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, April 27, 2005

Florent: National Moby Velvet Dick

In the Count’s review of Florent today, Food has been safely buckled in the back seat, while Unbridled Nostalgic Affection sits at the wheel, lead-footed and drunk, with Aging-Restaurant-as-Metropolitan-Barometer Trope sitting shotgun as usual, passed out on Quaaludes and drooling like a hound.

Equal parts Michael Musto and Mrs. Havisham (or, as Frank would probably say, "the lovebaby of a three-night Tijuana romp" between the two) this review hints that perhaps, as he sits at his enormous gargoyle-and-rhinestone encrusted writing desk, his gaze drifts from his dutiful journalism over to copies of Moby Dick, or National Velvet. You know, something novelly, and a little bit gay.

Florent seems to inspire a lot of anecdotes, social history, and character portraits. The cast includes a puckish, legendary Frenchman,

a puckish, legendary waitress (with notable hair),

and other touching human portraits:

“a lone fortysomething man reading The Economist at the Formica counter; a gaggle of thirtysomething Italian speakers at a round Formica table; smatterings of twentysomethings with bulky black eyewear, the training wheels of hipness.”

The next Chloe Sevigny???

But let’s not beat around the Count's 800-count Egyptian bush anymore, ok? Frank is, if not lamenting, then certainly using Florent to illustrate, the fact that the Meatpacking district of yore is gone, a district that, apparently, used to be packing other things:

[Florent Morellet] put it in the meatpacking district because he romped in the gay bars in the area at the time.

(P.S: For someone that Frank is trying to honor, Morellet ends up sounding like a hysterical Christmas elf, with his “laughing a tinkling laugh” and his romping, among other mischief.)

And P.P.S, tinkling laughter in one's office chair is not advisable.

Florent has stayed true to its roots, “staying largely the same while all around it changed, while the muscle of the Mineshaft gave way to the Manolos of Spice Market and risqué was usurped by chardonnay.”

Let me crack this code for you: Risqué? Muscle shaft? Even if you didn't know that “Mineshaft” is High German for “My Penis” you can see what doleful nostalgic tune Frank is playing. It’s called “Row, Row, Row Your WHY DID THE MEATPACKING DISTRICT GET SO FILLED TO THE BRIM WITH TASTELESS MONEYED TWATS WHEN IT USED TO HAVE THIS AWESOME GAY SCENE?” and he’s playing it on a large panflute.

But while the good times in the meatpacking district may have ended, Frank carries the torch/flame: “I went at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday and chose a juicy, plump cheeseburger on an English muffin as a sponge for too much alcohol earlier on. It was gone in a flash, as was a friend's equally juicy, plump chicken breast sandwich. But we lingered in a happy crowd of young revelers, straight and gay, who canoodled in corners and tried to make the night last just a little longer.”

You know, the juicy breast is just too little too late. We know it's not about the food, just as much as it's not about breasts.

Sorry, guys, no one cares.

So after some more about the decor, the history behind the decor, more history-- even medical history-- behind the owner, details about the staff, and even an International Coffees "Jean-LUUUUUC!!!" moment for Frank, he dries his eyes and calls it a day. Like a bunny who sits in one place for a long time and then hops away to reveal he's laid a tiny, mute turd, Frank closes this review with one lone, irrelevant turd of a star.

But this place wasn't about stars anyway. It was about...character.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

BLT Fish: Don't Tell Rita!!!! Tom Hanks Has a Bastard Baby...

There are two things that have become apparent to me:
1) Frank’s feverish nightmare is to wake up in a bin of The Aviator DVDs. So much as seeing the eponymous glasses and he throws up a teaspoon of nervous acid (which probably retails for $400/oz).
2) The only thing Frank loves more than sex/courtship language applied to food is NAUTICAL language! He’s totally on point in both cases. We all know how much fun it is to make up knot names (“higglesnitch the ginnywhip to the tack!”) and we all know how much food loves to flirt with other food.


“Like many an Oprah's book club selection or a typical Best Picture nominee [such as per esempio the Aviator], BLT Fish affirms the enormous appeal of the middlebrow, the special spark when high tips its hat to low, refinement links arms with accessibility and art consorts with commerce.”

First the hat tip, then the arm linking, and pretty soon we’re consorting. Just wait: in about two paragraphs we’ll get goosed and later rubbed, but don’t worry, we’re gonna use a condiment. Or several. Rrrrawrr. He continues:

“If Le Bernardin took Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company as an illicit amour, the precocious, spirited love child might look like this.”

Any excuse to picture Eric Ripert in a speedo, huh, Frank? [see Le Bernardin post]

P.S. I'm no mathematician but no matter what you put on the high end of that equation, factoring in Bubba Gump's Toxic Crill Hut For Brain-Dead Iowans in on the low end is a lot grosser than I think he intended, considering in this review he is basically going to take a plastic inflatable lady wearing a BLT Fish bib out of his bag and make out with its face for like 13 paragraphs.

BLT diners can choose between simple or flashy fish, between “…whole fish as pure and clean as anything likely to swim in the direction of dinner, or seafood done up in cheekier fashions.”

Like this clownfish entree, decked out as a retarded human princess.

“[BLT Fish] has the flexibility of a yogi master, the balance of a Romanian gymnast." AYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I were a cartoon, my head would be spinning 360 degrees, but since I’m not, I guess purple steam will just have to shoot out of my ears. I mean, literally, the following scenario is now possible:

You: Hey, Laurent, I heard the Times reviewed your restaurant!
LT [filetting a dolphin]: Yes, zey did!
You: Oh yeah? What’d they say?
LT: Actually zey said zat ze restaurauhhn is flexible like a yogi master and also balanced like a Romanian gymnast.
You: Literally?
LT: Word for word.
You: Really?
LT: [pause] Yes.
You: Congrat…u…really?
LT: Yes. Additionally zat we are as if the baby were to be made between Eric Ripert and Tom Hanks.
You: [aside] I knew that already, that’s why I asked. [wink] Love you, Frank.

It would actually take a very few unskilled “outsider” illustrations and some quick editing to turn this review into a children’s book where Laurent Tourondel is a little duckie who has to find his way out of the city and back to the sea:

“But in 2002, just three years after Cello opened, it suddenly closed, leaving him adrift.”

“But for all BLT Steak's finesse and instantly brisk business, it seemed like a landlocked layover. Didn't Mr. Tourondel belong at the shore?”

"...the verdict: Laurent Tourondel is back in the swim.”
YAAAAAY! Again again again again!

Aw, I love Children’s literature.

Aaaaanyway, not only does he make it back to sea, he does so triumphantly, at least in the eyes of Bruni, with fish that is apparently as fresh as any he’s had. But before we ninny the jig and dock in at Port Three Star, further highlights from a memorable, coked-up-with-my-thesaurus-and-some-lipgloss review:

- "Mr. Tourondel gets [the snapper] from New Zealand and bakes it in a salt crust as thick, enveloping and showy as a floor-length mink."

Mmmm. Salty. In. Deed.

-"The grilled octopus is as fine as any in New York, and if its ablution of bergamot oil sounds like an eccentric marriage of gastronomy and homeopathy, it's really just a route to a subtle citrus zing, which is an effect Mr. Tourondel relishes."
wordy wordy wordy word word wordnado of words lalalalala I am a medieval monk and like to use a million words

-"Yuzu joins avocado, shallots and American caviar to goose a tuna tartare that's silkier and more sumptuous than most. A grapefruit vinaigrette bathes Dungeness crab meat."
Goose? I was pretty sure "goosing" involved an unsolicited insertion of something unpleasant in someone's, eh, blowhole. Whatevs. Toot toot!

-"There's a rub, and it's the size of the final bill." There's a rub. Isn't that like a direct quote from Shakespeare???

Usually when there's a rub, it's your neighbor, but this time it's an insanely high check at the end of your meal. But hey, at least little Laurent made it back to the sea.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Shaburi: Torturing the Drama Nerd (warning: TOTALLY tangential post)

Oh man, I SPRINTED back to the cozy, dorktastic arms of Brunes in the Diners Journal today after having read “Showdown in the Kitchen,” Bittman’s braggy and defensive “article” about [several-page ADVERTISEMENT for] his new TV show entitled “How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes On America's Chefs,” the hypermacho point of which is:

“Mark Bittman is a REALLY good cook, and if HE had teams of assistants and a $6 million kitchen, he’d be Jean-Daniel Bouluvichterpuck, too.”

Remember how in high school there were Civil War buff fencing-team drama kids that were perpetual embarrassments to themselves (you know, ‘cause they had to carry épees around and run their “Carousel” lines out loud) but then grew up and turned out to be really cool? And then there were those prickish self-assured athletes that totally reigned but were secretly peaking as they banged Tina Prendermuff in the hot tub at the Shelton Inn and are now in Pensacola coaching a girl’s Catholic basketball team and doing a lot of coke? I’m just saying. I think Bittman peaked. And I think Bruni, proverbially speaking, is going to grow up and be really cool.

That said, due to lines like these from this week’s report on shabu shabu joint Shaburi, I still feel the unalienable right to chant “Wed-GIE! Wed-GIE!” while I hoist Frank in the air by his waistband:

“About that beef: it was advertised as Matsusaka-style and characterized by our server as a cut above Kobe, which seems to be the hot new claim. It came from cattle raised in a specially pampered manner in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. As it cost $69 for about seven ounces, I hope and assume the pampering includes Tivo, Opus One spritzers and bovine facials.”

Bovine facials? Oh my God. Get OVER HERE, you fucking geek!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Ama: "Oh, did you...was I want me to REVIEW this place?"

If I were to direct a screen version of this review, I would open with Frank sitting at a red checkered table cloth, maybe some Bohème playing in the background on a phonograph. On the table would be a huge spread of pastas, glistening, oiled-up eggplant and olives, hunks of meat steaming away, with a 6-gallon jug of Pindar Red sitting discreetly by, like a loyal mastiff. As the camera slowly panned in on Frank’s face,

the scratchy ululations of the Puccini growing louder, suddenly Frank would take his beruffled arm, sweep it violently across the whole table, and swipe everything, down to the table cloth, on to the floor, at which point he would whip out a HUGE tome entitled “Frank’s Family Album,” and say, “Come, enough of this restaurant bullnonny, now I tell you somesing aboutta my famiglia.”

As we akwardly teeter on his knee, we learn that his family comes from an impoverished region of Italy called “Apulia,” (which is almost what my parents named me until they finally settled on the less poo-invoking “Julia.”)

Apulia, “a poor, southeastern stretch of Italy overlooked by most tourists.”

C’mon. Let’s learn some more about the region where Celestinocissimo Bonaventuro Bruni eeked out his living among a people who mysteriously did not attract tourists...

...a region where “olive oil reigned supreme, a reflection of its enormous importance to Apulia's economy and to [grandmother’s] own family's survival in the Apulian town of Ruvo, where the relatives she had left behind still tended olive and almond trees.”

And what exactly has happened to the relatives left behind to tend the orchard in Italy so many years ago? There’s a 600% chance they’re singin’ the hit tune “What the Fuck is an Almond Tree? Disco Disco Disco!!!” by this guy:

150% chance he thinks LA means "THE"

So. About this restaurant.

The “fettered” Apulian cuisine has been adjusted for the clientele, who are “more likely to be financiers from Battery Park City than farmers from Bari.”

“Thanks a lot, asshole. Table for 3, please?”

So Ama uses peasanty things like innards, as well as fancy New Yorky things like Cornish game hens (which, of course, I do lines of with Tinsley Mortimer at the 21 Club on Thursdays.)

Aside from some “forgettable” meat and seafood, there are (predictably) some very good things on the menu and some missteps. He calls the seafood stew “seriously flawed,” which then turns out only to mean “overcooked,” just as the doctor pronounced me “retarded” at birth and then it turned out I had “a cold.” But the really alarming part: overall, his language is [gulp, Jules loosens collar with one finger] pared down and clear.

In a further homage to his humble ancestry, Frank benevolently spared the life of one bungling server: “On one visit a server delivered a wrong appetizer...On another visit a server brought a wrong entree. (I let it slide.)”

Frank "let it slide"! Usually when food is erroneously delivered, Frank uses the old Apulian olive-branch crotch-floss torture, but not this time. This clemency, added to his chilled-out style, equals further evidence that his dining companions this eve were my good friends Val and Xan.

A little amuse-bouche, perhapshmmmmmm?

I wouldn’t be surprised if drugs WERE floating around this place, actually:

The owner, Donatella Arpeia, “can often be seen pacing the place, a comely 32-year-old who seems intent on making a big name for herself. She is working on a line of eponymous food and entertaining products for Spiegel. She is writing a book. In late 2003 she and the chef David Burke opened the Upper East Side restaurant DavidBurke & Donatella, where business has been brisk and the attention-getting flourishes include a smoking room of sorts in cold months: a white stretch limo parked in front.”

A long way from Apulia, huh Donatella?

And YES, thank you very much, I AM going to address this:

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Much like Lucky, the Diet Coke-toting construction worker that made douchy housewives galore swoon in the early 90’s, Bond45 is “big, blunt and built for the masses,” and has a similar effect on Frank. And I completely understand. Sometimes you want a meaningful relationship with an intelligent man. And sometimes, like a 19 year old Sophomore named Brie or Tianna from Florida State University (“I enjoy chain letters, Red Bull, and my boyfreeeeiinnd!”) who takes ten steps past the giant gates of MTV Spring Break Cancun and finds herself topless in a vat of Maaco fuel with a stranger doing bodyshots off her areola, you just want to go buck wild. All of a sudden, “cozier, frumpier gems” look so trifling when faced with a theatrical rodeo that keeps its copious meats, however nasty, in the open. “You want to loosen your belt and relax your standards as soon as you walk in the door.” Yes, that is a literal direct quotation from Frank (and incidentally a college slogan that thirteen babies in a shrubbery just north of 116th and Broadway can thank me for adopting)

"Did somebody say 'adopting'?"

“Its owner, Sheldon Fireman, knows how to project a sense of bounty at his restaurants”: at Bond45, much like at Fireman's Fiorello, which also boasts a "brimming antipasto bar", he keeps all sorts of delicious Italian treats in view, in a theatrical fashion.

Frank graces the food with such accolades as “decent,” and “suitably meaty”; the place “doesn’t have much of a wine list” and the service is “somewhat abrupt.” In a dazzling articulation of mediocrity, “A porterhouse for two did not scale the Lugerian summit of carnivorous ecstasy, but it got halfway up the slope.” Lugerian summit of carniverous ecstasy? SLEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN, Nora Roberts; Frank is clearly nipping at your tails.

“The restaurant's name refers to the clothing store that used to be at this address and to the street itself. That store, according to the restaurant's publicity materials, offered two pairs of pants with every suit. If its customers were the kinds of people who supped regularly at restaurants like Bond 45, they undoubtedly demanded that second pair in a larger size.”

a.k.a. “I didn’t really know his name, he wasn’t very smart, he had cystic acne and swam with waterwings, but yeah, we frenched for like an hour by the port-o-potty, and I’d do it again, ‘cause it’s SPRING BREAK and I DON'T EVEN CARE!!!!!!”

Drink up, Tianna.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Franky and Bitchy at the Clair de Prune

Frank came up to my locker this morning with his posse of bitches in matching pink satin capris, ripped my new diamond-studded T-Mobile G-Unit Signature Sidekick out of my trembling mitts, and hurled it onto the floor. As it shattered into a thousand pieces, he leaned in and, seemingly exhausted by his own coolness, whispered,

“That shizz is so over. GIGGLE, bitches!” His bitches giggled. “Now let us abscond.” As they left, I trembled like the very seams of the pantalons that strained to accommodate his conspicuous manhood.

Between profiling classic foils Pope John Paul II and Delta Burke this week (?????????), Frank decides that beloved Lower East Side cranny Prune was hot when is was just a neighborhood spot swooned over by locals, foodies and critics, but now that the whole world is in on it, well, “it is easy to oversell it.”

Frank’s evidence for Prune’s overt hipness is the patronage of a one Chelsea Clinton. C-squared has never exactly been the official flag of coolness— it’s not like she made Stanford or Doctor Zizmor’s office the new Bungalow 8, but point taken. He concludes that Chelse is a “smart woman.” Why? Because she likes what Frank, despite his lone, stingy star, unabashedly adores: Prune’s “homey cooking,” which includes the roasted marrow bones that he clearly goes at Doberman-style and can’t stop talking about.

He also loves the ass-kicking bloody marys, which I would never fault him for, as that would constitute a MAJOR calling of the kettle "Black!" by the pot.

Result of sonar scan of Jules' abdomen.

With a “Goooooood morning!" his server encouraged him to throw back his Red Stripe chaser: “And a very good morning it indeed turned out to be,” he confesses.

Awesome. Been there, done that, man. Ain’t no shame.

Frank has obviously not outgrown his childhood habit of ramming his Barbies together like drumsticks and voicing their passionate moans. His bloody was “the torrid love affair of an angry tomato and a margarita.” And randier still, “that pancake is … so ethereally appealing that Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth would probably fight to the sticky death over the privilege of coating it.” Cut to Frank’s face twitching as he lies in a Louis XVI four-poster bed with a long nightcap on, dreaming about Hungry Man and Sloppy Joe duking it out for his favor. “Oh, Hungry! Oh, Sloppy! Stop that! You can both have me!”

"mmyessss, yes I like this fantasy!"

"[Prune] has mirth to spare, moxie to burn. It listens to its own muse and operates by a credo of whimsical indulgence." Operating with whimsical indulgence is when a surgeon attaches a vintage '70's edition of Candyland to your small intestine. What Prune does is make deLICIOUS food. But he knows that: he accelerates toward the end of his review with rousing praise for the apps and the bar menu, then slams on the breaks at one star, and still chewing, moaning esuriently, his lips glistening with beef fat, mumbles, “Whatever, you guys, this place is so [BUUUUURP] 5 seconds ago.”

Friday, April 01, 2005

Metropol: You Are So Nasty, Love Frank

In this week's Diner's Journal, Frank clears his throat, bangs a silver tuning fork against his servant's temple, hums a warbling A, and sings (to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb"):

"Metropol is totally rank,
totally rank,
totally rank,
Their food is borderline dangerous,
And their service is retaaaaarrrrrrded."

And yet. BAFFLINGLY. He kind of finds it attractive.

I'm not even going to excerpt from this review. You can almost exactly recreate the sensation of reading it by punching an unassuming teenager in the face and then giving him a funsize Butterfinger.