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, November 23, 2005

Compass and Cafe Luxembourg: Revenge of the Loser

This week, Frank plays the Chuck Woolery to our blank-faced 33-year-old administrative assistant looking for love.

“My name is Trelizabeth, and while my once-conjoined twin got the brain, I got the SMILE!!!!!!!!!!”

The two bachelors we’re deciding between, Café Luxembourg and Compass, are archetypal, really— Willoughby versus the Colonel, Zach versus Screech— it’s the flashy, popular dude versus the meritorious dork. In many ways, it is the ultimate scenario of high school injustice: says Frank,

“Cafe Luxembourg is the soccer captain to Compass's science club president. It has more sex appeal and an easier time getting dates.”

It’s an interesting comparison. Luxembourg is 22, a young hot athlete...

...while Compass is hindered as much by being a dork as it is by being 4 years old.

Your mold garden's awesome, Gary, but I'm still not going out with you.

After some inevitable Compass language (Lost its way! Back on track!) the Count begins what will be a litany of praise for its food.

“When several friends and I recently had [the skate], the moistness of the fish and the crunchiness of its panko crust played a textural tug of war. Neither side lost, so we won. Entrees arrived, and we were victors again.”

By the time dessert came, Frank and his guests had vanquished the entire place, roping up surviving diners to sell to the Mongols and bundling tableware for booty on their yaks.

“Well, that’s that. Check please?”

"Our lobster, poached in olive oil before being pampered with butter and clementine juice, made a dreamy case for never treating lobster any other way."

Soooooo...does that mean no more accessorizing with it?

Meanwhile, hottie Luxembourg has no idea how to handle fish. Its skate “had been put through uneventful paces - a sizzling encounter with olive oil, a subsequent shower of capers - and had emerged somewhat gummy.”

Well, even if the end result didn’t win Frank over, the “sizzling encounter” and “subsequent shower” sounds sexy, even if it was a caper-shower. Frank is baffled by Luxembourg's appeal:

“The way people push to get in and wait three deep at the bar, you'd think the restaurant's signature yellow tile walls were coated in some sort of culinary pheromone.”

That’s actually not a bad idea. Coat your restaurant walls in men’s Axe deodorant, sit back in a lawn chair with a stop watch and count the seconds until I stumble in, crazed she-wolf hormones squirting out my ears, to hump every last tile. However, is that even necessary? Did the popular jock ever have anything going for him but being a popular jock? Not really. As Frank explains,

“success perpetuates itself, a self-sustaining reality sometimes divorced from the merits, while a history of failure obscures current accomplishments.”

Hence, the popular kid wet-farts his pants in Latin class and he's a hero, but the school dork saves an errant fawn from falling down a well, and everyone ridicules him.

"I guess it’s just you and me, Louise. [sigh] So...can you fit in a prom limo?"

And speaking of deer:

“In the restaurant business, as in so much else, reputations linger and a herd mentality rules. Diners crowd Cafe Luxembourg, which is now 22 years old, in part because they see that it's always crowded. Diners don't rush to Compass, which is not yet 4, because they don't notice any stampede in that direction.”

Let me paraphrase: “People like you and your siblings and parents and the other re-re’s I see pigeon-toeing half-blind into walls, and drooling out the side of their faces, are mindless sheep.”

Yeah, RIGHT, Frank! That is soooo insulting! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy this shithead’s album...

...smoke some cigarettes, and then throw myself off a Swedish cliff.

The Count concludes with a fervent pitch for the dork, encouraging us to see through the “hip” but “sluggish and often distracted” Luxembourg (picture the jock fondling your boob in the front seat of a Firebird while simultaneously flipping through his baseball card album). Its competitor, in contrast, “can't coast on comely pouts and poses.” [aside: Frank + Alliteration = Forever]

But if you didn’t already glance ahead to see that Lux got one star and Compass two, Frank will tell it to you striaight (and by “straight,” I mean with the last installment of an absurdly extended, essay-length metaphor):

“…if Cafe Luxembourg assumes your interest, Compass eagerly pins a corsage on you.”

Well, I guess it's worth a shot.

Right, Melinda?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Aburiya Kinnosuke : A New Fantastic Point of View

After days on the open sea, Frank moored his enormous galleon on East 45th street, dropped the sails, collapsed his telescope, and leaped off the poopdeck to bravely explore Japanese spot Aburiya Kinnosuke.

"Go up the West side and cross at 42nd."
"Are you nuts? At rush hour?"

Maybe the Count was just itching to push the boundaries of his restaurant experience; then again, maybe it was simply the allure of getting to wear ass-high leather explorer boots.

2 parts “arrrrr” to 1 part “meow.”

But no matter the inspiration, Frank warns us that, in the words of Peabo Bryson, it's "A Whole New World":
“At Aburiya Kinnosuke, a new restaurant in Midtown, you probably won't spot any celebrities, the way you might at a more lavish, trendy Japanese pleasure palace like Megu or Nobu.”

You see, like a sebaceous teenager fluent in online porn but decades away from touching his first boobie, Frank has mostly experienced the far east in fusions and fanciness, but dammit, he wants the real thing. Basically, it’s hard to feel like you’re really in Kyoto when you’re eating miso-glazed Cheez-its off Robert Downey Jr’s lap.

“You definitely won't find elaborately constructed, kaleidoscopic sushi rolls, the kind that look more like kites than supper, or whimsically shaped stemware filled with neon-colored potions, the kind that look more like chemistry experiments than drinks.”

What? What the shit kind of Japanese places has Frank been dining at? That description sounds less like Megu and more like Willy Wonka's Shagadelic Thrift Store from Hell.

Hi, welcome to Sushi World, allow me to rape your cornea!

More from Frank's travel diary:

“Here's what you will see…: tables filled with Japanese businessmen, neckties still on, briefcases nearby, speaking Japanese to servers who fared much better in that language than in English.”
I wonder if the Count actually hid behind potted plants and spied them with binoculars.

Frank slyly observes the restuarant's clientele. Meanwhile, Japanese business men are confused as to why Swamp Thing is stalking them.

“I had a sense of seemingly boundless possibility, of new flavors that it would take quite some time to exhaust. I had a sense of discovery.”

At this point, you ask, did he make friends with a cartoon raccoon and a native Scores stripper who pretends not to speak English while singing elaborate songs about the Color of the Wind??
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“ME NO SPEE NO EEENLESH!! Just kidding. Meet me in the champagne room inside that giant Sequoia in 5 minutes, the raccoon and the pug stay outside.”

Not quite. But he certainly makes a point of experiencing some new foods, with mixed results:

“The menu is so expansive and arcane that a diner can encounter bad luck as easily as good and wind up with food that disappoints, if only because it's so peculiar…”

It's unfortunate that Frank didn't have the language skills to translate "Man-Size Horny Carp" on the entrees list. It's a Japanese specialty!

“One night I blithely ventured in the direction of dried baby squid, only to make a hasty retreat after one repellently fishy, intensely funky bite.”

Oh really? Why do I have a feeling that anyone, even a lobotomized Cosmo girl shellacked head to toe in lip gloss and wearing a thong made of copper wire, could get the following question right:

Dried baby squid tastes like...
a) Ham
b) Dryer sheets
c) Roses
d) The sweat off a sailor’s scabby crack after he wrestles a walrus in the pit of a sulphite mine.

D!! Obvie, that crap stinks.

Worst. Neighbor. Ever.

The Count continues to hack his way through the culinary virgin forest, encountering “salmon neck, another fatty, slightly gamy, challenging and rewarding cut.” You'd think Frank had had enough with challenging and rewarding fish after the ol' Horny Carp, but the Count really is eager to learn:

“I hadn't tried black sesame tofu before Aburiya, but I hope to have it again…” Ah, just like the settlers of the new world who put yams, corn, and Coke Zero to their lips for the first time and yearned for more…

“But for a diner in the right frame of mind, the oddities of Aburiya just seem like part of the adventure…It's a pleasant escape that always made me feel as if I were traveling far away from the rest of the city.”

Well, Frank has left one twinkling star above Aburiya, so even if Frank never finds his way back...


...maybe others will...

Monday, November 14, 2005

For those of you just Bruning in...

If you were deposited here via Yahoo, USA Today, Washington Post, and many other local papers that ran this AP article about me and the Digest, welcome!

To those preacquainted with this project, WASSUP, DOMEPIECES?? Welcome back.

I just want to say this one thing before returning to my normal pattern of Wednesday lampoonery: If you hate Bruni, I'm not your mascot, and if you think he's great, well, I'm thrilled. Like a feather duster on a vestigial prostate, Frank Bruni's style tickles me; I find it funny and I respond. If you see vitriol, you've made it up, if you see typos, they're definitely there, and if you see dead people, relax! You're child actor Haley Joel Osment, and you're sitting on a king's counting-house pile of cinematic golden duckets.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

D'or Anh: B'or Ing

Dear D’or Anh,

Ha! What a mystery you are! What an enigma! Your food—and you don’t mind if I publish this in the New York Times, do you?—your food is ethereal and transfixing, i.e. confusing and crappy, and yet, welcome! Your mere existence tickles the lacy bloomers that descend to my mid-calf! Without places like you to mangle dry cod and rubberize beef in an Icarian attempt at success, how very boooooooring this city would be! Ah, my little Franco-Korean concubine, thank you for your adorable effort.

Veuillez accepter mes sentiments les meilleurs,

Le Frank

This little epistle was found beside the golden bidet in Frank’s chateau and leaked to me by his maid.

“Arf Arf Arf!!”
“Arf Arf Arf!”
“Oooooooh, Frank’s using mascara again. Got it.”

And, if you could stay awake long enough to notice, the Count published those sentiments exactly in this week’s review:

“D'or Ahn isn't a great restaurant, and on its clumsier nights it isn't even a very good one. But it's a terrific example of why anyone who loves eating out has to love New York, a welcome reminder of the optimism and the deep well of ideas that drive the city's dining scene.”

But something else happened at D’or Anh…something …chemical. Frank is totally confused, like someone on AmBien who’s fighting sleep, like James Bond ten seconds after being poisoned but not quite dead, like me circa 11 pm on a Tuesday—in a word, he’s effed up.

The royal bizzity bizzity bong.

The confusatrix? Perhaps it is the seductive/deranged proprietress, the fluttering ephemera which is Lannie Ahn herself:
“Ms. Ahn flutters about...”

“...approaching diners with a spoken introduction to the restaurant that should be more practiced than it is. She talks about French standards, Korean flair, eclecticism…She seems at once ecstatic and slightly pained, inspired and unnerved, all of which may well foreshadow your own reaction to D'or Ahn.”

Wha? Uh oh. This is shaping up to be a bit of a Red Cat: nothing and everything, inspired and unnerved, sublime and retarded. It seems as though the question “What is this restaurant like?” is not as important as the question “Exactly how sick will Peyote make you if you melt it in a spoon and take it nasally?”

“[D'or Anh is] loaded with charm, rife with frustrations and impossible to pigeonhole.”

"Well, I'm kiiiind of a genetic freak but I'm also rabid, ambidextrous and gay. So, I'm tough to categorize."

But seriously, as yet, I have nnnoooooo sense of what this place is like. Mayhaps the food will make things clearer?

“The most riveting of the small plates, and one of the least small, was thin slices of eye round of beef, which had been dusted with sweet rice flour and seared in oil.”

Ah! Ok! So the Count enjoyed this beef, yes?

“These cutlets were more ethereal than I realized fried beef could be - maybe too ethereal, and thus an illustration of one of the restaurant's frustrations. The kitchen turned out a great deal of food more intriguing than satisfying, with a sense of surprise that wasn't matched by a payoff in flavor.”

TOO ETHEREAL. TOO ETHEREAL. Hey Lannie, couldya do somethin’ about that beef? It was too ethereal. Maybe you could drag it through some compost? I don’t know, find an accomodating donkey to take a serious dump on it? Maybe a pachaderm? Just something a little more…how to say…terrestrial? Thanks!

Yes, that's better! Bon apetit!

An exception was that terrific poussin, one of a handful of entrees on a section of the menu titled "more."

A terrific Poussin, get it?? Kill yourself, Jules.

Ahem, back to the review: Frank’s take on the food is equally opaque. I’ve got my big dumb jaw dropped in what would be characterized as a major “WHA?” Additionally, so far there’s been a—for me, at least—saddening absence of Brunisms, those wacktastic rhinestones that make Wednesdays so Beadazzled.

There's just one little metaphor, but next to the full-on brass band of metaphors we're used to, this is but a tiny taco-fart:

“Inventiveness and affectation are next-door neighbors, and D'or Ahn leaps frequently over the fence between the two.”
(Don’t worry, he’ll extend the metaphor later.)

“An oxtail ragout was advertised as an accompaniment for slices of rib-eye, but what and where was it?”

Well, if it’s in line with the rest of this review, the ragout is probably hanging out with a bunch of 35-year old douchebag gallerists at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, naked save for a Hopi ritual sash and a mouthful of pot-croissant..

Almost. The ragout is actually “in the middle of a dry, unappealing mung bean cake, which gave the plate another component and geometric element but no more appeal.”
Another component and geometric element but no appeal. So yet again: through an elaborate Baroque ironwork gable of language you can peer into a hidden private estate of SUCKAGE. Nice.

"Poached black cod was unusually dry one time, wonderfully silken the next. It came with a mustard bread pudding that found D'or Ahn on the desirable side of that fence."

WHAT FENCE?? that's right, it's the fence between inventiveness and affectation, located in the town of Irrelevantville, in the County of YourRestaurantStillBlows, in the province of ButIDon'tKnowHowToSayThatSimply,ThankGod.

It's a Gaelic province.

“But whichever way D'or Ahn leapt, the gesture commanded attention.”
Kind of the way a FAS baby commands attention the first time it ice skates, i.e. with terrifying precariousness and almost unmitigated failure.

“I wasn't conventionally delighted by the fiery chili ice cream with a Korean pear upside-down cake, but I was transfixed by it.”

Dude, everything looks fuckin' awesome when you're fuckin' trippin out, man. Sick. This one time I was smokin' a fatty doob and I thought Dave Matthews was sitting in the back seat of my Saab cause I could hear him talking, and then I was like, dude, it's a CD. So yeah...what was I talking about?

Confusion is really the theme of the day: "the resounding successes don't outnumber the curiosities yet - but their effort is an earnest, thoughtful and welcome one."

You know, when my brother gave me a stick of butter for Christmas-- and this was during my younger, more corpulent years-- with the suggestion that it might help me get through doorways, was it his way of saying "I love you?" No, it wasn't. But it was his way of saying "I'm glad you're here to make fun of. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go drink competitively with my fraternity."

Maybe Frank's message is the same except that his stick-o-butter came with a little seedling to plant in the floorboards of their Enchanting Cottage of Confusing Crap and watch grow: a star.

How come that star is so round...and little...and white....?

P.s. Anyone who can interpret the meaning of the title of Frank's review ("So Ambitious, So Impossibly Thin"), which seems like it was ripped off the cover of another US Weekly celeb anorexposee, gets my serious respect.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Thor: Literally Run by Arnold Shwarzenegger

Usually the Count, trained in the infamously razor-witted journalistico-priestly salons of Berlusconi-era Rome, has a firm grasp on subtle humor. But this week, Frank is taking everything literally, in an autistic Amelia Bedelia way:

“ONE of the waitresses fancies herself a futurist.

‘This is going to be the salmon lasagna,’ she said as she set down a pasta dish, her verb tense suggesting that the salmon or the noodles - or both - were something else for the time being.”

Is that really what she was suggesting? Or was she just using douchey waiter parlance? For example, it took me a while to realize that when a waiter says “My name is Jimothy and I’m ‘unna be taking care of you all tonight,” it doesn’t mean that he will escort your party home, wrap you in afghans and massage your corns with Vaseline. Silly Frank! He keeps interpreting everything literally...

“With the delivery of another dish came the saying of another sooth: ‘This is going to be the gnocchi.’ We stared at it, primed to witness some kind of transformation.”

Did you, though? Did you all stare at the gnocchi, waiting for it to do something magic?

The waiter then turned a deck of cards into an extremely gay hand pose. Ta da!

“One of the waiters longs to be the host of a quiz show.

‘Any questions about the menu? he asked some friends of mine. When they said no, he challenged them.

‘Really? they recalled his saying. ‘O.K.: what are cèpes?’”

But can you blame the waiter? After the Count’s table pointed at a dish of gnocchi and clamored WHEN WILL IT TURN INTO GNOCCHI?!! YAAAAY MAGIC TRICK!! YAAAY!, he probably thinks Frank’s party is a reunion of the original Awakenings patients.

What’s my name? Where am I? I’m feeling so flirty! What’s gnocci? Yaaaay!

The literalism doesn’t end there, though:
“Thor isn't a brave, arcane voyage into the uncharted waters of Viking cuisine. The name of the restaurant has nothing to do with the Norse god of thunder, whom it evokes only incidentally.”

REALLY? The Norse God of Thunder isn’t, like, an investor? Does the restaurant not serve EVISCERATED OSTROGOTH VILLAGER?? I’m sooooo disappointed! Wait wait wait…so you’re telling me…that the name THOR is FIGURATIVE???? That is really misleading.

“What I really wanted was an upscale place that could cater to the Lower East Side sophisticates while accommodating the lightening bolt attached to my penis.”

“Thor is the theater for an unlikely marriage of the…clangorous dining scene.. of the Lower East Side - and a classically trained Austrian chef, Kurt Gutenbrunner, whose temperament is quieter and more conventional."

Sounds like a sit com: Fastidious Old-World Chef gets dumped in Eccentric Urban Hipster Paradise, like classy Mister Belvedere rolling his eyes at the elaborately washed denims and hilariously exposed muffs of 1980’s teenagers.

Kurt learns to loosen up by episode 8, when he bonds with a tranny, does a heap of Tina and wakes up spooning a pheasant in the walk-in.

Who needs Marketing? Frank already wrote the tag line for the show:
“while that union plays out in awkward ways” (cut to Gutenbrunner getting beaten by cops)… “it doesn't ultimately foil Mr. Gutenbrunner's best efforts and ideas.” (Cue jazzy CHIPS music while Gutenbrunner hi-fives bloody tranny.)

Victory over Frank's visual impression is a whole nother matter:
“Much about the restaurant certainly erects hurdles for Mr. Gutenbrunner's food to overcome.”
When Frank hates the décor, it can translate into serious Bruni demerits. In other words, this could be a MAJOR erection for Gutenbrunner to surmount.

“The dining room's black and white wallpaper calls to mind tiles, at times confronting you with the unappetizing illusion of being on the floor of a very tall bathroom or at the bottom of a very deep pool.” Or both, if you are a midget taking a dump in a flooded Moorish bell-tower.

Aside from a few such qualms, the décor doesn’t end up doing Thor in. Will Frank’s second pet peeve, the catering to carb-phobic dieters, be Thor’s undoing?

“And so, of course, there was a raw fish appetizer, hamachi in this case. But Mr. Gutenbrunner thwarted expectations by presenting it in big, meaty cubes instead of little fingers or thin sheets.”

Little fingers and thin sheets? Nasty. Sounds more like an ad for a Philippino sex vacation than for a well-executed appetizer. That aside, this technique pleased the Count:

“In doing so he lent satisfying heft to a dish that might otherwise have skewed toward dainty.” Frank HATES dainty things.

For example, he chose to have his tutu made of industrial burlap.

You know when you’re watching a movie or something, and you’re totally on board with it, and then all of a sudden Claire Danes is naked on her stomach and Steve Martin is caressing her buttcrack lazily with one finger and you’re like “WHAT BEAT DID I MISS? This makes no sense!!!” and then Tony Scott gives it a rave review and you feel physically violated by what you assume to be a media conspiracy?

My point is, THIS was a superfluous bit of metaphor, no?

“[Gutenbrunner] told me in a telephone conversation that he considered Thor the culinary equivalent of a chance to move from orchestral music to rock 'n' roll.

His version of rock is more Eagles than Franz Ferdinand. With the exception of a few showy riffs like a white tomato mousse…, he constructed relatively safe melodies. And several dishes, including a roasted veal loin with pumpkin, carrots and apples, could have used more percussion.”

Thor's cooks arrange their mis-en-place while tooting out the Scorpions "Winds of Change."

There was a small snafu at dessert: “a multilayered confection that reinterpreted a Snickers bar did exquisite justice to its muse. If only its consumption hadn't been so perilous, and I refer not to weight gain but to clothing stain.”
Frank left Thor with an acute case of choco-crotch. Let's just hope he was wearing something brown!