When the New York Times announced it was anointing a new food critic, I was nervous. For a lot of reasons, I’d looked around and felt like the good days were over. I’m old and getting older, the Internet sucks, journalism is dying, and the Yankees could barely win a game.
Then things started changing. I have a secret reason to feel young again, I started writing for the Web in a way that pleases me, journalism stopped dying for a minute, and the Bronx boys are booming.
So then what about the neo-Bruni? I’ve already written about how the new critic, Sam Sifton, is maybe being groomed for very big things. I was happy with his first pieces — really happy.
Would it stand up? Yes, very much so. His two reviews this week — one of a lobster joint in Red Hook and the other of a Cantonese palace in Queens — are both lively, surprising, at once intimate and authoritative. Not only do I envy his style, but I trust him and also want to be his friend.
Time was in New York City that eating Chinese food meant eating Cantonese food, however bastardized: light stir-fries, lots of ginger and scallion, black-bean sauce, crisp chicken, steamed fish. This was true all over the United States. After all, China’s first immigrants to America were from Canton — Guangzhou these days — and on their backs were Chinatowns built. These men — and they were men at first, almost entirely — cooked what they remembered from home. They cooked as best they could without wives and sisters and mothers, and then they adapted the result to the tastes of those who suddenly wanted not just to taste what they smelled cooking in their work camps and crowded urban neighborhoods, but to buy it and often.Thus were Chinese restaurants in America born. That sweet and sour pork you ordered in a mall in Scranton came out of Canton in some way; so too the chow mein you ate in a school cafeteria, the dim sum you had one hung-over morning in a city not your own.
And remember: It’s never over until you give up.
Bonus question: Does food criticism actually matter? I think so — discuss.