Former New York Times restaurant critic and culinary historian William “Biff” Grimes has posted an alternate list to Our 10 Best NYC Restaurants of the Last Two Centuries, and it’s a doozy. His list includes places somewhat more obscure than the ones we chronicled, including such delectable period destinations as Mouquin’s (founded in 1857 and resembling a French bistro in many details) and Schrafft’s (proving that high-quality food could be delivered at the mid-range price level, and chained).
Mr. Grimes’s list stops at 1960, on the grounds that the field of restaurants we’re familiar with becomes too profuse, and the places were open too recently to make sound judgments of this sort.
He also points out that the entire enterprise of picking restaurants out of the past is suspect, simply because we can’t go back and taste the food; as in our own age, hype flourishes and colors the critical dialogue — and he gives Rector’s (No. 10 on our list) as an example. He’s right, of course — our list was half-facetious, intended as a point of access to a rich culinary history too often neglected, and a way of tempering the foodie pretensions of our own age. Are we living in the greatest gastronomic age ever? That’s for you to decide, but first check out the evidence of the past.
In the meantime, you might stick your nose into Grimes’s latest book, Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York (North Point Press, 2009).