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Week in Reviews: Cluny One-Starred, High Marks for Mai House, Surf & Turf at Le Bernardin

1) Frank Bruni one-stars Cafe Cluny this week, confirming the oddsmakers prowess and his graduation from a time when neighborhood restaurants were being awarded two stars. Here, Bruni notes a highly erratic room in every regard, from service to decor to food. The brightest spot is the restaurant's pedigree, though there are other highlights if you maneuver the menu carefully:

Maybe your good fortune will come courtesy of plump, supple sea scallops, placed on a cushion of cauliflower purée that’s brightened by swirls of beet jus. The best of the appetizers, it spoke to the kitchen’s generally expert cooking of seafood, which was also evident in a starter of unusually delicate bulbs of grilled squid against a backdrop of what was billed as risotto. I say billed because there was minimal truth in that advertising. Rice-a-Roni would have been as apt a description of the dry, dreary grains.
And the last word: "[A] noteworthy destination? Anyone seeing this restaurant in a light that kind is looking through a lens of culinary nepotism." [NYT]

2) Alan Richman files a twofer this week, weighing-in on Cafe Cluny and Mai House. Cluny he is plain not pleased with: "There's a problem with the food here...It appears to be carefully prepared. But it's lifeless, additional ornamentation." Nope, he's not going back. At Mai House, however, first-rate service and Bao's deft hand make for a winning experience:

Five dishes are absolutely not be missed: the braised pork belly, meltingly luscious, served over sweet-and-sour cabbage, in a sauce with hints of coconut juice; steamed black cod, glossy and silken, in a vigorous shark-fin consomme; salt-and-pepper cuttlefish, impossibly juicy, so tender you'll wonder why you've been eating squid, a close cousin, all these years; one soup, a meaty bun bo Hue; and one near-soup, the sweet-and-spicy lacxa, with shrimp two ways. Huynh never misses with soups, broths and purees.
Richman will be back, "and soon." [Bloomberg]

3) Jay McInerney at his House & Garden blog enjoys a night on the town at Le Bernardin, specifically, the new surf & turf menu, and is quite pleased. Of course the wine man's reviews is a critique part wine, part food:

The high point of the meal was the white tuna-Kobe beef, a real showstopper. The white tuna was raw, the thin buttery slice of Kobe beef was cooked "Korean BBQ style" and the two somehow mated ecstatically. I don't know how it works, but Ripert does and that's enough. It's a brilliant odd coupling, delicate playing with beefy and burly. Like King Kong and Naomi Watts. And I loved the '01 Dezaley Chemin de fer Chasselas that Philippe matched it with.
On the Bloomberg scale, he "vowed to come back as soon as possible." On the pretentious scale, the reviewer earns an 8 1/2. [H&G/Dining Out]

Elsewhere, Paul Adams also at Cafe Cluny, Peter Meehan at Torys, Steve Cuozzo at Metro Marche, The Robs three-star Kyotofu, Robert Sietsema at Enoteca Barbone, Andrea Strong at Aroma Kitchen and Winebar, Tables at Boqueria, eGullet on Zabb City, Brooklyn Record at new pizzeria Layla Jones, Nosh at The Modern, Marc Shepherd at Mas, and Augieland has the very early word at Varietal.