Altamarea Group bashes Pete Wells in an open letter posted on Monday for bringing the Times review section to "its lowest point" and for being a "dinosaur" that's desperate to be relevant. CEO Ahmass Fakahany posts the letter on the group's website just days after Pete Wells published a biting review for the team's new French restaurant Vaucluse. Fakahany, who runs the group with chef Michael White, accuses Wells of not knowing the basics behind food, saying the fact checking process for his reviews reveals the critic's "embarrassing lack of knowledge." As such, the star system has become "a random process lacking any systematic element" that "increasingly falls on your whims and moods," Fakahany writes. "You seem so desperately anxious to be relevant in your time in this post," the letter says.
Last week, Wells gave Vaucluse one star and was sharp in his takedown of the restaurant. Wells starts the review off by saying the group keeps "coming up with new ways to disappoint." He finds most dishes underwhelming. In a particularly biting dig at a potato tart, Wells writes that the jumble of ingredients feels like it is waiting for something to happen, but "nothing is going to happen as long as they're all loafing on a crackerlike crust that you could safely serve to a patient on a no-flavor diet."
It's not the first time a major restaurant has shot back at the Times for an unsavory review. In 2007, Jeffrey Chodorow took a full-page ad out in the newspaper after Frank Bruni published a negative review of steakhouse Kobe Club. Chodorow wrote more than 1,000 words saying Bruni didn't have the chops and that the Times hadn't had a real critic since Ruth Reichl. Similarly, Fakahany calls upon the superiority of past Times reviewers in his letter. He writes that Wells will never be at the same level as Reichl, Craig Claiborne, Mimi Sheraton, or Frank Bruni. (He also names Florence Fabricant, who, for the record, doesn't review restaurants.)
But Fakahany says his damning letter "is not all sour grapes and personal disappointment" in the Vaucluse review. Though Altamarea has received three stars from the Times for Ai Fiori and Marea, the system doesn't seem to make sense, he writes. Fakahany says that the star system at the Times needs to be revamped — going so far as to suggest a composite system for food writers that includes a rotating chefs council. "Please don't be so desperate as you are," Fakahany closes the letter. "Take a deep breath, focus on food writing and its joys and get back to the fundamentals. Come on, Pete, you are better than this." See the full letter below: