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, July 26, 2006

Little Owl: Lose the Bra, It's a Love-In!

Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. I was busy plucking wild gardenias in a meadow, and hot-gluing these puppies together.

This week, Frank submitted his review in the form of a hand-made quilt. His editor was at first a little miffed (“how am I supposed to ignore this?” he screamed) but finally cried when he read it, and then gave Frank this:

That’s right. It’s the newest American Girl doll: Louis XIV in drag.

Why? Because Frank’s review this week is adorable and heart-warming, just like its subject, Little Owl.

Frank begins, “One of the reassuring wonders of the New York dining scene is the speed with which word about some unassuming new restaurants gets out.”

Mmm, “reassuring,” like hot cocoa after sledding, and “wonder,” like “Sometimes I forget my wonderpants.”

"Anyone feel that icy breeze?"

Of course, Frank is referring to a different wonder—the way that “unassuming” places like Little Owl (Good Fork comes to mind) go from 0 to 60 in a matter of weeks.

Little Owl, having opened in May, is so molten hot that it has even had to create what Frank calls “an impromptu sidewalk cafe for the overflow, serving people wine and complimentary canapés out there.”

OMG, they’re feeding the homeless, too??

“Take your cod liver oil, boy!”

Gabriel Stulman, manager and co-owner, is Little Owl’s Florence Nightingale:

“’It’s the Little Owl way,’ he said as he tended to all of us. ‘We’re just trying to put the love back in dining.’”

That is SOOOO CUTE. Then he smoked an enormo blunt and healed some leppers.

Gabe Stulman's back yard.

Frank knows he’s being a little too earnest for the irony-and-cynicism set, so he adds a hip twist to the Stulman's gesture:

“Hokey? No doubt. But when Mr. Stulman says things like that — and he says things like that with disarming frequency — he does so in a slightly mischievous voice, acknowledging the hyperbole and turning it into a kind of joke.”

Right, I forgot to mention— as he hands out multivitamins and does light physical rehabilitation on minor aches and pains, he’s dressed like this:

"Tootie Toot Toot and Roota Tootie Doodie! Can I get you some lime for your mineral water?"

Usually when Frank front-loads with praise, he’s about to topple with criticism. But this time, Frank stays in a hearty treble clef, rolling with the praise:

“[Little Owl] has an irresistible earnestness and exuberance that explain its instant, well-deserved popularity.”

The menu, which is “without much pretension,” has, in Frank’s eye, one clear star: a pork chop that boils down to “a glorious hunk of flesh.” I can’t decide if that sounds like Penthouse or the Pentateuch.

Or the Chippendales. After all, they injected with brine and roasted for hours.

I love Frank’s little indulgent moment of confession— it turns out his passion for hunky pork exceeds his professional obligations:

“I had it twice,”—

That’s right, he had it twice, but came back for more!

- “and twice marveled at its juiciness, so often absent from such an oversize pork chop. If I could have justified a third evaluation (consistency must be monitored!), I would have.”

He was only supposed to tend to the ranch, and give the occasional perm…but her juicy pork was too much for him!

Pork is all over the Owl:

“Pork pops up repeatedly, not just in the centers of dishes but also on the peripheries.”

Even in dessert!! HAHA GET IT GUYS? Sigh.

“It pops up when it’s essential and even when it’s not, which makes its popping-up no less appreciated.”

Of course, I understand that perfectly. After all, I wanted a human child, but I settled for a wild boar.

Wow, this post started off SO wholesome and ended up SO GROSS.

But you know, after nods to the friendly front-of-house and the well-appointed space, Frank wraps it up by giving the lion’s share of the praise to the cooks (“In dish after dish the kitchen demonstrated remarkable care,” “puts the focus on…disciplined cooking”) and if that doesn’t warm your heart, well…


Come on people.

2 stars for Le Cirque last week, 2 stars for the Owl today. That’s got to make the smiles of chef Joey Campanaro and “Love-In” Stulman slightly sweeter.

No comment on how it feels to have your restaurant named after an animal that is



Heads up for the next Campanaro-Stulman venture: The Pint-Size Meerkat

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Le Cirque: Fancy Pants, but No Family Jewels

Time to take off those thatched heather pajamas and put on your fancy pants! The Count, feeling very Countly today, drops in on Le Cirque, flush with seeming nostalgia for the starchy, star-studded brand. He begins,

“RESTAURANTS, like poker players, often have tells.”

Yeah? Here’s mine.

I'm all, "LOOK AT MY CARDS!" [TOOT!]

He continues, “The tip-off to Le Cirque’s inner musings and true intentions is just inside the entrance, on a table to the left.”

How candid.

Also on said table are “copies of Sirio Maccioni’s autobiography… from which we learn “that Le Cirque isn’t peddling a particular dining experience so much as a larger legend, constructed by its ringmaster, Mr. Maccioni, over more than three decades of soufflés and stroked egos.”

And occasionally judging the Miss Teen Soviet Satellite competition.

Now, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I’m not one for glitzy places such as Le Cirque (Frank—“Le Cirque means luxury. Le Cirque equals privilege. Le Cirque connotes a … pecking order by which the rich and famous get the best tables…”) A good night out for me is talking my goat, Stroganoff, for a walk through Bed-Stuy.

Stroganoff is paralyzed. Check out my sweet Uggs.

And apparently, "walking" poor Stroganoff would be a far more valuable use of my time, since

“the restaurant itself is no longer an especially exciting one… The new Le Cirque…seems to be coasting on its myth, counting on the star power of Mr. Maccioni…”

No thanks! When I count on stars, It’s usually the North Star, and I’m wishing that it would rehydrate my ovaries.

Come on! Just get me a Grape Ice Gatorade and they'll be back in action!!

The food gives Frank occasion to be extremely girly— it’s best to read the following with an English accent and you have to imagine him done up like Salieri and tossing around a lacey kerchief at stressed syllables:

“Its ethereal Dover sole meunière makes you believe that this fish was put into the seas to await its appointment with butter and lemon. Its drab lobster salad makes you question the crustacean’s gastronomic calling.”

Fuck this! I’m shilling for my own death!

Almost as near-dead as Le Cirque’s breed, is LeCirque’s clientele:

“…on one starry night alone, Henry A. Kissinger, Bill Cosby, and Helen Gurley Brown — but I didn’t see many who looked younger than 65, the exertions of their plastic surgeons notwithstanding.”

Frank, are you suggesting that Helen Gurley Brown…NAAAH. Come on. Plastic surgery?? She just got out of a topless Corvette going at Mach 30 after hairspraying her face, that's all!

We will all find ourselves in the twilight of our years pooping into our own stockings at the produce isle and trying to hail a taxi in our linen closets, so it’s best to lay off the elderly, I find. But Frank has a good bit of fun among the rarefied ones:

“I detected a great deal of hair spray, spotted many pocket handkerchiefs and marveled at the gargantuan white toupee on a man who preened on a nearby banquette, seemingly unaware that a Samoyed had fallen on his head.”

AAAAAAH WHAT WOULD I GIVE??? WHAT WOULD I GIVE to have a Samoyed secretly on my head? Literally hundreds of pennies.

It’s impossible to talk about Le Cirque without mentioning the near-extinction of its species in New York:

“With its formally attired servers, puffed-up patrons and transparent hierarchy, Le Cirque clings to a kind of pomp that undid most of its competitors.”

There’s something dreamy about that kind of formalism— 1950’s America as portrayed in film, where nary a conversation can be undertaken without scotch in gloved hand, and a girl with 25 suitors that she hasn’t banged can order an île flottant without looking at the menu.

But that isn’t quite what’s preserved at Le Cirque, where Frank’s Reichl-invoking, consumer-minded sleuthwork uncovered some bald-faced snobbism:

“I sent three friends in ahead of me. One sat at the bar for 15 minutes without getting a server’s attention, and a bartender quarreled with the two others…”

“But I was treated like royalty when I showed up.”

As you should be Frank, as you should be.

And I like a wino covered in felt.

Well, 2 stars, as predicted.

I wonder if Frank is going to start employing disguises now?


Monday, July 17, 2006

Craft: Why Can't a Steakhouse be More like a Gay Barn?

“THE line between freedom of choice and the tyranny of too many options isn’t such a fine one.”

Mmmkay. Clear already. This is going to be nasty. (P.S. For the record, Frank is kind of right.)

“There were any number of moments when the chef Tom Colicchio and his collaborators on Craftsteak, yet another new mega-restaurant on the edge of the meatpacking district, should have realized they were crossing [that line].”

Was it the moment where you were asked to choose between a normal table or a tricorner ass-table?

Tough to decide! The ass-table is hand whittled by an artisanal oakworker. On the other hand, it's disgusting.

I’ll say it— I’ll say it right now. I hate the Craft concept. Pick your own sauce? Pick your own sides? Hey Tom, one of us here is a genius chef and the “lentil salad” posing as diaper scrapings on my stovetop suggests it’s not me.

But my lentils are great for soldering off minor wrinkles and liver spots!

Among the choice-overload infractions:
“…they included, in a menu category for New York strip steaks, beef aged not only for 28 days and for 56 days but also for 35, 42 and 49 days.”

I’m not good at math, and I don’t know the science of beef aging. Does it age like babies?

Baby at 28 days

Baby at 56 days

…like cats?

Cat at 28 days

At 56 days

…or like Pont L’Eveque in the hot sun?

Cheese in hot sun at 28 days

Cheese in hot sun at 56 days

“Beef comes in various classes: “a Grade 6 ‘flat-iron’ steak, a Grade 8 strip, a Grade 10 rib-eye. You scan the selections, which reach $20 per ounce as a steak’s educational level rises, and wonder how much a postgraduate porterhouse would set you back.”
Not sure.

But 25¢ will get you a heapin’ helpin’ of this ground round. Not only did it fail kindergarten, but it was kicked out of ballet class for farting on Second Position.

And finally, the paragraph that has the world atwitter:

"The pedigrees and provenances [of beef at Craft] are so specific (“Ridgefield Farm Corn-Fed Premium Hereford Beef”) that my companions and I found ourselves wondering if we could inquire after a steer’s...sexual orientation (we figured gay cattle might be in especially good shape)."

“Thank God we have this mountain to ourselves!!! Wanna finnish necking and then go for a run?”
“I cain’t quit yeeewwww!! Sure, then maybe I can lift a little and you can spot me.”

The pileup of choices “would have been less irksome if it had been more delicious. But… the steaks at Craftsteak proved disappointing.”


And Frank knows why! –

“Is the restaurant really getting the best beef? Is its in-house aging program on track? Or is the main problem a dictatorship behind a Potemkin democracy?”

Frank’s totally right— the problem isn’t the beef. It’s the puppet regimes of the post-soviet Caucasus!!!

“You ruined Frank’s steak! You ruined Frank’s steak!”

JK. What he really means by “Potemkin Democracy” is this: all steaks are prepared the same way, so even though it SEEMS LIKE you have many choices in your steak, in fact, they are ALL roasted…

by Victor Yushchenko.

After this triggering of the electric nail-gun at the coffin for so many paragraphs, Frank winds down with a surprising slew of compliments. Great. I’m sure at this point, Tom Colicchio has glanced down at the bottom to notice that lonely single star, so the “many terrific salads” and “exquisitely braised short ribs” probably feel like the “but I still think you’re hot” that follows a brutal dumping.

"Baby, I'm dumping you because I need some space. It has nothing to do with your weird bleed-from-the-mouth performance art. I still think you're cute when you take the pink whale vagina off your head!"

Frank’s conclusion reminds me of Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady,” specifically the song where, scratching his five o’clock shadow and adjusting his sack-cradling gentleman’s pantaloons, he barks to Colonel Pickering “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

"God, Pickering, why can’t she juggle, read, or pee standing up in the rain with no one noticing?!"

Frank seems to ask, “Why can’t a steakhouse be more like a steakhouse,” and (his words now) less “like indie movie actors making salary-pumping appearances in summer blockbusters. Think V Steakhouse…”

MAN-- he was angry at V Steakhouse…

“But even if you head [toward the beef] you encounter too many additional forks in the road. And you soon realize you got a bum steer.”

Aww, a cute agricultural pun to hide a sizzling dis.

P.S. There's a bum steer on my corner. He's always mooing "Deck the Halls" for crack money and making 42-lb hay craps in front of Baby Gap. It's so sad!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Parea: First Ever Bruni Digest Gratuitously Graphic Novel

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I know it’s my job to be excited about Frank, but I just can’t handle another upscale Greek place. I sit down with my zinger-laden quill and my Webster’s Revised Scatological Dictionary to poke fun, and I find myself soundly passed out by paragraph two.

“And once you've perused the menu and begun to sample its highlights, you'll know that you're indeed encountering something more than a taverna with a better tailor, something beyond Hellas in Hermès”

Really? Did I encounter Dona? Oh sorry that was 2 weeks ago. But when Times get boring, the boring get kind of cray-cray, i.e., it’s time to spruce things up. Get ready for a first, mes amis: it’s the Bruni Digest GRATUITOUSLY GRAPHIC NOVEL!!

In his intro today, Frank decides that "above all else, [Parea is] a fittingly arresting showcase…"

"I HAD NO IDEA I COULDN'T TAKE MY PANTS OFF!!! Officer, please! And then, as a matter of logic, since I'm wearing a unitard, I had to take it ALLLL OFF! Even YOU can understand that, sir... Are your legs waxed?"

“…for a sophisticated chef's efforts to recast Greek cuisine by approaching it with atypically high standards, unearthing neglected traditions and finding novel assignments for commonly used ingredients.”

"I want you to find the Pope and bring me his underwear!"

"Michael Psilakis, another chef determined to tweak Greek, is building on his work at Onera on the Upper West Side. Parea builds on work from a more distant and even less glamorous place: Cleveland."

"YOU SHUT UP ABOUT CLEVELAND! Cleveland's a classy place! So we had that lake explode in '44. What's the big deal?"

“Mr. Symon presents 'spinialo,' a term and concept he encountered while rummaging through old Greek recipe books....He said in a telephone interview that spinialo refers to the unsold… seafood that Greek fishermen would save and store in salty liquid...”

"What will I do with this disgusting fish?"
"Dunk it in some saltwater, it'll be fine. We'll sell it to a restaurant or something."

"[salmon marinated in vinegar and paired with pickled veal tongue] appeared on Parea's evolving menu precisely when an appetizer of pickled lamb's tongue vanished, and Mr. Symon conceded it was an…attempt to slip diners some tongue..."

"I had no idea! In Greece, sometimes "no" means "I'd like to be frenched on the mouth by a stranger!...Are your legs waxed, officer?"

"[The chef] regards [yogurt and feta] as clutch players to be recruited for, and bent to, his own pleasurable purposes."

Sometimes you just gotta admit defeat.

"Mr. Symon had wrapped the fish in grape leaves before roasting it, and the payoff was pudding-like flesh."

"An array of cured meats hewed to a Greek tradition of spicing — with nutmeg and cinnamon, for example — that Mr. Symon described as aggressive. I'd call it downright bellicose."

He must've ordered the "Cyprian Moustache-Tickler."

"Our voices were shot. Although the word Parea means 'group of friends,' the restaurant retards their conversation."

Hey Frank? You know who still has the verb “retard” in common use? Yeah, the French. Not us. The French. Mkay. Just so you know.

I think signing off with a helmet is perfectly appropriate. Two stars. That's enough outta me.