I always believed a judge should have to serve three months in prison before being admitted to the bench and able to sentence anyone to prison time. I feel the same way about restaurant reviewers. In my opinion, a restaurant reviewer must have a serious financial investment and at least one year of actively operating a restaurant before being allowed to write a restaurant review. (Although for some reviewers one year in prison would work just fine.) Since the pandemic, the NY Times continues writing about restaurants but hasn’t been giving star ratings.
As a long time NYC restaurateur, I’ve had my share of good and not-so-good reviews and understand the concept of public service in letting the public know the pros and cons and ups and downs of a restaurant’s food, atmosphere, service. However, someone will have to explain to me the importance or the value of a reviewer’s commenting on the attire of an owner. Me, for instance. Back in 1985, when I was opening Twenty Twenty with Ashford & Simpson, a reviewer from a hip downtown magazine, critiqued my dinner jacket as “absolutely hideous.” Really, what does my taste in what I wear have anything to do with reviewing a restaurant?
Lucky that reviewer wasn’t on the beat in 1981 when one night the chef at Marigold, a restaurant I owned on Madison Ave., forgot to put the chicken in the Chicken Pot Pie. Now that deserved a slam. The chef forgot. Somehow forgot the eponymous ingredient in the dish. Not easy, I’m sure, but he did. I found out about the missing chicken from several guests. And you can be sure there was a chicken in every pot ever after. Marigold went on to be successful for the 10-year length of its lease and Chicken Pot Pie was a menu favorite to the very end.
In the 90s, when I owned Mulholland Drive Café with Patrick Swayze, I was invited to be on the John McLauglin Show, along with Elaine Kaufman who owned Elaine’s, Barbara Smith who owned B. Smith’s, and Tim Zagat who published Zagat’s restaurant review guide. After an hour of John McLauglin’s asking each of us about the details of opening and operating a successful restaurant, it was clear to me, Elaine, and Barbara that Zagat had no idea of the internal workings of a restaurant and that Zagat, a lawyer, whose experience with restaurants was apparently dining in them.
After that, I instructed my publicist Bernie Bennett to keep all restaurant reviewers away from Mulholland Drive Café. A publicist generally was hired to get a restaurant reviewed. With Mullholland Drive Café, that wasn’t really necessary. The place was always busy for lunch and dinner. At dinner people were waiting almost an hour for a seat at one of the 170 seats or 30 bar seats. There was no need to be reviewed by a so-called reviewer, maybe maven. As a restaurateur, nothing beats a mention of your restaurant in a Cindy Adams or Page Six column.
Through all the years of owning restaurants, and the many reviewers reviewing them, my favorite review was by Thea Sands of this very newspaper. I remember her well-written review of Samantha Restaurant back in 1978. She noted the excellent service, the delicious lemony hollandaise sauce on the eggs benedict at Sunday Brunch, and the well-run restaurant. At the end of the day, the best review is the old-fashioned word of mouth you get from satisfied guests who come to your restaurant because they enjoy the food and service and environment and are treated well. They tell their friends who tell their friends. Sound old fashioned? Too good to be true? I don’t think so.
Now that I’m out of the restaurant business and don’t have to worry about reviewers and the day-to-day operation of running a restaurant, I find enjoyment in my weekly trip to Costco with my wife Carolyn and our downstairs neighbors, Michael and Barbara Kurzman. Before the weekly drive, I make a menu for each night’s dinner that I’ll be cooking for my family. Cooking for three is a lot less stressful than cooking 300 dinners a night even if the chef’s doing the cooking. I do it all with a chef’s mise en place in front of me - the makings of a large martini - and then start on the meatballs and the sauce for my Meatballs and Spaghetti specialty which has been well reviewed by my wife Carolyn and my daughter Samantha who Instagrams the meal to her followers, letting them know of her dad’s culinary talents. And there’s high praise from the Kurzmans whose dinner is delivered to their door. Personally, by me, a reformed restaurateur.
Bobby Ochs is working on his memoir, “Bobby Ochs, Kid From the Bronx and Restaurant Partner to the Stars - From Kasha Varnishkes to Caviar to Humble Pie.”