Restaurant turns "B" grade into "BEST"

Cer Té, a restaurant in midtown Manhattan, received a "B" grade from the city health inspectors; but when life gives you SARS, you make sarsparilla. So they turned their "B" into a "BEST."

Restaurant Makes Best Out of 'B' Grade (via Super Punch)

(Image: Thumbnail derived from a larger photo by Zach Seward for The Wall Street Journal)


  1. I haven’t read up on NY’s policies, but here in LA it takes a lot to get a B. As in, you probably *will* get sick. Unless it’s much more acceptable to have a B in this restaurant’s jurisdiction, this isn’t the type of viral advertising a business owner should be looking for. Maybe someone from NY can clarify – the linked articles reports “no drop-off in customers” at another B-graded restaurant, so perhaps NYers have tougher guts.

    1. The problem with this whole letter-grade system is that it really means nothing ever since Princeton started handing out the “gentleman’s B”. In my book C would be fine, B would be good, A would be exceptional (as in the best 10% of restaurants) but that’s clearly not what it means in NYC or in LA. And I don’t want to eat at any restaurant that is “fine” anyway. Pass or don’t, maybe with a gold star for restaurants that are exceptionally clean. That’s the system I want.

    2. here in LA it takes a lot to get a B. As in, you probably *will* get sick.

      I can’t vouch for any stats or studies of their grading methods, but for the L.A. County Health Department, a C or higher is a passing grade. As in, they’ll shut it down if it doesn’t get a C and make them fix the problem before they let it open up again.

      I used to live in the San Gabriel Valley, and let me tell you, like Jonathan Gold, I’ve eaten at plenty of C-rated restaurants in my day. There are some pretty tasty Cs out there! As far as I can tell, I’ve only gotten food poisoning once, and that was a fairly mild case.

      Interestingly enough, the Cities of Long Beach, Vernon, and Pasadena have their own health departments, so they don’t use the County’s grading system. They just post signs with information on how they did, but it’s strictly pass/fail.

    3. I live in LA and have eaten at plenty “B” grade restaurants without a problem, and a couple of “A” grades which have left me sick. Saying you will “probably” get sick from a “B” grade restaurant is just false. At least in my experience.

    4. “The LA system is based on 100 points and is traditional in the sense that 90% = A, 80% = B, 70% = C. In NYC there are more than 1000 points a restaurant can receive from violations. In NYC, 0-13 points = A, 14-27 points = B and 28+ = C (basically a failing grade). It will be substantially easier to fail in NYC. Percentage wise, a restaurant would need to score between 98.7 – 100% to receive an A grade, 97.3 – 98.6% to receive a B and a 97.2% or less to receive a C. Furthermore, in NYC there are more than 40 violations that carry between 10-28 points. Compared to LA where no violation carries more than 6 points.”

    1. If only you knew how big a joke restaurant inspections have become. It’s all a big scam to sell test booklettes and certifications now. You come inb check that you have bought all your certifications for all your employees look around if they are in a good mood and like you you get a great score if they are in a bad mood or you piss them off they mark off every little thing they can find, chipped tile on the floor….

      1. Exactly what an old boss of mine used to say…because he was too cheap to fix egregious problems in his restaurant, like the leaky ceiling tiles (from a leaky roof) that fell into one of my customer’s breakfasts one morning.

  2. W. C. Fields used to keep a long list of words he considered inherently funny, including “assegai”, “kumquat” and “sarsaparilla” — with the A missing from your witticism. Sorry for the spelling flame on a Sunday morning, but it’s hard to let this slide because my Teflon shorts are still in the laundry.

  3. “Health” and “restaurants” are generally antithetical concepts.

    Aside from the repulsive sanitary practices that the harried staff engages in behind the kitchen doors, the abusively huge quantities of fats and salt that the cooks use to make the food “taste good” is an ever bigger threat to the consumer’s health.

    Want to know why restaurant food tastes so much better that anything you can prepare at home? A large part of it is that a home cook would gag at the very thought of putting an entire stick of butter in a single serving of food, while restaurant cooks do it without a second thought.

    Running a restaurant is an exercise in fooling the customer on every level: using fat to fool our limbic brain into thinking “high-energy food, good!”, using resource-rich surroundings and servile staff to fool our primate brain into thinking “I am high-status here!”, and hiding from us the kitchen’s many disgust-inducing cues.

    1. A large part of it is that a home cook would gag at the very thought of putting an entire stick of butter in a single serving of food, while restaurant cooks do it without a second thought.

      Hey buddy, your agenda is showing.

  4. The WSJ piece references the NYC “Department of Health and Mental Hygiene”.

    Mental Hygiene??? Yikes! That sounds awfully 1984-ish.

    I guess the NYC Department of Health wants to emphasize the mental health part of their mandate, which is a progressive idea – but the term ‘mental hygiene’ has a whole lot of subjective qualities to it.

    Perhaps there’s another way to high light the mental health angle?

    The owners ‘BEST’ re-branding of the sanitary notice seems to embrace a healthy attitude towards, at least, the mental part of the Health Departments raison d’être, with the funny take on bureaucracies. Perhaps the City should ask the restaurateur for some ideas on re-branding the health department.


  5. According to this article from the WSJ:

    43% of the first 250 inspected restaurants have received B or C rating

    Not to mention that Le Bernardin, which has been rated 5-stars by just about everyone on the planet – has been rated in the C-range:–20100901

    Now, I’m not saying that restaurants shouldn’t be incredibly sanitary, but seeing as how I’ve gone out to eat for decades playing some sort of sick restaurant food-poisoning-roulette, I’m not about to let a rating disuade me. There’s a pretty good chance that food prepared in a C-rated establishment is more sanitary than food prepared in my own home. Then again, I’m always one to throw caution to the wind and let expiration dates slide.

  6. Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer-prize winning food critic, always reminds people that the hygiene ratings are often inversely proportional to authenticity in ethnic restaurants. As he wrote “A is American Chinese, B is better Chinese, and C is Chinese for Chinese people”

    1. I think that’s really funny, and makes a lot of sense to me. If you go to Asia and don’t just go to tourist-oriented restaurants, you might be shocked at how the food is prepared and their standards of “cleanliness”, but damned if the food isn’t excellent.

      If I was looking for authentic Asian food in the US, that A B C rating system sounds like an excellent thing to follow – the fancy and expensive Asian places I’ve been to in the US are universally poor in food taste and remind me of the ridiculous 50’s and 60’s Chinese restaurants you see in old movies sometimes which have little to no authenticity.

  7. San Francisco has that mashes Google Maps and health dept data so you can not only see their scores (SF does 0-100) but you can see if they got dinged for something picky like ‘improper lighting” or scarier things like “Food adulterated” or “rodents/roaches/other animals” as well as rating history so you can see if they’ve always been a 65 or if this is a temporary thing.

    Is there a similar site for NY or LA?

  8. (Also after filtering the sfscores map for bad scores and seeing the cluster in Chinatown I’m reminded of a trip to China where I was told by a local “There’s an old Chinese saying: Clean kitchens make lousy food!”)

  9. The last restaurant I worked at would routinely get rated between a 70 and 100 (We don’t have the letter system here). The Restaurant was always in roughly the same condition, just one day they would mark us down for little to nothing, other days they would go through and mark of every little structural defect they could find.

    I don’t think people realize that a very large portion of what they check for has nothing to do with food safety, they also check for many OSHA types of problems. As other have said in my states you can view the reports online; there is a big difference between “Raw above cooked ready to serve” and “Grease trap in parking lot not on proper pad”. Both will take your rating down only one of them will affect the customers.

  10. Sarsaparilla mentioned! I really hope i knew a place to acquire some of that fine drink here in Finland. I got totally hooked on it in Australia. They have about a dozen varieties of it, one of my favourites being one called Dad’s old time double-sars.

    Aaah, i want some nao!

  11. Please, this is a topic that’s been much on my mind, so I’m going to vent…

    I recently moved to — (unnamed city with big university in Eastern Ontario) and was dismayed to find rats in the trendy vegan joint downtown. My better half has serious health issues and we can’t take a chance with contamination. When I looked for restaurant health reports in the window, there were none, nor were there any publicly available online.

    I contacted the local health department where a gentlemen assured me that they were almost certainly close to working on an online database, but that they were having difficulty ‘implementing the system’. I told him it would seem to be a pretty easy website to create: Here’s a list of places that are disgusting and here are the ones that won’t make you sick, choose one and bon apetit. But no, apparently that kind of finnicky programming can take a couple of years.

    So, I suggested that window cards would be a lot more immediate for the consumer and a lot cheaper to implement. He said ‘they wouldn’t work in our city’ at which point I dismissed him as having a viable cerebral cortex.

    Inspections should be clear, to the letter and no joke. People can get sick and, guess what? People can die from a simple lack of food safety. Maybe you’ve never had a problem, great, but think about the guy with one kidney sitting beside you who just tucked into the contaminated soup du jour. The stakes are a lot higher for him.

    1. It’s also unnerving to note that in most cities, there is no repeat offender rule. A restaurant can fail over and over, as long as they bring themselves into compliance when they are dinged. The whole process of inspection and compliance turns into a huge cat and mouse game between restaurant owners and inspection agents.

  12. I eat breakfast here every day, as well as lunch probably 2-3 days a week. I’ve never gotten sick, nor do I know anyone who has gotten sick.

    That being said, they do a massive amount of catering, so I would not be terribly surprised if corners get cut in such a way that Heath and Mental Hygiene does not approve.

    I still heartily recommend this to anyone looking for some reasonably tasty, fresh, and quick food Midtown.

  13. Also certe just opened the first eco-friendly pizzeria in nyc. The are leeds gold, They use all local ingredients. They use flour that has no additives……….on and on. I believe that they are on the forefront of what not to put in your systems. The majority of “A”s are fast food not from”scratch” eateries

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