When the Post announced yesterday that it would reinstate star ratings in a portion of the restaurant columns written by critic Steve Cuozzo, the explanation was that more papers, magazines, and web sites than ever are "doling out twinklers" and they want to join the party. But to get a little more background, Eater asked The Cuozz for the full scoop. Turns out, he dropped the stars four years ago, because he felt that as one of the few critics in the city to be recognized, he got better treatment than his anonymous colleagues. But now that no one's anonymous, why not bring 'em back? We defer to the one and only Cuozzo to explain.
I had thought about bringing stars back for a while. But I first needed to discuss it with my editors to make sure they were on board. They agreed that some of my New York Post columns -- maybe one in four -- have been, in effect, reviews without stars. For example, Aureole might have been a 3 and Harbour, one-half or less.And why was Oceana the first? "I was ready not to like it in its new setting, but I did. I thought it was better to re-launch reviews with a favorable piece than with an unfavorable one." With the Daily News out, someone had to step in to be the 14th outlet offering stars.
What pushed me was that there are no "anonymous" reviewers any more. When I dropped star-giving four years ago, one reason was that I was recognized in too many restaurants after years of making the rounds. Not every other critic was. Now they're all recognized. Every new restaurant has a squad at the front to spot them. I know from my sources when X or Y was at a certain place last night -- some times, what they ate and drank.
So, the recognition-playing field is level again. In addition, I had a million requests to bring stars back. Some people felt that a review-like column wasn't really a review without them. They didn't mind that the star system as it's evolved is batty -- the scale ranges from 3 in Michelin to 6 in Time Out NY. The 5- and 6-star scales give critics a way of awarding "3 stars" that satisfy owners and publicists, but don't have the same meaning as they'd have on a traditional 4-star scale....
...But, as we noted in the paper today, there won't be a starred review every week. I believe a steady diet of weekly reviews numbs a reader's mind, if not the palate. Too much "sweet-acidic balance" and "textural contrast" makes people glance at the stars, the first and last paragraphs -- and skip everything in between. Our format will be reserved for new restaurants truly worthy of dish-by-dish microscrutiny. That means either very important (because of owner, chef or location), or very good -- or the opposite.
· After Four-Year Break, Post & Cuozzo Bring Back the Stars [~ENY~]
· Oceana's 3 [NYP]