fully comprehend how stupid that sounds. The guy seemed like a good cook from watching him on TV, not from actually tasting anything he cooked. Fair enough. Sue me. I like cooking shows.

But let’s get back to the point. This Talbot guy, after years and years of post-Top Chef whiny hemming and hawing finally got his ass behind a stove and opened a restaurant. It’s called Imperial No. Nine, and New York Times restaurant reviewer Sam Sifton (son of the late Eastern District of New York Chief Judge Charles P. Sifton) just slapped it down, awarding it an ignominious “Fair” rating.

Here’s just a taste, though I would commend to you the whole thing (which concludes with Sifton directing readers to timeless mediocrity Asia de Cuba as a far more rewarding alternative).

But on this night the tuna was old. It was not rancid. It was not totally inedible. But it had that spongy funk. It was enough to raise eyebrows. Real life is not television. Food needs to do more than simply look good when it comes out of the kitchen. It needs to be good going onto the plate in the first place, or else it becomes the sort of dish people finish only on bets.

On a previous night, though, a plate of raw fluke fell far short of fresh. Clammy in temperature, with a nasty aftertaste, it overpowered the frozen coconut layered on top of it. Octopus legs in a mixture of soy and sofrito danced one evening at the divide between soft and mealy. On another they were decidedly on the far side of the line. They were pillowy in the sense of the word that describes the taste of a pillow.

It can be awful there, the kind of restaurant where groups of women who might be Real Housewives gather in blowouts and big rings to talk and use their mobile phones, as that guy from “Heroes” who used to be on “Felicity” makes his way out to the lobby and everyone orders a second sweet cocktail before the salad comes out.

“That spongy funk.” Bootsy would be proud.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie permalink
    June 8, 2011 11:25 am

    Ouch! And Sam was such a hottie….

  2. raginrr permalink
    June 8, 2011 6:25 pm

    wow…i think that even stone cold steve austin would say that “smackdown” is a bit of an understatement…


  3. June 12, 2011 8:45 am

    I am a fan of Sam Talbot’s cooking generally and I say that as someone who has not eaten anything he himself prepared. How then can I know, right? Well, I have cooked some of his recipes for one thing and I have enough experience with food to look at ingredients and know whether or not a dish will taste good.

    While Sifton’s review is funny, the fact that you ignore all the other reviews written about Imperial No. 9 reveals that you are not being objective. Some of those reviews are just as strongly presented for the positive side. But then, what should I expect from a person who enjoys people being criticized?

    Oh, and for the record, you’re not even accurate- Sam did not ” finally got his ass behind a stove and opened a restaurant” at the Mondrian. The Surf Lodge has been open for four years and it too has received rave reviews.

  4. Fat Al permalink*
    June 13, 2011 10:56 am

    We report, you decide.

    But seriously Molly, thank you for stopping by and commenting. This is a funny example of the meta-world we live in where two people can debate the merits of a chef whose food they’ve never tasted.

    Personally, I like a critic who’s willing to call ’em like he sees ’em.



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