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, October 05, 2006

L'Atelier do Joël Robuchon: Like Catechism, But Snottier

Bruni’s review of l’Atelier do Joël Robuchon was almost as highly anticipated as the arrival of Robuchon in New York when the place opened back in August of this year. This has to do with the man’s reputation and achievements (which apparently cannot be overestimated— I think he holds twelve Tonys and he invented Christmas, peanut butter, and overalls.)

“Thanks a lot, asshole. I don’t get Christmas OR overalls. Give my best to the Four Seasons, will ya?”

The Count, not one to be blinded by the gigawatt glare of a revered man, looks Joël’s reputation in the eye:

“THE best chefs have long been treated as artists worthy of adulation, and rightly so. But have they been promoted in recent years to deities who can expect reverence and sacrifice?”

I don’t know if expect is the word.

If this Southwestern pug needs to get the ritual pyre in order for Flay’s newest venture to succeed, I think we can all agree that’s fair. (tks, cuteoverload.)

Sure, these guys (and they are mostly guys) deserve the adulation, but Frank’s not afraid to ask whether we’ve taken it too far: Have we “gone from sweetly doting patrons to slightly deranged supplicants?”

I don’t think so. Can we HELP it if we become OBSESSED with these people? I mean they’re so AMAZING. As soon as I heard Charlie Trotter was an animal lover…

I had this tattoo done. CALL ME, CHARLIE. I’m so humane it’s NAUGHTY.

TO illustrate what we worshippers are willing to endure, Frank uses an episode from “the first days” of L’Atelier. His Countliness was made to wait forever to get seated with a group of other diners.

One crotchety lady started complaining.

“But does [the crotchety lady] leave?” Frank asks. “Do any of us?”

The answer, of course, is no: “We’re put out, but not enough to forgo whatever Mr. Robuchon has to show us. He’s one of the most acclaimed chefs of the last quarter century…. He had us at bonjour.”

Ah yes, Jerry Maguire is finally ripe for the cultural plucking again 10 years later.


The chef’s big-headedness marked the “soft” opening of L’Atelier, a period of time that usually falls outside the critic’s view:

L’Atelier “hit the ground limping: bad bread, flustered service, palpable arrogance.” Wait a minute…bad bread, flustered service…Maybe all this religious metaphor isn’t metaphor: Maybe L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon REALLY IS A CHURCH!! Silly Frank!

“Uh waiter? WAITER? Over here! Yeah, can we get another glass of the red wine, and some more bread when you get a chance? Thanks….Oh this is preposterous! He’s getting to everyone else before us!”

But the food merits the worship, says Frank: a foie gras and eel layer cake is “the stuff of dreams”; “a mélange of sea urchin roe, lobster and cauliflower cream” is “pure rapture.” And the sliders? He not only doesn’t make fun of them for their trendy name, but they get his “vote for haute burger of the new millennium.”

Everyone at the campaign headquarters for “Sloppy Jethro’s Fatface Nightmare Burger” was crushed, but also understanding. Head campaign strategist Melvin Spanks called the victory “justified” and further that he “needed to puke.”

Praise praise praise. Praise is fun. But as you probably know by know, Joel is getting three stars, not four. So let's have it.

The turmoil of the early days remains: “you still have to push past some nonsense.” I believe this is more than an oblique reference to the host, the stern but lovable Captain Asshole.

If you palm him french fries, he’ll seat ya faster.

Also, the whole counter thing doesn’t pan out like it’s supposed to:

“The hotel intrudes on the restaurant, challenging a fundamental reason for the counter arrangement — to allow you undistracted communion with your food.”
Again with communion. I guess he didn’t find the little knee pads at the pew too comfortable?

Frank returns to the food at the end, citing Robuchon's judicious use of the exotic and his respect for core ingredients: "Sautéed squid leaned on its own tenderness, as well as some chorizo. Mr. Robuchon knows when and how to bring a pig into play."

"Oh no...please not's just a silly costume..."

Frank touches on the minute handiwork of the kitchen, like the miniscule chives, or the blocks of tuna so perfectly cut that they would satisfy a "geometry geek with a protractor."

Now what kind of a message is that to send to the kids, Frank? MATH IS NOT FOR GEEKS, ok? It's definitely for man-virgins and sociophobes, but it doesn't mean you're a GEEK if you like math.

This guy: not finding fault with Robuchon's tuna. In fact, not finding ANY tuna.

The desserts "resembled stage sets,": "I preferred a chocolate adventure with so many slopes and swirls in the landscape around a butte-like molten cake that I needed a road map to find my way back out of it." I'm literally going to leave this one alone. The above sentence is a make-your-own-joke kit. I'm going to back off slowly with my hands in the air...

So along with some quirks/inconsistency in service, the pricing is unpredictable for the results. Frank winds down his three-star situation with another question: Why haven't these kinks been worked out yet?? Answer: because someone like Robuchon doesn't have to "sweat the small stuff."

"L’Atelier suggests what happens when we too readily genuflect." A good lesson for restaurant-goers, but also for prostitutes. (Don't worry, you're exempt, MATH GEEKS.)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

So wrong. SO WRONG! Where do I start? The tit-mouse photo (even more appalling than the boar in Little Owl)? Tuna as polyhedron/ elusive naughty bits? And the classic "chocolate adventure...around a butte-like molten cake"? Mmm-HMM!
Please, Jules, never, ever stop.

1:19 AM, October 10, 2006  
Blogger Jules said...

Have I been pushing my own scurrilous envelope? I hadn't even noticed. Alright. Maybe next week will be super dupes innocent. I LOVE the tit-mouse, though. So EUROPEAN.

11:23 AM, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and the pugs were pretty innocent.

1:19 PM, October 13, 2006  

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