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Open Letters to Restaurant Critics, Ranked

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A ranking of the all-time greatest open letters to critics written by restaurateurs.

[Vaculuse, the subject of Pete Wells's review last week.]
[Vaculuse, the subject of Pete Wells's review last week.]
Nick Soalres

1) McNally V. Adam Platt

Date: May 14, 2010

Restaurant in Question: Pulino's

Review in Question: Pizza à la McNally

Open Letter Publication of Choice: An email to all of the city's top food editors

Open Letter Word Count: 282

Time From Review to Open Letter: four days

The Gist: This is, quite simply, the greatest open letter ever written about a New York restaurant review. It's a pointed critique of Platt's methodology and reviewing style that's also catty and full of zingers. The restaurateur takes the critic to task for reviewing Pulino's too early, especially because Platt points out in his review that "it takes McNally months to whip his kitchens into shape." Keith also notes that it's "peculiar" that the critic quotes his friends in the review (something Platt still does), and he chastises him for employing "the usual cliches." And here's the real jab: "[I]n your middle-aged world it's axiomatic that busy, exuberant restaurants cannot and will not serve great food. This, unfortunately, is no less a form of prejudice than restaurateurs believing that bald, over-weight reviewers are incapable of reviewing lively downtown restaurants impartially."

Choice Line: "I haven't worn a cardigan since 1965."

Coda: Pulino's closed at the end of 2013.

2) El Chod V. Wells and Bruni

Date: February 21, 2007

Restaurant in Question: Kobe Club

Review in Question: Giving Luxury the Thrill of Danger

Open Letter Publication of Choice: Full-page New York Times ad in the dining section; Jeffrey Chodorow's short-lived blog

Open Letter Word Count: 1138

Time From Review to Open Letter: two weeks

The Gist: The one that started it all.  In an open letter to Times dining section editor Pete Wellsrestaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow torches critic Frank Bruni's zero-star review of Kobe Club. El Chod cites Bruni's lack of experience as a critic, while also noting that the restaurateur intends to launch a column of his own. Chodorow writes: "In the interest of fairness, I am introducing my personal blog, which will be a compilation of my food-related experiences and musings and a special section entitled Following Frank and After Adam, in which I will make a follow-up visit to the restaurants they write about for the purpose of reviewing their reviews."

Choice Line: "Your readers would not expect your drama critic to have no background in drama or your architecture critic to not be an architect."

Coda: Kobe Club closed two years later.

3) Ahmass Fakahany V. Pete Wells

Date: December 7, 2015

Restaurant in Question: Vaucluse

Review in Question: At Vaucluse, Michael White Takes a Step Toward France on the Upper East Side

Open Letter Publication of Choice: Altamarea Group's website

Open Letter Word Count: 850

Time From Review to Open Letter: six days

The Gist: A batshit crazy open letter for the ages. Any potentially valid points in Ahmass Fakahany's open letter are undermined by his junky writing. But more importantly, his arguments that Wells needs to "do some of the basic journalism" and sharpen his "food knowledge" lack adequate support. Fakahany also makes an absurd connection between fact-checking and opinion forming. The restaurateur writes: "It is equally embarrassing for us to write most of the core food section text for you, in response to your emails, to give the reader a false perception of your knowledge." Also, the critic rating system that he devises at the bottom of the letter has no teeth — it's a silly end to an otherwise hot-blooded rant.

Choice Line: "The rating star system has become a random process lacking any systematic element to encourage chefs and restaurateurs to create, and even have fun with the adrenaline rush of the process, but increasingly falls on your whims and moods. "

Coda: N/A

Honorable Mention: McNally V. Bruni

Although it's not quite in the same category as these other three in terms of sheer entertainment factor, Keith also wrote a memorable letter to Eater and the Times dining section following Frank Bruni's one-star review of Morandi in 2007. The crux of Keith's argument is that Bruni is sexist and doesn't want to praise female chefs, like Morandi's Jody Williams. McNally's verbiage:

One can only wonder whether Bruni would still have his job at The Times if he himself was a woman. Based on the unremittingly sexist slant of his reviews one has to say no. The surprise is that The New York Times continues to condone it. But until it refuses to, its message, through Frank Bruni, is loud and clear: If you're a woman and talented, the one place you'd better get out of — and fast — is the kitchen

Morandi is still open, but Williams left one year after this review was published.