Review: CK Shanghai

Wide-ranging Chinese with consistently polished quality
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 31, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars

The crowd is suburban, but all ages, including young Chinese-American families.

***

This column has confused regulars and outsiders by the unusual way I give out stars. It would be clearer if no one else gave stars, but I am a latecomer and unconventional. Most critics who give stars for restaurants (or films, or music, or theater, or porn) grade on a bell curve, being really stingy with top ratings and even more reluctant to rate a place low.

While I do consider places relative to similar establishments, I have never thought the restaurant world is a Gaussian distribution — with two-thirds of the reviewed being sort of average, about an eighth being a star better and another eighth a star worse, and the top and bottom levels (four stars and none, respectively, at the Phoenix) each applying to a bit more than one place in 50. So I have tried to flatten out the curve by handing out four stars to terrific diners and clam stands, and being willing to put up one star for useful, mediocre restaurants seldom reviewed by other critics.

In light of the bell curve, it is the mixed review that is hardest to write; capturing the feel of a second-tier red-sauce Italian room is where the word-based rating system is crucial. The other notorious trap in the eat-for-pay racket is the notion that all expensive restaurants are better than all cheap restaurants. But who wouldn't rather have a great pizza than a long, boring, evening of low-flying haute cuisine?

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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