In the chef/critic world, much helvetica has been spilled writing about critics’ scores. Do four stars mean perfection? Do Minnesota critics score on a curve? So would four stars here mean the same as four stars in New York?
In case you haven’t been reading the back-and-forth on this, it started with Stewart “Shefzilla” Woodman mocking a high score on MSP Mag’s “restaurant rater” for the new Heartland.
“It just got a 97 points, they are clearly operating at an extraordinarily high level, at least as high as Le Bernardin or Alinea, I, we have gotta get there. 97 points is nearly flawless, there are not two 97 points, their is only one.”
Andrew Zimmern responded, essentially telling Shefzilla to chilla out.
“I don’t think Heartland is in Alinea’s class, as Stew wonders out loud, and numerically codifying restaurants is indeed troubling on many levels.”
Then Stewart writes again, complaining that the average Star Tribune star ratings of MSP restaurants is higher than the average NYT reviews.
Lenny Russo then gets involved.
“So does a four star review intend to say that a restaurant is perfect? I think not since perfection is an unattainable goal. To be sure, the standard is perfection, and I go to the restaurant every day with the expectation that we will be perfect.”
I’m getting dizzy from all of this.
Anyway, I raise the issue here because I’m lucky enough to not have to attach a letter grade or a score to my suburban dining reviews. In print, I’m not trying to compare a suburban restaurant like BLVD or Nectar to a city restaurant. I live in Maple Grove. I can tell you that most of my neighbors are not deciding whether to go to Pittsburgh Blue or La Belle Vie. I believe people want to know if there are dishes they should order when they go to a restaurant relatively close to their home.
It would be impossible to put a grade on a suburban dining review and have that next to one of Dara’s reviews of our city/finer-dining restaurants. Well, I could, but you’d see a lot of C grades, right? And how useful is that?
When I see a four-star review in the paper, it tells me: definitely check this place out. When I see three-and-a-half stars it says: check this place out. When I see three stars, I think: probably check this place out. That’s it.
Do you pay that much attention to stars? Who do you think the critic should serve, the fine dining foodies or the average reader looking for a recommendation?
P.S. Not sure if this is a good or awful time to mention that readers can now give the restaurants in MNMO‘s online database a star rating… But so be it. You can.