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Fiamma Flummoxed

[Kalina via Eater]

In today’s Times, Frank Bruni slaps Fiamma with a wet noodle, after hearing complaints that prices went up dramatically, while quality went down, after he awarded three stars in November 2007.

Indeed, the prix fixe menu went up from $75 to $95, while many of the luxe ingredients were banished from the kitchen. New Yorker’s “Tables for Two,” which often reviews restaurants much later than the other critics, caught Fiamma after its downturn, and it wasn’t pretty. The Eater Complaints Dept. sprang into action, noting not just the price hike, but also fewer choices than before.

The prix fixe was $92 on Bruni’s most recent visit, “an increase of more than 20 percent in just three months.” The five-course prix fixe had risen from $100 to $120, while the chef’s tasting menu “had contracted from seven courses to five.” He says, “The number of choices within the prix fixe was slightly smaller than on a menu I’d saved from mid-November, and in some slight ways the food on the more current menu seemed less luxurious, a shift noted and debated on several dining blogs recently.”

While the cost of dining, like everything else, has continued to rise, the shift at Fiamma—more money for less luxury—was especially abnormal, and deserved the dubious distinction of being called out in the newspaper itself. Normally, Bruni saves this type of news for his blog.

But he left Fiamma at three stars, while noting that it “makes me feel a bit less enthusiastic about a restaurant with so much to recommend it.”

The trouble is that most people who are searching for restaurant reviews will find Bruni’s original three-star rave, and not the far less conspicuous correction. You can’t tell whether Fiamma has slid to the lower end of the three-star range, or if Bruni would award two if he were doing it all over again.

Unfortunately, Times policy doesn’t allow a re-rating without three full visits, rather than the one visit that preceded this update. Bruni is no doubt unwilling to make that investment for a restaurant he reviewed only four months ago.

Had Bruni lowered Fiamma to two stars, the repercussions would have been substantial. It would have been a cannon-shot across the bow of restauranteurs: “As quickly as I gave you the third star, I can take it away.” Instead, restaurants can feel free to take advantage of the consumer after the rave reviews are in, knowing that they are not likely to be revised for many years to come.

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