It's a big day for the new-ish Queens diner M. Wells, which got included in Bon Appetit's 10 Best New Restaurants list, but also torn apart by GQ critic Alan Richman, who says he was unjustly accused of sexual harassment there. That's a lot to wake up to as a restaurant owner. It would seem like unfortunate timing that the newly lauded M. Wells plans to close at the end of this month for renovations, but perhaps the owners will be glad just to get a break from what will no doubt be a hellstorm of attention in the near future.
Richman starts his review by bemoaning the service at New York restaurants that are "tumbling into informality," before the foreboding statement, "My experience there was like no other. The motto is 'All's well at M. Wells.' I assure you it is not." He describes two decent-sounding meals followed by a third that sounds like a disaster of inattentive service. Afterward, he says, owner Sarah Obraitis sent him an email that read, in part, "It seems we couldn't make you happy, several servers heard you complain and ask for more attention. One of those servers, a female, received a hardy pat on the ass from you."
Of course, Richman swears he did no such thing, and much of the rest of the column focuses on consulting his dining companions for evidence of such behavior (they find none), and reasons why the charge was made. Finally, Richman comes to the conclusion that Obraitis "made it all up in order to intimidate me, stop a restaurant critic from writing an unflattering review." Wow.
One doesn't want to immediately take Richman at his word without hearing a response from Obraitis (none has come, so far). Grub Street's Alan Sytsma sides with him: "you have to wonder why he'd write this story and call all this attention to the situation if he were guilty." Blogger Ulterior Epicure saw Richman there, but doesn't weigh in on the harassment allegation: "I spied GQ’s restaurant critic Alan Richman leaning at the counter, looking none too happy during a long wait." And Eater commenters tended to agree with Richman's assertion that M. Wells symbolized the decline of New York service. New York Times critic Sam Sifton addressed the service question in a Diner's Journal entry Tuesday, focusing on this passage of Richman's:
Critics like me deserve some blame for the current proliferation of impossibly low service standards in so many casual New York restaurants. We tend not to censure lackadaisical conduct, thinking this is what customers want and that we would appear out of touch if we disapproved. In fact, the article I was planning to write most likely wouldn't have dwelled on the egregious manners I'd encountered.
Writes Sifton, "I have seen great service in rough restaurants (Fatty Cue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, comes to mind); and terrible service in luxe surroundings (this well-regarded old dinosaur uptown I’ve been going to where the waiters are just awful)." He had previously been less than blown away by the service at M. Wells: "Just try to get a reservation if [Obraitis] does not answer the phone. Invariably something goes awry and you are told to call back. What, when your mom gets home?" But the little year-old restaurant must have been doing something right to get a nod from Bon Appetit, right? Andrew Knowlton doesn't mention it in his write-up, which raves about the French onion soup and foie gras.
It's too bad for the restaurant that it's closing after getting such good press, but it's good for it to close after the Richman slam. In the end, let's call this a big, nasty draw.