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, February 23, 2006

The Orchard: When Bad Trends Go Good

Last week was a shame, a crying shame. Frank Bruni is clearly keeping very close tabs on me, and JUST when (for once!) I get all busy, he launches his massive treasure-trove of satire-hunter’s bounty: his own BLOG. And he throws in for good measure one of the funniest starred reviews in recent memory, where he basically describes the restaurant Telepan as a 17th century Dutch peasant: really fucking ugly but incredibly pious.

Frank doesn’t bring much insight to this week’s review, instead heaping on a flat I’m-with-it exuberance. Like a Cosby-clad dad popping in on his son’s meth-rave sweet 16 and sticking both thumbs awkwardly up: “This is COOOL! No It’s Kool! It’s Kray-zeee Kool! Awriiight!”

"You just keep makin' out, kids! The Mrs. and I are upstairs with a defibrilator and some cookies."

What is it that Frank is so eagerly on board with? While he hasn’t always been in favor of pan-global Epcot-Center menus (he in fact throws a jab at the Stanton Social in here), something about John Lafemina’s new Orchard restaurant on the LES gives him a hearty boner.

I have faith in Lafemina, if only via my love of his 1st place, Peasant, which, as Bruni says, “romances Italy to the point of presenting a menu entirely in Italian. Servers stand over your table and, item by item, for minutes on end, channel Berlitz instructors.”

Well the staff may be handily attentive upstairs, but the best time to be had at Peasant is the basement, a candle-lit caverna with earthen walls and long, shared tables. Yes, the food is delicious, but the basement is primarily a riot because the place is always serviced by two UNREAL dudes— one a lanky, Jesus-like Brit with a shirt unbuttoned to his navel who says things like, “The octopus, yeh? She’s goooorgeous.”

And then there’s his tawny slaveboy sidekick, a deferential mop-headed Mediterranean she-boy who seems born to lounge around fanning Caesar Augustus’ balls. They are both phenomenal, by which I mean that they drape themselves over the bar, dreaming idly, strumming instruments, trimming their chest hair, and bantering sexily, while the packed room is in full hunger-riot and everyone is creating elaborate semaphoric gestures to somehow communicate with them.

This is literally what the British dude’s chest looks like. It's oddly appetizing, like B.O.

But Peasant paves no conceptual way for Lafemina’s newbie, the Orchard.

"...while Italy again seems to be his touchstone, he touches down in many other places as well."

Touching in many places can be perfectly classy. (Disclosure: I obviously just wanted to post that picture. Have a lovely afternoon.)

Frank goes through a tour of restaurant globalism—- a trend he used to think smacked of trendiness. But now he concedes that there’s a new breed of fusion, respect-worthy fusion:

“I'm thinking of new restaurants with serious ambitions and uncommon culinary partnerships. Take Dani, which constructs a bridge between northern Africa and southern Italy. Or Morimoto, where an appetizer ‘pizza’ bedecks a tortilla with raw bluefin tuna, an anchovy aioli and jalapeño. It's Asian, Italian, a nod to Nobu, a wink at Taco Bell.”

Even so much as a wink to Taco Bell and my lower intestine quivers like a frightened doe.

But the globalism at the Orchard actually worked, for the Count at least.
“...while the itinerary may not be coherent, the trip is a world of fun.”

Little girls sometimes dress up like tarts and pretend to be princesses with their friends. Likewise, the Count sometimes puts on black horn-rimmed glasses and twirls in front of his mirrors pretending to write for Architectural Digest. “Why yes,” he says, brandishing a bedroom slipper like a slide ruler, “that IS a mansard roof!”

(I’ve obviously missed the Digest, no? I’m off my rocker today.)

My point is, Frank has always taken interiors seriously (here's lookin' at you Alto and Cafe Gray), and this week is no different:

“The drab brown carpet beneath them better suits an office than a dining room.”
You mean, “That drab brown carpet better suits the humble retina of office drones, used to such a petty, terrestrial palette. Poor drones!! HOW THEY SLAVE! Waiter? Another caviar! On Bill Keller’s tab! And make it the real Soviet shit, the shit that’s running out!”

But I think there’s someone who would disagree with Frank on that point.

For the Arctic Brown Fox, brown carpeting, be it in the forest, the tundra, or the Lower East Side Hotspot, can provide cunning shelter from predators.

LaFemina has paid attention to the details— he “has installed lighting that bathes everything in a seductive orange glow, a magical, last-gasp sunset that never ends. He has bound the menus in suede.”

“Our safety word is ‘Mascarpone.’”

According to Frank, the “little flourishes add up, giving the Orchard real style.”
This is not always so.

Sometimes the little flourishes add up, making you into Count Fagula.

When it comes to the kitchen, Frank describes the wacky internationalism, mostly followed with gee-whiz applause; but the Orchard may have earned its two stars by reversing a ubiquitous shortcoming. At the Orchard, the “entrees do a more uniformly successful job of showcasing the strengths and skill of the kitchen” than the apps. A rarity-- usually the entrees weigh a place down.

Well, one thing's for sure. Someone over there showed Frank a good time, and it's all he can talk about: “no matter the label or language, the Orchard takes you on an enjoyable tour.”

It's like Carman San Diego...

But not hosted by Michael Jackson in very thin drag.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Of course not. If you were looking for something to do, you'd be at Time Out New York's site, not mine. But on the offchance that you have no idea how to use the internet and you want to see me do standup tonight, come to Rififi at 8:00 for At Night With Gabe and Jenny.

Unlike many slaves, the show is free! So let's all get together and oppose slavery by watching me perform. Thanks guys.

"If it weren't for Jules human rights activism, well, actually Jules is useless. But damned if her tits aren't buoyant and serene!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Holy Shit. I can't tell whether my life just got soooo much better or soooo much worse. But I'll tell you this much, when I sit down at my black baby grand of a laptop, crack my knuckles, and prepare to hammer something out, I know that reliably, on the other side of town, retardo-Bach is scribbling out a score for me, Wednesday or not.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Catch me this Saturday talking about Bruni's "My Week as a Waiter" escapade on Leftovers with Mike Salmon on Air America 1190 WLIB. The show starts at 3 and I should be on around 3:15. Mike and his co-host, Joe, have had me on a few times before; they're great guys and a lot of fun. And you can finally settle that bet about whether I'm an earth-rattling baritone.

Answer: OBVIE.

You may recall--pause while I demurely brush my nails on my lapel-- that I broke the story the day before it hit the stands, thanks to a tipster from the East Coast Grill who had waitered alongside Frank. So I'll let you know his side of the story.

And as usual, I'll be performing uber-nutso sketch comedy tonight and every Friday at 8:00 at the People's Improv Theater with my sketch group, The Wiener Philharmonic. The New York Times called us "delightfully sophomoric." My sister calls us "like, creative bohemians." You can, like, be the judge.

The guys ran late on this past week's show, so I'll be on next week instead. Meanwhile, check out this column by Pete Wells in the March issue of Food & Wine. It make-a me blush!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Gilt: I like the avant-garde, I just don't LIKE the avant-garde

Frank’s dipped his ponderous mug into hundreds of troughs so far in this city, but he hasn’t encountered much avant-garde cooking in New York—you don’t see a lot of guys in NASA suits with particle separators freeze-drying air for your dubiously pleasurable consumption. Chicago’s really the capital of that world; all we’ve got is little Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 holding up his fried mayo cube like the 85th-placed kid at the science fair with a poop colored ribbon slapped onto his mold garden.

Bruni on the cutting edge of futuristic food is actually a rather momentous event.

“At many restaurants I've received tutorials on the workings of the menu. At Gilt my companions and I heard a whole treatise on the ‘thought process’ behind the meal that was getting under way.”

Gross. I have to admit a prejudice against food that makes you feel less like you’re out on the town and more like you’re assembling furniture. Which no one should let me do.

"The baby’s crib is all ready honey!"

“Our server said that specially tailored side dishes with the entrees and even with the appetizers would provide contrasting or complementary effect, a dynamic not so revolutionary as to warrant introduction.”
That’s actually a very good point. Cut to server in futuristic avant-garde getup…

"It’s this conceptually intense approach whereby we broaden your flavor receptor sensitivity by orbiting your main dish with satellite dishes of things like vegetables. Don’t worry about it, you’ll catch on.”

You mean a side? I’ve heard of it. You know who else has heard of it?


I’ve recently been through an experience where I was coached for 3 hours about what and how I was to eat, so I sympathize with Frank’s friend: "'I feel like I'm in my first class of organic chemistry,' one [friend] said, 'and I'm ready to drop pre-med.'"

Definitely drop pre-med, dude. It’s like, why go through eight years of school when you can get the scrubs UPS-ed overnight? Am I wrong?

See how convincing that is? Ignoring the abject pervert grin and hair, of course.

But embedded in the whole exhausting, tutorial experience ("semester"), Frank did find some “extraordinary payoffs, like duck poached in beet juice and lobster seasoned with vanilla and set on a cauliflower purée.” And all of his meats and fish were--gasp!--cooked precisely to order (no doubt a first.)

In the end, the Count’s crystal clear message to mad-genius 29-year-old chef Paul Liebrandt, which you can read between the two shiesty stars if not the lines: CHILLAX. “Gilt sometimes doesn't know when to pull back, pipe down and let superior food speak for itself.”

Liebrant’s fame derives equally from wacky food (crystallized violets) and wacky gimmicks (blindfolding people and making them eat off a naked lady.) Unfortunately for repressed secret lesbians who love new age cuisine, the latter’s been eliminated—“He's not as intent on gadgetry”—but the food still involves “intricate constructions, with so many facets they fatigue.”

Take a piece of ocean trout, garnished with razor clams, sea beans, braised snails, TrimSpa, edible panties, a fire extinguisher, two Doc Martens and some Spam.

The trout “deserved to be big, on a stage of its own” but “was mobbed by an unruly cast.”

I felt the same way. Trout was WAY too good for such ensemble work.

But Frank is not one to quash an effulgence of youthful creativity— he concedes that Liebrandt's stuff “springs from an admirable thoughtfulness” and that Liebrandt is not ”some vacuously flamboyant bad boy, as his detractors have claimed.”
Let me translate this: “I like what you’re doing, Paul, I just don’t LIKE what you’re doing.”

The décor is as out-there as the food, with two rooms that are “like two Kubricks in one, a ‘Space Odyssey’ segueing into ‘Eyes Wide Shut.’ With a palate wide open, you embark on a feast worthy of ‘Barry Lyndon.’”
Eiwww. You had me with the Kubrick thing until...EIWWWWW

BARRY LYNDON + a sweatsuit from Price Club = the nooniest 40 year old woman's DREAM come true. This movie is SO NOONY! Even the mention of it makes me want to pluck a hair from my chin and go jazzersize. If you can't intuit what nooniness is from that definition, refer here.

Frank wraps up with a few more demerits (a sole "topped with Comté cheese, which was in turn topped with a tarragon mustard sabayon. What a lost sole." GROOOAAAAANNNN) and some compliments, but he touches on the olive oil drizzled over a wasabi-green apple sorbet:

"Women received a lighter oil from one bottle, while men got a heavier one from another. Gilt could provoke the first condiment-based gender discrimination suit."

You know, that just doesn't cut it for Po-Mo in this town anymore. Frankly, if he wants to do make an extreme statement he should serve men their food on a floppy disk and women from a L'Eggs panty hose jar. It's so avant garde it's almost...avant-garter.

OK, for that, I promise to kill myself. See you next week.

Barbounia: Why, I think you mean "toot pillow."

How many times must a man run into the editorial wall of not being able to talk about a butt? How often must he search in the pockets of his bloomers for a solution and come up with nothing but gold coins, Estee Lauder Equalizing Foundation for Combination Skin, and a mille-feuille of expense receipts, but NO IDEA HOW TO TALK ABOUT AN ASS. Barbounia presented this very challenge to the Count this week:

“THE new restaurant Barbounia is very easy on the eyes, relatively easy on the ears and not so bad on the stomach, either. But it's kindest of all to another part of the body, which is less delicately evoked and most often consigned to euphemism.”

He’s encountered this problem before. With the Times' Crass Police hot on his tail, and without knowledge of such handy, seemingly innocent expressions as “salad-spinner," "turtle crack” or “meat buns” (the kids these days are so creative!) Frank really flounders.

I mean, if the corporate world can cope...

“How to put this into appropriately fuzzy language?” pleads Frank, as if we still have no idea what he’s talking about (I just don’t get it—you mean the seats are comfy on my ANTERIAL PERINEUM?)

His solution is to focus on the lush cushioning itself:
“Let's just say that no matter where inside Barbounia you sit and no matter how long you sit there, you will feel cushioned, coddled and grateful.”

And crunk. And spread-eagle.

“Chairs in the dining room are broad, soft and upholstered. Banquettes are pillow-paloozas, as suitable for napping as for noshing.”

This is starting to align with the eat-on-a-bed trend in New York, places like Duvet and Bed, which should be renamed Get Soup on Your Boobs Café and Crane Your Neck Til it Snaps Inn, respectively.

You know, they invented a sexy new way to eat in bed.

It's called an IV.

“In a city where diners' physical comfort often gets too little consideration, Barbounia is practically a massage of a restaurant, and its magic fingers reflect a broader eagerness to please.”

OK, WE GET IT. You lie in the lap of a bosomous wetnurse while a tiny, aggressive Swede runs your major muscle groups over a vibrating washboard yada yada yada. IS THERE EVEN ANYTHING TO EAT HERE?

For better or worse, yes: “Barbounia's Mediterranean menu smacks of a bit too much market research and a bit too little inspiration....You relish and remember the sitting in part because it's easy to forget the eating, which is often appealing but seldom exciting.”

So if you go to Barbounia, this might lie in your future:

Buddy: Hey, how was that new place, Barbounia?
You: Um, I don’t know. Well I know that we were sitting.
Buddy: Huh?
You: Yeah, we definitely sat during the meal. I can tell you that.
Buddy: What about the food?
You: Consumed demi-supine. For sure.
Buddy: Did you order—
You: On chairs, mostly.

Although if it tastes unexciting, at least the food looks nice:

"This restaurant knows how to assemble a nice spread, be it cheese or salumi. It understands the value of a good visual."

Thankfully, so do I.

In the end, Frank gives Barbounia a star, sheerly for the cushions, it seems. I can't quite get a reading on this place from the review, whether it's a corporate dump for suckers or kind of a treat. Frank's final clue:

Barbounia “is a reference to red mullet.”

That's a haircut for man who understands the concept of "commitment."

Awesome. I'm off to Barbounia, to order a glass of water and lounge on their banquettes like it's a commercial for the Bahamas.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Being an assclown-- off the page.

"Where Barbounia at, ho?!" You demand angrily. "Get on it!"

And I will, as I hypothetically had you say, "get on it," asap, but I've been a little distracted. My sketch comedy group, the Wiener Philharmonic, has a new show opening tomorrow at the People's Improv Theater in Chelsea.

8:00 pm
Fridays through February
People's Improv Theater (the PIT)
154 W 29th Street, between 6th and 7th

Get tix and learn more about us here.

Despite the title, this is not a gross show about poopie; it's an uncompromising, poignant interrogation into poopie. No it's not. But I promise, it's hilarious. And written by Jon Friedman (the Rejection Show), who is adorable. And if you don't support things that are adorable, well...

...quite frankly, you're racist.

So check us out!

Frank's review ofBarbounia (or as I like to say, Barboobs), in all its haremy, ass-comforting luxe, will be duly addressed tomorrow.