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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cafe d'Alsace: Franck ist Up-Gefuckt

Guten Morgen! Heute Franck Bruni hat eine shöne Böner für Café D’Alsace! In fact, Frank had this Böner ) ">several weeks ago, but now, he’s positively certain about it: Café D’Alsace is better than it should be, “a solid neighborhood restaurant with a claim to distinction beyond its neighborhood.” And that distinction is a roster of over 110 different beers and a “beer sommelier” to usher you amongst them.

This place was on my To-Try list for some time, until I realized it was on the [insert confused scowl] Upper East Side. I’m not…I don’t…How do I even?...

Jules’ image of the Upper East Side.

I’m just kidding! I know that’s not really what the Upper East Side is like.

Actual image of the Upper East Side.

(Gonna get letters for that one. Sigh.)

While today’s review was alarmingly written in prose (as opposed to last week’s), it’s not without its mangled-yet-adorable linguistic stepchildren.

Frank opens with a frantic olfactory search for traces of clove in a Belgian Leffe beer:

“I searched my palate for what was behind the orange or maybe in front of the orange or possibly on the side of the orange.”

But did ya check between the oranges?

Oranges, pumpkins, who’s counting?

Alas, he never finds what he’s looking for:

“No clove, at least not for me. But I was having what I suppose I should describe as a heady time rooting around for it.”

“Heady” is Frank’s adorable euphemism for “shit-canned.” Sort of like how Hemingway daintily refers to himself as “tight” all the time but really he’s six frozen margaritas to the wind, wandering a rive gauche gutter and firing his rifle to the chorus of "The Electric Slide." Or, fine, "The Gas-lit Slide."

“I woke up next to a leapoard. The leopard was wearing my underpants. It was a good leopard. I liked the leopard. It was a fine and good leopard in my underpants and I liked it.”

But it’s not all about the brew-dogs here--

“Subtract the obscure ales at Café d'Alsace and you still have a very appealing restaurant…. Put them back into the equation and you have something special…”

Awwww. And he said it without any silly puns!

“Café d'Alsace won't just be beer today and gone tomorrow.”

Oops! Spoke too soon!

The place belongs to Simon Oren (of Marseille and Nice Matin), a savvy ruler who “made a career of colonizing needy neighborhoods with the likes of steak frites and crème brûlee.”

You should see what he did in Southeast Asia with chicken paillard and flourless chocolate cake.

Chef Philippe Roussel offers the perfect menu to counterbalance all that light, non-filling beer: choucroute, marrow bones, and “baeckeoffe, a traditional Alsatian casserole with bacon, lamb, oxtails and no small measure of potatoes. I suppose it's for diners who find the choucroute garnie too dainty,” specifically this man:

“Dude, that shit’s gay.”

Café d’Alsace isn’t completely perfect:
“I encountered a few too many dishes, including a wanly flavored veal breast and a gummy beer-braised lamb shank, that weren't really for anyone.” Really? Not for ANYONE?

“I'm sorry but that veal breast is way too wan. I’ll stick with my gruel, thanks.”

I don’t even know what to say about this one: “If tuna is the chicken of the sea, frog's legs are the chicken wings of the haute pond.” Except that I hope to see it on the Totally Nuts Analogy section of the SATs come 2007. Give the kids some PCP and I bet they'll get it right.

In the end, Frank has a warm, fuzzy feeling for this place in his heart (after all the beer, that fuzzy feeling will soon migrate to his colon no doubt), warm enough to drunkenly grant 2 stars. “I got a buzz from the surroundings…. Let's face it: I also got a buzz from the beers.”

You know what? Sometimes, that's what fine dining's all about.

Prose? What's prose?

First. Things. First. I, along with other people with mixed up priorities and too much time on their hands, am FURIOUS that the Count responded with multiple Diner’s Journal entries addressing last week’s Life in the Fast Lane piece, but NOTHING, not a WORD, about the fact that he wrote last week’s (barely) starred review of Sascha in an A.R.Guerney style exchange of emails between himself and a mystery partner,

Mouths were agape, the food world tittering with conjectures as to the identity of this too-cool-for-root interlocutor. Some even posited that it might be Tits Truly, which, sadly, it is not (I’m not over salsify).

But as a consolation prize for those frustrated with the total opacity of SoOverSalsify, at least we now know this from Frank's Journal:

“[Frank’s companion Kerry] was reading aloud the 'Us' magazine account of the Denise Richards-Heather Locklear feud. We had decided to use the long stretches of road between drive-through windows to catch up on our celebrity gossip."
I wonder if Kerry also French braided Frank’s hair so it would be awesomely crimped by the time they hit Tucson?

This week's review of Café D’Alsace to follow...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Life in the Fast Lane: Surely Make You Lose Your Lunch

My God. I took a week off there, ostensibly because I left my job and have had a hard time doing anything but lying passed out on my roof. But maybe subliminally, I knew that THIS would be the best. week. ever.

Count Frank has craftily slipped out of his fancy metropolitan three-quarter-length velveteen unisuit and into the Foam-n-Mesh-hatted, slogan-T-shirted world of American fast food. That’s right, American— the majority of Frank’s stops were far outside the city, places like Texas and Mississippi, places it's a little harder for a man to wear fuschia or call things “fierce.”

That means a few things.

Waiters, captains, hosts, and cooks, take note: that Gawkered or Googled picture of Frank Bruni you have posted over the pass and inside the reservation book is now totally inaccurate. You want to keep your eyes peeled for someone who looks a little more like this:

Trust me. I went on a cross-country road trip with my best friend a few years ago and gained about 20 lbs in 3 weeks from sitting in a minivan pounding Arby’s 8 hours a day. It didn’t help matters that we contracted bed bugs and had to burn all our clothes and replace them all at Wal-Mart. I have a snapshot of me in front of the geological masterpiece of the Badlands in South Dakota, looking like a wife-abusing grifter dude, the kind of guy with skid-marked underpants and a ponytail you can only describe as “perverted.”

“I swear I left New York in Miu Miu flats and a Chloe dress.”

But more importantly, when you mix Frank’s baudelarian nancetry with the shit-slinging burger huts of middle America, you get an entertaining piece.

Frank opens by describing how flabbergasted his friend was by his ability to spot huge neon signs from the highway. (“How, she asked, had I spotted the sign from so far away?”)

Answer: “I had developed a crazy knack for detecting beef patties and sesame seed buns where they weren't readily apparent.”

Ah! So Frank plays one of my favorite games! “Find the beef.”

From Frank’s mission statement through his indigestion, much of Frank’s trip comes across as totally nasty, a “gluttonous odyssey” from “sea to greasy sea.” Eiw.
But the Count commits. He really luxuriates in the nastiness:

“It was a roving binge as warped road movie: ‘Transfatamerica.’ Or maybe, given our cholesterol-oblivious plunge over a nutritional cliff: ‘Thelma and Disease.’”

Hey, I got one for ya, Frank!

The following statement- or rather, understatement—makes me imagine Frank as a guarded little dauphin prince, playing for the first time with street children: “I'm a pampered diner, my diet richer in squab and poorer in chili dogs than most Americans'.”

But the chateau was left behind long ago.

“…all of my fast food was consumed…in the car, which smelled worse and worse as the trip went on and on. Like an obtuse houseguest or a Supreme Court justice, the scent of a White Castle slider lingers.”

Is Frank saying that when a Supreme Court justice stays over at your house, the scent lingers?

“Honey, Scalia left a doody in the guest room hamper!”

I'd love to excerpt the whole article, really. Frank's language applied to this food is like a La Perla bra on a crabby red-light hooker. Example:

“Among all the incarnations of candy-studded soft ice cream I tried… the Blizzard reigned supreme. It had the most candy most thoroughly integrated into the most sumptuous frozen cradle.”
The most sumptuous frozen cradle!
Aaaand William Butler Yeats stabs his eyes out in a grave.

As for his food reporting, everyone’s got their illogical favorites, and in the end of the day, most of it really is super seductive processed crap. He raves about KFC, which has never failed to make me headachy and barfy. But he puts the Whopper above the Big Mac, and if you know anything about my 8th grade year, you know I became obsessed with Whoppers, was banned from eating them, and purchased them on an intrafamilial black market for $10 a pop from my conniving brother.

Can you believe it? This balloon is powered by the virginity of wan, greasy adolescent girls! Technology, man!

Since we probably won’t see the Count’s Toyota-soiling side again any time soon, I’ll sign off with this, perhaps the grossest excerpt from Frank’s trip:

“Tommy's pours a pasty, forgettable chili over just about everything. … I nibbled on a chili-strangled hot dog and a chili-mugged double cheeseburger and then collected the latest round of voluminous, odiferous trash. What were these mushy, orange squiggles? Gold Star, the indigestion that keeps on giving.”

Next up: The Count returns to the city, replaces boxers with briefs, and promptly flips the bird to the meatpacking district's Sasha.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Voce: Stop, Duck and Balls

Ah, Andrew Carmellini. What a stud:
“During his six years at Café Boulud, the chef Andrew Carmellini achieved something remarkable.”

He crossbred a greyhound and a vegas showtranny?

Guess again.

“Although [Café Boulud] restaurant bore the last name of one of New York's most celebrated culinary figures, Daniel Boulud, ... its many fans came to see it as Mr. Carmellini's place. They gave him the credit, along with their trust.”


And so, Frank notes, everyone anticipated a Carmellini breakaway from Boulud. But in what form?

Frank asks: “Would it be French and somewhat fussy?”
People who anticipated this outcome for Chez Carmellini were mostly basing their anticipation on his French culinary background and/or perhaps they had previously met Carmellini’s immaculately groomed French poodle, Tresor Bisou Pouffiasse III.

Tresor prereparing for a Brazilian bikini wax.

But back to Carmellini's new venture: “Would it strain for invention and strut for attention?”
Or would it strive for convention and sweat for detention?

Sweating for detention. Brought to you by Frank Bruni, Dr. Seuss, Google Image and B.O.

But the Count is here to cast aside all those anticipatory jitters with one swoop of his girlish, ruffle-sleeved arm: “A Voce, which means ‘word of mouth’ and is generating plenty of it, doesn't fit either of those descriptions.” It’s just delicious, inventive Italian, where there’s a “premium on sating diners as opposed to wowing them.”

This is brave of Carmellini. I think we’re all aware of the astronomical success of the recently opened Jerry’s Wow ‘Em Eyeful Bistro, where the order of priority is quite the opposite.

The ladies can’t get enough! And when he starts masturbating, FORGET ABOUT IT! The B & T crowd goes nuts.

Among the dishes that snapped Frank to attention were the many and expert uses of duck: “Duck doesn't get as much play in Italian cooking as in French, but Mr. Carmellini isn't about to let a good bird go unplucked.” And the Archaic Lexicon Society will be presenting Frank with an award tonight for bringing that expression back from the dead.

“Goodie Spritefart, would you hence be aft for a roll in the hay once I spit this snuff out?”
“Why, Sir Whiffleshitte, I for one am not about to let a good bird go unplucked. To the barn?”
“Anon, m’lady.”

Frank’s language actually centers on the food in this review, which tends to mean that he’s gearing up for some real star action. An agnolotti in a foie gras sauce gets the paragraph treatment, and Frank touches on everything from the well-executed classics (asparagus with parmesan, egg, truffle) to the “unforgettable” version of meatballs, and on that note, pins a last suggestion to his 3 stars:

“For his inevitable next venture, maybe Mr. Carmellini, now 35, should consider an all-meatball restaurant. I wouldn't put it past him. And I wouldn't want to miss it.”

Definitely hard to miss.

At least it's good to know I've hit immaturity rock bottom. It's all intellectual uphill from here, gang!

Next week: Julia rides a dodo with copies of the Aeneid in her underpants.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Buddakan: Restaurant as celeb? Or am I nuts?

Aaaah the meatpacking district, now home to so many flashy, enormous pleasure palaces. I HEAR. Needless to say…

I tend to hang out in Brooklyn.

Buddakan is the big fat baby of Stephen Starr, who just stepped off the boat from Philly with rolls of blueprints under his arms and a passion for the diversionary needs of fancy young New Yorkers. For some reason I keep picturing Governor Ratcliffe from Disney’s Pocahontas.

Alright, OK, I’m getting a little out of hand here. Maybe they don’t just hire sluts. As for the food, Frank actually liked it. As for Frank’s language, I couldn’t help but feel like much of what he said about the restaurant itself could also be applied to the world of the rich and famous that often circulates in the meatpacking district.

The Count makes Buddakan sound like a sexy celebrity who could get by on her yams alone, but who happens to crochet strategic maps of the Balkans into her thongs and play lots of chess:

“…the real surprise is how good many of Buddakan's alternately faithful and fanciful interpretations of [Chinese cuisine] are. A restaurant this sexy doesn't need to be smart.”

“Buddakan is the apotheosis, at least for the next 60 seconds, of a distinct genre: the post-millennial urban mess hall as supersize cocktail lounge with superstylized dishes, which chart a far-out trip to the Far East.”

Lordy. “Supersized,” “superstylized,” and “far-out trip.” Brought to you by Bill and Ted’s California Press Releases, Inc.

“Fuckin’ rad and kinda Asian!”

“[Buddakan’s ]chef, Michael Schulson, breathes intelligence and creativity into it.” His mao poe tofu is Frank’s prime example: “Cubes of silky bean curd act as crucial moments of calm in a wet, fiery mix of garlic, Thai chili peppers and, well, minced pork. If you want tofu to bust loose like this, you have to give it meat as well as heat.”

Photoshop is to me as scissors are to Edward Scissorhands: a blessing and a curse.

Not everything at Buddakan was as stellar as the tofu: “that's the thing about Buddakan — more than a few losers keep company with the many winners.” See? Just like the world of celebrities!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Haylie Duff! Oops, please hold, I’ve got Kristen Cavallieri on line 2.

Frank concludes with some wisdom that to me seems charmingly self-aware.
Again recalling many of the platitudes about Hollywood, “Buddakan won't please diners of all ages equally. It's better suited to the young, and its own youth is crucial to its appeal.”

Buddakan’s place in Captain Starr’s spanking new roster is a draw for sure, and it’s true that no matter how good the spare ribs or the tofu, it’s probably not your first choice for parents-in-town fare. But Frank intends this youth comment in another way, too: the flashiness seems to turn tacky if you squint and look real hard:

“Restaurants like this tend to look junky upon fifth or sixth inspection, and it's hard to believe this kitchen, serving so many diners at such a fleet pace, won't show signs of strain over time.”




Those Olsen twins are really out of control. Zing!

OK, I’m done with my extended metaphor. But don’t worry, more can surely be found in next week’s Dining Out!

August: As "Urban Rustic" as a pooped-on Blackberry

Bruni titled his visit to crammed and rezzie-denying restaurant August “A Waiting Game with Savory Rewards.”

Below, a waiting game with unsavory rewards.


Alright, so August is good, rustic and crowded. But in the end, this review was a bit of a snooze. Or maybe it just seems that way what with Buddakan on the horizon.

Don’t mean I can’t make cheap visual jokes!

YAAAAAY for uselessly hilarious images!

Frank begins:
"SITTING at a table just inside the restaurant August on a recent night, I was struck by two things."

A shovel and a bra?? A brick and a thesaurus?? I give up!

“The first was the look on the faces of many of the people who walked in. The second thing that struck me was how many diners had decided that August was worth the gamble.”

Oh. That’s no fun.

“Like many dishes at August, [an onion tart] had come from the restaurant's wood-burning brick oven, ideal for anything with a pizzalike crust.”

Oscar de la Renta hops in there twice a week!

“It make-a me so brown!”

“August layers rustic accent atop rustic accent, to the point where you just might forget you aren't in Provence or Tuscany, at least until a hipster poster girl like the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal strolls in, as she did on that recent night.”

Gotta give Maggie credit for trying to blend. And that Peter Saarsgaard is such a doll!

"The distressed plaster walls of the restaurant look like centuries-old stone, and wine bottles are wedged into various crannies, an artful pantomime of artlessness."

An artful pantomime of depression.

"The absence of ceremony (no reservations) suits the countrified visual details, which in turn complement the full-flavored, straightforward cooking"

Absence of ceremony?? Frank obviously didn’t order the Puglian Bridal Cake, in which you are served a rich ricotta-filled tart, andthen quickly circumcised before a burning pyre.

The dragon head represents the absence of anesthetics!

August's chef used to be narrower in its culinary focus, but "over time he's moved August from a tight focus on France, Italy and Spain to a broader, looser orientation."

Now he’s gay.

I’m gonna go throw myself in the Hudson now, but expect Buddakan up today. Consider this belated August post the amuse-bouche, or "fanny laugher," for the delicious entree which will be Buddakan...