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, July 28, 2005

Open Kitchens, Open Wounds

Finnicky Grandpa Frank just figured out how to use all these newfangled toilets, and now they’re mucking up his peaceful dining experience with all these raucous, open kitchens! Next thing you know, saloon whores will start reading books and wearing pants while they eff you.

The official J.M. Coetzee fan club/ bunch of hookers.

Open kitchens: sometimes it’s for showmanship, sometimes it’s for space, sometimes it’s a personal offense to one Frank P. Bruni. Let me explain:

In horror movies, after a group of kids accidentally 82% kills an innocent fisherman and dumps his putative corpse into a ravine, estuary, etc., the kids emerge from the woods all covered in stains, clapping the dirt off their hands and whistling happily as they collectively repress their secret trauma and attempt to do normal high school things like poon each other and listen to rap.

“Right foot my vagina!!”

But as they emerge from the woods, some twatty older sister figure spies them. And then later, when one of the guilty teens drops his tray in the cafeteria or uncharacteristically snaps at someone, the twatty sister, in response to these mounting indices, will peer in really closely and intensely at one of these guilty kids and say, “What happened in the woods that night?”

And that’s how I feel about Frank Bruni and Café Gray. As the twatty older sister in this situation, I feel I have to peer closely at Frank and ask, what happened at Café Gray that night, Frank? Did a server drop a hot crotch in your coffee?

Hot crotch! WELL I NEVER!

Bruni’s original (pre-Digest) review, subtly entitled, “Prime Location, Obstructed View,” clearly didn’t get the anger out of his system entirely, ‘cause he’s back for more:

“[Gray] Kunz had put his open kitchen - and thus himself - smack between diners and broad windows overlooking Central Park, obstructing the view and sending the message that the kitchen's activity was more engrossing than any panorama.”

Next, suggestively-placed paragraph:

“I think people have created open kitchens without any consideration for how imposing it is," said Marc Meyer, the chef and co-owner of Five Points in NoHo. "I think it's been overdone."

Nice. Whatever you do, people, DO NOT





Because he will come after you. Yes, that means you, Erykah. And you, Lobotomized Irish Girl.

Less of a deal-breaker with B-style but nonetheless irking to him, is the interactive showmanship of the open kitchen, which he ACTUALLY makes sound like a weekend in Miami:

“Now you are primed to ooh as chefs simmer and aah as they sautée. You are prodded to watch the sausage being made (not literally, but almost) and feel the heat.” Watch the sausage and feel the heat? You don’t have to prod ME. I’ll watch it all day!

My personal ESPN.

Well, Grandpa Frank, hopefully you can find someplace nice and peaceful and quiet, where no one blocks your view.

May I suggest Camaroon?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Frederick’s: Mary Tyler Moore, Do You Feel Like a Chop?

This week found Frank at the corner table of uptown Frederick’s Madison, in a power suit with football-sized shoulderpads and a permed bouffant, lacking only a nearby Meshach Taylor with whom to repartee.

Frederick’s reeks of the 80’s: it’s a fresh aroma of AquaNet and KY with an arriere-gout of flaming polyester and casual profligacy. And it’s an atmosphere that Frank, in his newish Tom Wolfe phase (see Bette, below), is going to spend a good hunk of the review chronicling.

Hark! The Bruni quill alights upon the parchment:

“FIRST came the overnight bag, the kind with wheels and a retractable handle, the kind that told everybody its owner was moving too briskly through his important schedule to swing by the apartment between the airport and dinner. One of the restaurant's managers hustled it to the back, a vassal stowing his lord's battle armor. Then came the lord: maybe early 30's, open collar, long strides, perfect hair, cellphone on his ear."

That’s the kind of metaphor you publish from a distance. I’d love to see that one go over face to face:

Frank (stentorian, grandiose): Ah, Waiter! How peasantly your manor in dragging away that lordly man’s suitcase!
Manager: What? I’m a manager. I'm in the service industry, it’s my job.
Frank: Yes, mmof course, I was just drawing a metaphorical comparison, so uncannily serf-like was your demeanor! Do you have any of that nifty tooth-blackout stuff? Maybe some straw you could stuff in your sleeves? Some burlap hosiery?
Manager: I WENT TO COLUMBIA! I have an MFA!
Frank: Wait wait wait! Put some pig poop in your hair! It will be hilarious! [Giddy chuckle] Really, are you sure you’re not that dignified rich man’s squire? Because you really had me there.
Frank: Ta ha! Such fine raiment for a captive galleyman!

Essential for pseudoslaves, aka waiters.

I'm not ready to leave the opener alone: “First came the overnight bag, the kind with wheels and a retractable handle, the kind that told everybody its owner was … important.”

A small suggestion for an aspiring social chronicler: A ROLLIE SUITCASE, while undeniably convenient, is not a sign of glittering wealth and glamour.


But my quibbles aside, here’s the major question, or, as I used to say when I taught English in really bad public schools, “WHO WANTS A FUCKING DOLLAR? YOU WANT A FUCKING DOLLAR TO GO WASTE ON SUNCHIPS? THEN ANSWER THIS QUESTION!”: Why review stodgy, expensive Fredericks? Let’s look at the facts, from the horse’s mouth.

1)“To be clear, Frederick's neither composes an interesting enough menu nor performs consistently enough to lure many diners with no other business in the East 60's.”


2)“Frederick's seems to exist in very large measure for people who want to feel, and want restaurants to make them feel, that they have reached the very apex of privilege.”

3) Frederick’s is “for people with deep pockets.”

4)“The clientele consists of “older men in pastel sport shirts and pricey loafers; older women with very taut skin and very white teeth.”

5) Fredericks is “not especially dashing.”

GRRRREAT. Next time I am hurling emeralds at mermaids from Gigi LaGrange's East Hampton veranda and she asks where she can get a mediocre veal chop in the East 60's, I'll remember this. THANKS FRANKKKKK!!!!!

And P.S. Don't think I'm not still tallying up the bountiful cinematic references. Says Frank of the lordly, suitcase-owning high-roller, "He looked like Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street' crossed with Vince Vaughn in 'Swingers.'"

TONY AND MANOLA OVER IN MOVIES-- I repeat, if you see THIS GUY hanging around the office, it's Frank.

Maybe you should let him intern a couple days a week, 'cause he is REALLY interested in what you do, he's very talented and VERY eager. And maybe he will take you out to eat with cool people.

Sleep tight!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bette: Thinking Outside Frank's Box

Dude! Frank totally dropped a bomb today in the Diner's Journal (which he OBVIOUSLY wrote in an actual DIARY at Beppe, smirking at his neighboring tables and licking his quill nib.)

Frank has woken me up to my narrow-mindedness: no more of my sniffing the trail of his journalistic excrescence like a braindead bloodhound, and then yowling about it pointlessly into the virtual night, JUST BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT I SET OUT TO DO! Like a mindless sheep, following my stated mission! If the Diner's Journal is now Page 6 then from now on, I shall be using the Bruni Digest to post pictures of absurdly cute baby animals.

Oh damn. You are the cutest.

Oh my god! Stop the press! Baby mastiff!! I’m freaking out!

Holy shit, look how big your paws are! You are so cute, I’m like dumping in my pants!

what animal even are you? Who cares! Your mommy loves you so much, I’m having a heart attack! SO CUTE.

Oh Jesus Christ are you a handful of adorable! Call the cops! This little lovenut is nuzzling too hard, it’s got to be illegal! Stop nuzzling you cute little SHIT! I LOVE YOU!


OK, I'm not emotionally capable of continuing this. We're going back to the old Bruni Digest. Phew. Someone bring me a picture of Rutger Hauer, I need to calm down.

But you know, people may criticize the Bruninator for not discussing food. But it's like, WHY SHOULD HE??? Let's all take our bras off, smoke some ree-ree, and break the journalistic constraints that are imposed on us! Krugman, dawg, let's hear your style report! Hey, Liz Smith, what's the word on Baghdad?? C'mon people, I'm doing it, Frank's doing it, hop on board the freedom train.

And yes, Alto to follow. Sorry. I'm in Finland. I've been pickled in 8% beer.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Barbes: Old Man Couscous Just Keeps Rollin'

At the 2005 Carbie Awards this year (which occurred entirely in the opening paragraphs of Frank’s review of Barbès this week), Frank presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Most Undervalued Carb to Couscous.

All you cynics out there who might snort and claim that Frank was only looking for an excuse to type while wearing a D&G, split-to-the-hooha awards gown need only to remember that Frank doles out big fat gold stars when he sees Atkins-defying kitchens. You may remember the Wednesday we opened the door to his bedroom and interrupted him sloppily making out with an Idaho spud.

"Frank said he loved me! He even gave me this tiny Birkin bag as a token!"

So it was heartfelt this week when Frank, who apparently had not been told that he would be actually reviewing a restaurant until halfway into the article, wove elaborate tributes to the carbs we know and love:

“RICE runs rampant. Always has. It does a pantomime of subservience, deferring to the sliver of hamachi astride it or the lobster tail and chorizo in its saffron embrace. But playing humble is easy once you've already insinuated your way into so many dishes and cuisines.”

If you are allergic to personification, P.S., this is where you jump ship, unless your trachea has already closed completely and your eyes are shooting water. Frank describes Rice’s culinary prevalence resulting not from its status as the main subsistence for over half of the world’s population, but from its FAKING subservience and humility only to WORM ITS WAY into peoples mouths.

"Well, I was GOING to have a Hot Pocket, but then I remembered that Rice had offered to mow my lawn for free yesterday, and when I had gone to say 'thank you,' it had stabbed itself in the heart, screaming, 'I AM NOT WORTHY OF THANKS, I AM ONLY RICE!!!!' So it was really its overwhelming humility that won Rice its place in my face."

As for Pasta, nobody really knows why it’s so famous. It has nothing to do with the taste or texture of the stuff, but rather with its uncanny knack for self-promotion:

“And pasta? An unsinkable showboat. Few carbohydrates could have triumphed so handily over Atkins and South Beach. But pasta thrives, insistent and ineluctable, like Paris Hilton.”

It’s funny, isn’t it, to think of the snot-colored, 2-cent, water-flour-egg mixture spanked together and stretched out at the palms of leathery Italian grammas everywhere as the culinary equivalent of a hyperflashy Six Flags Great Vagina ride like Paris Hilton? It makes little sense. However, it does result in a sentence I will be SURE to repeat: “Pasta? An unsinkable showboat!” I will never eat pasta again without saying that.

Friend: I can’t decide between the veal or the pasta.
Jules [in Countly baritone]: Pasta? An unsinkable showboat!
Friend: So you would do the pasta?
Then I will laugh like Santa. Seriously say it out loud. I am literally in tears over this.

“Your cavatelli, ma'am?"
"I ordered mine manned with turn-of-the-century singing slaves, this can't be mine!"
"Ah, quite correct!"

So finally the award goes to couscous, but actually the award really goes to Barbes, in the form of 2 stars.

"Couscous, on the other hand, needs lessons in self-assertion, a better publicist, maybe even its own reality show on Fox. There's no reason it should occupy such an underexposed niche among starchy, grain-based canvases for meat, fish and vegetables. And it's all over the menu at Barbès, a Moroccan-French restaurant that attracts notice for that reason among others."

Actually, not really for others. This place didn't really seem to dazzle him aside from their willingness to serve a carb. Next week: Frank presents Taco Bell with the Heisman Trophy.

And with that, I'm literally late for a flight! Gotta Go! I'll be writing from Finland next week, so if I sound unusually ham-fed and peasant-like, that's why!