NY Restaurant Reviewers Reveal the Foods They Just Can't Stand

Ick versus critic

I have a secret—a dirty one that condemns me to the culinary hall of shame. A proud omnivore, I cannot admit it without blushing and avoiding eye contact.

I hate olives.

What kind of food critic abhors this beloved bar snack? Don’t get me wrong—I’ll eat the buggers. If you feed me the finest tapenade or pasta puttanesca, I’ll devour every bite for politeness’ sake, but you won’t be able to win me over with the fruit’s slightly acidic, briny flavor. Especially peculiar, I know, since I love capers.

A fine way to nauseate the experts.
Rachel Steinhauser
A fine way to nauseate the experts.

This poses professional challenges. How can I critique an olive-laden dish fairly? Truthfully, I can’t. Luckily, olives aren’t ubiquitous in dishes, and menus are usually large enough that I can skip over the Greek salad and dirty martini. If it’s a must-get specialty, I’ll try it, hoping to be converted to the other side. But it’s unlikely to make it into my review, since my impartiality is clouded.

This prompted me to wonder—New York’s other restaurant critics must harbor secret food dislikes, too. But what?

“Definitely brains,” reveals my colleague Robert Sietsema. “Animal brains look like human brains.” But he still orders them because he relishes the encounter. “You don’t go to a zombie movie because you like to see people killed. You go because it makes you squeamish.” Other no-nos? Raw green peppers, cooked carrots, and the decidedly repulsive Scandinavian lutefisk. “It tastes like butthole. That’s not even a good metaphor. It’s like garbage mixed with death mixed with sewer in a Third World country.”

Other critics shun more prosaic fare. “I don’t like Miracle Whip or Diet Coke,” admits Sam Sifton, the New York Times’ restaurant critic. “Luckily for me, I don’t see much of either on the menus I face. Everything else, pretty much, is fair game, with the exception of farmed salmon, which I think tastes like mud.” Jay Cheshes, Time Out New York’s restaurant critic, largely concurred. “I don’t like processed foods or mayonnaise. That’s the big one. . . . I couldn’t eat a tuna salad with mayonnaise or deviled eggs.”

“The only thing I really don’t like is cottage cheese,” says Gael Greene, formerly of New York and now running the website Insatiable Critic. “The whole thing makes me cringe. Everything about it. But the wonderful thing is that you never see it anymore.” 

As a teenager in Russia, Bloomberg critic Ryan Sutton developed a visceral disgust for headcheese. Only years later, while dining at Le Cirque with his boss, did things change. “My editor looked at me and said, ‘You’re not allowed not to like anything.’ That was the end of the conversation. He put the headcheese in front of me, and I ate it, and it was life-changing.” But Sutton still can’t abide chicken cartilage, cupcakes, or okrosha—the cold, tangy Russian mixed-vegetable soup that’s often made with the fermented beverage kvass.

So what’s a critic to do when faced with funky foods? Often, sheer willpower must prevail. “I never liked ramps much,” explains Sifton. “But it is impossible not to eat ramps in Manhattan restaurants in the spring. If Manhattan chefs don’t serve ramps in spring, the thought police come and take their farm-to-table badges away. . . . I have learned to enjoy the ramps. They taste to me of the season. They taste of duty.”

Sietsema, though, doesn’t believe in training oneself to love a food. “I could eat 5,000 bushels of brains, and I still wouldn’t like eating them.”

Yet the good thing about taste is that it constantly evolves. “As a child,” says Greene, “I didn’t like beets or olives.” Now, though, she adores both. 

Olives! Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

lshockey@villagevoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.

 
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11 comments
The Pigfarmer's Grandson
The Pigfarmer's Grandson

The three worst things in the world that everyone is supposed to love: arugula, cilantro, beets. I'd eat a cab drivers brains before I'd touch any of those three.

The Inquiring Mind
The Inquiring Mind

One has to wonder: how does Sietsema know what butthole tastes like?

Pam
Pam

I'm not a fan of black truffles (I think when used they are overused and overpower a dish), I loathe white truffle oil, not big on miracle whip, diet anything and am not big on tamarind candy or spiced buttermilk.

Brains, I love love love lamb brains. I'll eat 5000 bushels of lamb brains.

brhau
brhau

It's very difficult for me to think of ingredients I don't like. Usually just if they're not prepared well. But here goes:- I adored cottage cheese as a child, but no longer find it appealing.- I always order rabbit, thinking the next one will be the one to convert me. It's not necessarily repulsive, but it often reminds me of freezer-burned turkey.- Silkworm pupa. It just tastes like dirt to me.

Surfbabe5747
Surfbabe5747

I hate olives too!!! And I like capers. So glad someone in the world can stand in alliance with me on this one since I usually get odd looks when I say I don't like olives.

Sally Barry
Sally Barry

I don't like cottage cheese, either. Have to put something - anything - on it to get it down. But...there are two particular brands of cottage cheese that, for some reason, are absolutely super-delicious. I could happily eat the whole carton at one sitting. They are to ordinary cottage cheese as diamonds are to CZs. The only problem is, I can't remember which two brands are the good ones! Go figure.

esquared
esquared

am not a food critic just a connoisseur but i find olives (on its own) to be pretentious consumed by the pretentious. just go to any of these lux wine bars, social events, u.s. open, etc. and see who are having olives with their shar-daw-nay

and how can someone not like mayonnaise, esp. the home-made ones. best way to have fries is with mayo and not ketchup.

and speaking of ketchup and chardonnay, i loathe those two, along with merlot, and american and processed cheese

not that anyone axed -- #shutupesquared

Eatthisny
Eatthisny

There is hope. I hated all olives but as a food blogger, I trained myself to like them. Seriously. I had an olive a day - at first it was like taking medicine, but eventually I started craving them. Just be careful: somewhere between repulsed and addicted is the hope.

esquared
esquared

were you born in 1987? figures

you must have been having shar-daw-nay and olives while asking that question

 
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