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, March 30, 2006

Urena: "Yo' Restaurant So Ugly..."

It’s true; I skipped last week's review of Morimoto. Since my return from France, I’ve been strapped to an elliptical machine in Fort Greene, trying to get rid of my “France fat” which is mostly made of duck.

If only my wooden jeans would take a cue.

For a wrap-up of what can go wrong when toothy-grinned American franchises encounter what they perceive as the fragile mysticism of Japanese culture, i.e. Stephen Starr’s Morimoto, please see Big Bird in Japan.

My favorite part is when Big Bird shrugs at the camera and says “Why is everybody here from Ohio????” Hilare.

But this week, oh man, this week is by far a juicier piece of Bruni work than last week. We all know that Frank takes décor seriously. Alto, Gray, and Telepan know this especially well. Poor ugly Telepan, whom Frank would have gladly renamed Bedpan for its insistent use of Pee Pee Green.

It’s from the MoStew “Rikers” Collection for Conway

Speaking of pee pee, Frank’s visit to Urena (named after the chef, Alex Urena, but an amusing false cognate with the Latin “Urena” meaning "a noblewoman who pees publicly after drinking") shows a far, far more judgmental Frank. This is a Frank who wants to be swept to the prom by the entire Varsity football team, but then demands that they wax and wear satin.

"Dude, I'm like, gonna pressure myself into sex after the prom!"
"Me too!"
"Totally! What's Dennis Quaid doing here?"

But before he finds some Lee press-ons with which to scratch out Urena’s eyes, Frank finds…a COMPUTER?? He begins:

“IT'S only a 0.58-mile drive from the new restaurant Ureña to a Home Depot. I know because I did a MapQuest search, which also provided the directions: east on 28th, south on Park, west on 23rd.”

(Cut to Frank leaning back on a dark leather sofa, smoking a pipe full of scotch and toying with a length of lanyard: Not only can I conduct such technological reconnaissance, I also know how to macramé, I can soft boil an egg, and wait til you see me build little sailor hats out of toilet paper…)

“I urge [Alex Urena] to commandeer a van and head over to the store, or somewhere similar, before it's too late.”

Obviously, Alex Urena’s restaurant is so fucking ugly because he had NO IDEA how to get to the design mecca which is HOME DEPOT from his restaurant. If only he had thought to commandeer a van, and log on to Map Quest.

HEY FRANK, we need your help!

This lady’s been waiting 250 years for you to MapQuest Vicky’s Secret for her. Thanks!

Frank continues unapologietically:
“Ureña fills me with apprehension — and, obviously, decorating tips — because it's the ugliest restaurant with great food that I know, a toad-faced prince, and I think it's paying a steep price for that.”


I’m not sure whether to make a “horny toad” joke here, or just to apologize for this image.

But speaking of mercury-lacquered boners, reading about the food at Urena really gives me a huge one:

“Mr. Ureña's salty rabbit confit appetizer — for which unusually tender strands of leg meat are braided with slippery shiitake mushrooms, molded into a puck and then nestled beside a cauliflower purée — dazzled me in a way that rabbit seldom does.”

Frank has obviously never met Sausage, the most dazzling man-rabbit of Crisco County, Mo. How he amuses the tots!


Frank spends about 800 lofty words on a flounder that really baked his cookie:

The fish was pan seared and then roasted, and then surrounded with “ a beautifully orchestrated symphony of effects [groaaaan]: glazed celery root, hon shimeji mushrooms, a Manchego and spinach mousse and a grapefruit and elderflower sauce. Different bites emphasized different notes, this one vaguely bitter, that one fleetingly earthy, none of them too insistent.”

But for all that girly praise, Frank still can’t get over the “toad-faced” ambience:

Dining at Urena “suffers from not only Ureña's sights, like the zestless color combination of dirt-brown banquettes against lemony walls, but also its sounds. Much of the cheesy recorded music, like the lighting, suited a bicuspid extraction. On the way to the Home Depot, drop the CD's or tapes in the trash.”

Did Frank actually step back from his computer and make a you-go-girl air snap? I can’t help but feel that he at least high-fived one of his manservants. This is not just a friendly critique--it's downright sassy! While you’re torching your restaurant, make sure and dump your tapes in the trash! SNAP! I SAID IT!

But on a sidenote, if you’re dumping your “tapes,” Frank, maybe it’s time to get rid of your betamax and your tin-can phone, too, huh?

The Count's swimsuit.

But Frank has great respect for young chef Alex’s illustrious series of apprenticeships:

"Mr. Ureña's education also included a stint in Spain under Ferran Adrià, whose foamy lessons he learned well."

I was fortunate enough to learn my foamy lessons from my aunt Beatrice. Her secret? Eat a head of raw broccoli, down some hot coffee, and go for a jog.

Ah, foamy aunt Beatrice.

In fact, in the spirit of aunt B, Alex Urena's whole menu seems to be sliding into home-- and things that aren't foamy are on their way there. An artichoke puree “was like a foam waiting to happen,” a phrase I can’t BELIEVE is in the Times, and not in some 5th grader’s joke book.

There are too many delicious Brunisms to excerpt this week (“trios foie, to indulge in a rhyme”!) but I believe that Frank’s conclusion, in which he teams up with a friend, "Heathers"-style, to shit on ugly people, deserves to be repeated in its shocking, shocking entirety:

“A friend who accompanied me for one meal and then excitedly joined me for another compared Ureña to a ‘boyfriend with a great personality but unfortunate looks.’

After a bite of beautifully sautéed mahi-mahi with a portobello confit and a buttery ginger, soy and balsamic vinegar sauce, she said, ‘I can overlook the hooked nose.’

The short ribs persuaded her that she could also get past his ‘bad dental work.’

Me too. But a minor makeover would put me in a major swoon.”

I mean, two stars is no small endorsement—what a pity that 3 stars might have been in young Alex’s grasp but that his “hooked nose” and “bad dental work” interfered.

But you know [insert "Uncle Danny's Wisdom Theme" from "Full House"], Urena, sometimes it's the little ugly things that make us lovable. I mean, if my one oversized nipple hadn't caught the eye of the NYPD as I barfed into my halter top whilst slumped in a busstop on Avenue C, would I ever have met my loving boyfriend, Warden Bill? I doubt it. So keep your chin up, your banquettes dung-colored, and your music cheezy. You never know who might arrest, and then subsequently love you.

So, to the very ugly, I say: You keep lying to yourself, and we'll shut up and let you.

The. End.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK GOD YOU'RE BACK. not that your replacement didn't do a bang-up job, because he did.

I worship you.

4:52 PM, March 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back!
Robin, Tx

9:36 PM, March 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's doesn't get much better than foamy Aunt Beatrice. Thanks for making me laugh on an otherwise crappy day.

1:13 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Bili Rubin said...

Where have you been all my life? Do you know that a google searched of "frank bruni" gave me your blog as a higher hit than his blog? thank you google. thank you frank bruni digest.

2:53 PM, April 10, 2006  

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