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The Highlights from Pete Wells's Visit to Taste Matters

New York Times critic Pete Wells was on the radio this morning, answering questions on Mitchell Davis's show Taste Matters. Because the show is recorded in a studio that's behind a glass wall at Roberta's, Petey called in, missing an ideal opportunity to try out a new disguise. (Listen to the whole episode here.)

Pete the Punisher unfortunately didn't talk about Nicoletta or Reynard, but he did touch a little upon the weirdness at both the "old, old New York" restaurant Le Cirque and the new, new New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Here are some highlights.

On food media today: "There's way more skepticism about what the Times can bring to the table, if you can go to your favorite food discussion board with 10 different voices dissecting a restaurant and the value you can get from a bunch of smart people weighing in on a subject."

On choosing restaurants to review: "If some great assignment editor was just handing me each week's review and saying, 'Review this restaurant,' I'd only have to go out to eat three times a week ... Part of the opportunity and challenge is trying to decide what I want to review, and that requires a lot of scouting and kissing of frogs before you find the one you want to tell people about."

On bringing people with him: "Sometimes I'll use them as decoys: Send my friends in, see how they're treated, where they're seated, and then I'll be the late-comer seated last."

On being recognized: "I'm very used to having a very full glass of water when I go out to eat. I very rarely find that I'm sitting in front of an empty glass. So I'm used to that but people I go out with are driven crazy by it, with people hovering and making sure we're doing fine."

On the internet: "There's always somebody who knows more than you do. There's always somebody who knows French food better and has been to Paris more recently. There's always somebody who can go on at great length Uyghur cuisine, which is not my strong suit. There are people out there and they now have a way to be heard."

On the Times's star system: "We are not the Michelin guide. The job of the restaurant critic at the Times is not to go around town, handing out and taking away stars, the job is to write. That is the heart of the job and the stars are almost, to me, like the punctuation point at the end of the review."

On his use of stars: "I'm looking for restaurants that I can have a fair amount of enthusiasm about and if I'm grading restaurants more favorably, I think part of the reason is that I'm looking for restaurants that I can be more favorable about. You can't really compare what I did to what my predecessors did in that way, because we're not reviewing the same set of restaurants."

On the current state of restaurants: "Almost everybody follows chefs now more than they follow restaurateurs, or the chef is the restaurateur. All of that front of house stuff that the host, the saloon-keeper, the maitre d' would supply, it's almost become irrelevant. It's been stripped away and it's just you, the plate in front of you, and the cooks across the counter. The food is absolutely front and center."

On Le Cirque: "I think the current state of affairs at that restaurant doesn't mean too much, because it wasn't that long ago that Frank Bruni gave them three stars and thought it was excellent. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it becomes excellent in the future."

On the new format at Eleven Madison Park: "This is in some ways the way global cuisine is going. There's almost a global circuit of destination restaurants and many of them want to have the same format, which is a long tasting menu, a lot of money, eliminate some seats if you can get away with it, and just pack the place with people who may come from across town or may come from across the world."
· Taste Matters [Heritage Radio Network]
· All Coverage of Pete Wells [~ENY~]