The Bruni Digest

In which I sit on a dirt mound somewhere in Brooklyn with my ears pricked, waiting for New York Times head restaurant critic Frank Bruni, who I imagine to be a Venetian count in a huge ruffled collar, to dole out stars from the inside breast pocket of his brocaded chamber robe. This blog is predicated on the suggestion that every Wednesday, in the Times Dining Out section, Frank lays a huge faberge egg of hilarity.

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Location: New York, New York, U.S. Outlying Islands

I am fiscally irresponsible, which means I have weak bones and a dorsal fin. And a penchant for dining out, even though I am, in the words of many rich people, a "poor people". I make a different face when speaking each of the foreign languages in which I am shittily proficient.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

La Esquina: Spanish for "Epcot Nightmare"

Usually, Frank smacks friends who arrive tardy to a meal with a ruler on the knuckles, makes them get up in front of the table, and recite passages of Boccaccio's Decameron in the original Tuscan dialect.

This time, however, he responded with clemency, since her lateness was due to a gauntlet of menacing staff that pretended she did not exist ("DO YOU SEE A CUSTOMER, I DON'T SEE A CUSTOMER, DO YOU??") and refused to seat her, even though Frank Bruni was sitting downstairs waiting for her.

"I asked her if she was miffed," says Frank. "She gave me the derisive, pitying look that a sane person gives a lunatic."

Akin to the accusatory, haunting look that a normal person gives a crippled child.

"'The harder it is to get in, the more fun it is to be in,' she said, articulating a maxim of Manhattan night life and a guiding principle of La Esquina, which is sort of like Studio 54 with chipotle instead of cocaine."

Another Juvenile addict proves that chipotle is a messy substance to take nasally. I remember the first time I blew a rail of guac and nearly went blind. Ha! College!

But one thing that you know if you are a frequent reader of the Digest is that while Frank and I both love big hunks of meat and well made martinis, our tastes diverge where he loves to bask in scenestery places, and I prefer to “keep it real” in a hairshirt, playing a wooden piccolo and eating canned beans in my Brooklyn hovel.

“Jules, you ready to go to dinner?”
“Yeah, totes! Let me just grab my purse/snapping turtle and we’re out the door/bog.”

In any event, this place is (surprise!) not about the food so much as it is about marketing: “ the significant pleasures it delivers boil down to its air of cunningly manufactured mystery, its speakeasy-channeling pantomime of illicit, exclusive pleasure.”

Illicit & exclusive? Kinda. Stuck in a box of her own contrivance? Possibly. Veiling a lifetime of unspeakable sorrows? For sures.

Says the bafflingly impressed Frank, “The unveiling of La Esquina belongs in a textbook for public relations and marketing executives.”

I mean, there’s a lot of evidence that there’s a gerbil living where my brain should be, and deductive reasoning has lead me to believe that the gerbil may also be dying of alcohol poisoning. But when the Count discusses La Esquina’s business principles, I think they sound, well, Heidelberg-style terrible. Let’s?

* You enter a “chutes-and-ladders passage down a harshly lighted staircase, along a corridor with kitchen supplies, through the kitchen itself, and into the contrived darkness of the vault” Are you entering a restaurant? Or did you just lose a round of the popular schoolyard game S.P.U.D. ? At the end, do you sit down in a comfy chair and eat tacos? Or do you get bound and gagged and asked a lot of questions about "Johnny Two-Toes" and "waste management"?

* "The subterranean chamber opened in mid-July without a listed phone number or a clearly marked entrance." Genius.

* “The aforementioned portal is inside a taqueria that says ‘Corner Deli’ - La Esquina means ‘the corner’ - and bears, in addition to the words ‘No Admittance,’ the words ‘Employees Only.’” Just down from there, they’ve placed sandwich boards that say “There’s no food here! Seriously!” and “You’re looking really fat these days, Potential Client. Ha Ha! Go chew on your arm, Fatty Boom Batty!!”

* “Within weathered brick walls are wrought-iron gates that recall the bars of an ancient prison cell.” Awesome! It’s also very redolent of prison imagery when you get sodomized by the guard as you pick up your soap. It’s just so kooky and thematic, y’know?! HAHAHAHA [quiet sobs].

* “If the Phantom of the Opera hired Zorro as an interior designer and asked him for something in contemporary Torquemada, this might be the result.”
See-- again-- Torquemada? Isn't he the leader of the Spanish inquisition who burned and tortured Jews, Moors, and witches? I mean, not. sounding. fun to me. But then, I'm a quarter Jew, part Moor, and 18% devil-worshipping alchemist, so maybe that accounts for my negative reaction.

Re the food (the wha?—oh yeah!): “It uses discernibly fresher herbs, vegetables and other ingredients than many other Mexican restaurants”
In other words, the food was noticeably not disgusting.

“It doesn't resort to easy cheats: oceans of salsa, tides of sour cream, eddies of guacamole.” No word yet on corn dolphins or bean-bra mermaids.

There are some clues that La Esquina’s cheeky seduction of the Count is cracking by the end—“The underworld has more attitude and courts more chaos, to the point of being off-putting at times.” Really? The UNDERWORLD isn’t all feather-ticklers and pillow fights? Then why have I been robbing nursing homes this whole time?? Think I'm doing it for my health?

You think I need this crap?...OK, I do. Desperately.

“After a shot or two, the smartly chosen music - Nina Simone, Soul II Soul, Nouvelle Vague - seems to swell louder.” After several more shots, the restaurant makes the floor wobble, and a few after that, they put a stranger’s tongue in your mouth.

“My tardy friend overheard several young women ask a waiter if the vault could be breached without a reservation. He told them that they were probably attractive enough to manage it, but that there were no guarantees.”

His Tard friend also overheard this scenario:

Woman: Help! I’m having a heart attack!
Waiter: OK, miss, you’re going to have to wait a minute.
Woman: Call 911! I’m dying!
Waiter: Yyyyeah, that’s not going to be possible.
Woman: Why not? Use my cell! Quick, I can’t feel my brain!
Waiter: Mmmmm OK we checked? And there’s no availability right now.
Woman: At the hospital? How do YOU know?
Waiter: Mmmyyyeeeah I’m going to be real with you. There’s a small chance, if we apply some coverup over here and some bronzer, that they’ll save you, but I just can’t promise anything.
Woman: [dead]
Waiter: MmmOK?

But moreover: Frank, you already HAVE a tardy friend? But I wanted to be your tardy friend!!

I promise I qualify!

Just look at the SHIT I post!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Spigolo: Bosomy Buddies

I'm about as technologically adept as a blind limbless meerkat.

"WHAT??? You want me to do WHAT with the ISB chord???"

But if I could muster the savvy-- and who knows, maybe this will be the week-- I'm going to [gulp] "audioblog" a deep, soulful song about Spigolo. Mayhaps an opera? Spigoletto, about a young, rustic, bosomy couple overflowing with the milk of human breasts. I mean kindness.


Frank evokes Spigolo as the beloved work of doting parents Scottissimo and Heatherata Fratangelo, who, in off-hours, reside hen-like in the apartment atop their little hatchling restaurant. All this had a distinctly Brooklyn feel-- you know, how reports from Brooklyn tend to include a lot of hearthwarmth and soulfulness. I.e. Crave, a "hug of a place." Awwww.

My least favorite picture of all time.

Frank's recent July visit to Brooklyn's Taku came to mind today, another lovingly rendered, intimate place where the chef lives within "crawling distance" of his restaurant: "Taku is that kind of place, seemingly more common in Brooklyn than in Manhattan: a lovingly rendered, hoveringly attended, very personal expression of a chef whose physical connection to his kitchen is close in the most literal sense."

Here, instead of a Brooklyn hobbit hovel, we've got an Italian home hearth, but same vibe, same gushing, same conjuring of baleful-eyed cousins Honesty and Earnesty. Anyway, let's dig into my future libretto, hmmm?

He begins: "THERE are many reasons to envy New York restaurant chefs these days, from the kitchen gadgetry at their disposal to their likelihood of receiving major publishing contracts. I for one covet their commutes."

After a long day of work, Frank commutes back to the Upper West Side from the coal mines of Guangdong.

"For the Fratangelos, deciding how to get to work simply means choosing a pair of shoes. They can match their mode of transportation to the rest of their outfits."

For more distant junkets, the Fratangelos make such orchestration possible with their Ford Stilettaurus.

"This arrangement doesn't allow them much of a sense of separation between home and work. But it lets the Fratangelos, both 30 years old, dote on and fret over Spigolo."
Ahhh, yes, like a milky Italian nursemaid.

As the Count entered the restaurant, "a summery lavender outfit worn by one of my guests, who trailed after me, was enough to prompt additional endearments.

'That's such a pretty dress,' Ms. Fratangelo said. If she didn't really mean it, Cherry Jones better watch out. There's an even better actress in town."

A few things. In reverse order of intensity.
1) Baronial usage of "my GUESTS." Picturing Frank at head of table like ghost of Christmas Present, velveteen arms outstretched infront of massive banquet, baritone laughter, addressing of guests as "My Guest."

"Never fear, My Guests, I will eventually get this candle removed from my temporal lobe."
2) Who is his lavender-clad guest?

3) CHERRY JONES? I have to admit, ignorant of Broadway as I am (where apparently she's kicking ass), I thought he made her up. Like, "If there's a better runner than Leggy Van Bones, well I'd be darned!" Well Cherry, you been warned, girl. YOU BEST WATCH OUT OR SOMEONE ELSE IS GONNA TAKE YOUR PLACE AS THE 28TH MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTER IN "ERIN BROKOVICH"/SMALL TOWN COP IN "SIGNS"!!!!

As for the food, there are some pitfalls, but "more - many more - of my memories of Spigolo are extremely fond ones." How...wistful.

"Meeeeemories, all alone with my paaaaaasta, all alone with my saaaaaaalmon, and my bosomy hoooooosts."

True, I never waste an opportunity to post pictures from Cats! But also, Frank does oddly talk about the food as if it were a lakeside summer village he attended with his family in the lazy summers of the early 60's, lots of "I remember" and "I recall." All part of the heartfelt mood, one can only assume, certainly a new tic.

"Spigolo means 'edge' or 'corner,'" Frank informs us. Second definitions are "BOSOMY ITALIAN HOSPITALITY" and "PLEASE POST MORE WEIRD PHOTOS FROM CATS!"

I couldn't POSSIBLY.
Ok. Fine.


[photographer drops camera, shrieks, runs]

"What're you thinking about?"
"What're YOU thinking about"
"What a waste of cashmere my forearm warmer is."
"Me, too."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bette (Part II): Still Irrelevant After All These Weeks

Remember when Frank went to Bette, where he hunched in the corner like a little Hedda Hopper with his gossip journal and giddily espied Robert Downey fils, a bar full of ‘rexies, and lots of plastic surgery before casually noting that there was some food on his plate? Yeah, me too… Remember when I made fun of it? Yeah, me too. Probably because it was July 15, a scant month ago (and I’m not that brain damaged). But back in July, whilst scribbling into his trusty, probably girly Diner's journal,

he must have been rubbing his palms together and whispering to himself the immortal words of Al Pacino: “I’m crazy and I’ve aged like meat in the hot sun.” Or no, I mean, “HOO-HA! I’m just getting warmed up.” Because he's back for more.

But not much more. Frank’s one-star review today is to his prior write-up what Star Jones is to Miss Piggy: just a fleshed out version of the exact same concept.

Frank reconfirms that Bette is a vanity trough with a nice interior, great fries and oddly heavy fare. But let’s see if Franka Claus left any fun presents under the reconfirmation tree, huh?

As Frank was eagerly snooping around for celebs, “the people at those other tables were, in turn, doing their own wishful reconnaissance. In this daisy chain of dauntless gawking, necks craned violently and heads swiveled abruptly. Was Bette a restaurant, or a cunning plot by business-hungry chiropractors?”

Simpleton chiropractor that lost her own office?... Or the next SAM WALTON? You be the judge.

Bette is “an exercise in mass vanity and mutually assured voyeurism: that is, a beloved Manhattan ritual and a guaranteed good time.”

Innnteresting…What guarantees that it’s a good time, Frank??

Frank: Go to Bette! It’s a guaranteed good time!
Me: But… I’m not really one for hip places.
Frank: But it’s such a good time! It’s full of weirdly skinny modely types wearing expensive satiny things! What could be more fun?
Me: But I’m kind of dikey, and my clothes are all made of cotton and most are shaped like a T. Sounds intimidating!
Frank: Are you kidding? You’ll pay $28 for a mediocre entrée it’s guaranteed HILARIOUS!
Me: Frank, my hair is for sale on Ebay and I just closed a deal on my uterus.
Frank: But you could see a celebrity!!!
Me: But I don’t care about celebrity sightings—OK, fine. I care. I care deeply. Where is it again?

Good enough sighting for me! I’ll take it, and I’ll find it quasi-spiritual!

Speaking of dialogue, Frank reproduced an entire encounter with the reservationist, so impressed was he that when you call, you “encounter something other than unadulterated attitude. Like humor.”

“‘You have to bear with me,’ said a man who answered one day. ‘One reservationist is home sick. The other reservationist is home sick. The other reservationist is home sick. And the other reservationist had to stay home to make a dress.’
‘A girl's got to sew,’ I said.
‘It's the best of the four excuses,’ he agreed.”

Hilarious... You can catch the Count and the Reservationist doing birthday parties on weekends.

P.S...."A girl's got to sew?" I mean, I appreciate the journalistic integrity but couldn't we have punched it up a bit? "WHEN SHE GETS IN, TAILOR I SAID HELLO!" or "WELL, LAST TIME I WAS THERE, SHE DID SEAMSTRESSED!!!!" Can I join the act, Frank?

Well listen, since Frank didn't really comment on the food (after all, "depending on your mood or perspective, the cooking at Bette is either refreshingly straightforward or stunningly unimaginative"), I won't either.

See you around... TRISHELLE

(my fingers are crossed BIG TIME!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Taboon: Norwegian Woody

"THE restaurant Taboon was built from the ground up in a peculiar and particular sense. Its back story is a tale of love and parquet."

(for a tale of love and parakeet, please see this guy.)

No, this week’s review was all about wood (which of our bawdy Count’s missives aren’t? Zing!. The review was [ironic gong-bang] long in getting to the food, and heavily focused on Danny Hodak and Gadi Ruham, professional woodsmithying floormongerers.

“Well, I thought it was very informative."

So did Frank: "Of the infinite ways that restaurants spring into being, Taboon's is surely among the more unusual, and I probably wouldn't find it charming if the result had been a bust." Not all things that spring into being from strange unions are charming after all.

To wit, the Labradoodle, aka, the Devil's Dingleberry (aka Billy Dee Williams.)

But when Frank gets past the wood, he's still, how to say, excited: "Taboon puts a deft, sophisticated spin on Middle Eastern food, and it's better on the far side of its first anniversary than it was at the start."

Taboon has incited more boldly laudatory language than any review of recent memory: "superb," "extraordinary," "sublimely seasoned," "smartly and inventively" tweaked, etc etc.

"Taboon's food remained impressive, and no meal was without its formidable pleasures. One of these was Taboon's hummus, which carries an extra, unexpected jolt: jalapeño."

Oh. That's right-- I forgot. My refrigerator invented it about 6 years ago.

But the real secret to Taboon's success has more to do with their central brick oven:

"Every hot dish spends at least some time in this hive-like chamber, which imparts a faintly woodsy, smoky quality to its charges and perfumes the air. It's the Kathleen Turner of cooking implements: a fiery diva at center stage."

The Pam Anderson of cooking implements.

The Elton john of cooking implements.

The Olsen twins of cooking implements. I could do this forever.

“Efi Nahon, the chef whom Mr. Cohen trained back in Tel Aviv, knows how to coax an expert performance from [the oven].”

You can hear all about chef Nahon’s techniques from the oven itself, who will be discussing its performance methodology Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton on Bravo tonight.

Let’s….talk….about….a little something you produced…in 2005…by the name of…FALAFEL!!" [roaring applause]

Taboon also has a way with nice little touches: "The milk for coffee arrived heated. Smokers are given an area out front with a bench, several chairs, potted plants and a proper ashtray."

Ooooh! That is charming!

"And we had efficient, even ebullient, service from a waiter who was clearly as excited about promoting Taboon's food as we were about eating it." Excited, huh?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Cendrillon: I Almost Entrechat Myself

Frank was promenading around SoHo the other day when he fell upon a peasant in rags wearing one glass slipper and decided that he’d be her savior. You know, maybe not MARRY her but definitely give her some Listerine FreshStrips and a new pinafore:

“Cendrillon should be attracting many more fans and much more interest than it does. It certainly shouldn't be only about one-sixth full, as it was during the first of the many recent times I dined there, or one-fifth full, as it was the third.”

How appropriate it is that Cendrillon, the name of Romy Doratan’s Filipino restaurant, refers to a French ballet about Cinderella! The whole review is a sort of Cinderella story, and I’ve always thought of Frank as a little lexical ballerina--

And by the time he gets to the end of this particular review, a few pretty glissades and a battement later, you may have entrechat yourself.

Brunisms of the Week...

"Cendrillon's SoHo location and vaguely hip, loftlike décor would seem to augur Asian food tailored for a broad audience, which often means potent gusts of sweetness, pointed blasts of heat, a deluge of coconut milk, a riot of peanuts."

AAAAH ze sans culottes have breached ze sac!!! Bon dieu!

No but seriously, remember what happened when green peas rioted?

This kid remembers.

"[Cendrillon] doesn't serve dishes that are merely anagrams of what's available a block or two in any direction."

Good thing, too. I don’t want Oprahs Dandy Man Tit any more than I want Nasty Random Pad Thai. And as painful as Vegetables in Garlic Sauce can be, it’s nothin’ like Snug Near-Green Sciatic Balls syndrome, which is anything but snug.

Green Sciatic Balls alert!!

“Cendrillon probably uses as much vinegar per ounce of food as any restaurant in Manhattan”
Well, I wouldn't go that far. Frank has clearly not been to Balsamic Rita’s Pucker Shack in a while.

Rita’s world famous key lime pie.

"Cendrillon may not be easy or sexy. But it's daring, different and a sure remedy for the malady, too widespread these days, of dining déjà vu."

Sure, she’s “pretty” ‘cause she’s “different.” If there are any ugly young children out there reading this, it must sound familiar to you. You've probably frequently been told you were different, just the way an uncle will pat his flaxen-haired retard of a nephew on the head and call him "unique." But instead of entrusting Cendrillon to a special care facility, Frank charges us, the dining public, to be kind to little Cendrillon: "food lovers" have a "real investment in the survival of this unconventional place.”

In other words, Frank backs off slowly, arms raised: I’M not gonna marry the princess. But you guys should. She’s great! I mean, she's not perfect ("Admittedly, there are a few too many unremarkable dishes on the menu, and the service can veer from poignantly attentive to epically absent-minded") but someone should keep her afloat. Here! Look! Two pretty stars for a pretty lady!

GOTTA GO! Bon apetit!