Food Critic Sam Sifton Is In a Downgrading Kind of Mood

The 'Times' critic raises eyebrows by knocking stars off high-profile chefs

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The New York Times food critic Sam Sifton has raised a few eyebrows with his review of New York's exclusive sushi restaurant Masa. He liked the food, was a bit ambivalent about the service, and then dropped a bombshell when he knocked the formerly four-star restaurant down to three in his official rating. In almost two years on the job, Sifton has avoided drastically changing the star ratings of restaurants. But over the last couple of weeks he not only booted Masa from the exclusive Times four-star club ("and then there were six," Daniel Maurer wrote in Grub Street yesterday: "Del Posto, Jean Georges, Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, and Per Se") but doled out a zero-star review to Imperial No. 9, the new SoHo restaurant from Top Chef Sam Talbot. Sifton seems to be having a moment here, perhaps wriggling free from characterizations like Maurer's that he's "not exactly known for knocking culinary demigods off their pedestals."

The Masa takedown was Sifton's first bump of a four-star restaurant down to three. Maurer notes: "Bruni gave Masa four in 2004, the same year he downgraded Bouley from four to three. The next year, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House was also reduced to three." Prior to Masa, the only four-star Sifton reviewed was Del Posto, in September 2010, which he put at four. But the Imperial No. 9 flame was not Sifton's first zero-star. He gave Fish Tag a goose egg in March, prompting Saveur publisher Merri Lee Kingsly to rebuke him with a public comment imploring, "stop being so rude." His zero-star estimate of Eddie Huang's Xiao-Bao got a hilarious response from Huang himself, who posted his mother's comments in his own blog. But Sifton's latest two reviews are among his highest-profile takedowns so far. Sifton clearly had a sharp set of teeth all along, he's now just going after bigger prey.

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