Ten months after former dining critic Leslie Brenner left the Dallas Morning News to pursue a job in the restaurant industry, the paper announced today that longtime journalist Michalene Busico will take on the position starting almost immediately.
In Busico, diners will find the third California-hailing female dining critic to take on the role in the last decade (myself included). Busico is from an Italian-American background on both sides of the family tree. Like Brenner, Busico grew up in Southern California. She wrote for San Jose’s The Mercury News at a time when Alice Waters was introducing California cuisine at Chez Panisse. She served in positions that included food editor at publications like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. This will be her first position as dining critic.
Several years ago, under Brenner, the News made the decision to shed the dining critic’s practice of formal anonymity in order that she might be a more involved public figure. Busico will continue in that vein, posing for the shot that accompanies both the piece announcing her hiring and in an accompanying column addressed personally to readers, in which Busico promises that the editorial team will “reshape the star rating system, so we can recognize less formal restaurants in a stronger way.”
You may remember the dustup between the paper and some outspoken chefs over that star rating, which a number of restaurateurs argued never reflected the content of the review itself. The incident crescendoed at the since-shuttered One Arts restaurant Proof + Pantry, when its owners identified Brenner and refused to allow her to pay for her meal. (There was follow-up: to get around being identified, Brenner returned on Halloween night dressed like a mummy, her face obfuscated. The day prior, she had revealed herself, shedding the guise of anonymity.) Ultimately, publications with star rating systems have always struggled with how to accurately reflect a dining scene that includes establishments from counter-order taquerias to fine-dining emporia.
Busico’s column makes a point to underline the publication’s practice of transparency. “That includes telling you upfront that your former critic, Leslie Brenner, is also a friend of mine. We worked together at the L.A. Times, and over the years, I’ve visited her in Dallas, written pieces for her that ran in this newspaper,” Busico writes. Readers of the News’ magazine Palate will have encountered her work on Dallas chefs Julian Barsotti and Anastacia Quinones.
I have yet to speak personally with Busico. She enters the Dallas dining scene at a time when some of its top chefs have just opened or are opening new ventures. I know many readers will be curious to read and hear her take on the scene.