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, August 16, 2006

Vong: the Gettysburg of Reviews

Technically, Frank panned Jean-Georges’ Vong this week (one star), although the pan was accompanied by a MERCILESS SPANKING of Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen.

Not that I’m counting, but Frank devoted about 410 words to actual reviewee Vong, and about 480 to lateral casualty Mercer Kitchen. It’s not like Frank just threw the baby out with the bathwater here, a casual take-down necessary for a larger point. It’s more like he threw the baby out with the prom dress, a deliberate chuckage of two equally unwanted excrescences.

Live it up, Brianna! There’ll be no more tulle at Valley State!

No amount of cold showering could erase from my mind Frank’s 4-star confirmation of Vongerichten’s flagship, Jean-Georges, this past April. It was steamy; I think, although I am not certain, that the term “my turgid jibbly bits” was used at least once.

Frank tosses his former flame to the wind in service of his 3rd grade-style book report thesis: Chefs with empires may hold them together at the core, but they fall apart at the fringes.

My 3rd grade book report thesis: "Johnny Tremain, What a Fag."

Frank's thesis:

“…Jean-Georges Vongerichten shows that today’s globe-trotting, genre-straddling, hyperextended superchef can still create memorable … meals. You need only visit the restaurants Perry St. and Jean Georges to believe.

But can a chef stamp his name as wide and far as Mr. Vongerichten has and still make magic at the older as well as the newer establishments, at the fringe players as well as the flagship? You need only visit Mercer Kitchen and Vong to doubt.”

Frank uses 2nd person narration to really put us in his shoes as he sinks into the bog of terribleness which is Mercer Kitchen. But reading what he ate, I was worried for Frank’s health:

“Your pea soup doubles as a salt quarry.”

Frank: "C’I have s’more Pellegrino? I’m so dehyhy."

“Your hamachi sashimi comes with two incongruously gargantuan bread sticks, which Babe Ruth could have used to hit homers.”

The only thing worse than eating wood…

Well, lets just say Frank spent hours on the toilet crapping this Stradivarius.

Just kidding. But speaking of hours on the toilet:

“The mussels in your seafood platter don’t taste right.”

There's more:

“A pork chop with a hot-cool chili glaze requires the incisors of a jungle cat.”

And if that didn’t knock his precious pearly whites out of alignment,

“Come dessert, you almost chip your tooth on one of the hard, frozen strawberries in a deconstructed ice cream sandwich.”

So not only is the poor Count in fever sweats and totally parched...

He now looks like this.

Having bravely suffered the perils of Mercer Kitchen, Frank has the right to publish some scathing of sarcasm; but he really gets personal, and then delivers the Insult of Insults:

“…you question the point of Mr. Vongerichten’s involvement, beyond the cachet it lends the restaurant and the money it presumably brings him.”

Frank, you capricious bedmate! Jean-Georges falls from tender lover to ice-chasing merchandiser.

And add insult to insult:

Mercer Kitchen “is the SoHo version of an Applebee’s.” YOUCH

What does that even mean? Even within a metaphor, it’s hard to apply class to Applebees. I mean, what’s the Swarovsky version of an owl pellet?

From the Rockefeller Collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany's rare Golden Dumps.

And now for the review! Did you forget this wasn’t a review of Mercer Kitchen?

Frank calls Vong “tired” and evokes the exotisme of the go-go 90’s:

“It’s been around since 1992, when oversized palm fronds still counted as theatrical Asian décor, the pairing of sautéed foie gras with mango was considered novel, and the galangal in a chicken and coconut milk soup seemed exotic. Bryan Miller gave it three stars back then.”

I can barely remember the ’90s.

“Who’s Brian Miller?” wail a chorus of school children.

Alright, so Vong is a little better, but at this point he’s spent himself on Mercer Kitchen and is a little “tired” himself. But he ends by taking Jean-Georges to task, almost defending his own hard criticism:

“And shouldn’t Mr. Vongerichten be called on this? His reputation is attached as firmly to Vong and to Mercer Kitchen as to restaurants that undoubtedly absorb more of his worry. It’s the same lure, but it’s no guarantee. It’s no guarantee at all.”

What IS a guarantee, is that Jean Georges is at home, listening to Air Supply and crying into a handkerchief embroidered “FB,” wailing “He said he loved me! He said it was forever! WAAAAAH”

Friday, August 04, 2006

Blue Hill: Hi Ho The Dairy, Yo

Well Frank's review of Blue Hill was like Blue Hill itself: muted and wholesome,

Like this pilgrim, the inventor of the hen-operated savings bank.

“It was a kitchen delivery, but it was also theater” Frank begins.

Is he referring to Chef Bobo, the riotous chef/mime I ordered to my nephew Toby’s birthday party?

He was hilarious. Everything was mimed...

Except the crème brulee torch. Whoops. RIP Tobes!

No, the theater this time was courtesy of Blue Hill chef Dan Barber, although still somewhat macabre:

“In came Mr. Barber [to the restaurant], toting yet another bit of bounty from that farm, up in Westchester. It was cradled against his chest and wrapped in a blanket…”

Aww, a baby!

“Mr. Barber had the carcass of a lamb”

A baby lamb, that is. (PS sorry that this punchline required us to venture into Twisted Dead Lamb Imageville.)

Frank justifies upping Grimes' 2 stars to 3 because Barber's expanded his farm operation and his sources are more immediate, leading to food that is superfresh, superfarmy, and simply done:

"An especially memorable dinner at Blue Hill began with a shot glass of pale tomato water so concentrated it was like some Platonic ideal of nourishment."

Plato's actual ideal of nourishment.

Fine, that was unwarranted. But despite the wholesomeness of Frank's review, Tomatoes did get a little raunchy:

"Tomatoes came into play again later on: ...bouncy tomatoes and supple tomatoes, ... mixed into a salad that charted a whole spectrum of tomato possibility, from modestly tart to immodestly sweet."

Immodest tomatoes? What is Frank talking about?

Oh. Well. Excuse me, I... had no idea.

Throw in some "romantic" upholstery...

...and Frank's in 3-star love.

Now for a little bonus treat, because many of you are suffering tit-searing heat (and I'm safely out of the sweat zone at the North Pole) I thought I'd spread a little joy.

Gawker unearthed a Steve Guttenberg/Village People clip that was, yes, amazing. But I'm seeing Gawker and raising them one with this forgotten Guttenberg trailer. Put an ice tray in your pants, sit on your AC box, and enjoy this clip, below, over and over again. Honestly, I don't know what's better, the confessional narrative structure or the multi-tier, feathered rat tail.