“The longer I reviewed restaurants, the more I became convinced that the unknown customer has a completely different experience from either a valued patron or a recognized food critic. For all practical purposes, they might as well be in different restaurants.” So wrote Mimi Sheraton in her 2004 memoir, “Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life” in defense of her practice of donning disguises when she ate professionally in restaurants.
Sheraton, who died last Thursday in Manhattan, left an indelible mark on the New York restaurant scene during her eight years as critic for the New York Times, and not just because of her disguises. Her reviews shaped the tastes of a generation of diners, which in turn influenced the direction of the New York restaurant scene, especially as reflected in its rich ethnic makeup.
Mimi Sheraton was born Miriam Solomon in Brooklyn on Feb. 10, 1926, to Jewish parents. Sheraton, the name she used as critic, was her married name. Sheraton graduated from NYU and went on to work as a home furnishing copywriter. It was while traveling on business as home furnishing editor of “Seventeen” magazine that she discovered her interest in food.
In the mid-1950s, Sheraton wrote her first restaurant reviews for “Cue,” a weekly magazine devoted to local entertainment that later evolved into “New York” magazine.
When New York Times food editor and reviewer Craig Claiborne abdicated the post in the early 1970s, Sheraton applied for the job, only to be told no women were being considered. But she persisted and in 1976 became the first female Times restaurant reviewer.
Sheraton leaves a legacy of fifteen books and countless articles.