An appetite for straight A at New York restaurants

Julie Powell, who wrote that Julie and Julia book that became the movie with Meryl Streep impersonating Dan Aykroyd impersonating Julia Child, writes in the New York Times today that when the city’s restaurant inspection disclosure program started 19 months ago, she was going to eat at restaurants with a “C.”

“I had some romantic notions that the best, most authentic food could emerge only from kitchens not polished to an antiseptic shine — and that armed with my iron stomach and enlightened mind, I would march into divey joints in the far-flung corners of the five boroughs and experience exotic flavors and spiritual sustenance my more fastidious dining counterparts would forever miss out on.

“It didn’t happen like that. Those glorious hole-in-the-wall places so beloved to us food types are doing just fine. A spin around the restaurant inspection site confirms that your favorite lousy Chinese joint or Uzbek cafe is scoring just as well as the critics’ darlings. In fact, about 72 percent of the city’s restaurants are posting “A” grades; of those, more than 60 percent earned “A’s” on the first inspection. It turns out it’s actually a challenge to find a “C” restaurant at which to tempt fate."

Powell (no relation) asks, “Why mark a restaurant with a “B,” or, God forbid, the dreaded “C”? Isn’t that like placing a scarlet letter on the place?

Exactly. “Do I expect people to see a mediocre grade and decide, ‘Hmm, I’m going to think twice about this’? Yes!” says Daniel Kass, a deputy health commissioner for environmental health. “Only incredible inattentiveness results in a C grade.”