The Critics Eat It, So You Don’t Have To

I don’t know who Jay Rayner is. I don’t recognize his face on the cover of his book. And yet I bought it based on presumed shared interests. It’s called The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner. Rayner is the restaurant critic for The London Observer and in 2006 or ’07 maybe he decided to travel the world on his quest.

Spoiler: He never found the perfect dinner. In part, I think this was poor planning on his part. A man on such a conquest should not be wasting time in Dubai, Moscow, or Las Vegas. In 2006 El Bulli was the “best restaurant in the world” and Alinea was already climbing the charts. No Spain, no Chicago? That said, I appreciate his descriptions of these cities through the lens of food for that’s my preferred view, and I’ll never be visiting any of them. Not to my taste.

His trip to New York, then the best food city in the country, was a bit of a waste. He simply did an appetizer crawl of Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, Bouley, and WD-50. Fun, but no way to judge. What I did find amusing was Rayner’s night out with the Zagats, my employers at the time. Rayner experienced classic Tim Zagat. This exchange reminded me of when Tim asked me if we were hiring based on looks when I introduced him to a young, new editor (now an editor at Gwenyth Paltrow’s Goop):

We stand in the middle of Morimoto, a slick, buzzy Japanese restaurant, designed in shades of white, and [Zagat] mutters, as if to himself, “Look at them, they’re all so young. They’re all so damned young.” In another place he reacts with surprise at the sight of four women eating together. “It’s good that they have the confidence to do that.”

I suggest gently that this might be a generational thing, that in the twenty-first century young women eating together is not exactly worthy of a stop on a sight-seeing tour. “That’s what I’m saying,” he replies. “It’s good to see.”

Later, at Buddakan, Tim yells in Rayner’s ear, “A girl could get pregnant on the way to the bar here.” It brings it all back. Rayner has a few jabs for Wolfgang Puck, whose restaurants spread, “like some multi-drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis,” and Anthony Bourdain for once remarking that the most important ingredient in sushi is the rice, but Tim Zagat really seems to be the scene-stealing supporting actor–he is quite a character.

Another spoiler: Rayner eats best in Tokyo and in New York. But the search for the perfect dinner continues. I’ll be looking for it at Komi tonight.

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