The ground-breaking national media news this morning is the appointment of Sam Sifton as the New York Times restaurant critic, replacing Frank Bruni, who held the position for four years. The Sifton move is a game-changer for restaurant media, most notably because, well, the landscape is already littered with myriad photos of him. In other words, the Times is officially putting to rest the era of their anonymous restaurant critic, even though the Gray Lady seems to be trying to erase all evidence.
The Observer also runs a provocative "lament" for the old-school critic this morning, in which at least two items are worth highlighting. First, the idea that the power of the newspaper critic—be it the Times, Chronicle, whatever—has diminished. As former NYT critic William Grimes puts it, the power of the internet has "balkanized" the system once isolated to the "pontificating critic." This, of course, is definitely true, and The Critic has a harder time making or breaking restaurants these days (see: Absinthe).
On the other hand, for all the contributions/buzz of the blogosphere (and sure, Yelp), there is still something to be said for opinions on the restaurant experience by a professional who dines multiple times at a restaurant. And only The Critic can spend thousands of dollars a week eating. As Eater NY eloquently put it, "That signal shouldn't be lost in the growing noise of the blogosphere." Restaurants and readers alike still care largely about The Critic and more often than not, he/she is still the loudest voice.
Which brings us home: who is more old-school than our very own, beloved Bauermeister, Mr. Michael Bauer? Sure, it's probably fair to say that his anonymity is all but a charade these days—20 years as San Francisco's restaurant critic will do that (so will those photos)—and his critical tenure has been shockingly long when you consider how many critics have come and gone from the NYT in that same time period.
But that said, as the food nation bids farewell to the incredibly entertaining Frank Bruni, perhaps San Francisco should take a moment to appreciate the contributions of Mr. Bauer, not only as critic, but as editor of the Food section and the Home and Garden section. The guy works more than any of his counterparts: writing two reviews a week and then some, putting the Sunday sections together, plus Twittering and blogging (still rare for top tier critics). Sure, the local dining landscape is now overly homogeneous and littered with beets, pizza and salumi, but the Bay is still one of the best places to eat in the country, and despite any shortcomings, like him or not, MBizzle is as responsible for that as anyone.
(But if you have photos, we'll still ask for those to be sent this way.)
· BREAKING: NYT's Sam Sifton IN as Next Restaurant Critic [~ENY~]
· Sam Sifton Bio [Wikipedia]
· Lament for the Old-Fashioned Restaurant Critic [Observer]