Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch - For several years one of the New York Times’ most avidly read writers was Sam Sifton. Sifton approached his job con amore. Not from him any cavils about price, let alone high-end gastro flim flam. His prose had the confident lilt of a man writing for Wall Streeters for whom a couple of thousand dollars dropped on a dinner for four was absolutely no problem, and indeed almost an emblem of parsimony.
In early October last year he published an emotional eulogy to Per Se, “the best restaurant in New York City”, located in the Time-Life building at Lincoln Center. A photo disclosed no less than six Per Se employees mustered round a dish being plated for some expectant customer.
“Per Se’s signature starter course is Oysters and Pearls,” wrote Sifton. “It combines a sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters (small, marble-shaped, from Duxbury, south of Boston, fantastic) and a fat clump of sturgeon caviar from Northern California. These arrive in a bowl of the finest porcelain from Limoges. Paired with a glass of golden semillon from Elderton, they make a fine argument for the metaphor of transubstantiation.”
After this rather laconic reference to the Eucharist, an editorial note disclosed that this was Sifton’s last review. I’ve no idea whether Sifton’s liver couldn’t take the pace any more (“I have eaten in restaurants five or more nights a week for the last two years”) or whether the Times simply felt things were getting a little out of hand, and the paper was becoming a stand-in for Gourmet magazine. Either way it seemed we’d got to the end of an era. The day it announced the closing of Charlie Trotter’s, an article counseled Times readers on how to use left-overs.