Pete Wells, The New York Times's restaurant critic, played a clever trick on the staff at Daniel, the famed Upper East Side restaurant of master chef Daniel Boulud (who is the subject of a New Yorker profile this week) and one of the few restaurants that has garnered a four-star rating from the Gray Lady. He sent in a decoy to eat at a separate table; because that decoy didn't get the same treats that Wells did, the reviewer took away one of the restaurant's treasured four stars (which had been given by Frank Bruni in 2009, following William Grimes's similar assessment in 2001).
Grub Street offers a summary of the demotion:
Wells received two amuses, it turns out, while his friend only got one. Servers bent over backward to top off his wine and bring him napkin-covered finger bowls of lemon-scented water to rinse away any lingering traces of frog's-leg lollipops, but his buddy received no such perk.
Restaurants love their New York Times stars the same way Anne Hathaway loves her Oscar. Now, imagine ripping that award away from Anne's bony fingers. In other words, this is a big loss. Taking away Daniel's star, as Grub Street points out, also means there are now only five four-star restaurants left in a city bloated with restaurants. And the reason he did it is, well, because of you, or umm, us. See, The Times was speaking up for the plebes, the ordinary Joes willing to plunk down $195 for six courses.