Felix TV: Do you want real food or clean food?

By Felix Salmon
July 30, 2011
post about restaurant grades on Thursday, my fabulous video producer, Ayana Morali, discovered that the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South -- one of the grandest hotels in New York -- received a whopping 77 violation points in its latest inspection.

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After I wrote my post about restaurant grades on Thursday, my fabulous video producer, Ayana Morali, discovered that the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South — one of the grandest hotels in New York — received a whopping 77 violation points in its latest inspection. So naturally we went up there to check it out, and got surrounded by hotel security guards who weren’t happy with us filming there.

At one point — you don’t see this in the video — the manager came out and told us we weren’t allowed to film outside the hotel. But when I started asking him about those violation points, he scuttled back into the hotel through a side door, mumbling something about not knowing what I was talking about.

It turns out that the Ritz-Carlton kitchen is operated by one of those celebrity-chef franchises, in this case BLT Market. Laurent Tourondel does seem to be making a habit of racking up enormous numbers of violation points: BLT Steak, on 57th Street, received a mind-boggling 91 violation points back in October, before getting its act together and bringing that score down to 2 in November.

When restaurants start getting scores in the upper reaches of the C ranking, it’s definitely worth getting worried. Here’s the chart, again, to remind you how restaurants with 77 or 91 points rank relative to their peers:

NY-BC175_NYREST_NS_20110727194503.jpg

I’d definitely think twice before eating at a restaurant with 77 violation points. But my question in the video is a serious one: even knowing about the 77 points, would I really rather eat at a McDonald’s with no violation points at all? Ultimately, I’d still plump for BLT Market, I think. If I can eat street food in Quito, I should be able to cope with the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South. Even though it’s living proof that there’s no correlation at all between price and cleanliness.

8 comments

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That’s a silly question, Felix. It all depends on your budget. If I had a Ritz-Carleton budget, I’d eat there every time. But if I had a MickyD’s budget, all of the real food of the Ritz wouldn’t do me any good.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

George Orwell:

It was amusing to look round the filthy little scullery and think that only a double door was between us and the dining-room. There sat the customers in all their splendour–spotless table-cloths, bowls of flowers, mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and here, just a
few feet away, we in our disgusting filth. For it really was disgusting filth.

Posted by Sunset_Shazz | Report as abusive

As I mentioned over there on the comment thread in the original post about restaurant grades, I’ve rarely been to a chinese restaurant either in new york or LA that had an A grade.

Put another way, if I headed down to a restaurant and right before going in I see a “C” grade on a window by the door, it wouldn’t deter me from going in.

Also, wtf is up with the manager saying you can’t film? What an utter load of tosh. So if I walk by the Ritz I need to poke my eyes out? Pathetic.

Posted by GregHao | Report as abusive

uh huh, walk around chinatown or washington heights and see all the completely marginal places getting As whilst the moneyed places are getting Bs and Cs. clearly different standards apply if you have $. you don’t have to be cynical to see how cynical this is – just another form of blackmail for the city to generate revenue.

Posted by q_is_too_short | Report as abusive

q – it’s obvious you don’t know anything about restaurants or cleanliness. A new coat of paint on the walls and nice outfits on the waiters does not make up for the actual health violations that exist in many clean-looking restaurants, such as:

Staff not washing hands properly.
Food not stored at correct temperatures.
Raw meat not segregated from other food.
Expiration dates not tracked.
Disinfection of surfaces not performed.
etc.

I have been in some lovely-looking places with huge amounts of money who don’t do these things right. McDonald’s usually scores well because they train their employees on these points and will fire people/revoke franchises if they’re not up to code. It’s not about the money.

Posted by najdorf | Report as abusive

As Najdorf says, this is no surprise to anyone who has worked “back of the house.” Major franchises like Yum! Brands restaurants are literally idiot proof; there is no raw meat in a Taco Bell (employees aside, of course). In my personal experience, it is the linen napkin stores that ignore modern HACCP procedures to pursue delicious but dangerous techniques, both modern (sous-vide) and ancient (Chinese “red cooked” barbeque). My advice is trust your immune system, your nose, and your instincts- and don’t eat at hotel restaurants. Their management is generally focused on extracting maximum profit from the operation as a whole, and when they invest in the facility, they spend where patrons can see it, not on a new compressor for the cooler or food handling training for the prep cook. Read Tony Bourdain’s classic “Kitchen Confidential,” where he describes making Sunday brunch at the Rainbow Room from banquet leftovers from Friday or Saturday night.

Posted by ORD | Report as abusive

An aside: the histogram looks like a classic “nice teacher” distribution, with a spike in the number of restaurants above the A/B and B/C divides, and a mysterious dip below. It appears the sanitarians are reluctant to drop someone to a B or C “just because of one or two violations.” Not surprising, since restauranteurs usually try to cajole, threaten, guilt, shame or flatter sanitarians as much as legally allowed. Sometimes more…
An alternate hypothesis: restaurants make the minimum number of repairs/changes to reach the next grade. But I doubt it.

Posted by ORD | Report as abusive

You eat out too much if you think real food is served at restaurants. There are some (few) that shop daily, provide from ‘live’ real food (which is the only real food) and do not provide you with twice your daily caloric limit in an appetizer that has been frozen prior.

More expensive doesn’t mean value and the Ritz Carlton food doesn’t mean good food even with an A rating in cleanliness. An elitist “star” chef is more likely to be hated by staff, insist no one but he knows good food, and return it if you send it back.

Having eaten in too many different hotels and restaurants I now can choose only those I trust will give me a better food experience than I can offer myself, and so I choose neither the Ritz nor MacDonald’s and you can’t make me!

I am also betting you spoke to a hotel manager who really didn’t know anything about the restaurant’s rating.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive