Using tradecraft I learned watching the movie Spy Game, I scan the restaurant, concentrating on four- or five-tops, as I know from my research that Pete Wells will be at one of those. I count 22 white men aged 40 to 60 sitting at tables. Of those, 14 are at four- or six-tops. I excuse myself to use the restroom, and walk slowly around, making sure to glance in mirrors (tradecraft!). Twelve men can be excluded right away for various reasons (build, complexion, being Chipotle CEO Steve Ells, etc.), but two require a closer look. I’m nearly convinced one of them is Pete Wells, until he opens his mouth and heavily accented French comes out.
When I get back to our bar seats, Frank is staring at me.
"What the hell is this about?"
This, friends, is about New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells. Pete Wells is worth looking into, mainly because people seem to regard him in one of two ways: 1) as the greatest, most entertaining, modern, and hilarious restaurant critic in the history of The New York Times (the most influential position in American food criticism), the person who finally convinced the Gray Lady to get with the times, a lighthouse of innovation and creativity in the foggy world of elitist old-school food critics. Or 2) a food sophist with internet savvy and no idea what to do with stars or ratings; a man who cowardly singles out places with out-of-town owners, so when he sticks his knife in, he doesn't get any blood on him; a food tourist with no real appreciation for what goes into the inner workings of a kitchen; a superfluous Old World professional in an amateur critic’s New World; and quite possibly a secret member of a food proletariat quietly using his position to destroy the last vestiges of true fine dining in this country. And so, in an effort to figure out which, if any, of these takes is accurate, I studied his background. I talked to chefs and other restaurant critics. I read every single thing Pete Wells has written for the Times, and every other piece or interview I could find on the internet. And naturally, while I was in New York, I invited him to dine with me. Or, more accurately, asked if I could tag along while he ate. And when he politely declined (er... sadly ignored my repeated inquiries), I did what most front-of-house managers at new restaurants in New York do every night: I went looking for Pete Wells.