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First Mover: Mr. Fox

The 'Town & Country' columnist puts A-list spots under the microscope

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

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Specs

Name Mr. Fox 
Age 42 New gig Columnist, Town & Country

You have a new column for Town & Country where you go undercover to review top service establishments, starting with hotel restaurants. What was the idea behind it?
For us, it’s a way to test the concept of value. I think Jay [Fielden, Town & Country editor in chief] said it best: It’s a way of revealing what’s fancy and what’s fake. Going to some of the ultimate, A-list, crusty establishments reveals what that experience is for 90 percent of the people who might be going there. Ordering the cheapest stuff on the menu, being a teetotaler would demonstrate the hotel’s willingness to care about every single person who comes in there. It felt important to check into those places that fall below the foodoisie.

Did you say, “the foodoisie”?
I said the foodoisie. Because there’s the tacit understanding that those places exist on reputation.

You were very hesitant to do this interview.
Yeah, well, Mr. Fox has never done an interview before. We had this idea that Mr. Fox doesn’t do interviews, but then we decided to because you called, and we like you.

What’s with the third person?
Mr. Fox does that a lot. Kind of like the way an athlete might in the locker room after a game. I guess I feel like there’s a me and a Mr. Fox.

The column is a riff on Clement Freud, who wrote about London restaurants in the ‘60s under the pseudonym John Smith. How did you update it for today?
I have to give a lot of credit to Clement Freud’s Mr. Smith, who left such a methodology, though he was so much more pithy and probably a lot funnier than me. I introduced a couple of new categories to the reviews, like the hamburger. We used the house salad to try to determine what the restaurant’s profit margin might be. One thing he had that we didn’t was the avocado. That was kind of the trendy food of the moment. We thought of doing the avocado, but it felt too archaic.

Most surprising experience so far?
I was surprised at how a single category could become all-encompassing. There’s the food itself, the waiter, the hostess, the crazy piano music. [Robert] Caro says, “Power reveals.” Butter reveals. On one outing, we wondered if the establishment was on to us. I did send over a $20 afterwards because I felt so guilt-tripped.

Did you have a background for this experience?
Without revealing too much, Mr. Fox did grow up in horse country, and occasionally it was unavoidable to have lunch at the Mark and the Waldorf. I’ve always been interested in the hotel and restaurant experience. This definitely helped Mr. Fox and T&C put a microscope on that. Pet peeves can be being rushed out of the place, and the converse is just being left out in Siberia while you’re waiting for a check. A check is a real pressure point. It’s very hard for the wait staff to figure out. The Carlyle did it incredibly well. And I love to see the well-oiled machine of a well-trained wait staff. As much as Mr. Fox kind of hosed a couple places, the state of the union feels pretty healthy out there.

So these places—are they just cruising on reputation?
Oh, they’re completely anachronistic, and they are cruising on their reputation on some level. But there’s something joyous about getting in touch with old New York classics. It’s not just about the food, but how you’re treated at these places. They should be subjected to the test. They exist in a place where they’re practicing a rare kind of extortion.