The Intellectual Indefensibility of the Times’ Four Seasons Review Just Came Into High Relief
Timing, as they say, is everything.
Two weeks ago, New York Times critic Pete Wells wrote about the odious behavior of The Four Seasons restaurant co-owner Julian Niccolini and about the wonderful food at the Four Seasons in its new home on East 49th Street. Somehow, both threads were featured in what purported to be a restaurant review. Though Wells wrote that chef Diego Garcia “has turned the Four Seasons into a seafood restaurant, and a very good one” and acknowledged that the restaurant was “better than it has been in years,” he explained that he couldn’t disentangle his feelings about Niccolini from his ability to enjoy the restaurant and, despite notes indicative of a two-, or perhaps three-star appraisal, conveyed just one star.
The review, generally speaking, split readers into two camps: Those who applauded Wells for taking on Niccolini, and those who thought the review set a dangerous precedent. I fell squarely in the latter camp, and commented accordingly on the Times website.
I have no sympathy for Niccolini, but nonetheless found the review to be a can of worms. If the behavior of owners and other principals is going to be factored into one review, how will it figure into others, and how can the paper justify not factoring it in moving forward?
Well, it’s been less than two weeks, and the can has been opened, sooner than anybody expected. Last night it was revealed that Niccolini has resigned from the restaurant. In the Times’ own coverage of his outster, it states, “Earlier this month, Pete Wells, the New York Times restaurant critic, reviewed the newly relocated Four Seasons, downgrading it to one star from the two it received in 2007 — not because of the food [italics/bold mine] (Mr. Wells wrote that the restaurant is “better than it has been in years”) but because ‘Mr. Niccolini’s actions have done serious damage’ to its ability to make a diner feel safe in an intimate space.'” A spokesperson for the restaurant, as spokespeople are wont to do at moments like these, said that the review had nothing to do with Niccolini’s departure.
Regardless of the paper’s role in his leaving, with Mr. Niccolini gone, the worms are on the loose and crawling all over the Dining section….