So, Pete Wells is the new restaurant critic at The Times.
As I expected, the job went to a NYT insider, as it has done each of the last three times it was vacant (William Grimes, Frank Bruni, and Sam Sifton). And like each of the last three, it is probably not a career move, but rather a sabbatical en route to some other job, a few years from now.
Sam Sifton was officially announced as National Editor on September 13. Heaven knows why it took two months to find a replacement, when he was a few feet away the whole time. Was he drafted, like Sifton? Or did he have to apply, and then twist in the wind while higher-ups decided whether to give him the big promotion?(*)
(*Technically, the restaurant critic works for the Dining Section editor, the position Wells is vacating. But given the visibility and influence of the job, this is a step up. They are not demoting Wells, trust me.)
Fortunately, we do have some evidence of what Wells will be like as a restaurant critic, as he filed several reviews during the last interregnum, between Bruni and Sifton. I have no argument with any of his starred reviews: Gus & Gabriel Gastropub (zero stars), Hotel Griffou (zero), The Standard Grill (one), and Saul (two).
On the other hand, when he had the opportunity to hit a home run, he whiffed. If you don’t understand that SHO Shaun Hergatt is a three-star restaurant, you are presumptively unqualified. He could, of course, eventually show us that this error was a momentary lapse, and not a fair indication of his judgment. I’m not holding my breath.
At least his full reviews, from two years ago, show none of the preciousness or pretension of Sam Sifton. If he can just keep writing in that style, the reviews will be a lot better than they’ve been the last two years.