Sifting for Clues of Sam Sifton's Final Review

A look at the New York Times food critic's history with the city's four-star restaurants

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The smart speculation is that New York Times critic Sam Sifton is going to review Per Se for his final review, and that he's going to name it the "best restaurant in New York, Period." There's some pretty simple reasoning behind that: Sifton has already said he's leaving for the national desk in October, and Grub Street suggested he'd knock out one last banner review before then. In this weekend's New York Times Magazine, Sifton said he planned to name the city's best restaurant, period, to which which Eater pointed out he's been seen at Per Se a lot lately: "He's been in quite a bit recently, it hasn't been reviewed since 2004, and well, it's a way to go out with a bang (and to make good use of that disappearing expense account)." So with that speculation in mind, we've put together a quick rundown on Sifton's relationship with the city's New York Times four-star restaurants.

Del Posto: Sifton's first venture into four-star territory, his top-ranking review of Mario Batali's Del Posto just about a year ago made waves, both the good and bad kind. Batali, naturally, was thrilled, and tweeted, "Holy shitaly!!! We just got 4 stars from the NY TIMES for del Posto !! First Italian restaurant in 36 yrs to get 4 !!" But New York Journal suggested it was a big mistake: "The problem is that four-star reviews gain value from the company they keep. There are six other four-star restaurants in New York: Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa, and Per Se. I know of no other critic—amateur or professional—who has suggested that Del Posto is on their level." Still, Sifton had planted his flag in one of only two ventures into the four-star world thus far.

Masa: Sifton's second and only other review in top-level territory was a downgrade. He referred to "wrinkles in Masa’s fine silk" and said that while it was still the finest sushi restaurant in town, "New York City now demands of its four-star restaurants an understanding that culture at its highest must never feel transactional, whatever its cost," and he felt Masa had. Commenters on his Diner's Journal post seemed to agree with his assessment, and there was little civic outcry.

Eleven Madison Park: Danny Meyer's Flatiron restaurant in the old Metropolitan Life Building already has a stunning view of Madison Square, and Frank Bruni bumped it up to four stars just a short time before Sifton took over the job, writing, "It just needed a bit more polish in its service and a lot more sparkle in its food. Over the last three and a half years, it has received precisely that." Sifton hasn't reviewed it, but he included it in his Sifty Fifty recommended restaurants.

Daniel: One of the city's fanciest restaurants, owner Daniel Boulud was in the kitchen when he recognized Sifton dining here shortly after he took over the food critic's position in October 2009. Whether or not the critic ever went back, we don't know (probably), but he didn't review it. The last time Daniel got four stars was a Bruni rave in January 2009, so it's too soon to go back anyway.

Jean Georges: If we were taking odds on Sifton's final review, this one would be the main contender with Per Se. It hasn't been reviewed since Bruni got by there in 2006, and Gael Greene paid it a visit in July. But we're pretty convinced of the Per Se thing, and besides, the last time Sifton paid Jean Georges any attention was when he wrote about a roach that encroached into the dining room. It's probably just as well if he doesn't make it in.

Le Bernardin: Another restaurant due for a revisit, Bruni gave Le Bernardin its last review in 2005, but Sifton won't be going in there because it just got back from a renovation (during which it got a rave from Michelin while closed). Florence Fabricant covered the reopening earlier in September, and while Sifton discussed the Zagat rave garnered by Eric Ripert's seafood palace, he's never reviewed it himself, nor written about eating there.

Per Se: Which brings us to the final member of the four-star club, which is also the longest overdue for a review. Bruni gave Per Se its fourth star way back in 2004, the only time it's gotten a Times review. But Sifton has written about it just this month, when he recommended it strongly to a reader in his Hey, Mr. Critic column. Besides, we all want to eat a vicarious meal there.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.