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.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Centrico: Frank Said Knock Mama Out

Frank’s double-reviews, an innovation purely of his own in the annals of the Dining Times (or, rather, the Anals of the Dining Times until the early nineties it seems), have thus far followed similar templates, and this one’s no different—two restaurants in the same general category of cuisine, one old and stodgy, the other new and eager to please.

Howevs, this week, Frank makes it a family affair, delivering a fairly handy smackdown to Zarela Martinez as a foil for a healthy appreciation for her son’s new restaurant, Centrico. Her son, Aaron Sanchez, owes me several thousand dollars in child support for all the children I conceived during happy hour at his first restaurant, Paladar.

That’s Peter, he’s the oldest—he shines my shoes. Nicky, Ronaldo, and Tiny do most of the housework, and little Francisco, while only 6, is already a WHIZ with a blow dryer.

I don’t know if Sanchez is a man of honor, but if so, Count Frank might want to hide in his Louis Quatorze enamel-inlaid armoire for a few days, just to let the dust settle, no? I mean, he insulted this guy’s mama! And if there’s one thing I’ve gleaned from a close cinematic analysis of Mexicans like “Pappa” Sanchez (as my little ones call him), is that they love gunplay,


revenge,


more gunplay, and


facial hair.


So when Sanchez shows up with huge prop guns, Frank, just be prepared to be tied to a kitchen chair and rigorously chafed by a unibrow. I think that’s the point I’m trying to make here. I don’t know. Three martini lunch, ya know? Anyway, let’s go back in time, to little Aaronito’s childhood:

“AARÓN SÁNCHEZ spent his boyhood in the heat and hullabaloo of professional kitchens, tied to his mother's apron strings in an almost literal way.”

"Mama, can I help with the tamales?"
"Oh Christ, not again."

"Centrico is a flashier, splashier bid for the big time than Mr. Sanchez's first restaurant, Paladar, which arrived on the Lower East Side about four years ago." My doctors concur that it was indeed four years ago:


"While Paladar serves pan-Latin American food, Centrico, like Zarela, focuses on Mexico. Mr. Sánchez is braising on his mother's turf. He also happens to be besting her. At Centrico, you can bet on a meal that will be at least somewhat pleasing. Zarela, in contrast, is a crapshoot."

And so it begins. The “Yo mama’s restaurant so inconsistent” joke only gets more painful:

“I sampled three chicken dishes…; in all cases, the meat was dry. A grouper special didn't taste remotely fresh.” Sad for Zarela. And sad for me! Bruni’s intra-familial wedge-driving this week has been notably sober in terms of language. At least his inner pickle-picking Peter Piper refuses to die: Arroz con crema went “from luscious one night to lumpy and leaden another.”

“But the relative merits of these two restaurants say less about whether a child's talents have outgrown a parent's than about something much less romantic: diligence.”
So in addition, “Yo mama’s so lazy.”

This situation is the reverse of the one my mother and I find ourselves in—I think we’re equally talented cooks, but while she’s sticking thromometer’s everywhere and measuring out things like “deciliters,” I use temperatures like “on fire” and quantities like “a contaminated handful.”

Jules delicately pan-fries tilapia fillets.

In the end, you really didn’t need to hear about Zarela to understand how Frank felt about Centrico—the maternal smackdown was totally incidental to his actual one-star review. But what’s done is done, and who knows? Maybe Sanchez is gloating—next time there’s a tiff in the Sanchez family kitchen, Aaron can always throw this in his mother’s face: “All these years later, her restaurant could take a few lessons from his.” Yowch! Then again, maybe he’s grabbing a huge fake gun and heading out the door on a mission of vengeance.

Then again, maybe not.

If you need to cleanse your visual palate from that disgusting image, you could always saunter over to the Accidental Hedonist, and vote for the Bruni Digest for Best Food Humor. Or you could just gauge your eyes out. Yuck!

6 Comments:

Blogger Justin Kreutzmann said...

I am scared for life after that last photo! It's now burned into my brain in the Jules style of temperature control. I had all sorts of witty, intelligent things to write but that just blanked them out.

2:06 PM, January 09, 2006  
Blogger Champurrado said...

Good Gawd, here you are. Having relied on Zarela's book for lots of stock sauces and - what, Mexican accesories I'm too lazy to remember - I was shaken at the shoddy way the Times reviewer handled the whole affair. Could the restaurant really be that unkind to its patrons?

The whole New York Mexican restaurant paradigm has morphed, it seems, into some sort of "fusion" theatric style. Raised in Southern California (East Los) I can say with some authority that New York still has a ways to go. When I first landed in New York and supported myself as a waiter at the old Cantina on Columbus Avenue, I learned first hand what that great chef P.T. Barnum meant so many years ago. If you label something "Mexican" the rest is just melting the cheese and serving it beside bad rice and beans.

Truth be told, to appreciate great Mexican food, you should probably have to wait in a line for it and dine on picnic benches or standing at a counter. I have yet to find memorable Mexican food served otherwise, especially here in NY.

That Frank finds it necessary to dis Zarela's place is probably a little rash. Maybe if he looked for something more authentic for comparison, he'd have something more useful to write.

Your site is a rip. I voted. Good luck!

2:33 PM, January 09, 2006  
Blogger Champurrado said...

Good Gawd, here you are. Having relied on Zarela's book for lots of stock sauces and - what, Mexican accesories I'm too lazy to remember - I was shaken at the shoddy way the Times reviewer handled the whole affair. Could the restaurant really be that unkind to its patrons?

The whole New York Mexican restaurant paradigm has morphed, it seems, into some sort of "fusion" theatric style. Raised in Southern California (East Los) I can say with some authority that New York still has a ways to go. When I first landed in New York and supported myself as a waiter at the old Cantina on Columbus Avenue, I learned first hand what that great chef P.T. Barnum meant so many years ago. If you label something "Mexican" the rest is just melting the cheese and serving it beside bad rice and beans.

Truth be told, to appreciate great Mexican food, you should probably have to wait in a line for it and dine on picnic benches or standing at a counter. I have yet to find memorable Mexican food served otherwise, especially here in NY.

That Frank finds it necessary to dis Zarela's place is probably a little rash. Maybe if he looked for something more authentic for comparison, he'd have something more useful to write.

Your site is a rip. I voted. Good luck!

Oh, and don't discount the value of that mustache.

2:35 PM, January 09, 2006  
Anonymous moxie... pie said...

Speaking of disgusting photos, jules, i suggest you integrate the new menstruating-mischa-barton-in-white-spandex photo closeup into the blog sometime in the future. and by suggest, i mean demand. please your readers, bitch!

3:29 PM, January 09, 2006  
Blogger Jules said...

OH MY GOD, could you just DIE? Usually I'm of the "cry me a river" school with pampered celebs, but my inner middle-schooler dies a thousand deaths for Mischa.

4:28 PM, January 09, 2006  
Anonymous moxie... pie said...

my inner middle schooler snickers, drunk on schadenfreude.

11:08 AM, January 11, 2006  

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