Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sifton Gong Xi Fa Cai

For the first 1/3 of Sam Sifton's tenure at the Times, I didn't know who he was. Why should I? As a kid who would watch critics fumble around and fuck up reviewing ethnic food, why would I pay attention? I remember seeing rating plaques or local newspaper reviews framed at the worst Chinese, Lebanese, or Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood. Most of us don't read the Times to figure out where the best place to get ropa vieja or soup dumplings is. We ask people at pot lucks, Church, barber shops, and karaoke. I remember in the 90s when people actually thought asian-fusion was the hardest shit since MC Ren. My family would go back to East Asia in the summer and when I got back, I really didn't have much respect at all for American food. It was bullshit, watered down, compromised versions of the realness. It was like kids who sweat transformers when East Asia was already on that Dragon Ball Z and Gundam-ish. The only things I wanted from America were Eddie Murphy Raw, Barbecue, and shawties with pink nipples.

Even as owner of a NYC restaurant, I only mildly followed $25 and Under. But, one day a friend sent me this link to a Diner's Journal post about Wo Hop so I wrote this. I didn't know who Sifton was, but I did think he missed the point at Wo Hop. So, I wrote a faux-letter not understanding his role in the "industry" but I quickly figured it out. Mad customers came into Baohaus asking why I wrote that post and wondering if I knew what it meant to be the NYT Critic. I didn't care. But, I went home, read more of the man's shit, and loved it. I didn't jock him cause he was a gatekeeper, but because he referenced things I understood and cared about. Like a shitty movie with Coolio on the soundtrack and a teacher breaking through to kids, Sifton got it. As Prodigy would say, he spoke the dun language.

I didn't give a fuck whether there was a table cloth, two forks, and maitre d, I wanted to know who was in the God damn room, what music they're playing, is it a ill date spot, what are my odds of smashing after Fat Radish? Things people who are still alive care about. He understood that dining extends beyond the plate. I give a fuck who's sitting next to me. I give a fuck what scene I'm buying into by patronizing the restaurant. As a kid who still has ideals, aspirations, and a tribal mentality, I needs to mother fuckin know. I don't want to know how xyz French restaurant compares to abc French Restaurant from the 80s. I want to know that M. Wells "recalls the moment when Greg Ginn, of the punk band Black Flag, wore a Grateful Dead shirt onstage." And in the same vein, Sifton's time at Dining was like Snoop rockin' Tommy Hill on Letterman for hip hop heads. We had a vote.

Additionally, I still didn't go to the Times or any newspaper for that matter to decide where the "best" restaurants were. I think that's an unrealistic concept. Is it REALLY possible to create a system to determine the BEST restaurant? I'm not trying to pose an existential argument that doesn't apply in reality but I truly believe that it is impossible to rank restaurants across genres. The Times rating system understands that. The stars have more to do with the room than it does with the food. And restaurants get stars when their food, room, and service meet the standards and expectations of a restaurant of that "ilk" or that star rating. Del Posto might or might not be the best restaurant in the city, ditto for Per Se and all the other usual suspects. They aren't objectively the best, they just happen to meet the requirements for restaurants of that nature. If you ask 10 people where the BEST meal they've ever had was, 9 out of 10 will say their Grandmother's house and the odd man out will say his Mother's. Only some asshole from the yelp generation is going to say Per Se. For lack of a better comparison... Some of your friends like tall skinny meatpacking types who look like geometry problems #PerSe. Some of your friends like strange Asian women from Williamsburg who wear men's shoes #FattyCue. Then there are the guys like myself who like girls with the 40 oz bounce #PiesnThighs. 4-star, 1-star, $25 and Under... Like Pokemon, I just want to catch em all.

Either way, I peeped old Eater articles about how Pete Wells threw a curveball tabbing Sifton. I started to read all the old Bruni and Reichl reviews. I liked them, especially Reichl, but there didn't seem to ever be anyone like Sifton. While other people knocked the decision because he wasn't a "food guy", I thought it was the perfect choice because he wasn't. While Sifton clearly has an expert level of knowledge in matters of food, his real contribution is that he saw food in it's proper cultural place as a part of the STYLE section.

What people need to admit is that Dining is the ugly step child of the Style Section. I've always felt that people need to embrace restaurants like we do the rest of the Style Section. It's theatre. Yes, Food TV, Big Homie Tony Bourdain, Top Chef, and all that other shit had a effect, but in print, I don't think there was anyone who had a bigger effect on the culture of food as lifestyle in NY like Sifton. His reviews recognized that food in NY shares a space with art, music, fashion, and film... and he rep'd it.

People love Jonathan Gold and I do too. I've shouted him out numerous times cause he does the damn thing. But he's perfect in LA. A place where people have cars and venturing outside their neighborhoods isn't like going to another planet. People in LA love loving things and their urban sprawl shuts down at 2am. Dinner IS the event. This is NY... I need to know if it's worth going uptown to Boulud Sud and if there's a place to hang afterwards because the Girl and I must hear Rick Ross yell "Tupac Back" after seeing Mike Madrigale and his '76 Cristal tonight.

Sifton was the perfect guy at NYT because he WAS New York. He told inside jokes, understood stigma, used code words that we would get, and became someone we could trust to steer us away from scenes that weren't for us. He was able to applaud a restaurant for one group while warning those that wouldn't fit in to pass. He had a genuine interest in sub culture. He could see food in relation to things that other writers/chefs/restauranteurs can't. Look at the culturally relevant guys like Roberta's, Frank's/Prime Meats, or RuthBourdain, they understand their place in food in relation to other sub cultures. I mean, have you guys chilled with some of the chefs and food writers out there? THEY ARE FUCKING HERBS. Did you see that bullshit G-9 food summit in Lima? It reminds me of the time KRS-One decided to form a Temple of Hip Hop. Once it's academic, it's over.

Sifton is the first to really integrate and rep for youth culture in the Dining section. Old people just keep shit copacetic. For the first time in a while, food is holding it's own in the style section and kids are paying attention. Hypebeast is covering Hainan Chicken, Entourage got Don Pepe's, and Fashion's Night Out is as much about food as it is halloween for 15 year old wanna-be "it girls". No one sums up Sifton's era like Pusha-T:

"Who else could put the hipsters with felons and thugs? And paint a perfect picture of what sellin' it does. This is for the critics who doubted the chemistry, two different worlds same symmetry. In this black art, see the wizardry, when you at the top of your game, you make enemies..."

Pete Wells-Sam Sifton had the game on smash and ran 'tings the last 2 years. #TroubleOnTheirMinds They had every one talking about restaurants, take-downs, and double-downs. All I can hope for is that the next ninja recognizes the ground work that's been laid and understands food's place in American Pop Culture today. To the next critic... "Come on homie, we major..."

Lastly, Sam... Mom wanted me to say: "Gong Xi Fa Cai" Congrats homie, the kids will miss you. But on a positive note, does he have to be anonymous now? Can he come get lifted at Baohaus 2? LET ME FIND OUT.


  1. Shitty movie with Coolio... you mean China Strike Force?

  2. No, Dangerous Minds with Coolio on the soundtrack. And LOVE that you called chefs/food writers HERBS. They'll probably think you mean the aromatics. Bwahaha.

  3. Eddie -

    Your obviously a smart guy and although I haven't eaten your food, I'd like to.

    But your need to speak and or write like some Taiwanese, home boy street nigga out of a Fast & Furious sequel makes you ridiculous.

    Please stop and just be yourself.

    If that is your real self, please stop and be someone else or maybe just grow up.

    As far as Sifton goes, despite his references and pop culture credibility, his reviews were completely incoherent internally.

    He would wax poetically about a restaurant and give it one star or give a mediocre restaurant 3 stars. Consistency is key -otherwise your just blogging.

  4. Yo, your need to post anonymously makes you ridiculous. Please stop and account for yourself.

  5. Can I just say, this is the most beautifully spot-on acknowledgement of Sifton and his role recognizing the new cultural era of food and the new cultural era of culture. It's all pop, but it's high art, too.

    Can I also just point you to my absolute favorite Sifton review of all time. THIS GUY USED "BROHEIM" in the NYTIMES.

    Thanks Eddie, and love you Sam.

  6. "Is it a ill date spot" Stop speaking like a fucking retard. You are not a gangsta and never will be.

  7. anonymous, welcome to New York, I'll type this out so you read it slowly and can enunciate every word.

    eddie, "...made the fucking G train relevant." epic win.

    in NYC food is a massive part of a person's style and the Times needs to recognize that Sifton was on some next shit and choose another critic who will hold it down.

    RIP Sammy Boy

  8. ChefYaboy -

    It's clear that Eddie isn't limited to speaking that way - I'm not sure that's true about you or any other chef that failed to graduate high school and is lucky to be working. And by the way, who is 'we' ?

    As far as making the G train relevant, I think you and Eddie have the cart before the horse.

    The creative class has moved to Brooklyn - Perhaps most of the New York Times staff live in Brooklyn - because the city is no longer affordable to many younger creatives.

    They pass these restaurants on the way to the train and eat at them on the weekends.

    Brooklyn, the G and all the other trains that service her were and will be relevant long after we're all dead and gone

  9. Anonymous,
    Who gives a fuck how he talks son, if you are sick of it don't fucking read it. It's not like Eddie Huang's is the only blog out there. As for the G-train it wasn't CULINARILY relevant to people from Manhattan New Jersey Westchester, which is how Eddie was referencing it, till guys like Sifton, The Franks, Eddie, Matt Grecko, and the Al Di La crew came along. So keep huffing and puffing as an anonymous hater, errr coward, Eddie gets it, as the man Omar said "it's all in the game yo" but just remember, you come at the king you best not miss dun.

  10. Can't say I share the same sentiments 'bout Sifton, but that was a fun 1000 word trip.

    And damnit Eddie, dinner ain't a "thing" in LA. It just is. We do do shit beyond stuffing our fat holes and watch celebrities at the Ivy.

  11. 8======D~~ ^0^ < yo Anonymous that's you eating a dick, son.

  12. Cartoon wiggers and chiggers

  13. 8====D ( . ) ( . ) < yo Anonymous, this is me and your mom about to put the 'tit' in 'interstitial space,' son.

  14. 8=========D (_(_) (_|_) (_)_) < yo Anonymous this is me about to take a tour of your mom's Vaj Mahal, son. I tried to animate her thunderous ass shaking maneuvers for you my son but this is the best I could do I'm sure she'll tell you all about it in person, hijo.

  15. dope blog post, ill be back. 'anonymous' is on some full tard shit. he wont account for himself cuz he still wants to come to your spot without getting sonned in person.

  16. 小心你不知道我的小兄弟


  18. First of all, big shouts to Eddie on the tremendous piece of writing! And lemme know that uptown spot where Ross is yelling "Tupac Back!" Secondly, shouts to Phil on the killing Anonymous in the comments section, and then backing the car over a couple more times, just to make sure the job was done.

  19. 首先,我不是'基本',但來自香港,說話帶著口音的英語


  20. Is it me or the following sentence "The creative class has moved to Brooklyn" gets thrown around a lot these days? Anytime I hear this sentence my "worthless piece of shit human being radar" goes bonkers. How many times a week do you people who say this shit have to remind us that you werent cool back in Ohio but now your swag is off the charts once you leave Manhattan.

  21. I mean, have you guys chilled with some of the chefs and food writers out there? THEY ARE FUCKING HERBS. Did you see that bullshit G-9 food summit in Lima? It reminds me of the time KRS-One decided to form a Temple of Hip Hop. Once it's academic, it's over.