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.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Barca 18: Stephen Hanson Discovers Something Called "Tapas"

Ahhhh, yes: One of the small perks of being a little wooden Pinnochio writer, stitched at the seams with pure H&M polyester and painted, like a Cherry Tavern pousse-cafe, in many layers of cheap alcohol, is that I don’t have to fuck around with C-cedilles. It’s the little things, you know? Thank goodness, as I walk across the Manhattan bridge, that my 1992 Dell laptop is strapped to my enormo-tits like a ragged and cold Slovenian cigarette girl’s case of wares, so that my two hands are free to flip two birds at Barca 18’s c-cedille. And now I’m retracting my middle fingers, and preparing to make a really sarcastic face as I form the “shocker”:

Because despite Frank’s admirable attempts this week to inject his review of Barca 18 with shock or surprise—it defies expectations! It doesn’t defy expectations!—the simple fact is, the “king of the one-star restaurant world” turns out to have dropped another shiny, lacquered one-star deuce on our island. Yawn.

I couldn’t help thinking of Maureen Dowd as Frank experimented with choppy, snappy fragments:

“You … get to your table, and think: Got it. The crowd, chaos and cocktails are the point of Barça 18. The food won't be.”

“Then the tapas begin to come. Big surprise."

"Lobster and mayo with a crunchy frame instead of a heavy roll: Is this genius or what?”
I can't answer that question, since I have NO IDEA what a lobster "frame" is.

But I feel like this guy might own one.

“Four pieces [of lobster] must be divided three ways. You've seen friendships sundered by lesser hardships.”

Totally, like in Beaches when CC Bloom and Hillary Essex, besties since their fateful childhood run-in on the boardwalk, have a violent falling-out over a 6-inch Cold Cut Combo from Subway (Hillary was allergic to provolone but CC needed the diary so she could fart the horn accompaniment to “Wind Beneath my Wings”.)

"Oops! Sorry, Hil, I tooted the King of Spades off the desk again..."

So the food’s good: Those of use who thought it'd be a kinda plastic pseudoswank moneypit were “dead wrong about Barça 18...

Except you weren't.”


"The music swells, ominously and monotonously: thump, thump, thump. Is this a disco inferno?"

I don’t know, Frank— are you stuck inside this CD case?

“And is the hellfire lapping at the entrees? Three of them …are overcooked…It's what can happen when a kitchen is rigged for volume. Churn, baby, churn.”

And so with that gross slogan, Frank concludes that at Barca 18, “the exceptional jousts with the banal.”

Well, at least the socially maladjusted doesn't joust with the rurally isolated.

“The explanation for that unevenness may lie in the oddness of the couple who spawned Barça 18: the restaurateur Stephen Hanson, who bankrolled it, and the chef Eric Ripert, who clambered down from the tower of Le Bernardin to develop the menu and tutor the kitchen staff.”

What’s so odd about that? In classic New York fashion, we have a finance guy with a beautiful lady on his arm. The tower he "clambered down" is clearly the one he shares with Rapunzel. Ripert can be quite an enchantress: remember when he stole Frank's heart? I do. And Hanson is a worthy and clever Prince Business Acumen.

“Mr. Hanson is practiced at identifying countries with fetching culinary traditions…China (Ruby Foo's), Mexico (Dos Caminos) and Italy (Vento Trattoria).”

That Stephen Hanson sure is a visionary! You know, it seems obvious now, but before Ruby Foo's, no one had identified those cuisines as viable for American diners. Cut to black-and-white reel of Hanson facing a roundtable of investors:

Stephen Hanson: CHINA!!! China food tastes good! Let’s make a restaurant with China food!

Investor: (throws stack of papers into the air) You’re a madman, Hanson!

Stephen Hanson: How ‘bout Mexico? Mexico make good food, too!

Investor: Hanson, you’ve got to be realistic here, we’re trying to build a business, not an experimental global culinary laboratory!

Stephen Hanson: What about ITALY? Italy pasta food make yummy country!

Investor: You. Make. A. MOCKERY of these proceedings. Get out! Get out and don't come back 'til you have a plan for a Sumatran Stir-Your-Own Bean Stew Shit-hut!

Hanson is also famous for the tough-love guidelines he imposes on all his staff, including a rule that allows them to dress in their own (black and white) clothes as opposed to wearing a uniform. Bad call?

“The servers dress in black, including - egad - turtlenecks.”

Hi, I’m distracted by the whiff of my own adrenal gland in the wind; this wedding ring? It’s a sham. Can I take your order??

And so we wrap up with desserts, which can't save Barca from its own deliberate mediocrity-- there were "more flops than hits"; but they CAN save me from falling asleep at my desk, by inciting Frank to write this phenomenal Brunism: "a warm baked apple was hard and hard to eat - a pie that never happened; cobbler interruptus."

And with that, I wish you all a Merry Chri--uh, I mean a Festive Solstice Earthjam.


Blogger Elle Daley said...

(Frank strokes quill pen thoughtfully) "mmyess . . . hard . . . and hard to eat . . ."

Jules, what is all this Veiled Conceit/Op Ed Fred host of imitators you've spawned? Have these people no dignity? The least they could do is pick a different rag to dissect. Maybe there needs to be a "Page 666" blog, or someone spoofing the personals in New York. Ha! Like that's possible.

5:16 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

Well, actually Veiled Conceit predated me, but I didn't know it at the time I started the BD. Op Ed Fred is a friend of mine who's definitely taken some inspiration from the BD but is still kinda messing around with it. Really we should all get together, get an investor, a huge office, arm braces and green visors, and put out a complete mock-Times every day. Lordy, would the Thursday Styles mockers have their work cut out...

5:28 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Sam said...

Tapas can almost be as good as Dim Sum but you have to have a very good waiter, since they don't trolley the stuff around. Maybe they should.

Ha! Like that's possible.

12:30 AM, December 23, 2005  
Blogger SuperAmanda said...

When that day laborer who eats his lobster ramen noodles lunch in a plastic cup-frame defended me in front of Starbucks last month, we never discussed 'Cobbler Interuptus.'
So when my sister and I moved him into our service porch in exchange for fauxing our Bakelite knobs and a black pashmina turtleneck we were in for quite a shock, its been like trying to get an apple flan into a slot machine. You've seen families at Christmas sundered by lesser hardships.

12:48 PM, December 23, 2005  

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