Note: Click here for an updated look at the star system.
After my post on Momofuku Ssäm Bar, a commenter wondered how my enthusiasm for the restaurant could be reconciled with my 1½-star rating on a four-star scale. “Overall, this review makes little to no sense,” she wrote.
There’s a separate page where I explain my Rating System. I’m using the same four-star scale the New York Times employs. Many other media outlets follow the identical system, or something close to it. While the system is far from perfect, it does allow comparisons (for those who care) between my ratings and other people’s.
If all you know is that the top rating is four stars, you might think that 1½ stars is pretty bad. It’s an understandable reaction, but nevertheless incorrect. One star means “good,” and two stars means “very good.” There is nothing inconsistent about writing an enthusiastic review and awarding 1½ stars. After all, I’m saying the restaurant is “better than just ‘good’.”
If you read more of this blog (index here), you’ll find other enthusiastic 1½-star reviews. This is consistent with the mainstream press. The New York Times doesn’t use half-stars, but Frank Bruni, the current critic, has written numerous two-star rave reviews. I am quite sure that if the mainstream critics review Momofuku Ssäm Bar, it will earn either one star or two, with two being more likely.
The New York Times rating system has its critics. When the same system has to accommodate restaurants as different as Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Per Se, perhaps the rating by itself doesn’t mean very much. You could argue that if Momofuku is the best damned ssäm bar in town, it ought to get four stars. But that’s not the system we have, and you just have to get used to it. I could set up my own system, but I’m sure I’d make different mistakes, and then my ratings would have no connection to anyone else’s.
Star ratings are not great carriers of information. But if you are accustomed to the system, the ratings at the bottom of my reviews do faciliate comparisons with what other media outlets have done.