It’s always been one of my pet peeves that restaurant critics seem to have so much trouble giving credit to the designer of the spaces they’re writing about. The food, of course, is paramount in any critic’s assessment, but no decent scribe would fail to mention the chef’s name, right? But so few show the same respect for the designer that it’s downright confounding, since, as we all know, the space often has as much effect on the dining experience as what’s on the plate.
I notice these things in restaurant reviews whenever I happen to read them when I travel. But I’ve been a religious observer of those in The New York Times since the days of Ruth Reichl, and it was clear that unless your name was Adam Tihany or David Rockwell, your contribution would go unspoken, even if the critic praised (or derided) the decor, colors, lighting, or furniture. It was as if these factors were created by anonymous gremlins.
So it was great delight that I read a recent review by Sam Sifton The Times’ new-ish food critic. In his piece on a new East Village spot, Vandaag, he says this:
“Design matters in restaurants as much as food. Sometimes more. A great dining room can enhance a so-so meal, as at the late Chumley’s or the current 21 Club, or it can serve as a minimalist frame for a brilliant one, as at Momofuku Ko or Sushi Yasuda.
“Add modest young Vandaag to the rolls of the attractive: a comfortable restaurant of vaguely Dutch inflection . . . in a space designed by Eric Mailaender of [New York-based] Resistance Design.”
He goes on to mention a paragraph’s worth of design details, including a long zinc bar, laboratory stools, and “sassy plates from the New English, a British design firm,” and in general makes the spot sound as inviting as the food.
Now I’m doubly likely to give Vandaag a try, and his giving Resistance Design a shout-out has to be a welcome boost to their professional egos.
Thanks, Sam. Keep up the good work!