“If you fear critics, then he’s perhaps the most influential,” restaurant publicist Karine Bakhoum said of Mr. Bruni, whose scathing commentary sent one of her own culinary clients into DEFCON-5 full-scale-retaliation mode earlier this spring.
Jeffrey Chodorow’s highly ballyhooed and sword-adorned Kobe Club drew raves from Crain’s and Esquire magazine. But Mr. Bruni took exception to its “too many insipid or insulting dishes at prices that draw blood from anyone without a trust fund or an expense account,” awarding Mr. Chodorow not a single star.
An offended Mr. Chodorow fired back with a full-page advertisement, opposite The Times’ dining section, that accused Mr. Bruni of a personal vendetta and further questioned his culinary credentials. (Perhaps in testament to Mr. Bruni’s power of persuasion: Other critics who also panned Mr. Chodorow’s steakhouse—including New York’s Adam Platt and Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post—were spared the same paid rebuttal.)
While her client went on the attack, Ms. Bakhoum worked damage control, encouraging other food writers far and wide to come try Kobe Club for themselves, an effort she described as ongoing, even three months later. “Their responses have been unanimously positive, and we are continuing with this ‘judge for yourself’ campaign,” she said.
Despite all the fuss Mr. Bruni may have created at Kobe Club, Ms. Bakhoum downplayed the devastation of that single article. “I don’t think that any one newspaper has that much power anymore,” she said. “In the days when Mimi Sheraton was The Times’ critic, a bad review would close a restaurant.”
Not to diminish her own influence, however, Ms. Sheraton herself dismissed the notion of any reviewer ever holding such single-pen-stroke shuttering power.
Quite the contrary: “I have always said that more restaurants that I gave great reviews to have closed compared to those to which I had given bad reviews,” Ms. Sheraton told The Observer. “So, on the one hand, while a very bad review might not close a restaurant, a very good review might not assure continued success, even if it does in the first three months after the review.”
She added: “You have to ask the question, what makes the difference? And that has to do with the public’s reaction: If they like it and want to go there, they don’t care what anybody says. And if they don’t, they don’t care what anybody says.”
During her own tenure as The Times’ critic, from 1975 to 1984, Ms. Sheraton saw her fair share of restaurateur backlash, including several paid ads similar to Mr. Chodorow’s and even lawsuits—none of which ever made it to trial, she said.
“The worst thing they can do is tell more people about it than who knew about it in the first place,” she said. “That was what was so ridiculous about Chodorow’s ad. You know, he paid $40,000 to tell people that The New York Times hates his restaurant.”