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Restaurant critics weigh the meaning of the stars

As the debate over the restaurant rating system rages anew, we remember what Josh Sens had to say on the matter in our August 2011 issue.

Last Thursday, Los Angeles Times dining editor Russ Parsons announced that the paper would no longer run star ratings with its restaurant reviews. Soon after, critics across the country started weighing in with their own feelings regarding the practice. The San Francisco Chronicle's chief critic, Michael Bauer, is sticking with the stars, even though he admits the ratings sometimes lead to confusion. Jonathon Kauffman of the SF Weekly gives the star system a thumbs-down, while Pete Wells at the New York Times takes a pro-star stance.

San Francisco's restaurant critic, Josh Sens, penned an essay about his own troubles with the practice last August, "Cursing the Stars." His conclusion? Stars are "blunt tools that dull the nuance of opinion, battering subjective musings into hardened 'facts.'" Too often, says Sens, "the glare of symbols outshines the subtleties of the written word." But despite his misgivings, Sens has struck an uneasy truce with the star system. His story is well worth a second look.