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.

My Photo
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, January 26, 2006

The Spotted Pig: When Metaphors for Fat Men are Totally Disgusting, Part 1

With the first and last journalistic feather I will ever earn proudly jammed into my skull (I don’t wear caps) after a tipster from East Coast Grill got in touch with me, I can sit back and muse at what an awesome Brunami this week’s Dining Section was.

Between hawking pickles at unknowing Bostonians and elbowing his way to tables at the Spotted Pig, Frank has done a lot of waiting this week, and my, has it paid off! Frank’s “My Week as a Waiter” is the Times’ most e-mailed story right now, and while it wasn’t exactly revelatory—apparently these “restaurants” have secret “code numbers” for every table!—it was cheeky, risqué, and tarte flambee all at the same time. J’adore.

But let’s not let all this incognito pickle-hurling (reminds me of sophomore year!) distract us from what was actually very enlightening: “Stuffed Pork,” Frank’s visit to the white-hot Spotted Pig.

He starts out playing dumb: “In just one example of my lidless optimism and bottomless foolishness, I recently visited the Spotted Pig on a Friday night at about 7:30, not exactly an off hour.”

Bottomless foolishness happens to the best of us, Frank!

Facing a 2-hour wait that night, “I took a pass, because I had this thing called hunger gnawing at me, and vowed to be cleverer about my next Pigward journey.”
At least it wasn’t "this thing called 'badger'" gnawing at you.

I'm just trying to look on the bright side here.

And while in a few pargraphs, Frank will praise the distinctive and fresh English-Italian fare, his scant one star boils down to this: “The Spotted Pig may well be Manhattan's most unforgiving, uncomfortable trough, the gastropub as gastromelee.”

It’s a classic story, really— the place is too hot for its own good, like the cheerleader who’s so hot, she’s pregnant. Being cool can back fire, and cause that particular hate-nausea you can’t help feeling for, say, innocent thrillers about evil papal sects, or convenient little shearling after-surf booties.

I don't often say this about myself, but this image makes me "gun-hungry."

“So the Pig” – Frank’s on a species-name basis with the place—“inevitably, has porked up.” If you thought the Spotted Pig’s recent addition of an upstairs, doubling its capacity from 50 stupid twats to 110 stupid twats, would ease the wait time, you’re wrong: “the waits at dinnertime are as long, and the crowds as dense, as ever.”

Avril Lavigne waited for a table for about 200 years.

The Count has a saucy suggestion: “The Pig should give you more than a menu. It should hand out a special Kama Sutra on the contortions necessary to get to and from your seat.”

Like a child from the liquor cabinet, I should be kept vigilantly away from imaging programs.

"April Bloomfield, the chef and a principal owner, favors smoked things, cured things, rich things and salty things."

In other words, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is really her ideal entree.

The shaved white truffles are a nice addition.

More revelations: how did the Pig get its name?

"[Part-owner Ken Friedman] said he liked the sound of the Spotted Pig and considered it an allusion to one of his advisers and investors, Mario Batali."

Oh no...

"'He's got freckles,' Mr. Friedman said. 'That's on the record.'"

Interesting? Yes. NAST? for sure. Whereas you may have previously thought of the Spotted Pig as a charming little Briticism, like “spotty dick” or “marmite,” you can now sleep in a cold layer of sweat knowing it refers to the extensive, dappled tarp of pallor covering Mario Batali’s body. Nightmare on West 11th Street, roll credits.

So Bruni's conclusion? Aside from the famous gnudi and a good burger, the food cedes center stage repeatedly to the overwhelming hassle of trying to basically exist at the Pig.

“If you're intent on going at a normal dinner hour, do a searing personal inventory of the sturdiness of various body parts.”

Uh, how personal? Like 'Hey Karen, didja bring your huuuge vagina tonight, we're gonna be waiting around a lot'?

Well, actually, pretty personal...

The count asks, “Bladder strong? The line for the small unisex bathroom downstairs can be long. But it can also be interesting.”

How so? Old people makin' doodies en route?

“Two young, pretty women entered the bathroom together. And stayed for a bit.
While they were in there, a server and I exchanged amused glances, and my weariness with so much standing and waiting went away.”

There’s nothing like the warm, mirthful glance exchanged by server and diner over hot chicks doing blow in the bathroom. Am I wrong here? Or were they lezzies?

"With its festive spirit and with the best of its food, the Pig can make that happen.”

Make what happen? Marching powder or impromptu mid-meal sapphic breakdowns? Well, I'm not into coke but if you've got anti-naked-image-of-freckly-mario-on-a-platter-with-an-apple-in-his-mouth pills, I'll take a generous handful.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Count poses as a WAITER??

The Bruni Digest is not out to unmask people, has never posted images of the Count, and frankly, the only scooping I have ever done usually occurs on my neighbors' lawn and involves some quantity of dogpoop. However, curiosity has got the better of me, and I have to ask, what's THIS tip that I just got all about?:

A young man writes that he is a waiter at a restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., where this past Saturday "none other than Mr Bruni just completed a scandalous run posing as a waiter to find the story on the other side of the table. Mr Bruni, or Gavin White as he was introduced to me, seemed intent on his identity remaining secret."

But WHY? This makes no sense!

"He came to Massachusetts because he did not want in his words '.. the New York gossip columns' to get a hold of this story."

Huh. Only tomorrow's Times will tell, I guess, if he indeed is doing a behind-the-scenes waiter article. He is, after all, on a bit of a public service kick.

So...did anybody in Cambridge, Mass have a burger chucked at them by THIS GUY?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pair of 8's: Franklene's Basement

This week, if you were to feel suddenly invasive and decide to huddle outside Frank’s chateau window with a periscope while he dressed, you might see him forego the usual velvets and lace for a Jaquelyn Smith for K-Mart doily-trimmed sweatsuit in “mom-taupe.” Because between last week’s visit to Al di La, followed by Frank’s exposee of hidden charges lurking in bottled water and prix fixe supplements, and now this week’s restrained hoorah for Pair of 8’s based solely on its value, there’s no question that it’s Bargain Time in Frankville.

“EVERY Monday night on a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue with the kind of functional restaurants people outside the neighborhood seldom discuss, something remarkable happens.”

A Barnard freshman loses her bra at Bourbon Street?

7 lords a leaping, six skanks a skanking, 5 BRO-KEN TEEEEETH

No?...I give up then, what happens on Monday nights?

“It's a matter of value, pure and simple. For $25, Pair of 8's…presents you not only with a two-course meal - appetizer and entree - but also with a glass of red or white wine.”

What is this thing you call a “glass”? Huh. How many “glasses” are in a standard “sheep’s bladder” (my preferred unit)?

Tawdra and Ryan want to know how many glasses to a standard Metric Douchebarrel?

“Pair of 8's permits you to elect a proper, refined meal out over a thrown-together meal in, without digging too deep into your pocket or courting much guilt.”
Perhaps the subject matter is prodding Frank to return to one of my favorite habits: Biblical Frank! “It permitteth you to elect a repast afield, nay to plunder ye pockets afore!”

He continues, “It speaks to what many people really want from restaurants, as well as to how they choose where they go.”

In other words, people want ease and affordability.

Well, not these people. But most people.

"Unless the evening centers around a hot date, an important client or a special occasion, they don't jostle for admission to the place getting the most frequent mention in gossip columns. They're not spending whatever it takes for the most inspired confluence of Asian ingredients and French technique."

You may have reached the end of that paragraph before discovering who THEY is. It is YOU, us, the motley masses, le peuple, los popolos, la genitale. Frank is explaining to us, not unjustly, why we love our local neighborhood spots.

I'm the first to cheer for local joints. I’m not going to let a little thing like the Department of Health and Human Safety keep me away from MY favorite local restaurant, Café Lafayette.

I hope you’re hungry, Fort Greene: Ebola’s on!!!!

But wait! Pair of 8’s only offers this miraculous $25 deal on Mondays. “On other nights the prices at Pair of 8's are entirely fair in relation to the quality of the ingredients being used, but they're not quite bargains.”

Well, what can I expect in return for my not-insignificant bill 6 days a week?

“Much of the cooking doesn't snap you to attention, and some of it lulls you to sleep, suggesting a new school of gastronomic thought, devised to dovetail with the pharmacological moment: Ambien cuisine.”

I don’t even know what to say about this, except that I can’t believe it took a stodgy older man to clue me in to the drug-abuse zeitgeist. Great. I’ll just have Julie Andrews give me the latest scoop on "barely-there thongware" after Gloria Vanderbilt waxes my tooter, and call it a day.

But at the same time that it’s Ambien-licious, Pair of 8's is “a modest new bistro that doesn't feel like a comedown.” Uh oh. Don’t mix your drugs, Frank!

Well if the food’s sleepy, the wine happenings are like a welcome extended-family Herb Alpert conga line in your living room: kind of effortful, a little dorky, but better than homework. “You are encouraged to have fun with wine. Pair of 8's uses continually changing humorous themes to introduce sequences of three or four wines.”

This week’s theme is “Wines from Sonoma County: Queef Time 9000”

Well, it’s clear that Frank likes this place. Maybe his calling chef Bill Peet “soporific” will snap the chef out of his bland daze and make him spark up a bit; hopefully he won't “pull a Jules,” a.k.a. start dumping cayenne pepper into things when you don’t know what to do.

You know my motto: if it's good enough to spray onto a horse's hide to make it sweat, it's good enough to eat!

No matter what, Mondays at Pair of 8’s should be booming for a while, starred in reward for the place's austerity:

“Pair of 8's clearly wants to be a straightforward broker. And while it doesn't leave you mightily impressed, it leaves you feeling as if you've been treated with fairness and consideration. There's something to be said for that.”

Next week:

Burlap Susan’s Take-no-Shit Bread Hut

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Al di La: One Point for Brooklyn Braggadoccio

It is time for me to make public what everyone in my close circle of friends knows: if you ever need a dining partner for Al di La, an intrepid, obtuse companion willing to sign on for a 2-hour wait in the shivering cold (or alternately, more than willing to duck into a lezzie bar across the street), call me. I will drop the baby I was in the middle of delivering, or lob the volatile atom I was carefully tucking away into a nuclear safely vault, and come running to you, arms wide open, a tripe-seeking boner cramping my jeans and leading the way down 5th ave.

Frank’s become notorious for giving out 2-star ratings with the indiscriminate vigor of a suburban lawn-sprinkler. While strictly, my undertaking here is to stand behind the Count as he talks and make fart noises and stupid faces, I have to step out of bounds today and say, “Shit, bitch. Give ‘em all the stars your little heart desires. I love that place.” My excitement exceeds Frank's: his very earnest rapture this week is lexically restrained…or reserved, perhaps, for his fist-pumping, proletarian cry of outrage against $45 glasses of wine and other hidden costs.

"I mean, $18 extra on a $65 pre-opera prix-fixe just for DOMESTIC foie? It's time for barricades, people."

Frank begins, “Food lovers who live in Brooklyn, especially food lovers who moved there from Manhattan, love to say that they have better restaurants, ones that wed equally fine food to a humility often absent in the taller, shinier, haughtier borough across the water.”

No fair! No one will ever be as tall and shiny as Staten Island! (ZING)

When we Brooklynites gloat about our borough’s food, Frank is smiling in our faces and inwardly applying his Brooklynites’ Opinion Conversion Chart:

Brooklynite X Level of Boro Pride = Credibility X -1,000,000,000

“Sometimes these people are simply falling prey to local pride and grading on a generous curve.”
Well, it's better to fall prey to local pride in Brooklyn than to fall prey to a local pride in the Serengeti, that's for sure.

Poor Renee.

Frank had been resisting Al di La. Why ever?

“One reason was practical: it doesn't take reservations, and I wasn't wild about traveling to Park Slope to wait an hour or more…” Boo hoo. They take your cell phone number and you hit up a lezzie bar until they’ve got room for you. Mayhaps this appeals to me more than to Frank?

Awww, Jules’ christening!

“Another reason was journalistic: the charms of Al di Là weren't exactly secrets (hence those waits), so what purpose did a fresh look serve?”
Meanwhile, Frank's scrupulous investigations of Spigolo, Frederick’s of Madison, Bette, and recent restaurant Toilet Trends have shed great light on the impact of U.S. intervention in the Middle East.

But the third reason Frank avoided Al di La, I can certainly sympathize with: it’s the same reason I avoid “Lost” and “24.” Everyone’s SOOOOOO fucking into it and you feel like you’ll NEVER catch up and you’re totally alienated in idiot silence around the water cooler, and it’s like, you try, but these insane plotlines make you feel about as perceptive as a dolphin who’s recently had its head run over by a speedboat.

"Lost" script goes through its final editing stages at ABC headquarters.

OK, I’m off topic a bit, but the point is, when everyone is so unanimously in love with something, it makes you want to dig your heels deep into a trench of annoyed skepticism, even, as Frank says, “pure stubbornness: so many Brooklyn friends were so smug in asserting that this little Italian gem was the ideal neighborhood restaurant. Even if they were right, I didn't want to grant them that.”

Why would you? Those oaty Brooklynites would have taken their pride to the streets, inciting lord knows what kind of organic, child-friendly violence.

Only minutes before being sniped by a Manhattan SWAT team, this Brooklynite's drum circle was dangerously smug.

The food isn’t perfect—as per usual, there’s a dry chicken among the missteps. But on the whole, Frank digs the reliable, unaffected fare. And he points out the best tripe on the island, in my opinion at least:

“Al di Là has also been doing its tripe appetizer since the beginning, and I hope it will do its tripe appetizer until the end. Blissfully slimy and appropriately chewy, the tripe is cooked and served in a bath of white wine, soffritto and tomatoes, with grilled peasant bread that you can, and should, use to mop up the liquid remnants.”

Mop the liquid remnants… Nice one, Cyrano de Bergerac. Delicately put. Sounds more like what you do if a fourth grader pukes in the computer lab.

"Not another one...They have GOT to stop studying flight simulators..."

But either way, we’re agreed that the maneuver’s pretty essential.

In conclusion, "Al di Là, whose name is a kind of Italian double entendre, referring literally to 'the other side' and figuratively to the great beyond, beckons and rightfully attracts food lovers from far and wide, their local prejudices trumped by its universal appeal."

In other words: “You weren’t just being your cozy, prideful selves again, Brooklyn; this place is great. Now go to the Food Co-Op and roll in some trail mix while I retreat to my chateau to tickle my fanny with the tattered pages of a classic novel."
Man, it just makes me feel small and hanicapped.

And now, if you'll excuse me, my ride is here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

4 Minutes in Heaven

I'll be reading tomorrow at the Ritalin Reading Series at Mo Pitkins at 8:30. No one gets to take up more than 4 minutes, so if your attention span is as hopelessly eroded as mine, this is the show for you. Click the above link to check out the awesome lineup, or buy tickets in advance.

Bonus: Mo Pitkins is home of the much-publicized manishevitini. A definite improvement over the short-lived Manishevitatorade sports drink.

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,


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!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What what? The Bruni Digest is nominated for Best Humor Blog in the Accidental Hedonist's annual Food Blog Awards.

To express who YOU truly believe is the prettiest princess in funny foodblog land, vote here

"Aw, yeeeah. That Korean photojournalits wants it!"