Record to date: 12–5
Yesterday, Pete Wells concluded his short tenure as interim critic with a two-star review of Saul. It was much overdue, as Saul was much changed since Eric Asimov’s $25 & Under review a decade ago:
Ten years is a respectable run for a New York restaurant. Most don’t make it that long, and many of those that do are slowly taking on water. A few may change course by bringing a new chef on board or, more and more frequently these days, trimming their sails and tacking toward cheaper, more casual shores.
Saul is a heartening exception. One of the first restaurants to bring a contemporary sensibility to Brooklyn when it appeared on Smith Street in 1999, it has neither faded, nor stood still, nor sought a personality transplant. Instead Saul Bolton, the chef and the owner with his wife, Lisa, has upgraded just about everything in their modest storefront. Saul is the same restaurant, but better.
Wells seems to approve of the restaurant’s Michelin star, an honor pooh-poohed on some food baords:
Like couples in a starter apartment, they dressed the place up as the money came in. The food is now served on white Bernardaud china and the wine is poured into Ravenscroft glasses. Such refinements gave Saul the feel of a destination. The first New York Michelin guide ratified this view when it gave Saul a star, a rating that was reaffirmed with the publication of the 2010 edition this week.
Mr. Bolton said in a telephone interview that the Michelin star lured visitors from around the country and beyond. But Saul is probably best understood as a neighborhood restaurant, although a very nice one.
Next week brings the first review from the new permanent critic, Sam Sifton. Unfinished business from the Bruni era, particularly Marea, will likely be high on his list, but a little bird told me that it won’t be his first review. Sifton was spotted at Daniel this week, but that was surely just expense-account padding, as the Times would not re-review it so soon after Frank Bruni re-affirmed its four-star status earlier this year.