Sam Sifton and the “Post-Natal Unicorn.”

Okay…it’s confession time over here on The Big Ceci. I’ve held this in for far too long, and I need to get it out – and what better venue than a new blog about radical food?

Here’s the truth: I love the NY Times Dining section. And in particular, I love Sam Sifton.*

I’ve always enjoyed the particular brand of writing that is characteristic of restaurant reviews: biting wit mixed with attention to detail, all under the umbrella of obsession with food. And as a former server, bartender and host, I especially love reading restaurant reviews because they pay attention to the tiny details of service and hospitality that I used to take so much pride in when I worked in restaurants.

At the same time, I struggle with my love of restaurant reviews and the critics who write them. Elite restaurant reviews seem to represent everything that I am critical of when it comes to foodie culture – an entire industry built around fawning over, in great detail, expensive meals that are inaccessible to the vast (and I mean vast in the vastest sense of the word) majority of New York City. What could be more snobby and less politically palatable than a review of a meal that costs $295?

This is why I was thrilled when I came across a hilarious “review” by Sam Sifton of the famous avant-garde Spanish restaurant, El Bulli. The review, entitled “El Bulli is the Greatest Restaurant in the World,” is actually a parody of the worst offenders in the snooty food writing world (in particular, he is targeting NY Magazine food critic Adam Platt‘s article about his visit to El Bulli, entitled – seriously – “Last Supper of the Food Hacks”). Sifton’s satirical piece pokes fun at the absurdly pretentious tone that defines so much food writing, and includes such gems as, “We drank the fermented milk of a post-natal unicorn and ate monkey brain with shirred Dodo egg, spring dolphin mousse, mercury-braised carrots and an entire fistful of saffron.”

I loved Sifton’s article because it represented something I’d never seen before: a restaurant critic commenting (through satire) on the potentially problematic nature of his work.

None of this is to say that Sam Sifton is a revolutionary. But…at the end of the day, in a sea of $295 dinners and pork belly paragraphs, “El Bulli is the Greatest Restaurant in the World” is pretty damn refreshing.

*In writing this article, I learned that good old Sam used to be a NYC public school teacher – of social studies, no less! (Blog readers who I do not know: I am a social studies teacher in NYC.)